Guidelines for Managing Unauthorised Camping by Gypsies/Travellers Consultation Paper
GUIDELINES FOR MANAGING UNAUTHORISED CAMPING BY GYPSIES/TRAVELLERS
CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION
- Unauthorised camping requires sensitive and proportionate handling by all concerned and can be a difficult issue to resolve. This is mainly because different and often conflicting sets of rights, responsibilities and expectations are involved. It is also the aspect of Gypsy/Traveller presence that can be the focus of the greatest friction between communities. Local residents and businesses have frequently reported experiencing noise, anti-social behaviour and other nuisance from an encampment on nearby open land. At the same time, Gypsies/Travellers living in unauthorised encampments lack basic amenities, can find it hard to access health and education services for their families and can be subjected to verbal and sometimes racist abuse and discrimination. It is recognised that, until more authorised sites have been provided to meet an identified need, unauthorised camping will still take place. Even then, it may still occur as an expression of cultural identity.
- Throughout this report, the Executive uses the phrase 'Gypsy/Traveller' to include all those who wish to be defined primarily by their ethnic origin. This does not specifically include fairground/showpeople, occupational and New Age Travellers. It should be emphasised that the issue of terminology is a sensitive area and that the Executive will continue to listen and respond to any concerns voiced on this subject.
- In developing policies on unauthorised camping, the Scottish Executive believes that certain basic principles should be followed:
- Policies should seek to manage unauthorised encampments to minimise disruption for all concerned and ensure that any anti-social behaviour is tackled firmly, regardless of who the perpetrators are.
- The same standards of behaviour should be expected from all members of the community, whether Gypsies/Travellers or the settled population, based on mutual respect and with equal rights, responsibilities, entitlements and obligations
- A change in Scottish Executive policy on unauthorised encampments took place in 2001. Until then, a policy of 'toleration and non-harassment of Travellers' (as they were then known) had been in existence since 1977. This had been linked to the Scottish Executive's grant scheme to provide councils with the capital costs of building sites for Gypsies/Travellers, and the setting of targets, at local authority level, for the provision of pitches for Gypsies/Travellers. The policy of toleration and non-harassment stated that where pitch targets were not met, Gypsies/Travellers in unauthorised encampments should not be moved on. The policy, which applied only to the physical occupation of land and did not apply to large encampments of more than 12 caravans, was reflected in prosecution policy. The policy had been adopted to encourage councils to take advantage of the Development Department grant scheme to build permanent sites as a long term solution to unauthorised encampments. The grant scheme has now been wound up after being in existence for nearly 30 years.
- The policy of toleration and non-harassment of Gypsies/Travellers was initially fought for by representatives of the Travelling community to prevent them from being constantly moved on. In later years, others criticised the policy of toleration for being discriminatory and embodying a racist concept. Representations to that effect were made to the then Advisory Committee on Scotland's Travelling People. In its Ninth Term Report, published in 2000, the Committee recommended that both the setting of pitch targets and the policy of toleration and non-harassment should be discontinued. These recommendations were accepted by Scottish Ministers. Local authorities were asked to work with local police forces to prepare their own strategies for managing unauthorised encampments. Guidance on the content of these local strategies was provided by the Advisory Committee (Section 5 of the Ninth Term Report).
- Since the Advisory Committee guidance was issued in 2000, there have been a number of changes that have contributed to the decision to review this and these are summarised below.
- The Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) came into force in October 2000, incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into British law. The Act means that all eviction and enforcement decisions made by public authorities must be 'proportionate'. Potential challenge under the HRA means that all decision-making must be fully recorded and evidenced to withstand scrutiny.
- During 2000-2001, the Equal Opportunities Committee (EOC) of the Scottish Parliament carried out an enquiry into Gypsies/Travellers and public sector policies. One of the Committee's recommendations was that national guidelines should be prepared on the management of unauthorised camping. The Executive regarded the guidance from the Advisory Committee to be the equivalent of national guidelines. At present, however, over a third of all local authorities have yet to develop a strategy for dealing with such encampments.
- The Race Relations (Amendments) Act 2000 was introduced to tackle 'institutional' racism. To this end, key public bodies in Scotland were required to produce and publish race equality schemes by 30 November 2003. This included an assessment of all their policies and functions to ensure that, if there is evidence that these discriminate against minority ethnic people, they will take action to eliminate such discrimination. For the purposes of the application of the legislation in Scotland, the Scottish Executive has defined Scottish Gypsies/Travellers as a minority ethnic community, a position adopted by other Scottish public bodies. This guidance has been written with this commitment very much in mind.
