On Monday 9th October, Sir David spoke in a House of Commons debate titled ‘Gypsies and Travellers and Local Communities’. The MP for Southend West brought to light various points during his speech that highlighted the need for tougher laws to prevent travellers from occupying land illegally following a number of incidents in recent years. Sir David was joined in the debate by a number of his fellow Essex MPs including James Duddridge and Mark Francois who have both also faced similar incidents in their own constituencies.
Below is Sir David’s speech in full:
“Our town welcomes people from throughout the United Kingdom and all over the world, but we do not welcome people who are aggressive and violent, and who have no regard for other people and how they live their lives.”
“The general public are very angry about this issue and we—the politicians—are being blamed for our lack of action. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) gave us a solution.”
“I have consulted with our council’s chief executive, who tells me that evidence packs for court applications are required each and every time there is an encampment. Officers spend significant amounts of time gathering and compiling evidence, making court applications, and serving and following up possession orders. This time results in lost productivity and inability to deliver normal services to residents. Calculating the exact cost is difficult to quantify. A typical incursion, however, involves departmental officers, legal teams, enforcement agents, the council and the police. My goodness, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has been magnificent and our local police have been wonderful in dealing with the situation. Incursions also involve court administrative and hearing time, waste management officers and contractors, locksmiths and general contractors, and the media.
The worst example in my constituency happened between 7 July and 11 July where I turned up at Oakwood Park and, within a few minutes, swiftly did an about-turn. There were small children being absolutely abusive and I saw violence being used. The costs associated with that situation were £13,000 and the cleansing contractor alone cost £2,500—that was for 14 caravans. It was disgraceful destruction that spoilt the pleasure of the local residents who use the park. The encampments often damage land and generate a significant amount of rubbish. Portable toilets are often emptied into the bushes, creating a public health risk. There were six events in Southend this year. There I was in Priory Park—an iconic park—when suddenly we realised that eight caravans had turned up.
The amenity value of parks and open spaces for residents and visitors is removed when an incursion is in place and often until the remediation has been completed. I am told that the cost of parks officers’ time to deal with Traveller issues this summer alone was in excess of £4,500. Many Traveller groups have a high understanding of the current legal processes and are able to use that knowledge to ensure that they can stay for as long as possible before moving on to another area. The council invests in preventive measures, blocking off car parks to high-sided vehicles with height barriers, having concrete road blocks and additional security personnel at car parks. That can be effective but it can also prevent legitimate users of the area.
I say to the Minister that there is no point in having a debate unless there is action. Obviously, colleagues and I welcome the fact that we are being invited to have input in the process, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford has the answer and I hope the Government will adopt his solution.”
When endorsing the MP for Rayleigh and Wickford’s (Mark Francois) solution Sir David was referring to his proposal of a system similar to the Irish government’s which makes deliberate acts of trespass a criminal offence.
The debate came as a result of an increase in incidents whereby traveller communities have illegally occupied council owned land such as Oakwood Park in July this year. A large number of locals have expressed their anger at these invasions and have called repeatedly for action to be taken to prevent this from happening again.