Published Tuesday, 31st July 2018
Statement regarding recent Traveller encampments
We know that recent events regarding some members of the travelling community have affected residents’ ability to enjoy our local parks and open spaces. We want to assure you we are doing everything possible within the law to control these events and minimise their impact.
We are very proud of the large number of parks and open spaces in our borough and work hard to keep them clean and pleasant for everyone to enjoy. This also means Sutton is attractive to Travellers to gain access to council land and set up unauthorised encampments. We have a good working relationship with the local Metropolitan Police and processes in place in help us manage such situations. We have also introduced a range of physical security measures such as earth bunds, height restricted access and more secure gating.
In spite of this the borough has suffered from a number of highly disruptive encampments in recent weeks. We are determined to move Travellers on as quickly as possible and to secure our parks and open spaces to ensure, as far as is possible, that Travellers are unable to return.
As you would expect, we need to act lawfully in our handling of Traveller evictions, and the current legal framework is very prescriptive about the processes we need to follow. This includes welfare checks by social services for any children on site, application to the High Court for the relevant court order, and giving the opportunity for Travellers to leave of their own accord. All of this takes time but we have to follow due process.
We have received a number of reports of alleged criminal activity associated with these recent encampments. This is never acceptable and we urge residents to contact the Police if this happens on 101, or 999 if you suspect a crime is taking place. We will continue to enforce against unlawful activity and behaviour wherever we can, and seek the assistance of the Metropolitan Police by using their greater powers.
Each time Travellers move we are obliged to get a fresh court order to move them on, requiring the same level of checks and input from the police, children's services and the courts. We are as frustrated with this process as residents and we have instructed officers to start the process of securing an injunction to manage these encampments more swiftly in future.
We are now discussing with our lawyers whether we have legal grounds for an injunction, given the recent increase in visits which would justify such a measure being granted by the Courts. This will be similar to that gained by Croydon Council last week and will cover all our open spaces and other specific sites as required by the courts (eg some of our car parks and leisure centres). Should we have grounds, we will apply for this injunction as soon as possible. This will allow us to take action more quickly, with help from our police colleagues. We will still be required by law to undertake welfare checks but the time currently taken in seeking a court order would be significantly reduced.
Alongside this legal approach we will continue to review and improve the physical barriers already in place to increase security (as we have done previously in other parks such as Roundshaw), at the same time as ensuring residents and visitors can still enjoy our parks and open spaces.
We thank all Sutton residents for their continued patience while we set up these new arrangements.
Councillor Ruth Dombey (Leader of the Council) and Councillor Manuel Abellan (Chair of the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee)