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Local resident sets the record straight on Parc Bryn y Don

13 July 2015

Following the moving on of an unauthorised traveller encampment in Dinas Powys last month there has been some comment in the local press about how the situation was addressed. Following some inaccurate speculation the Vale of Glamorgan Council was very pleased to see a letter appear in last week’s GEM newspaper from a former local authority Head of Public Protection which offered a factual and independent appraisal of the situation.

 

The letter which was printed in the 09 July edition of the newspaper read as follows.

 

I consider Alun Cairns viewpoint in the Gem last week in regard to the travellers at Dinas Powys unfair, and it had more to do with populism and trying to score cheap political points, than providing the public with an informed and concise appraisal of the situation.


It was wrong to compare Cardiff Council (where travellers were gone within two days) with the Vale Council (where it took 10 days) without a full explanation and understanding of the facts of each case.


Very few such situations are identical and local authorities deal with them on a case by case basis. I have no reason to believe that officers in the Vale Council are any less (or more) competent than their Cardiff counterparts, and have no doubt that both will have used legislative tool available them as considered appropriate.


A council cannot remove unauthorised travellers from its land immediately. It has to follow due legal process and will invariable follow central government guidance. Proper procedures must be followed to ensure that it is successful in obtaining the necessary authority from the courts to order the travellers to leave the site.


On encountering such a situation, the authority has a duty to carry out welfare assessments and, if necessary, consult with external agencies – such as the NHS and the police. There may well need to be internal multi-departmental involvement. The authority will be mindful of the Human Rights Act in any decision that they make, which must have regard to legality, necessity, proportionality, and common humanity. All must be properly documented, with an identifiable audit trail in relation to decisions made, in case any referral to the court is required.


Dealing properly with such matters is time-consuming. Officers must visit the site, interview the travellers (in the Dinas case possibly an interpreter would be needed), establish facts and record details. Other agencies may have to visit and report back before the Council can act further. Reports will be submitted and then notices or direction orders must be drafted, signed, and served. If the travellers remain, applications must be made for a court hearing.


Statements will be drafted for submission to the court. If there is any objections, or if the court is not satisfied that the authority have carried out their statutory obligations, the case may be adjourned, further delaying eviction.


For an authority to remove travellers from a site in two days using proper process is in my experience technically and practically almost impossible. I venture to suggest the travellers in Cardiff were probably only staying a couple of days anyway and left of their own accord.


It is easier to make a case and get court approval for moving travellers on if the local authority provides a legal transient travellers site to which they can relocate. There is not one provided by the Vale and the two travellers sites in Cardiff are more permanent residential sites.


If the MP wished to do something constructive, he could lobby for the law to be changed, so that councils could act more expeditiously by giving them similar powers to the police and be able to direct travellers to move on and take eviction action, without the need for court approval.


It is quite possible that the Vale Council dealt with the problem as quickly as current procedures allow and they should not be unduly criticised when the circumstances of the case are unknown – and certainly not by an MP whose body is responsible for the law and guidance which local authorities follow.  
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