Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Services in Essex
Essex County Council has several responsibilities in relation to the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and the fostering of good relationships with settled communities within the county.
There are a range of services available to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities located within the county or passing through, including access to education and clear guidance on unauthorised encampments.
More information can be found on the Essex County Council website.
Epping Forest District Council’s Role
In many cases, responsibilities are shared with other statutory authorities such as Epping Forest District Council. We keep a public register of licensed sites and we have standard licence conditions for these sites:
There is a history of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller incursions nationally onto both council owned land and privately owned land, and unauthorised development of land into caravan sites under the ownership of the Gypsy, Roma and Travellers.
This web page sets out the powers and responses to these incidents that are available to Epping Forest District Council and private landowners.
Unauthorised Developments on land owned by Gypsy, Roma and Travellers
Gypsy, Roma and Travellers have the same rights to purchase and own any land. As with any other person in the UK they are subject to the same restrictions as the settled community when it comes to developing a site for occupation as a permanent site that requires planning permission. The provisions of the Law and the Human Rights Act apply to all residents in the UK.
Sometimes the Council can only take enforcement action if it can persuade a Judge in the appropriate Court to give it permission. If the Court gives permission, enforcement of any Court decisions is also reliant on the local Police having the necessary resources to act.
The options open to the Council’s Planning Enforcement for breach of planning regulations in these and any other cases of unauthorised development are:
- Interim and permanent injunctions
- Temporary stop notices
- Enforcement notices
- Stop notices
All of these measures rely on Officers gathering evidence of the occupation and or development of a site, liaising with the Legal Section, and often obtaining specialist legal advice. An interim injunction may be obtained to prevent works being undertaken and to prevent residential occupation commencing but there is no certainty that a permanent Injunction requiring the residential use to cease can be obtained.
The hearing of the application for a permanent injunction may have to wait until the planning position has been finally determined. If there is sufficient evidence of a breach then an injunction / stop / enforcement notice can be served as appropriate.
Planning Enforcement has no powers to physically stop the occupation or continued development of a site if the persons involved choose to ignore the notices that are served, other than to prosecute the offenders through the Court system. There is no power of arrest for the breach of an injunction or other planning enforcement notice.
Once work has started at a site the planning system cannot stop it with any speed. The occupiers or owners of a site have the ability to take their case through both the Planning system and the Courts, and this can take several years. Whilst the Council has a good record of success in dealing with these matters, the planning system does not presently provide a quick remedy.
Unauthorised encampments by Gypsy, Roma and Travellers on council owned land
For unauthorised encampments on Council land, there is little immediate action that can be taken by the Council to remove the trespassers. There is a Code for Travellers in Essex that allows small encampments to remain for up to 28 days, subject to certain conditions. Epping Forest District Council agreed a number of years ago, along with other Essex Authorities, to apply the code before evicting Gypsy, Roma and Travellers using Civil Procedure Rules Part 55 evictions.
Anyone with an interest in the land can use this form of eviction, to regain possession of the land from trespassers (normally to the county court). ‘Trespassers’ will be served with the possession claim details either by attaching them to caravans or on the land. This will notify the occupiers of the details of the case, including the time and day of the court hearing that will deal with the application for possession.
At a possession hearing a judge will normally grant an order for possession ‘forthwith’, then, unless the encampment leaves voluntarily, the claimant will apply to the court for a warrant which gives them the ability to enforce the possession order and evict.
Essex police can use discretionary powers under section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (s.61), after the land owner has asked the occupiers to leave the site, (but there must be evidence of damage to the land or threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards the occupier or 6 or more vehicles on the land).
In most cases the use of police powers and resources are not required and the occupation on Council land will be dealt with by possession proceedings for trespass starting on the next working day.
For private landowners the same procedure for unauthorised encampments on Epping Forest District Council land detailed above can be followed. A landowner does not have to apply the Code for Travellers in Essex, but can choose to do so.
Private land owners can also raise the issue with the police to discuss if it is appropriate for the police to use discretionary s.61 powers. In most cases occupation on private land will be dealt with by possession proceedings for trespass.
Private landowners or their representative will normally have to visit the site and ask the occupiers to leave, provide a statement detailing the unauthorised occupation and employ a solicitor to draw up the necessary legal papers which they will have to arrange to serve on the occupiers. Any informal agreement by the land owner to allow the occupiers to remain on the site for a limited period will prevent the police using s.61 powers to remove the occupiers within that period.
General contact - for general enquiries visit our contact us page.
Standby duty officer - can be contacted by telephone on 01992 564000.
Unauthorised development - contact Jerry Godden, Principal Planning Officer (Enforcement) by telephone on 01992 564498.
Unauthorised encampments - contact Richard Gardiner, Environment and Neighbourhood Manager by telephone on 01992 564089.