WORK to protect public land from repeated traveller incursions is continuing across the borough following a summer of illegal encampments.
Reading had the second highest number of illegal encampments in the Thames Valley area and highest number in Berkshire between January 2018 and June 2018, with 53 incidences compared with 32 in West Berkshire, seven in Windsor & Maidenhead and in Slough and three in Bracknell and in Wokingham.
The high number has resulted in increased levels of concern and calls to both the Council and the police who meet regularly to enable a co-ordinated response to incursions.
The Council has been committed to undertaking work to secure five sites which have been subject to repeated encampments so far this year. This follows a £104,000 programme of defensive work carried out at 13 locations in 2017/18.
Repeated encampments occurred at a number of Council-owned sites in the summer months, including Portman Road, Walnut Way, Pottery Road, Bran Close, Lansdowne Road/Portland Gardens, Coronation Square and Burford Court.
A £29,000 package of works undertaken since April this year has included:
· Portman Road – the site is secured with an embankment, known as bunding, along the Council’s strip of land.
· Walnut Way – bunding has been completed and sown with grass seed recently and the Council has been working with Tilehurst GLOBE who have offered support to plant some wildflowers and assist with future maintenance.
· Bran Close – planters have been installed and local residents have adopted them and maintain the planting.
· Pottery Road – construction of the bunds has been completed but minor modifications are being made.
· Lansdowne Road – the bunding and installation of bollards has been completed to prevent incursions along the footpath to Park Lane and to the large green opposite.
The Council will continue to look at each new encampment and consider ways to prevent further incursions where possible and when finances allow.
The installation of soil bunds and mounds has been very successful in preventing further traveller incursions at a nominal cost to the Council.
Council officers are also continuing to review the legal powers available to the authority to ensure incursions are being dealt with as swiftly and effectively as possible. This procedure for dealing with unauthorised encampments must reflect the need to balance the rights of residents, land owners and the travelling community.
This includes current work to draw up legal papers and collate substantial supporting evidence for a borough-wide injunction against a number of named individuals who have repeatedly camped on Council land.
The Council normally has to go through a lengthy court procedure to move on illegal encampments but also liaises with the police who are able to use their emergency Section 61 powers if they believe certain criteria are met, including the impact of the camp on residents and local businesses.
In some circumstances, where there is a need to remove an encampment more quickly than is possible through the court, and the police do not believe they can use their emergency powers, the Council will consider removal of the encampment under common law powers. However, use of these powers is expected to be the exception and not a default position as there are significant criteria which needs to be met in order to apply these powers.
Cllr Sophia James, Lead Councillor for Neighbourhoods and Communities, said:
“The Council reviews all of its land that has been, or might be, camped on to identify how it could be protected.
“I’m pleased to see how well works are progressing to prevent further illegal incursions on council-owned sites that have been repeatedly encamped this year. I would like to thank the residents and community groups who have offered to help with planting and maintenance in some areas. This is particularly important after a challenging summer for Reading residents and I am keen to reassure residents that the Council continues to invest in protecting public spaces.
“The process for dealing with unauthorised encampments is extremely lengthy and the Council will continue to review the legal powers available to it to ensure that we are dealing with anti-social encampments on our land as swiftly and effectively as possible within the current legislative framework. We will also be calling on the Government to review current powers afforded to local authorities and police teams.”
An update report on Unauthorised Encampments will be presented to the Housing, Neighbourhoods and Leisure Committee on 14th November and can be found at: http://www.reading.gov.uk/media/9691/Item-12-Report/pdf/Item_12_Report.pdf