Council dithering behind Peterborough’s traveller issue

08:08 Friday 1st August 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: So is Peterborough getting neglected by Cambridgeshire’s police force? Well the city’s MP certainly thinks so. Stewart Jackson told this programme earlier that the Police and Crime Commissioner Sir Graham Bright needs a kick up the backside, and a tougher stance when it comes to dealing with illegal camped travellers. Here are just some of Stewart’s comments.
STEWART JACKSON: I’m sorry. Graham Bright is paid over £90,000 a year. He needs a good kick up the backside. He very rarely comes to Peterborough. In fact he insults Peterborough by appointing what he calls an outreach worker, as if Peterborough’s a sort of special social case. He needs to come to Peterborough a bit more and talk to people that are affected by this issue.
PAUL STAINTON: Well the row started when Stewart Jackson criticised Peterborough City Council for not setting up a site for travellers to use. Now a Cross-Party group has been looking into the possible locations where sites could be erected. But after two years, no locations have been made public as yet, although an announcement could be made in the next few weeks. Stewart Jackson says his constituents don’t want more traveller sites. They just want the travellers evicted and punished. Well the man in charge of policing Peterborough Tony Ixer told me earlier that the police can’t evict travellers until they have somewhere to take them.
TONY IXER: We actually do have a very robust strategy across Cambridgeshire, but it is a fact that it doesn’t cover Peterborough. And the real reason it doesn’t cover Peterborough and hasn’t done for many years is because there are no designated stopping places.
PAUL STAINTON: So in short, nothing can be done in Peterborough until Peterborough City Council sort themselves out. Needless to say, Sir Graham Bright and Peterborough City Council refused to speak to this programme this morning, but we can speak to Independent councillor John Fox. He chaired the Working Group looking at sites for emergency stopping places in the city. The Group’s recommendations will be considered at the next Peterborough City Council Cabinet meeting. John, good morning.
JOHN FOX: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: So it’s your fault that we’re getting these illegal encampments. You’ve been too slow, dragging your feet.

JOHN FOX: It’s not quite like that. No. I don’t want you or anyone else to believe a word I’m saying if you don’t choose to. What I’m asking you to do Paul is to read the “Guide to effective use of enforcement powers” when it comes to unauthorised encampments. It comes from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Now Stewart mentioned Section 62 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. That can only be used .. it’s the first bullet point .. can only be used where an alternative site is available. That gives the police the powers to move straight away. It also gives you .. (COUGHS) .. pardon me .. it says “the most effective method of combatting unauthorised camping is to provide sites in accessible locations for gypsies and travellers who pass through your area.” The actual Act as well says ” give the police the powers to move unauthorised encampments straight away ..” it gives them the power of arrest and confiscation of caravans .. ” the officer must consult every local authority within whose area the land is situated and to whether there is a suitable pitch for caravans or each of the caravans on relevant caravan sites.” We haven’t got them Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: No. Because the Council has taken two years to look at these sites. If you had these sites, this wouldn’t be a problem, would it?
JOHN FOX: No it wouldn’t. We’d be able to move them straight away. Now there’s nobody more than me who’s been adamant .. on the Leader of the Council and the Cabinet’s back, saying we need to solve this problem. All 57 councillors Paul will say there is a problem …
PAUL STAINTON: So why has it taken so long to fix it? This is what I’m trying to get to John. You’re on this Working Group. Are people dragging their heels on the Working Group?
JOHN FOX: No no. It’s such a sensitive issue we’ve had to look into it in all aspects. We’ve put our recommendations forward. The Cabinet might turn round and say not interested, don’t want to know. They might agree to everything we say. They might partly agree. That’s their decision. Then when they make that decision, it goes to the public debate and consultation. Now one of the things that’s annoyed me immensely is the fact that people are saying it’s in secret. Does Stewart Jackson not go to committee meetings in Parliament that the public do not have access to, and is technically in secret? Of course he does. Some things have to be discussed until we’ve got something concrete to put forward as a recommendation.
PAUL STAINTON: Does it frustrate you though that this problem keeps reoccurring reoccurring reoccurring? Couldn’t the Council have cut through all this and done something a bit quicker?
JOHN FOX: There is nobody more frustrated than me, especially the residents of Werrington. We have spent money galore on trying to solve this problem, money wasted. The cost of clearing up, putting defences in, is phenomenal. That money could be better spent somewhere else.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. And these guidelines for the police, they’re what, ten years old? Should they be altered as well? Is it about time the police had a bit more power?
JOHN FOX: The police have got power, if we give them an alternative place to move the caravans to. That’s the key issue. We haven’t got the place to move them to. We need somewhere that’s short-term. It won’t be the complete answer, but there will be some ammunition in the ammunition box.
PAUL STAINTON: We need to get on with it then, don’t we?
JOHN FOX: We need to get on with it as quick as possible. We’ve been pushing and pushing and pushing. Now the residents of Werrington have put up with a heck of a lot of things in the past. When they were at David’s Lane Paul, I visited that site two or three times a day and spoke to the travellers. Now they’ll tell you, well we’ve got nowhere to go guv. I know it’s not my problem and it’s not your problem, but it is the Council and the authorities’ problem, and we have to give the police the powers. Now if Stewart has a solution to this problem, please please ask him to come forward and tell us what the solution is.
PAUL STAINTON: Well he doesn’t think we need six pitches across the city.
JOHN FOX: Who said six?
PAUL STAINTON: Well that’s what we’ve been told.
JOHN FOX: Who have you been told that by? Because ..
JOHN FOX: Yes you see, that’s what I mean. That’s why you’ve got to be careful what you’re talking about, because ..
PAUL STAINTON: How many do we need then?
JOHN FOX: We’ve put our recommendations forward, and the Cabinet will make a decision.
PAUL STAINTON: You’re not allowed to say, are you?
PAUL STAINTON: No. You’re not allowed to say where either are you?
PAUL STAINTON: Are there going to be some upset people in Peterborough?
JOHN FOX: Well nobody’s going to want it on their doorstep. At the end of the day we have a choice. We give the police the power to do the job, or we don’t.
PAUL STAINTON: Well that is the choice, isn’t it? Independent councillor for Peterborough John Fox, who chaired the Working Group looking at sites for emergency stopping places. The Group’s recommendations are going to be considered at the next Peterbroough City Council Cabinet meeting.