This summer has seen a large increase in the number of unauthorised encampments, not just in this borough and Surrey but across the south east. There may be a number of reasons for this, including recent changes in the law in the Republic of Ireland and a growing lack of authorised transient camping places in this part of England as land gets developed.
Travellers have a right to live a nomadic lifestyle. A nomadic lifestyle means travelling around and staying in different places to earn a living.
Gypsies have been a part of our society for hundreds of years; Romany Gypsies have lived in the UK for over 500 years. Gypsies and Travellers fought and died for this country during both world wars.
Within Epsom and Ewell we have two permanent Traveller sites and, because of the historical connection between the Traveller communities and the borough, there is also a significant number of Traveller households residing here in permanent housing.
While there is an assumption by some that Travellers don’t pay taxes, all Gypsies and Travellers living on a local authority or privately owned site pay council tax and VAT on their gas, electricity, etc. While those living on unauthorised encampments, generally speaking, do not pay council tax nor do they receive the bulk of services received by those permanently living in the borough. Everyone within the UK pays tax on their purchases and petrol.
Unauthorised encampments are encouraged in areas where there are employment opportunities; eg homeowners employing casual workers for building work, tree cutting, tarmac laying, waste removal, etc.
We fully recognise the disquiet, inconvenience and anxiety caused when an unauthorised encampment takes place in our parks or our other land and we aim to remove the encampment as quickly as possible. We have to do this within the law and there are a set of procedures laid down by the government that we have to follow. This can takes days, or even in exceptional circumstances weeks – you can see what these are on our website - here.
Trespass is not a criminal act and the police do not generally get involved in unauthorised encampments unless there is criminal activity (which like in the rest of society only happens in a very small number of occasions).
Some local authorities have recently started taking out ‘global’ injunctions to try and prevent unauthorised encampments, this is expensive, is time limited and not necessarily effective. We are in contact with some of these authorities to monitor their success.
With the higher number of unauthorised encampments this summer, we are also looking at increasing preventative measures, making it more difficult to get onto our land in the first place. There is a cost associated with this and the decision on where our limited funds can be spent will ultimately be decided by your elected councillors.
The government is currently consulting with various bodies to understand if changes should be made to current legislation around the subject of unauthorised encampments and we have submitted input into the consultation.