|Slow progress in moving on travellers from Peak Copse, Dummer
6 Mar 2003
"I am concerned at the illegal encampment of travellers at Peak Copse in my constituency, which residents of Dummer have contacted me about.This is the latest position, as reported to me by Hampshire County Council."
Dear Sir George
UNAUTHORISED ENCAMPMENT AT PEAK COPSE, NR DUMMER
Further to our earlier correspondence on the unauthorised encampment at Peak Copse, I thought it would be helpful for you to be aware of the actions which the County Council has taken to repossess the site.
Following the unauthorised encampment the County Council carried out the various Needs Assessments which it is required to do and then sought repossession through the County Court. The Order for repossession was successfully obtained but the gypsies, with the support of the Community Law Partnership, then sought leave for Judicial Review into the County Council's earlier decision to permanently close the Peak Copse residential site and also a review of the process which had led to the County Court Eviction Order. This prevented the repossession of the site pending the outcome of the applications for Judicial Review.
The cases were heard in the High Court on the 31 January and the County Council's decision to permanently close the site was upheld but leave for Judicial Review was granted on the County Council's decision to seek vacant possession of Peak Copse through the County Court.
A date for the Judicial Review has yet to be agreed but in the meantime, the County Council is negotiating with the Community Law Partnership and has carried out further assessments with the intention of strengthening the County Council's case if any subsequent applications to the Court are required.
The County Council has kept the Dummer Parish Council informed of developments although there were, understandably, particular concerns expressed by parishioners in the early stages of the occupation when there were in excess of 50 caravans on the site.
Similarly, we have worked with the Hampshire Police who have made a number of raids on the site and have also made regular visits to the site. Their earlier investigation of some of the gypsies has coincided with their departure from the site and the recovery of £56,000 worth of stolen goods.
Currently there are 12 caravans on the site and there appear to be fewer problems being created in the immediate vicinity. The County Council's Gypsy Liaison Officer makes regular inspections of the site to monitor education and health and welfare issues and to minimise problems such as the removal of rubbish.
We are continuing to seek to secure the vacant possession of the site but the timing of this will be dictated by the legal processes involved in the Judicial Review.
You may be aware that through the Association of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Authorities (HIOWLA), the County Council has been working with the District and City Councils in Hampshire to provide a co-ordinated approach to the management of unauthorised gypsy encampments in the light of increased levels of activity in the last few years.
The matter is due to be considered at the next meeting of HIOWLA on the 28 March, along with the Government's proposals for legislative changes and new guidance on unauthorised encampments.
The Government has recently published a Draft Framework Guide which identifies local management through County and District Councils as the way of managing the problems. Fundamental to the proposed approach of Central Government is the provision of further authorised sites and other housing options for Gypsies and Travellers. The Draft Framework states that in the case of site provision how these sites could be provided is a matter for the local authority but recognises that finding sites that are acceptable to Gypsies and Travellers and the settled community will be difficult which is fully recognised by the local authorities involved.
The County Council has made representations to Central Government on these proposals and expressed concerns over the influx of gypsies from the Republic of Ireland where legislation has been introduced restricting unauthorised encampments by gypsies and any other group of people.
In summary, the decisions of the High Court have delayed and introduced uncertainty over the County Council's repossession of the Peak Copse site. We will continue to work with the Police and Parish Council to minimise the impact of this large encampment and will continue to pursue a legal remedy through the Courts.
Head of Estates Practice