Councils get Harlow-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.

Councillor Jon Clempner, Leader of Harlow Council, said that an unprecedented situation the town faced from October 2013 to March 2015 required an unprecedented solution. He said: “Harlow suffered from persistent unauthorised encampments for nearly 18 months. The existing everyday powers available to us simply didn’t resolve the situation as we continued to play a game of ‘cat and mouse’. However, the interim injunction has worked and has made a huge difference in protecting land and preventing disruption to the lives of Harlow residents and businesses.

“Harlow is a tolerant place, but our communities quite rightly don’t want to see a repeat of persistent anti-social behaviour, and the impact unauthorised traveller encampments had on the settled community and our green open spaces. Months and months of hard work and building a strong case leading up to the interim injunction and the preparation and planning for the final injunction hearing has all paid off today.

“This injunction is about upholding the law, responding and listening to the concerns of residents and businesses, and protecting the town’s vulnerable open spaces. It is not – and never has been – about persecuting any particular group of people or their way of life.”

Councillor Clempner said that the town needed to be realistic about how long it would get the injunction for. He said: “We were never going to get a permanent injunction which lasts forever, it was always going to be time limited and the judge has made his decision based on what he thinks is appropriate. This injunction provides land with protection for the next 18 months but this does not mean we sit back and do nothing, we have to be prepared now for when this injunction runs out. We won’t hesitate to reapply for the injunction after this time if the problem returns.

“It is up to every Council in the UK to address the lack of authorised pitches. In Harlow we are working to ensure that the town continues to meet its planning obligations in future and that the existing permanent public traveller sites are well managed and help meet future demand for pitches. We also want to use our experience in Harlow to help the Government review the powers available so all Councils can better act to protect its settled communities.”

Cllr Roger Hirst, Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Transport, Planning and Environment, said: “We are pleased that the courts have supported the joint application. For just over a year before the temporary injunction was granted there were persistent problems with unauthorised encampments in Harlow, involving just two or three main families who would move just a short distance up the road from any court order. We recognise that this caused tensions within the community, which is why we sought this injunction together with Harlow Council. The temporary injunction has improved the situation, so I welcome the judge’s decision today.

“We recognise the need to control unlawful incursion across all of Essex. To do so, we need better temporary provision, so we are looking for land for a transit site in Essex, which provides a safe and legal place for Travellers to stop without disrupting the settled community.”

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