October 29, 2016
Burnham-On-Sea MP calls for tougher laws on moving travellers

Burnham-On-Sea's MP James Heappey has urged the Government to introduce tougher planning laws for travellers during a debate in Parliament this week.

Several traveller groups set up sites in the area over the summer, including at Burnham's BASC Ground, and in Burnham's Pier Street car park, and on Berrow Village Green.

During the Commons debate, he said that it is "absolutely nuts" that members of the travelling community can park illegally and not incur a fine.

He also labelled the processes that district councils have to go through to move unwanted travellers on as "money poured down the drain".

He said: "What the travelling community need to understand is that there are legal travellers pitches for them to use, and if there aren't enough left in a certain county, then that county is full, and they need to go on somewhere else until there is a pitch available."

"There are traveller pitches within Somerset, it is not the full time residents of Somerset who are at fault for the fact that Somerset appears to be a popular place for travellers to visit."

"Why is it that Somerset should provide an unlimited number of pitches to meet that demand?"

He said: "The travellers are very, very well informed about what their legal rights are and what the timelines are for putting in place all of the various legal processes."

"What that means is that they tend to leave on the final day, before they themselves would have either broken the law or be required to incur some legal costs of their own."

"It means that all of this money is being poured down the drain by our district councils trying to get rid of these illegal encampments, only in the end for them to move on because the time has come and they don't want to incur any cost themselves."

"I think that government needs to have a really good look at this legal process that they have put in place which means that councils have to spend a few thousand pounds every time, to go through a process that is guaranteed to last at least two to three weeks."

"The travellers know that it takes that long, and it is a game of whack-a-mole, because as soon as the legal process is just about to come into effect the travellers move on and the money is wasted."

He called on the government to create a much quicker legal process, that costs councils nothing.

"We cannot continue to have this process where they are setting up illegal encampments, and our legal process is so cumbersome that they are guaranteed two to three weeks of being able to stay there, before the legal process comes into effect and they are moved on."

Mr Heappey said afterwards: "It was an excellent debate, well supported by MPs whose constituencies have been similarly affected by illegal encampments. Given all the challenges we have had this summer in Burnham and Berrow, it was well worth having this debate. Crucially, the Government recognises just how frustrating this issue is and has reassured me policies are under review."


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