If you have lived in Tamworth or Lichfield for a while, you will know that during summer there are a number of travelling families who pass through the area, some for work, some for weddings and family get-togethers and some simply looking to enjoy the sights and entertainment that our area provides.
The vast majority of travellers follow the rules organising safe places to stay and not causing disruption to residents but a small number decide to camp wherever they please, regardless of who owns the land. Reports of anti-social behaviour, fly tipping and animal cruelty sometimes follow.
Today the Home Secretary announced tough new powers to crack down on unauthorised traveller encampments. He is also considering whether to make it a criminal offence to set up unauthorised encampments as currently it is defined as trespassing, a civil matter.
The Home Secretary aims to lower the number of vehicles needed to be involved in an illegal camp from six to two, give the police powers to direct travellers into sites in neighbouring local authorities, allow officers to remove trespassers from camping on or beside a road and increase the time from three months to a year during which travellers are not allowed to return to a site they have been removed from.
However, I recognise that for travelling families, there are limited numbers of legal sites available. It can feel unsafe to park up and sleep beside a road and so the temptation to park in an empty field or car-park is often seen as the less dangerous option.
In this area both councils work together to share information but the Government is hoping to help travellers by making data available on where legal sites are. This will also highlight authorities which have not taken steps to make appropriate space for the travelling community making it easier to remind councils of their obligation to provide safe spaces and reduce the risk of illegal encampments being set up.
Both local councils have recognised that there is an unmet need in this area and are seeking to address the shortfall in traveller pitches so that travelling families can continue to pass through Tamworth and Lichfield, with safe spaces to park and appropriate access to amenities. They will be looking to expand upon the number of sites as part of their forthcoming Local Plans.