SEDGEMOOR District Council has spent more than £5,400 in the past two years to remove people camping illegally on its land.

Sedgemoor District Council has published details of its procedure for removing travellers from “unauthorised encampments”, explaining how it works with the police to resolve such situations.

The council has resolved to provide more authorised travellers sites to reduce both the number of illegal encampments and the cost to taxpayers of dealing with them.

A report on the council’s procedure came before its corporate scrutiny committee in Bridgwater on Tuesday afternoon (June 12).

Nigel Osborne, the council’s litigation lawyer, said that the policy was designed to lay out to both residents and travellers how the council and police dealt with encampments in a “proportionate and transparent” way.

He stated: “It is not a stick to beat the occupants with”.

Across the whole of the UK, there are 22,792 traveller caravans, according to central government count carried out in July 2017 (the most recent figures available).

Of these, just over one in seven (16 per cent) were parked on “unauthorised land”.

Between April 23, 2016 and May 30, 2018, the council had to deal with 16 illegal encampments – five in the last eight months of 2016, eight in 2017 and three in 2018 to date.

The number of individuals and vehicles involved greatly varied, from 20 caravans on St Matthew’s Field in Bridgwater to a single person in a tent in the Esplanade car park in Burnham-on-Sea.

Burnham-on-Sea saw three quarters of the unauthorised visits, with Bridgwater experiencing three and the remaining one occurring in Highbridge.

The council believes that the main cause of people camping illegally is “the lack of authorised sites and stopping places”, rather than people not desiring to use existing facilities.

The police will often be first to visit a site in light of travellers often turning up outside of council office hours.  They will gather information on the number of people and vehicles present, investigate the nature of the state, advice the occupants of the next course of action and deal with any initial reports of criminal activity.

Mr Osborne said skips and portable toilets would often be brought onto a site where travellers had parked up, because it made the clean-up operation much easier and helped to build trust with the travellers.

He said: “We will always go out, even if the police have already been there, to assess their needs. We will always try to be sympathetic.”

The police have the power to remove people from a site if they are believed to be trespassing, under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

However, because trespass is a civil matter rather than a criminal one, these powers can only be used when the landowner (or someone acting on their behalf) has already taken “reasonable steps” in asking them to leave, and when one of the following criteria are met: 1) The travellers have caused damage to the site or any property therein they have verbally abused or threatened the landowner or anyone associated with them 2) They have six or more vehicles on the land 3) If the police and council decide to take legal action to remove them, the travellers must be given at least 24 hours’ notice to quit. Daily visits will be carried out during what is known as the “toleration period”.

4) If the travellers do not leave before this period ends, the council and police will apply for a court order and serve it on the travellers.

5) It costs the council £355 to file the necessary paperwork to obtain a court order and then serve that order on those camping in a given location.

The total cost of dealing with the 16 incidents logged since 2016, including the replacement of a broken lock in one location, was £5,421.50.

In each of these instances the travellers left voluntarily, either after a court order had been served or before the hearing to obtain such an order took place.

Sergeant Ryan Edwards, from Avon and Somerset Constabulary, said the policy had led to “significantly improved” relations between travellers and the police.

He said: “From a police point of view, we’re very happy with where we’ve go to.”

Councillor Lorna Corke raised the issue of travellers’ children having access to education, asking: “Do you have a problem with the children not being in school or being educated at all?”

The Traveller Education Service is coordinated by Somerset County Council, and aims to ensure that traveller children can “maintain continuity of education” as they move from one site to another.

Mr Osborne said that most encampments lasted between seven and 10 days, which was often not enough time to ensure such provision.

Councillor Tony Grimes said that travellers had stopped visiting his ward of Berrow after bunds were installed around green spaces in the village.

He said: “Why have we not got a height restriction on the Pier Street car park? That would certainly cut some of that out.”

The Pier Street car park in Burnham-on-Sea was partially occupied by travellers seven times in the past two years.

Mr Osborne responded: “Pier Street car park is not practical for prevention because the coach park and the ordinary car park are one and the same.

"It is not practical to put goal posts over the entrance – that would restrict it only to cars.”

Councillor Gill Slocombe, portfolio holder for health and well-being, said: “We have to find land.

“Members of the public assume that you can go in and get them [the travellers] out in ten minutes. There’s a lot of work to be done, and this is a real step forward.”

A full breakdown of the council’s policy can be found at