August 12, 2016
Burnham-On-Sea's MP meets councils and police after travellers influx

Burnham-On-Sea's MP met with police and local councillors this week to discuss the recent spate of travellers in our area and consider what steps can be taken to move them on faster in future.

Wednesday's closed meeting took place in Burnham and Highbridge Town Council's Chambers, as pictured here, with invited speakers from Avon and Somerset Police, Sedgemoor District Council, Somerset County Council, the Town Council plus district and county councillors.

A new action plan is to be drawn up in Sedgemoor to help local councils better handle travellers within the law, and move them on as quickly as possible.

MP James Heappey called this week's meeting after a series of traveller encampments in Burnham-On-Sea this summer, in several car parks, at a sports ground and on Berrow's village green.

Mr Heappey told afterwards: "It was a very helpful meeting that gave an opportunity to the parish and town councils to tell us what has happened this summer and where people's grievances were. We then looked at what can be done to try and prevent those things happening in the future."

"One reality that came out of this meeting is that it takes a week to ten days to move these people on. And actually ten days is pretty quick as there's a legal process. You can't just move them on - no matter how much we might like to."

"We looked at how that process might become more transparent so the public can feel they understand how that process is progressing. Often there is frustration with a sense that the authorities aren't reacting. We've looked at how the process might be clearer and also how that process is held to account."

"We also looked at low level enforcement issues - it was very frustrating to people locally that they might be 20 minutes late getting back from the shops to find a parking ticket in Burnham's seafront car park, yet the people who have been camping there for two days haven't had a ticket."

"That is unfair and wrong. We are looking at how we can make sure that if you're in that car park and you haven't paid, you get a ticket - no matter who you are."

"There are also several bits of legislation that we looked at. There's a fine of £250 for caravanning illegally without a caravan license, and we are looking at how those who caravan illegally in a car park in Burnham-On-Sea could receive a £250 fine for doing so. All of those things need to be worked through."

Asked if there was a feel of frustration from those present at the meeting, Mr Heappey said: "There was some frustration from your MP. Also, from those who have been on the receiving end of this - those who have been physically living alongside it and those who have been representing the community over the summer and have had so many ward members going up to them and writing to them to say how unfair and wrong it all is. There is a lot of frustration."

"But, equally, there was an understanding that if you get the process wrong, the traveller community very well understands the laws that govern their lifestyle."

"The gypsy council of Great Britain is very well resourced and has very good lawyers. If you get the process wrong and rush it, you can find yourselves on the receiving end of legal action, which you will lose, and it costs the local authority a lot of money. So it is important to do it as quickly as possible while doing it right.

"Today's meeting discussed how we can do this as quickly as possible - the police and local authorities are working in tandem and concurrently to bring about enforcement and move people on as quickly as possible."

He added: "There will be a document we will write that will represent an action plan for illegal encampments in Sedgemoor."

"Clearly, that is the district council's document but I think that if this exists here and in other councils across the country, it will make the process that bit more transparent and accountable and that people will have the confidence that the process is being followed and the travellers will move in a set amount of time."


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