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Published: 16:21, 11 April 2019
| Updated: 16:33, 11 April 2019
New powers could see travellers facing two years behind bars if they illegally pitch up on land in the Canterbury district.
The High Court yesterday rubber-stamped the city council's request for an emergency injunction - meaning the stringent law immediately comes into force.
Fed-up city council bosses hope the powers will send out a clear message and prevent car parks and green spaces from being taken over by caravans.
Since the beginning of 2016, there have been 19 reported incursions by travellers onto council owned land - with enforcement officers sometimes struggling to move them on.
Now, thanks to the injunction, any trespasser involved in illegal encampments will be in contempt of court and face potentially numerous sanctions, including up to two years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
Dozens of sites - including Kingsmead Field, Neptune car park, Herne Bay memorial park and Beverley Meadow - are covered by the new ban.
The Canterbury district has often been blighted by illegal encampments, but with previously limited powers, the removal of travellers has usually been a long and drawn-out process.
The council's head of safer neighbourhoods, Doug Rattray, said: “Unauthorised encampments can take a long time to resolve, requiring the attendance of our enforcement officers on a daily basis when they could be out investigating flytipping or tackling graffiti.
“Residents living near to some of the most affected sites also become concerned and expect us to remove these encampments as swiftly as possible, but this is not always as easy as it sounds.
“An injunction is the strongest deterrent available to us and sends out a clear message that we will not tolerate unauthorised encampments on our land. It brings with it some tough sanctions and we’re pleased to have secured it in time for the Easter period, when we have had problems in the past.”
City councillors unanimously agreed to pursue the injunction at a policy and resources committee meeting in July last year, and, ever since, officers have been compiling detailed evidence to present to the High Court.
The injunction granted yesterday is only temporary, but the council will seek to make it permanent by going through further legal processes in the summer.
Last year, the authority struggled to move travellers away from Kingsmead car park and had a number of problems in Herne Bay as Neptune car park, Swalecliffe Avenue in Hampton and the town's memorial park were taken over.