MP: Travellers review ‘is urgently required’

Travellers on the car park at Howe Bridge Crematorium, who prompted outrage from residents
Travellers on the car park at Howe Bridge Crematorium, who prompted outrage from residents

A borough MP has called on the government to urgently assess the requirements placed on landowners and the police when dealing with traveller sites.

An unauthorised encampment on the car park at Howe Bridge crematorium generated national headlines last month.

And fed-up residents have voiced concerns after repeated incursions onto land at Crankwood and the former Hovis factory in Aspull.

Makerfield MP Yvonee Fovargue has also cited ongoing issues with a disputed site off Bolton Road, Abram, which was refused planning permission for travellers and is now the subject of an appeal.

She told a Westminster Hall debate on unauthorised encampments relations between the travellers and the local community had broken down, amid concerns over horses being allowed to roam loose, which led to one being recently killed by a lorry.

Roads have been coned off, without permission, for pony and trap races, MPs were told, prompting equine bailiffs to be drafted in and fencing improvements made, at a cost to council taxpayers.

But the Abram case has been with the Planning Inspectorate since last December, and was still awaiting a hearing date, as it was “not a priority”, she added.

Mrs Fovargue welcomed an offer by Alok Sharma, Housing and Planning Minister, to consult on the effectiveness of existing planning regulations on the issue - but she insisted the review should be carried out as a matter of urgency.

She added: “We also need to discuss the disparity between private and public land. The powers should be aligned.

“The additional requirements placed on local authorities that wish to remove encampments lead to lengthy delays and extra expense.

“If we align the powers, action could be taken on incursions in play areas, schools, hospital, indeed, any green area that is in the public realm and should be for the benefit of all.”

The MP also said police powers to remove travellers from illegal sites should be strengthened and supported by increasing funding.

Responding on behalf of the government Marcus Jones, Local Government Minister, said there was already a commitment to conduct an “evidence review” of the way existing powers are enforced “to understand what more can be done”.

Mr Jones added: “The Government is clear — this is categorical— that the law must apply to everyone, and the police must address illegal incidents and give victims support.

“Local communities deserve to feel safe in their neighbourhoods, and tackling criminal activities, illegal encampments, menacing behaviour and other actions that threaten our society and way of life must be the core business for the police and local agencies.

The Government want to see those agencies working together to ensure illegal incursions are dealt with properly.”

Residents in Crankwood, where several camps sprang up over summer, complained that the situation had descended into a “farce”.

Housing giant Taylor Wimpey, which is responsible for the Pennington Wharf development there, has pledged to work with Wigan Council to prevent any repeats.