Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge’s MP, James Heappey, has this week welcomed proposed changes to the law that aim to “accelerate the process” for moving on illegal encampments of travellers.

His comments come after years of local problems over the Spring and Summer months when travellers have pitched up on The Esplanade, Berrow village green, Burnham and Berrow Golf Club, the BASC Ground, Highbridge’s Bank Street car park, Pier Street car park, and in the Sailing Club car park, as pictured below.

The Government has this week responded to a consultation on illegal traveller encampments and has accepted several recommendations made by Mr Heappey.

In a statement to the House of Commons, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said the Government has been “deeply troubled… by the widespread perception that the rule of law does not apply to those who choose a nomadic lifestyle, and the sense that available enforcement powers do not protect settled communities adequately.”

In his statement, the Home Secretary went on to say that the Government would be changing the law in four key areas to accelerate the process for moving on illegal encampments.

He announced that Police would be able to direct trespassers to suitable authorised sites in neighbouring local authority areas rather than only being able to move trespassers if alternative provision is available within the same local authority area.

Mr Heappey has long argued that this makes sense pointing to the hundreds of authorised pitches within North Somerset, Bath & North East Somerset and the five Somerset district council areas and expressing frustration that this total provision could not be considered when moving illegal encampments on.

The Home Secretary continued by announcing that the current law that prohibits a trespasser from returning to the site within three months will be extended to twelve; that police will be able to disperse an encampment of two vehicles or more rather than the current minimum of six; and police will be able to remove travellers from land that forms part of the public highway irrespective of whether there is alternative provision available.

Finally, Mr Javid noted the widespread support for criminalising illegal trespass, as has been successfully done in the Republic of Ireland. He has committed his department to work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and the Ministry of Justice to take forward that work.

Mr Heappey welcomed the announcement, saying: “Illegal encampments have angered thousands of constituents and cost our local councils hundreds of thousands of pounds. These changes to the law will make it easier for the police to intervene and move illegal encampments on more quickly.”

“The commitment to look at criminalising illegal trespass is particularly welcome as it will end the current cat and mouse game of civil proceedings needing to be brought and encampments remaining only for as long as it takes local authorities to complete the legal process and bring the matter to court. If we succeed in criminalising illegal trespass, the crime will have been committed the moment an encampment is formed which will act as a significant deterrent.”

“I’ve been working hard on this issue for a number of years and I’m delighted that the Government has responded so positively. This is an issue that matters to thousands of local residents and I hope these law changes can be enacted quickly so people can see the benefit on the ground.”