Published: 12:01, 16 April 2020
| Updated: 09:46, 17 April 2020
Travellers will not be evicted from illegal camps on a council's land during the coronavirus pandemic - as long as they adhere to a strict set of rules.
They include not going to the toilet in the open, burning rubbish or driving on footpaths.
Local authorities have been asked to allow travelling families to stay on suitable sites.
It is believed this will allow them to access healthcare and reduce the potential spread of the virus.
One local authority in Kent, Canterbury City Council, was last year granted an injunction that enables it to move travellers off council land without first having to go to court.
But the arrival of Covid-19 has forced the local authority to temporarily change its approach in order to follow national guidelines.
A spokesperson for the city council said: "The police will no longer evict travelling families from unauthorised encampments and have asked councils to allow those families to stay on suitable sites all the while the crisis continues.
"With some vulnerable people among their number, this will allow them to access healthcare and reduce the potential spread of the virus.
"There is no evidence to suggest travelling families are directly responsible for the spread of coronavirus and are just as likely to catch it as the rest of us."
The council will provide facilities such as water, toilets and waste removal.
In return, the families are asked to agree to a strict set of rules governing their behaviour that apply to anyone using council land. If they do not, they will be evicted by the local authority and police.
Travellers arriving on the city council's land will be directed to the motorhome area of the New Dover Road park and ride sites if their presence is causing a problem.
The council will use its normal processes to evict them if they refuse to head to New Dover Road.
It already has standpipes and the facility to empty chemical toilets. It will also provide portaloos and take waste away on a regular basis.
An enforcement team will visit the site regularly to carry out welfare, behaviour and safety checks - and it will also be monitored by CCTV.
City council chief executive Colin Carmichael said: "This temporary change to our approach has been sparked by a change to the national guidelines of dealing with traveller encampments.
“If this crisis has taught us anything, it is that those who are not normally vulnerable and in need of help quickly become so because of the disruptive power of the virus.
"We need to put the normal rules of engagement to one side in order to ensure everyone gets the help they deserve.
“Coronavirus has shown us time and again it does not discriminate and to beat it nor should we."
A Kent Police spokesman said: "Unauthorised encampments are a civil matter and the lead role for their management, and any eviction process, sits with the local authority and/ or landowner.
"As is standard procedure, officers will work with these parties to assess incursions on a case by case basis.
"In line with national guidance, a pragmatic approach that considers social distancing measures and manages the health and safety of people living in such encampments, as well as the wider community, will be followed.
"This can include allowing unauthorised encampments to temporarily stay in place to prevent any possible spread of the virus to other areas.
"Officers still have powers to evict trespassers and these will be used should a significant threshold be met."