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Illegal traveller pitch numbers give 'inaccurate picture' in Aylesbury Vale

Illegal traveller pitch numbers give 'inaccurate picture' in Aylesbury Vale

Published by Dan Gooding at 3:10pm 16th December 2019.

Figures showing a rise in illegal traveller sites in Aylesbury Vale aren't right, according to our council.

AVDC say official stats which show 11 caravans pitched illegally last year aren't accurate and that comparing one year to another doesn't give an accurate picture.

They're also working to create more official traveller sites to stop any pitching up in places like car parks.

A report says councils carry out a count of caravans on traveller sites twice a year to provide a snapshot of the numbers in permitted and unpermitted spots.

It includes those lived in by Gypsies and Travellers, as well as non-traditional groups who live in moveable homes.

Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government data shows that 11 traveller caravans were on sites without planning permission in Aylesbury Vale in July, up from four counted in July 2009.

But this is where AVDC disagrees.

The total number of caravans in the area also rose over the period, from 158 to 350.

This means that 3% were in unauthorised locations this year.

All the dwellings on unpermitted land were tolerated, meaning the council had decided not to try to remove the encampment.

The trend in Aylesbury Vale bucked that across England, where 3,082 caravans were on unauthorised sites - 17% fewer than a decade previously.

This was despite the total number of dwellings increasing by a third, to around 23,000, meaning the vast majority had planning permission.

The Conservative Party has pledged in its election manifesto to "tackle unauthorised traveller camps" by giving the police new powers to arrest and seize the property and vehicles of trespassers on unauthorised encampments.

The document adds:

"We will make intentional trespass a criminal offence, and we will also give councils greater powers within the planning system."

The Traveller Movement, a charity that fights discrimination against the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community, says the national figures show that "only a tiny minority of Travellers reside on unauthorised land".

Yvonne MacNamara, the group's chief executive, said:

"Why is this Government pouring so much money into this issue when it would cost far, far less to provide sites?

"While local authorities pump millions annually into removing unauthorised encampments, the other issues facing communities are ignored.

"This includes high rates of anxiety and suicide, poor health outcomes, school exclusions and cuts to Traveller education services.

"In criminalising the most marginalised and vulnerable members of the community, we risk pushing them over the edge. It solves nothing."

Ms MacNamara added that Gypsies and Travellers were being treated as "political footballs once again".

A spokesperson from Aylesbury Vale District Council said:

"The quoted figures represent an inaccurate picture of the situation in Aylesbury Vale.

"Firstly, the caravan count varies considerably from year to year, so taking one count and comparing it with one other count ten years later gives a false impression of there being a trend. For example, the year prior to 2009 in July 2008, the unauthorised figure was 20 caravans.

"In the year after in July 2010, it was 9 caravans. Then the figure of 11 caravans in July 2019 is one higher than the previous year when it was 10 caravans in July 2018, but one lower than it was in July 2017 when it was 12 caravans.

"Similarly, the percentage of caravans that are unauthorised against the total has only altered very slightly in ten years rising from 1.9% in July 2009 to 3.1% in July 2019. A rise of just over 1%. However, if you compare to July 2008 when the percentage was 15.1% then the figure has fallen by 12%.

"In relation to tolerated sites, it should be noted that all the 11 caravans were on travellers' own land and the remedies that apply to occupation of land not owned by travellers, such as public car parks, are not available to the council. Enforcement of planning rules must also be in the public interest, and each case is subject to individual assessments. In relation to the Conservative Party statement that is quoted, "intentional trespass" - this cannot apply when travellers own the land they are occupying.

"Notably, in Aylesbury Vale, the Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan (VALP) is actually making sufficient provision for traveller pitches in accord with government policy. This means that the justification for occupying sites illegally because not enough sites are available will no longer be feasible."

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