Over the summer Chichester welcomes visitors from across the country and all over the world who come to enjoy our beautiful area including visitors from the Gypsy and Traveller community.
The vast majority of the traveller community are law-abiding citizens who contribute to the fabric of our society. In Chichester we have a semi-permanent Gypsy population who live and work here.
Sadly, a small proportion of travellers camp illegally and upset communities. Across West Sussex, we have suffered 78 illegal encampments since April this year, and many constituents have written to me expressing their concerns. One example, many will be aware of, are the six caravans and a dozen other vehicles that made Tangmere recreation grounds their temporary home. Although only there for a week, residents suffered abusive behaviour, noise disruption and lost access to an important community amenity. Once the travellers left, the parish council spent more than £400 removing 30 bags of waste from the site.
The impact on business can be astronomical, one local farmer has spent nearly £10,000 on clean up and legal fees and he is still unable to use his field for livestock as small wire cuttings remain that could be fatal to livestock if ingested.
Whilst the police have the power to move travellers on from illegal encampments, this is usually achieved with a civil court order that can take up to a week to get, and often the group just move to another site down the road, creating a cat and mouse game that runs throughout the summer months.
Last week we debated these issues in Parliament with many MPs calling for the ‘Irish option’ which makes trespassing a criminal offence rather than a civil one, allowing the police to immediately move on illegal encampments.
The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government recently met with the Irish Government to discuss their approach further. On the 15th June, a consultation closed that looked into the UK’s traveller policy, and we hope to hear the results in the near future. Locally I have spoken with the police, businesses and councillors to understand their concerns with the current law and feedback our experiences to Government.
To keep in touch I’m holding drop in meetings in pubs across the constituency (it’s a hard job!) plus a reminder that there is a public meeting, open to everyone, on September 21 at Boxgrove Village Hall. For more details and how to get in touch, visit www.gilliankeegan.com.