The recent incidence of Travellers on Bedquilts raised a lot of questions as to why they could not be moved on more quickly and what the Council’s position is. All Local Authorities must adhere to set legal obligations when responding to an unauthorised encampment on Council owned land. They can only evict trespassers from land it owns by securing a possession order through a court process.
The Council has significantly reduced the number, size and cost of unauthorised encampments in the last two years, achieved by maintaining long standing practice and complementing this with new opportunities such as applying for injunctions and tolerating encampments on specific sites equating to over £113k or 35%. This is funding that the Council has been able to use for other priorities.
If an encampment is located on a highway, then a local authority can, under section 77 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, direct the trespassers to remove themselves and vehicles from the land. If the trespassers fail to leave as soon as reasonably practicable then a local authority can seek an order authorising them to take steps to remove the trespassers through the Magistrates Court. An instructed bailiff can then evict.
The Council also has to make ‘welfare enquiries’ into the circumstances of the people trespassing on council land. The local authority may have legal obligations towards the unauthorised campers, (child welfare, access to education, homelessness being examples) and a welfare assessment should identify these issues.
Unauthorised campers can raise a public law defence in respect of a local authority’s decision to evict them. This could relate to perceived flaws in the process followed to reach the decision to try to recover possession or the reasonableness/proportionality of the decision. The latter challenge could relate to the absence of alternative site provision within the locality with the argument being that the Gypsies and Travellers have consequently no choice but to trespass. The 2004 Housing Act places a duty on local authorities to carry out an assessment of the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers and to make reasonable provision for these groups through the planning process.
The assessment of future pitch provision, up to 2028, and a five year programme of sites to meet this pitch need, is required for the Leeds Core Strategy.