COUNCIL bosses say they have been forced to employ rarely-used legislation in a bid to break up an encampment on private land.

After discussions with Essex Police and other partners, Colchester Council has successfully applied for a stop notice in relation to the site off East Bay, Colchester.

The land, which contains a derelict sawmill, has attracted anti-social behaviour for a number of months with people living in tents being joined by visitors at night to drink, take drugs and start fires.

Portfolio holder for community safety Mike Lilley (Lab) said the measure, which allows police to clear the area, search tents and make arrests, was taken with nearby residents in mind.

He said: “Their lives have been made a living hell.

“We have put off action to try and offer help to the people on the camp but enough is enough.

“The residents in East Bay have been living with this for months and we have a duty of care.”

A stop notice is usually used in relation to planning matters - such as builders working through the night - but gives authorities powers to put a stop to any “relevant behaviour” which is causing a problem.

The notice was served to people on the site at 3pm on Friday and will last an initial 28 days.

Attempts to trace the owners of the land have been unsuccessful and the council could look to fence off the area in a bid to stop people returning.

The council’s housing boss Tina Bourne (Lab) said three people found living in tents on the land, had been offered accommodation via charity Beacon House but turned it down.

Mrs Bourne said others had places to stay in other parts of the country but were travelling to Colchester to take advantage of services on offer.

She said: “Colchester is renowned for having very good homelessness services.

“We do all we can to try and keep people in the accommodation they have and prevented 420 cases of homelessness last year.

“There are cases where people not from Colchester are sleeping rough here.

“People hear they will get help - it is a very close grapevine.

“I have never heard of a stop notice being used in anti-social behaviour cases but residents need chance to breathe - they have been so patient.”

Surrey-based Lloyd West (Colchester) Ltd had plans to build flats on the site ten years ago but none went ahead.