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Agenda item

Response to Unauthorised Encampments (Draw-Down)

Members to note and comment as appropriate, on the attached report and Appendix A from the EARS Manager.

Minutes:

The report from the Enforcement & Regulatory Services (EARS) Manager provided an overview of the Council’s and Kent Police’s response to Unauthorised (Traveller) Encampments in the Borough, including an explanation of the legislative context within which action was taken and how the Council and Kent Police operated in partnership, within the context of a bespoke Memorandum of Understanding (attached as Appendix A to the report).  The report was submitted in response to an expression of concern from the Lead Member for Enforcement & Community Safety, through the Committee’s Draw-Down process.

 

At the invitation of the Chairman, the Lead Member outlined his particular concerns for the Committee. He acknowledged the positive outcomes Council Enforcement Officers had recently achieved with Kent Police to address Unauthorised Encampments (UEs) in the Borough e.g. at Dartford Heath. However, the resolution of the recent UE of Travellers at the Council’s recently re-furbished and prestigious Fairfield Pool and Community Centre had taken far too long to resolve and had caused the Council significant embarrassment and a loss of reputation and confidence with residents. In particular, he had perceived a lack of consistency in the interpretation and enforcement of the MoU and a lack of local knowledge on the part of Kent Police in resolving the Fairfield UE. He asked what had gone wrong.

 

The CSU Police Inspector gave an initial response to Members. He advised that he had not been in Dartford during the resolution of the Fairfield UE and could not therefore comment in detail. However, as the local Police Inspector and in line with national practice, his would have been the final decision to serve notice to clear the UE at Fairfield. He was aware of the need to disseminate his local knowledge concerning the resolution of UEs to his three Sergeants in the CSU and give them the confidence to act in his absence, especially over the issue of Section 61(S61) Notices [MoU - agenda pages 54/55]. He added that all/any UEs were now raised at the daily CSU briefing, by the District Chief Inspector. He also confirmed, in response to a further specific question on S61s, that whilst the legislation referred to ‘the most senior officer on scene’; this was recognised nationally as being a Police Officer of Inspector rank and that an Inspector would always be found to attend a UE in Dartford if required.

 

The Lead Member expressed his thanks for Inspector Woodward’s explanation and background to the UE process in Dartford, the Fairfield incident in particular, and the clear and concise report from the EARS Manager. He stressed that he did not wish to appear entirely negative in his comments and appreciated the emails he received from the Enforcement Manager on a variety of issues. However, residents continued to express their concerns over UEs and fly-tipping, particularly over the week-ends.

 

In further response, the CSU Inspector advised Members that he had some 8 years’ experience in dealing with Travellers and incursions and that the Council’s joint Memorandum with Kent Police to address UEs was praised as a working model across Kent. The Strategic Director (External Services) supported this view, advising that Dartford was unique across Kent in dealing with UEs through a collaborative MoU arrangement between Kent Police Dartford and CSU Officers with high levels of skill and experience in the field.

 

Councillor Hammock (Bean & Darenth) had been invited to attend the Committee’s proceedings as a former Lead Member for Licensing & Enforcement. He thanked Kent Police for resolving recent fly-tipping issues in Darenth Parish and expressed his support of the joint MoU arrangements to address UEs with one proviso. He referred Members to paragraph 13 of the EARS Manager’s report (agenda p. 52) and proposed that the final bullet point be added as a final box to the cascading diagram on agenda page 56. He also asked whether any action was ever taken to recover costs from Travellers following clearance of UE sites.

 

The CSU Inspector advised that all Kent Police Officers were now issued with body-worn video technology when visiting UEs and that video footage could be used to confirm UE site clearances. He confirmed that Kent Police did not seek to recover costs for UE site clearances, but that local authorities might.

 

Officers undertook to respond to Members on both points.

 

                        RESOLVED:

 

1.    That Members note the report detailing the Council’s and Kent Police’s operational procedures for responding to Unauthorised (Traveller) Encampments in the Borough and the legislative context for those joint actions, taken in partnership with Kent Police [Dartford], within the context of the bespoke Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) attached as Appendix A to the report.

 

                         

Supporting documents: