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Live webchat: Jason Kitcat on travellers
Updated 2:29pm Tuesday 17th June 2014 in News
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- Jason Kitcat answers readers questions about the traveller merry-go-round in Brighton
And with that, the webchat is over. We'd love to get Mr Kitcat to answer more of your questions, but time is against us.
Thank you for commenting, and sending in your questions ahead of the webchat. I hope you found Mr Kitcat's answers interesting.
Byelaws cannot trump national laws, which police and council officers need to abide by.
But byelaws are also very hard to enforce. You need the name and address of someone considered to be breaching the byelaw and rarely is it an immediate power - you would need to take the matter to a magistrate.
Police powers are stronger and more immediate than what our byelaws can provide.
10:31am Tue 17 Jun 14
It's obviously not just the costs that Cllr Kitcat won't address. He obviously chooses to ignore the byelaws relating to this city's parks that could address this situation. The following sections apply:
22. A person shall not in the pleasure ground (= park) wilfully obstruct, disturb, interrupt, or annoy any other person in the proper use of the pleasure ground, or wilfully obstruct, disturb, or interrupt any authorised officer in the proper execution of his duty, or of any work in the connexion with the laying out or maintenance of the pleasure ground.
There is an existing remedy:
27. Every person who shall infringe any bylaw for the regulation of the pleasure ground may be removed therefrom by any officer of the council, authorised by them in writing to enforce these bylaws, or by any constable, in any one of the several cases hereinafter specified : that is to say-
(i) Where the infraction of the byelaw is committed within the view of such officer or constable, and the name and residence of the person infringing the bylaw are unknown to and cannot be readily ascertained by such an officer or constable.
So please explain, Cllr Kitcat, why are these vehicles allowed to desecrate our parks, in breach of existing legislation? Instead of carrying out assessment, the council officers should be moving them immediately off the land, should they not?
When that happens on a park it is of serious concern to both council and police officers and they will seek to act on it in any way they are empowered to do so.
That could be about changing access points to the park or enforcement if they are able to identify an offender.
Question submitted to Friends Of Preston Park by the public
"Traveller cars are being allowed to drive straight across the park. How can this be safe?"
Monitoring does take place and extensive planning especially before larger evictions.
You will find that often additional defences are brought in, such as concrete blocks, mobile security units and additional police patrols.
However, given the number of parks and open spaces we can't possibly maintain this level of defence every time.
That's why I don't believe a Fortress Brighton approach is the lasting way forward.
I would hope that all ward councillors could work together on this rather than us pitching on area against another over who gets more defences.
They are not a lasting solution, and they can be breached.
Adrian Imms - how are you going to deal with this while we wait for a permanent site?
Jason Kitcat - Hangleton Bottom now has concrete blocks all around it. Do we want the same around Preston Park or Hove Lawns? And even if we did, we can't possibly afford to do all that - and they can be breached.
Almost every single encampment moves on because an eviction is imminent - it's not a time of their choosing.
I think we need to open up the debate of whether there are some sites where we could undertake some toleration while we wait for Eric Pickles to come to his decision?
Regionally, many authorities are just doing nothing.
Adrian Imms - which sites could be tolerated?
Jason Kitcat - I don't think city centre sites could be tolerated. I think we need to revisit whether some of those defences at outlying sites need to be reviewed.
I have no idea how long the secretary of state will take to review the decision.
There's no time limit on it, and he's not given us any indication of whether there will be a review at all.
We don't even know if he'll still be in power next May.
If he conducts himself in that manner [using the site as a political football] it would be something I would want to explore challenging this through legal avenues.
"When the travellers are moved on why do we not monitor their movement to prevent further trespass?"
I truly understand the significant distress and disturbance caused by these problems and I would like to assure Mrs Henderson that we take this very seriously.
Not to sound like a broken record but it was a huge leap that we won the first major planning consent from the new South Downs National Park Authority for our new permanent traveller site.
It was completely unexpected and disappointing that Eric Pickles, Secretary of State, called this in and we have no deadline for his decision.
We are exploring all options but this uncertainty from Mr Pickles is a serious problem.
It's a high priority for us. We have examined something like a hundred sites to find a suitable site.
Mrs P Henderson
"Could you make this problem a priority? The population who have been inconvenienced by these settlements want preventative action now, and put an end to this yearly problem."
The wellbeing of our local area as well as travellers families are assessed, but council officers have to work within the law, which does not specify the level of detail Mrs Bailey is going into now.
After an encampment is evicted we have specialist teams come in to clean up.
But the best thing of all would be permanent provision which would include sanitation blocks.
Lesley Bailey, Hollingbury
"If travellers park in public parks and places where there are no sanitation facilities, are they not immediately evicted?"
I'm sorry you feel that way, but I don't think your view reflects how things are actually happening on the ground.
Council and police officers work very hard seven days a week responding to community reports of unauthorised encampments.
John Marchant, Brighton
"Why do we have to wait until The Argus reports the problems to get action?"
Adrian Imms - what's your answer to the Conservatives' calls to designate the city's parks as sensitive areas?
Designating our parks as sensitive areas doesn't change the legal situation. council and police officers already see parks and recreation grounds as sensitive sites of community use, but they have to apply the law and consider all the different factors before planning a way forward.
Ultimately, we would rather not see unauthorised encampments on parks at all and the best way to achieve that is more permament spaces, which is exactly what the Conservatives applied for Government funding for.
I think it's absolutely appalling the Conservatives are calling in the secretary of state to halt the Horsdean planning consent.
Geoffrey Theobald wrote a piece for The Argus in 2009 making the case for a permanent site in exactly the same way I am today.
The only thing that's changed since then is that the proposed site is no longer in a Labour held ward, but in Councillor Theobald's own ward.
I would have no problem with it if it was in my own ward.
If people aren't happy with unauthorised encampments on public parks, then far better that the traveller communities are on a properly constructed site with all the facilities so they can live peacefully in the way they choose to do. It's a far more happy and cost-effective solution for all involved.
Asbos are a very detailed and involved measure which require evidence of antisocial behaviour and a court hearing.
It would be impossible to apply and it is wrong to suggest that all groups of travellers cause antisocial behaviour.
9:41am Tue 17 Jun 14
The Council could raise an anti social behaviour order against travellers or an exclusion notice which bans them from setting up camp, why hasn't this been done
I am not a lawyer, but I understand that a court eviction order must apply to a specific piece of land and specific group of households. It can't be a generic catch-all banning order.
Adrian Imms - but what about the impact on the settled community?
Jason Kitcat That is a really difficult job police and council officers find themselves in, balancing the rights and needs of different groups .
Freedom of assembly is a fundamental human right - that's also why we can't ban the March for England.
The best solution is to give travellers a permanent site to visit the city.
"The council can move travellers on as much as they wish but they will not leave the city.
"In view of this, why can’t the council get a court order that covers all open/green spaces/parks?"
Adrian Imms: How often do you get appeals?
Jason Kitcat: Nationally there are legal experts in this area who work on both sides. They will be appealing on behalf of an encampment or working on behalf of councils and private landowners.
We have in the last decade had difficult cases which have been challenged.
Council and police officers are required to do this as part of the process of applying the three main pieces of legislation which apply to these situations.
The whole point of the community impact assessment is not just to assess the health and wellbeing of the travellers in the space of where they are but also that of the settled community.
The health of that family might be unchanged from last week when they were in a park to this week when they're in a recreation ground.
In one, there may be a sporting fixture in the same space and that fixture may mean the threshold is met.
The police and council need to go through this process so that if they do use the stronger Section 61 and 62 powers, they can prove in the case of an appeal that they have followed the letter of the law.
They're pretty quick - our officers can do several in a day.
On private land, we don't carry out the same type of assessments - we look at the health and wellbeing of travellers and if there's any antisocial behaviour.
"We currently have the most ridiculous situation where the travellers hitting Brighton and Hove for their summer season are simply moving from park to park to park to park and then back to the same parks again.
"So, why does the council keep carrying out “community impact assessments” for the same travellers, on the same sites, where the community being impacting has not changed?
"What is it supposed to achieve?"
At the moment, the pitches on the transit site are mainly being used by families with a permanent connection to Brighton and Hove.
That's why we need to build a permanent site to free up transit pitches.
Just because in one week some of those pitches were empty does not give a full picture of a year of use.
We know from experience elsewhere in the country and Europe that expanding such pitches is a lasting solution.
The previous council administration thought so too, which is why they bid for money from Government and won it.
That's why the South Downs National Park Authority supported our application, and that's why we're keen to get started.
Of course this won't stop every single unauthorised encampment forever but it is the best and most affordable solution for minimising the current situation.
"There is currently only one family at the official Horsdean traveller site. Doesn’t this put to bed the ridiculous theory that an expanded Horsdean site will somehow reduce illegal encampments in the city?"
First of all, policing is run by the Police and Crime Commissioner, and I don't have those figures to hand.
The council's figures are published annually in the end of year accounts, which are publicly available.
I don't have all those figures to hand, but they were discussed at the last Policy and Resources committee, if you'd like to have a look.
V Smith, Brighton
"Please can you confirm how much money the council has spend in the past three years on the safety assessments, court orders for evictions, policing, tidying up, and all other costs associated with travellers camping on council property illegally?"
Firstly, the police are the ones who have powers to direct to the site, though of course we work closely with them.
The view is that the law doesn't allow the police to subdivide the larger group.
There was an encampment of 50 households, and a smaller one of 15.
The view was that you couldn't, under the law, direct 10 of those 50 to the transit site.
If there are smaller encampments, which they tend to be, the police will use their powers to direct them to the transit sites.
It is unusual for such a large encampment to build. It's one of the largest ones I can recall.
It is important to note that these encampments are not illegal, ie they do not breach criminal law, which means the police cannot deal with it (unless a threshold for antisocial behaviour is met and they breach criminal law). They are deemed unauthorised. This is why we have to go to civil court for an eviction order.
Ben Benterman, Brighton
"Why are there more than 100 travellers illegally camped on our public parks yet there was only one traveller family using the Horsdean transit site?
"There were ten [usable] spaces. Why have you not directed other travellers there?"
Anybody seeking to drive onto or live on a park or public land will be treated in the same way.
By law, these are unauthorised encampments. Police eviction under Section 61 or 62 can only be done if certain specific criteria are met such as antisocial behaviour or the prevention of something like a sports fixture going ahead.
Adrian Imms asks if Mr Kitcat can sympathise with people who say the travellers appear to be above the law.
Mr Kitcat: I understand people's concerns, but I don't think it's an easy life, having to travel around under threat of court evictions or bailiffs. If there were sufficient sites, as there used to be, it woudln't be such an issues.
For example, by Carden Primary School there was a large market garden which was used by a traveller family who are still resident in the area.
Before the war, the primary school and health centre site was a traveller site.
We know there are families in the travelling community who have links going back to the city going back more than 200 years.
We need to find a balance so that everyone can enjoy this city.
I agree we're not there now, and that's why I would like to build more proper sites across Sussex for travellers to occupy.
I believe some sites in West Sussex have been closed down in recent years - but I believe there are plans to build one near Chichester.
Adrian Imms - would a site in Chichester alleviate Brighton problems?
There are people who like to remain in Sussex, but there are also some who want to come to Brighton and Hove, either because of family links or because it's a nice place to spend some time.
It can't be right that of the 26 transit sites in Sussex, 23 are in Brighton and Hove. There needs to be a fairer spread - and that means more sites outside Brighton, not fewer here.
If you look at how we compare to Europe, we in the south east of England are way below what we should have, both in terms of permanent and transit sites.
"Are there not laws that exist to protect our parks, or is it simply that some groups are above the law in your view?
"Why are Section 61 evictions not being sought immediately in these locations?
"Why can travellers drive into Preston Park and not pay to park, remaining there for days on end?"
Travelling communities on designated transit sites are charged rents and other fees.
If there is fly-tipping on an unauthorised encampment the council and police will seek to prosecute for that if there is sufficient evidence.
The simple fact is that over the last few years it is quicker and cheaper to provide bins rather than just clearing up afterwards.
Because it is unauthorised, we don't have a legal means by which to charge for the use of those bins, but we do enforce any antisocial behaviour or fly-tipping.
"Why, when they’re camping on our land, doesn't the council charge tax for the bins that are supplied and cleaned up afterwards?
"All the council has to do is take their registration numbers and chase them up?"
I can't comment on specific individual cases of parking enforcement but I can say that the council's parking enforcement contractor pursues all parking breaches and tickets issued equally.
DG and AJ Brownjohn, Hollingdean, Brighton
What happened to the parking tickets that were given to them when in Preston Park?
I'm very aware of the strong feelings and I share the concerns of people worried about the loss of use of their parks and open spaces.
But I know that council and police officers work incredibly hard all hours applying the law.
Quite simply, if an unauthorised encampment does not mean the threshold for immediate police action, then we have to go to court for an eviction order and that can take some time.
It's my view that a Fortress Brighton approach of building defences everywhere isn't going to be an affordable or a lasting solution.
Chris Cooper, Brighton
"As a resident who is more than fed up with what is happening to our local parks, are you aware of the bad feeling building up towards the council and the police, who both appear to blame each other when the travellers come?
"We have lovely parks, please stop them ruining them."
Mr Kitcat says:
Over the last seven or eight years the number of unauthorised encampments has been broadly the same. In fact, so far in recent years the highest number of encampments was in 2009/10.
The council and the police work together very closely to apply the law which requires us to give consideration to the rights of the settled communities and gypsy Roma traveller communities.
In recent years, this joint working has meant that the average time it takes to evict an unauthorised encampment has dropped from 26 days to 14 days.
We have also increased the physical defences on a number of parks. Private land owners in recent years have also increased their defences.
The result of all this is that we are seeing unauthorised encampments in more high profile places than ever before.
So how do we fix this?
We can either go for fortress Brighton, which would mean building expensive defences across every piece of public land and park in the city.
Or, we can work with the neighbouring authorities in Sussex to provide sufficient proper permanent sites for gypsy Roma traveller communities.
Of the 26 transit sites in our region, 23 are in Brighton and Hove.
We have worked really hard to win funding from Government and planning permission from the national park to build permanent pitches for travellers.
Unfortunately, this has been held up by the secretary of state.
Around the country, we know that only by building more of this kind of provision will we find a lasting solution.
I hope that we can move beyond politics on this and work together regionally to provide these lasting solutions.
First question is from Mrs Bolkova, Brighton who called reporter Adrian Imms.
She asks: "Is it fair that the parks are for people, Brighton residents, and that these have become a caravan site for travellers?
"How much longer is this going to be tolerated before we can change the law?"
Good morning and welcome to the Argus live webchat with Brighton and Hove City Council leader Jason Kitcat.
He will be answering your questions about the recent series of traveller encampments on city parkland.
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