Illegal encampments on green space must be banned, urge Southend opposition councillors

New powers to ban illegal encampments on Southend’s green space and hand out fines must be brought in to stop criminal behaviour, say the Conservatives.

The group is calling on the council to introduce a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) on all green spaces in the borough to give the authority more enforcement powers to prevent tents, caravans and motor homes from pitching up illegally.

It would enforce the ban using on-the-spot fines, which can escalate to prosecution in court if they are not paid.

Tory councillor Daniel Nelson said it would show the council wants to protect residents, who often suffer from anti-social behaviour.

He said: “It is vitally important that as a council we prioritise the welfare of our residents in the borough who pay the council tax with their hard-earned cash.

“It is simply not fair for them to suffer anti-social or criminal behaviour that arises when people set up an unauthorised encampment.

“This PSPO will give the council their vital powers to tackle these issues whilst it gathers evidence to apply for a borough-wide injunction.”

Mr Nelson’s call for the PSPO comes after travellers set up on a field at Shoebury Park, Elm Road, on Monday. Another group of Travellers recently left green space on the junctions of Maplin Way North, Barnstaple Road and Bishopsteignton.

The Tories have been urging the council to implement a borough-wide injunction which would be a blanket ban on Travellers who set up illegally that can be enforced by the police.

However, the coalition administration made up of Labour, Liberal Democrats and Independent councillors, have consistently voted against the idea after legal officers said the injunction would not be authorised in court due to limited evidence.

The administration placed the blame on previous Tory administrations for failing to collect enough evidence of the damage and criminal behaviour that came as a result of illegal encampments.

Council leader Ian Gilbert has said new systems have been brought in to ensure all evidence is now recorded.

Councillor Martin Terry (Ind) said the suggestion of a PSPO is a “clever idea” that he is willing to take legal advice on.

He added: “I don’t know if this is possible but it is an idea and not something I would reject out of hand.

“If it’s feasible then it might be an idea to look at.”

However, he reiterated that an injunction is “not workable” based on legal advice the council has already received.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter