A new team to help combat problems caused by travellers in Peterborough is set to be launched to try and help businesses in the city.
A meeting with police, council and business representatives was held on Friday, following concerns about illegal encampments being set up on private and council land in the city.
The move comes after The Peterborough Telegraph raised a number of issues surrounding illegal traveller camps.
In March, The Peterborough Telegraph exclusively revealed one business owner, Eve Taylor, said travellers had set up camp on her company’s land in Bretton, and told her to pay £1,200 to leave, as it would be cheaper than going through the courts to get them evicted.
The city council have also had problems with numbers of caravans setting up on car parks in the city centre. They even considered using car parks as a stopping off point for caravans - a plan that has now been dropped.
A caravan also pitched up at The Cresset, also in Bretton last week.
A number of businesses contacted The Peterborough Telegraph saying staff had been threatened , and they had received similar demands to Mrs Taylor.
The new Prevention and Enforcement Service squad will cover the city council area in three sectors. They will receive enhanced training in the use of local authority powers, closer support from the police and have a new focus on help for private landowners.
The team will be able to implement powers to move travellers on from council land, and will also be able to give advice to businesses in the same situation.
The powers can be used on private land - but it takes longer to implement them.
It is hoped this will mean travellers will be moved on quicker as a result.
Adrian Chapman, service director for adult services and communities, said: “The problems caused by some unauthorised encampments result in high costs to the local economy, and this new protocol offers a more coordinated approach to tackling the issues on all land in the council’s area.
“We are upskilling some of our existing officers to form a dedicated team who are fully trained so they can support private landowners with problems too.
“There’ll also be more targeted action against repeat offenders and better information sharing with all parties, all aimed at reducing the problems.”
However, despite the new team’s formation, Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson said more needed to be done.
He said: “Whilst welcome this new protocol is long overdue. I discern a tougher response from both the City Council and Cambridgshire Police to these very serious problems of illegal traveller incursions.
“These agencies have plenty of legislation to act upon but now there seems to be the political will to do it.
“I look forward to the day when Peterborough is seen as the opposite of a soft touch for travellers illegally occupying private or public land. The settled community have certainly had quite enough.”
The team will help provide a more coordinated process on health and welfare issues, evidence gathering, the issue and enforcement of legal notices, and support to landowners around the civil eviction process.
Officers will also receive training on gathering evidence and how they can best assist police colleagues with the information that they will require.
The powers given to the team will be under section 77 and 78 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The law says that where people are residing in vehicles (including caravans) on land section 77 gives local authorities in England and Wales power to give a direction to leave the land.
The power applies only to land forming part of a highway, any other unoccupied land or occupied land on which people are residing without the consent of the occupier. It is an offence to fail to comply with such a direction. If the direction is not complied with, the local authority can apply to a magistrates’ court for an order requiring the removal of vehicles and any occupants from the land (section 78).
The team are expected to be in action by the end of May.
A meeting will be held in six months to look at the success of the team, and any work needed to be carried out.