Unauthorised traveller encampments - injunction granted

Unauthorised encampments involve people camping on ground they do not own and have no permission to do so. This includes unauthorised Gypsy and Traveller sites.

Councils get landmark district-wide injunction against unauthorised traveller encampments

Travellers have been banned from setting up unauthorised encampments in Harlow until 16 June 2017 after Harlow Council and Essex County Council were granted a district-wide injunction from the High Court today (16 December 2015).

The hearing took place after Harlow Council and Essex County Council applied to make its ground-breaking interim injunction granted in March 2015 a final injunction. The time limit of 18 months on the injunction was set by the judge.

The injunction bans 35 named persons from setting up unauthorised encampments on any land in Harlow. It also protects 321 vulnerable sites across Harlow including parks and playgrounds, previously occupied sites, highway verges, schools, cycle tracks and private land identified by Harlow Council and Essex County Council from persons unknown setting up unauthorised encampments.

Harlow Council and Essex County Council joined forces to apply for a district-wide ban in March this year after the town was persistently blighted with 109 different unauthorised encampments for nearly 18 months. The encampments left Harlow immediately after the interim injunction was granted. The clean-up costs and court costs relating to the encampments totalled over £40,000. At the time the injunction was a “ground-breaking” move as it had never been done in any other area covering such a scale.

The injunction was granted under section 222 Local Government Act 1972 along with Section 187b Town & Country Planning Act 1990.

The sheer volume of concerns raised by residents and businesses over damage to public spaces, fly-tipping, human waste, anti-social behaviour and the daily disruption to people’s lives and livelihoods caused by persistent encampments was once again reflected in the evidence presented at today’s hearing.

In the nine months the interim injunction has been in force five separate unauthorised encampments have set up on land covered by the injunction with each one moving out of Harlow within 24 hours. Breaching an injunction is a serious offence and could lead to a custodial sentence.

Injunction 16 December 2015 - The application and associated legal papers:

Interim injunction

Harlow Council and Essex County Council were granted an interim town-wide injunction from the High Court banning the setting up of unauthorised Traveller encampments in Harlow on Tuesday 3 March 2015.

After the necessary months of planning and gathering evidence to make an application for an injunction, Harlow Council and Essex County Council applied for the town-wide ban against 35 named Travellers and persons unknown, from setting up unauthorised encampments in Harlow. The High Court injunction also covered and protected 454 parcels of land and banned persons unknown from setting up unauthorised traveller encampments. These sites included 320 vulnerable sites including parks and playgrounds, previously occupied sites, highway verges, schools and private land identified by Harlow Council and Essex County Council, as well as 134 parcels of land that incorporated cycle tracks

Unauthorised Traveller encampments and the interim injunction meeting - 19 March 2015

Harlow Council held a public meeting on Thursday 19 March 2015 about the interim town-wide injunction and future planned actions for tackling unauthorised traveller encampments. 
The meeting included information on the process for securing an interim injunction followed by a discussion on existing powers for public authorities, traveller site provision across Essex and further securing land in Harlow.
The meeting was chaired by the Leader of Harlow Council, Councillor Jon Clempner. Harlow’s MP Robert Halfon, the Chief Superintendent of Essex Police Sean O'Callaghan and Councillor Kay Twitchen, Deputy Cabinet Member for Customer Services, Planning and the Environment at Essex County Council, also attended.

Council calls for changes to legal powers to tackle unauthorised encampments

Harlow Council has written to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles MP, calling for a review into the powers available to local Councils as well as the powers that the Police have available to deal with unauthorised encampments. Copies of this letter were also sent to Home Secretary Theresa May MP and President of ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) Sir Hugh Orde.

Harlow Council has responded to the Government’s consultation on planning and travellers: Government consultation on proposed changes to planning policy and guidance

Harlow Council's response to consultation:

The Council is calling for the following changes to the proposed enforcement powers:

  • The Council believes that the law must be changed to enable a Council to remove Travellers from their areas without further need to go to the Courts where a Court Order has been previously made against them, or the Police serve a section 61 notice under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 or where an unauthorised encampment occurs on land that has been subject to a Court Order or section 61 direction in the preceding period of twelve months.  Additionally, the criteria for the use of section 61 should be reviewed with its use being compulsory when the criteria are met.
  • The Council believes that the power should be available to it and other Councils to serve a Direction on trespassers on land within their area.  The Council also believes strongly that the Direction should last for a period of twelve months.
  • When a Council has sufficient transit sites further powers/duties should be available to enable the Council to remove unauthorised encampments without the need to go to the Courts.
  • Where a transit site in a Council’s area is full or where Travellers in an unauthorised encampment will not move to the designated transit site the Council should be able to direct the Travellers to leave its area and prohibited from returning for twelve months.
  • Failure of the Travellers to move on or if they return within twelve months the punishment should be comparable to that under Section 61 and Section 62 A to E of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1964 i.e. imprisonment for up to three months and or a fine.  

