Published: 11:18, 20 October 2019
| Updated: 12:26, 20 October 2019
A parish council is urging 320 local councils to join a campaign to prompt faster action when travellers set up camp illegally.
Walmer Parish Council has prepared a motion to the Kent Association of Local Councils (KALC), stipulating a host of streamlining actions to "reduce the inconvenience to ratepayers".
It follows three separate incursions of travellers in late August when caravans and mobile homes were parked at public land in Walmer Green, Victoria Park and the English Heritage owned Deal Castle.
The motion, which will be presented by Cllr Mike Eddy at the next meeting in November, is about speeding up links with the courts to get out of hours access to eviction orders
It is also about undertaking compulsory welfare checks for traveller families. It also wants joint working among other councils to deliver a universal and more effective response to traveller activity.
Walmer also wants KALC and MPs to push the government for a review of legislation, giving a more balanced approach so the rights of residents, private landowners and local councils are regarded equally as importantly as the rights of the travellers.
Cllr Mike Eddy said: “Individual parish councils are powerless to do anything legally, and it sometimes seems as if we are a lone voice crying in the wilderness so we have decided to ask every local council in Kent to join us in encouraging those who do have statutory powers to speed up their response to traveller invasions and use their powers immediately, therefore minimising the inconvenience to ratepayers.”
A press release from the parish council added: "We respect the rights of people to live their lives as they wish and to follow their culture and traditions. But the rights of one group should not outweigh the rights of others.
"The apparent inactivity and slowness of district and county authorities, who have the job of working with the traveller community, can result in long stays.
"We want to make sure that the system works for the good of all."
Walmer Parish Council has already written to Dover District Council asking it to investigate the possibility of extending parking regulations onto DDC owned Walmer Green with dispensations for days on which there are events such as the classic car show or the Brocante.
A DDC spokesman said: "We do understand resident’s concerns, and have been looking at ways to streamline our processes where the legislation allows. However, the procedures that we have to follow impose duties on the council, including carrying out compulsory welfare checks, before the travellers can be served with a direction to leave and subsequently with an Order of the Court.
"We will continue to use our statutory powers under the Criminal Justice And Public Order Act, and the powers within the Off-Street Parking Place Order, and we will continue to follow due legal process in such matters."
Cllr Eddy says a meeting with the head of Gypsy and Traveller Services at Kent County Council has been requested.
It is hoped this will help foster good relations between the travelling and settled communities.
A spokesman for KCC said: “The head of our Gypsy and Traveller Unit has agreed to meet KALC representatives next week, when he will try to advise parishes and other councils on the best way to handle these kinds of issues.
“Action to remove travellers is the responsibility of the land-owner, so KCC is only directly involved when the camps are on KCC land or the highway.
“The head of the unit will make that clear, along with providing advice on the appropriate action if illegal camps are having an impact on a particular community.
“He will also advise that the time-frame for taking legal action to have such camps removed is set down in law and cannot, therefore, be sped up.”
MP Charlie Elphicke says he agrees with the council after it wrote to him asking him to raise the problem of "unbalanced and apparently penalty free" enforcement legislation and to work to have it changed.
He said: "What happened in Walmer and Deal recently was not acceptable. Residents were intimidated, businesses were disrupted, and our authorities had to spend money on numerous court orders, playing a game of cat and mouse as groups of caravans moved from one site to another.
“It’s clear we need to take another look at the laws covering this issue – specifically whether extra powers are needed to move groups on more quickly and on a district-wide basis. I am taking it up with ministers."
The parish council has also written to the Kent Police chief constable and police commissioner Matthew Scott to ask whether there are other speedier responses which could be introduced or implemented to protect local residents. Both offices have been contacted for comments.
Matthew Scott said: "I have said previously that Government could perhaps look at strengthening the options available to enforcement agencies. In the meantime, I commend local councils for working together with Kent Police to look at what can be done using existing legislation."