I am very pleased and relieved to hear that, after years of patient lobbying of our MPs, and the Home Secretary directly, Priti Patel has confirmed that the Government will now be progressing legislation to introduce a criminal offence of intentional trespass.
Residents will be aware that this is something I have been calling for since at least 2017. Billericay and the rest of Basildon Borough has – like many places – suffered for years from unauthorised encampments. We have had them numerous times, just over the time I have been a councillor; at Sun Corner, Hannakins Farm, South Green, Queens Park, and in pretty much every corner of the Borough. The cost to the taxpayer of cleaning up after them is appalling.
The Government has confirmed that it will strengthen police powers and create a new criminal offence to tackle unauthorised encampments on any private or public land in vehicles without permission, and where they are causing significant disruption, distress or harm to local communities.
Police will be given powers to seize vehicles and arrest offenders. The measures will target harmful encampments which reflect badly on the wider nomadic community as a whole, the majority of whom are law-abiding.
The measures deliver on our manifesto commitment to tackle unauthorised encampments and will be part of a new major Criminal Justice Bill to be introduced in Parliament shortly. The new offence will be punishable by a prison sentence of up to 3 months, or a fine of up to £2,500 (or both).
The Government have also confirmed that the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (1994) will also be amended to allow police to direct trespassers away from land and broaden the range of factors police can consider when enforcing the law, to include interference with access to utilities like water, gas and electricity, and environmental damage such as excessive noise pollution or littering.
New provisions will also mean that people directed away from land must not return for 12 months.
I have always recognised people’s right to a nomadic life, but this must be balanced against the rights of settled residents to enjoy their local community facilities and taxpayers should not have bear the clean-up costs. I am really pleased that the Government has followed through on the recent consultations – the response to which I spearheaded on behalf of Basildon Council – and I look forward to seeing the legislation progress through Parliament in due course.