You can also read the correspondence between the Council and Government ministers and the Council’s response to the consultation by following the links below:

Harlow Council

A third of land in Harlow is green open space. Playing fields, common land, parks and playgrounds are mainly owned by Harlow Council. Harlow Council does what it can legally to protect the town’s green open spaces and move on illegal encampments and unauthorised Gypsies and Travellers.

As soon as Harlow Council is aware of an illegal encampment on its land, Council Officers immediately visit along with the Police to find out the status of the encampment and talk to other public organisations. A legal process is then followed to move the travellers/persons on. The time this takes depends on the courts setting a hearing date and making a decision. Failure to comply with a court order will result in eviction action by the Council.

Harlow Council works with both Essex County Council and the Police to tackle illegal encampments and unauthorised Gypsy and traveller sites in the town.

Essex County Council

Essex County Council (ECC) is responsible for many of the highway verges, roundabouts, cycle tracks and roads in Harlow. As the landowner of these it is for the County Council to take the appropriate action to move travellers and illegal encampments on. Harlow Council monitors encampments and liaise closely with Essex County Council.

Information on how ECC deals with illegal encampments and unauthorised traveller sites on their land can be found on the Essex County Council website - encampments.

ECC manages the two permanent traveller sites in Harlow at Fernhill and Flex Meadow. More information on these sites can be found on the Essex County Council website - permanent sites

Essex Police

Essex Police has different powers to that of Councils and can deal with illegal encampments much more quickly without having to go to Court. Both Councils work closely with the Police and share information. The Police will visit illegal encampments and in certain circumstances may choose to use their emergency powers under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. It is for the senior officer who visits the unauthorised encampment to decide what action should be taken.

illegal encampmentFrequently asked questions

The following questions and answers may provide you with more information on what the authorities can do and have done to tackle unauthorised encampments in Harlow.

Why can't the Council move the unauthorised encampment on immediately?

The Council cannot remove an unauthorised encampment from its land immediately. It has to show that the travellers/persons are on the land without consent. The Council also has to follow a legal process that will enable it to successfully obtain the necessary authority from the courts to order the travellers/persons to leave the site. Harlow Council always moves as quickly as is legally possible to resolve an unauthorised encampment issue on its land. Whatever action the Council takes it has to go to court. It is possible that legal action could be challenged which can delay the process further.

What can the Council do about an encampment on private land?

It is the responsibility of the landowner to take the appropriate action if there is an unauthorised encampment on private land. Harlow Council will provide advice and support to the landowner and the Police can also use its Section 61 powers.

What is Harlow Council doing to protect its land from unauthorised encampments?

Harlow Council has invested in preventative measures to protect as much of its green open spaces as possible and these measures are regularly assessed and reviewed. In the last few years the Council has spent around £28,000 on preventative measures against unauthorised encampments. These includes digging ditches, installing bollards and gates and changing locks. The Council has also taken measures such as putting rubble in front of gates to deter encampments. However, with a third of land in Harlow being open green space, with much of it needing emergency access for vehicles, there is only so much the Council can do.

Harlow Council and Essex County Council were granted an interim town-wide injunction from the High Court banning the setting up of unauthorised Traveller encampments in Harlow on Tuesday 3 March 2015. Breaching the injunction is a serious offence and could lead to a custodial sentence.

What should I do if I see travellers trying to get on to public land?

Report it immediately to the Council on 01279 446655 during normal office hours or 01279 446666 out of hours. You can also call the Police on 101 if it is not an emergency or, if you witness someone forcing entry onto land, dial 999.

Why doesn't the Council recover its legal costs from encampments or prosecute for fly-tipping or littering?

Unfortunately there is very little any Council can do to recover money from unauthorised encampments. With any Environmental Crime, like fly-tipping or littering the Council needs people to be willing to provide eyewitness information or for one of our Officers to witness it or the evidence that links the incident to an individual. Without this the Council can’t issue a Fixed Penalty Notice or successfully take the matter to court. The Council always seeks prosecutions where there is a reasonable chance of success of recovering costs.

If you witness incidences of fly-tipping or littering, please report it to us online or through Contact Harlow.

Once an encampment moves on Harlow Council will move quickly to clean up and secure the area so it can once again be enjoyed by local residents.

What can be done about criminal activities and antisocial behaviour relating to unauthorised encampments?

Criminal damage to property and breaking in are criminal offences; therefore Essex Police will deal with any crime where damage can be attributed to specific individuals. In such cases these individuals could be prosecuted. If you witness any criminal offences please report it to Essex Police on 101 or, if the offence is still taking place, 999.

Antisocial behaviour incidents including fly-tipping and littering can be reported to Harlow Council. It is important that any offences are reported so they can be investigated and appropriate action taken. Reporting issues and incidents can also help support any legal action Councils take.

If there is an illegal encampment how are residents and businesses kept informed?

The Council recognises that residents and businesses get frustrated by unauthorised encampments and quite rightly want to know what is happening. When there are unauthorised encampments on Harlow Council land or there is a town-wide issue, press releases and updates on the action being taken are sent to the local media and published on Harlow Council's Twitter and Facebook sites. Ward Councillors are kept up to date on progress and can also provide residents with information.

Statements and press releases relating to unauthorised encampments can also be found on the news section of this website.