- In 2002, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), the successor body to DETR, announced a new approach to tackling unauthorised camping in England and signalled its intention to introduce stronger police powers to move on encampments where there was adequate site provision. In April 2003, the ODPM/Home Office issued a consultation paper, in which the previous 1998 guidelines on unauthorised camping were revised, offering more comprehensive guidance on the courses of action that local authorities and police forces might follow. A report on the analysis of responses to the ODPM paper is still being prepared.
- In June 2002, the Association of Chief Police Officer in Scotland (ACPOS) announced that a new permanent standing committee was to be added to its organisational structure to examine race and community relations issues. This move was intended to ensure that police involvement with a wide range of communities and groups, including Gypsy/ Travellers, was given a permanently high profile on the policing agenda. It is also a positive sign that the Scottish Police Service is moving towards a national policy that ensures consistency throughout Scotland. Through a sub-committee of the Race and Community Relations Standing Committee, the police service as a whole is currently developing and updating operational guidance on unauthorised encampments. A summary of this is provided at Annex C and will be consulted on separately. This guidance will not only be informed by the various civil and criminal law provisions that have the potential to impact on unauthorised camping (some of these provisions are briefly set down in Annex B to this guide), it is also being framed against the background that the development of policy and practice towards Gypsies /Travellers has moved away from the previously held public order/crime prevention/community safety focus and is now being taken forward as part of the more modern and less proscriptive dimension of diversity.
- In June 2003, the Executive published its consultation document 'Putting our Communities First: A Strategy for Tackling Anti-Social Behaviour', which sets out the stand the Executive is taking against anti-social behaviour. For the purposes of the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill, a person engages in anti-social behaviour if they act in a manner that causes or is likely to cause alarm or distress, or pursues a course of conduct that is likely to cause alarm or distress to at least one person not of the same household as themselves. The Anti-Social Behaviour Bill, published in October 2003, has taken full account of the Race Relations (Amendments) Act 2000 and the provisions in the legislation will apply equally to all members of the community.
AIMS OF THE GUIDANCE
- The Executive considers that the time is now right to review the existing guidance on managing unauthorised camping in Scotland. The overall objective is to assist local authorities, police, the Gypsy/Traveller community and those affected by unauthorised camping to manage this and to minimise the disruption it can cause. In doing this, it aims:
- To help strike an appropriate balance between the needs and legitimate expectations of members of the settled community, local businesses and landowners, and Gypsies/Travellers
- To set out recommended courses of action which all local authorities and police forces are strongly urged to follow in order to provide an effective solution to unauthorised camping in their area
- To encourage a more consistent approach across Scotland, building on current good practice and sharing experience
- To encourage active engagement with the settled and Gypsy/Traveller communities in order to achieve 'buy in' to the strategy
- The guidance is aimed primarily at local authorities and police who share the responsibility for managing unauthorised camping. It should also be made available to Gypsies/Travellers to ensure that they are fully aware of what they should expect from authorities and what is expected of their community.
CONTEXT - NUMBERS AND SCALE
- Many Gypsies/Travellers are settled for at least part of the year on permanent sites and some will travel for part of the year, although there is a small residual group who travel all year round. Whilst there is no one source for estimating the total number of Gypsies/Travellers in Scotland, particularly as many are now settled in housing, the Scottish Executive Social Research Unit has undertaken twice-yearly counts of Gypsies/Travellers on sites and in encampments in Scotland. This suggests that there are clear seasonal trends, with approximately 50 caravans on unauthorised encampments in winter and between 130 and 160 in summer. This fits in with long-standing patterns of movement where Gypsies/Travellers are 'on the road' in the summer and in many cases involved in seasonal employment.
- It is difficult to gauge whether there are sufficient places on 'authorised' sites for Gypsies/Travellers, as waiting list for places on sites are not common, are generally small in real numbers and may not be a reliable measure of demand. However, local authorities in Scotland are now expected to address the issue of assessing and considering the accommodation needs of Gypsies/Travellers in their Local Housing Strategy, which will help inform what the priorities and outstanding needs are for this group.
- Unauthorised camping is more significant in some areas than in others but all local authorities should nonetheless be prepared to deal with such encampments. It should not be seen as purely a local phenomenon, as an eviction in one area may have the effect of merely displacing the encampment over a local boundary for another authority to deal with. Local authorities should therefore give serious consideration to measures that will facilitate cross boundary co-operation between authorities.
Box 1: we would like to hear from local authorities that have developed good practice around cross-boundary liaison with neighbouring authorities in managing unauthorised camping.
Page updated: Thursday, May 25, 2006