Councillor James asked why council can’t keep traveller camps out of public parks

Travellers camp at Long Barn Lane in 2018

At the Katesgrove Community Association (KCA) meeting on 10 July, Katesgrove councillor Sophia James was asked what Reading Borough Council (RBC) could do to prevent travellers from re-occupying public sites. Travellers have cycled their encampments between Rabson’s Rec, Long Barn Lane and Waterloo Meadows several times over the last few years.

Councillor James, who is also the lead for neighbourhoods and communities, replied that the council had spent over £100,000 defending council land, starting with building grassed-over mounds of rubble to block access to the town’s bigger parks, such as Prospect Park.

“But that just pushes it to other areas, and you can’t build mounds everywhere, otherwise council vehicles wouldn’t be able to get in,” said Councillor James. “Also, many large patches of land they used to occupy have been developed, which means that the encampments at places like Long Barn Lane are now large.”

Councillor James said that neither locks, bollards, gates, fences nor boulders prevent travellers from accessing sites.

“The standard court process can take 3-4 weeks, but courts have, perhaps rightly, criticised councils for not having any legal encampment sites,” continued Councillor James. “I’ve been trying to find one, but it’s not easy as there’s not much money to do it. I hope there will be some results from that in the next year and a half.”

She added that both the police and the local authority had powers to evict travellers, but they had to justify these with the courts and had to balance their use with the needs of the travellers. “We have to do our social care and child education checks, for example,” she added.

Unauthorised encampment is not a criminal but a civil offence; this only gives landowners the right to repossess their property through the courts. The authorities can expedite the eviction process if they have evidence of criminal or antisocial behaviour. “We need reports from people about antisocial behaviour linked to the encampment, so we can do something about it,” added Councillor James.

PCSO Rod Holmes told the KCA that the travellers made a living through house clearances and stripping dumped items like fridges and cookers of valuable parts. He added that they hadn’t been involved in recent burglaries on the Cradock Road industrial estate, but they had been known to steal catalytic converters from cars at the Brunel retail park.

Reporting antisocial behaviour

Neither the police nor the local authority can act on gossip or hearsay. “Logging complaints on social media sites doesn’t count as a report,” said PCSO Holmes. “People need to officially tell us, so we can do something about it.”

If it’s an emergency, phone 999. If it’s not an emergency you can:

If you want to report an incident anonymously, then phone Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 or use their online form.

The police and local authority say:

If you can, keep a note of any suspicious activities and of distinguishing features of the suspect, like gender, age, build, and if they were carrying anything.

If a car is involved, try to remember the colour, make, type and registration number.

Any details you can give provides us with evidence to help identify individuals and take appropriate action against them using the tools and powers available to tackle anti-social behaviour.


Links
  1. Katesgrove Community Association
  2. Katesgrove neighbourhood policing team
  3. Whitley and Church neighbourhood policing team
  4. RBC and antisocial behaviour
  5. RBC guide to unauthorised encampments
  6. Reporting antisocial behaviour with Thames Valley Police
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