Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson: Illegal camps - Enough is enough
Last week my colleague Shailesh Vara MP and myself attended a round table summit on how we tackle the increasingly troublesome issue of regular illegal traveller incursions across the city, the first such meeting in our eleven years resenting Peterborough.
It was convened by exasperated businesses and senior police officers, city council officials, city councillors and the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner Jason Ablewhite was also there to hear people’s viewpoints.
What emerged in a generally very positive meeting was a mixture of anger and desperation and a desire to make it clear that frankly enough was enough - that we were all fed up with the city being seen as a soft touch, fed up with clearing up fly tipped litter and worse (at a cost to local taxpayers), criminal action in illegally trespassing on land, violence, threats and intimidation and bureaucratic delay or worse, wilful indifference from the authorities.
It’s the same story, whether it’s Stanground, Fletton, Werrington or Bretton. Every year, like clockwork.
I was astonished that a quick calculation around the table showed that of about ten businesses present, over £400,000 had been expended in just one year dealing with the problem: That’s fencing and bollards, signage, legal fees, bailiffs and security. That’s cash off their bottom line. That impacts on people’s jobs and livelihoods.
A few myths were also nailed: There is, as Mr Vara - a former Justice Minister made clear - more than enough legislation in place to tackle the scourge, if only there is the political will and leadership to use it.
In some senses, MPs must also take some responsibility for the mess: Labour’s ghastly Equality Act 2010 has led to a belief that some travellers are immune to the long arm of the law.
The police also admitted that their response in the past had been poor and needed improving and it was agreed that the message to potential transgressors needs to be much tougher and every avenue - including injunctions and arrests and convictions - must be explored.
The city council and especially the police must coordinate better and work on intelligence-led operations.
The time for “soft touch” approaches has come and gone. The police have let too many of my decent law abiding citizens down in the last few years and that has to stop.
Mr Ablewhite and new city police commander Supt Andy Gipp heard the message loud and clear.
No one is above the law and we all need the courage and the legal weapons to show it.