UNAUTHORISED encampments should be made a ‘criminal offence’, says Dame Caroline Spelman MP.
Travellers setting up unlawfully is dealt with under civil law rather than criminal law at present.
Councils have to go through a difficult process with the courts while law enforcement only have restricted powers to remove encampments.
After nine incidents in Solihull borough since the turn of the year, the Meriden MP emphasises she wants stronger powers bolstered by legislation – rather than a designated transit site.
She says she has corresponded with her constituents who have demanded urgent reform to the existing laws.
In recent weeks there have been calls for an official site to be created to house travellers on a temporary basis as they pass through the borough.
Transit sites are council-run facilities, linked to water and electricity, where travelling groups can stay for a fixed rent and a deposit.
Dame Spelman said: “Transit sites only serve as an effective solution to the problem of illegal or unauthorised encampments providing there are a sufficient number of pitches available to accommodate for the entire travelling community.
“We recently increased the number of authorised traveller sites to meet demand but found travellers did not use them.
“My concern is that a transit site cannot provide a guaranteed solution, which is why I am confident that the only way we can succeed in tackling the problem of illegal and unauthorised encampments is through a change in the law.
“For that reason, I am working with local authorities in the borough and supporting the government’s consultation to secure laws that will recognise illegal and unauthorised encampments as a criminal offence.”
She has issued every parish council in the Meriden constituency with a copy of the government’s consultation on encampments for them to provide feedback.
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), David Jamieson, said in his Force Focus column last week that ‘transit sites are the first step to improving our approach’ to tackling the issue.
He also acknowledged encampments were a particular problem in Solihull.
The borough is a popular location for encampments due to its green land and connectivity – while community groups have argued this is because travellers are not effectively deterred.
Solihull Ratepayers’ Association – a community group – has also supported the idea of a transit site.
The group has condemned the ‘traveller free-for-all’ in the borough.
It also added the transit site in Sandwell has saved the council hundreds of thousands of pounds on legal and clean-up costs.
The PCC said there has been a huge decrease in encampments in Sandwell and the police now has strengthened powers.