The Heriot-Watt University assessment into the effectiveness of the current joint DTLR-Home Office guidance found there was clear evidence of difficulties for local authorities and police to balance the needs of gypsies and travellers with those of the settled community.
'The revised joint guidance will emphasise the need for greater recognition of the rights and responsibilities of the settled and traveller communities, as well as those of local authorities and police. We will also encourage councils to take a fresh look at existing policies, identify gaps, and implement effective strategies to bring about long-term solutions, especially the disruption associated with unauthorised camping.'
Police minister John Denham welcomed the research, which he said highlighted the value of an inter-agency approach to managing unauthorised camping.
'We will consider the research recommendations carefully and look at how we can provide greater clarity in our guidance to police and local authorities to manage problems associated with unauthorised camping. In particular, we are keen to ensure the police make full use of their powers to tackle any criminal and anti-social behaviour.'
The government intends evaluating the effectiveness of the revised guidance in terms of bringing about improvements on the ground. It will continue keeping the scope and application of existing powers under review in tackling what it sees as a difficult area.
The key findings of the research were:
Most local authorities and police forces have some experience of unauthorised camping, and some had their policy and practice changed as a direct result of the guidance.
Unauthorised camping exacerbated opposition from neighbouring settled communities.
Many local authorities felt the powers served them well. The Crime and Disorder Act had led to effective working relationships between councils and police.
Most local authorities already had a written Gypsy and Traveller Strategy in place, or were developing one. Some had also reviewed their policies on unauthorised camping with reference to the Human Rights Act 1998 - others planned to do so.
Several local authorities reported the benefits of inter-agency working, in developing a more holistic approach in assessing the needs of gypsies and travellers whilst taking a consistent approach to the management of unauthorised camping.
The research recommended the guidance should encourage the development of local strategies based on need, with effective working practices based on agreed protocols.
1. The 1998 joint DTLR/Home Office Good Practice Guide stressed the importance of local authorities having effective mechanisms in place for liaison with all relevant agencies, so when eviction proves necessary, it can be dealt with as quickly as possible whilst taking full account of considerations of common humanity. It also advised local authorities and the police to develop an overall strategy towards gypsies and travellers to ensure a better understanding of respective roles and responsibilities. Ministers expected local authorities to review their polices in light of the guidance.
2. The Heriot-Watt University's assessment of the guidance was carried out between March and August 2000. The researchers were asked to identify what, if any, further guidance was needed, and whether the relevant agencies were working in partnership and involving gypsies and travellers. The research involved national telephone surveys of local authorities and police forces, followed by 12 detailed case studies, involving 15 local authority areas.
3. In August 2000, whilst research was underway, DTLR and the home office revised Chapter 5 of the Good Practice Guide, which referred to toleration of unauthorised camping. Ministers felt this advice had been wrongly interpreted by some local authorities to mean they must tolerate all types of unauthorised camping, regardless of the amount of criminal or anti-social behaviour associated with it. The research findings refer only to the original Guidance.
4. The full research report, the Management of Unauthorised Camping, Research Paper No 77 can be obtained from:
School of Planning and Housing
Edinburgh College of Art/Heriot-Watt University
Edinburgh EH1 2HJ
Tel: +044 (0) 131 221 6162