Published: 15:19, 23 November 2018
| Updated: 15:22, 23 November 2018
Almost 150 Traveller caravans are on unauthorised sites in Maidstone - nearly four times as many as any other district in the county - according to figures.
Newly-released data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government shows that, in July, the majority of the 466 Gypsy, Roma and Traveller caravans in the County Town were situated on authorised sites.
But 148 caravans were on sites which did not have the required planning permission to set up an encampment.
All of the unauthorised sites were declared to be not tolerated by local authorities, meaning active efforts were being made to move them on.
Not tolerated sites include those where a planning enforcement notice has been served, or where an injunction has been sought against the encampment.
Across Kent, there were a total of 298 caravans on sites without the relevant permission this summer, with the next highest district figure coming in Sevenoaks where 38 out of 204 caravans were unauthorised.
In Thanet, none of the 11 encampments in July had planning permission, while conversely, all of the 67 caravans in Canterbury and the 75 in Tunbridge Wells, had the required authorisation.
Jim Davies, from the Traveller Movement, said: "Certainly, the stereotypical view of Gypsies and Travellers on village greens and children's football pitches presented by the media is largely inaccurate.
"Not only do close to 80% of Gypsies and Travellers live in bricks and mortar accommodation, but of those unauthorised caravans counted at the last caravan count, more than two thirds were on Gypsy or Traveller-owned land."
Mr Davies added that it was important that "policy makers and researchers consider the whole Gypsy and Traveller population, instead of the minority".
Of the 318 authorised caravan sites in Maidstone, 292 were on sites for which permanent planning permission had been granted, five had temporary planning permission and 21 were socially rented.
Local authorities in Leeds have recently trialled a system of 'negotiated stopping', which has been hailed as a success by Traveller groups.
It involves the council negotiating a code of conduct with the Travellers and Gypsies living on roadside camps, and providing water, waste disposal and portable toilets until the Travellers move on at an agreed date and time.
It is estimated to have saved the council thousands of pounds in legal fees.
But Cllr Simon Blackburn, of the Local Government Association, said that local authorities have a duty to uphold the law when illegal encampments are set up.
He said: "Councils are committed to ensuring that their local communities are safe, inclusive and welcoming. They also know that the vast majority of travellers are law-abiding citizens and often contribute much to the communities they stay in.
"However, when encampments are clearly breaching the law and causing concern and inconvenience to communities, local authorities have a duty to take action to ensure the law is upheld, which they do working alongside the police and the court system.
"With local authorities facing a shortfall of £7.8 billion by 2025, councils can ill afford to have to recover the significant costs of removing illegal encampments and the associated clean up costs.
“There are also instances of some encampments continuing for prolonged periods of time which can have a significant impact on local communities, with councils and private landowners often incurring costs from evicting trespassers."