A FURIOUS councillor claims residents feel like “second class citizens” after he received almost 500 complaints about a group of travellers blocking off car park spaces at a popular beauty spot.

Ward councillor Gerard Oxford has called for urgent action to evict the group of eight caravans, which first pitched up at High Woods Country Park on Saturday.

The group have put up washing lines across footpath entrances to the park and are taking up the majority of the parking spaces.

Mr Oxford said he has been unable to resolve the 480 complaints he has received and fears the police are powerless to help.


Camp - a washing line at the car park site

“This is added up from people stopping me in the street, phone calls and emails,” said Mr Oxford.

“The police are not interested.

“A barrier was broken through to gain entry, there is no question about this.

“It seems like everything is in place to protect the rights of this group, yet my residents are being made to feel like second class citizens.

“I would expect Section 61 powers to be used in this case, as they were when a group arrived at Squirrels Field earlier this year.”

The police can, in certain circumstances, use powers to move groups on within hours.

However trespass is treated as a civil matter and not a criminal offence, therefore the removal of trespassers is typically the responsibility of the landowner.

Colchester Council is applying for a court order tomorrow.

If the group fail to comply with the order, bailiffs will be called in to remove the group from the site.

An Essex Police spokesman said: “Unauthorised encampments are a civil matter of trespass and, in the first instance, landowners have powers to get an encampment to move off the land.

“Officers have visited the encampment at High Woods, assessed it, and have decided that as the encampment is tidy, there’s no disruption to the local economy, and the community is still able to use the car park and open space, and is doing so, a Section 61 notice was not appropriate at this stage.”

Mr Oxford said he would fully support the implementation of an allocated site for travellers.

“The problem in the past is finding a place which satisfies the travelling community and the residents of the area,” he said.

“There was talk of a site at Marks Tey, but there wasn’t the will to make it work.”

Potential change in the law

The government is looking to change the law to make the setting up of unauthorised encampments a criminal offence, a letter to Colchester councillors has revealed.

Conservative councillors had called for Colchester Council to apply for a High Court injunction banning travellers from pitching up on public land across the borough.

Opposition deputy leader Lewis Barber insists police need tougher powers to tackle the problem.

Colchester MP Will Quince penned a letter to the Home Office on behalf of the frustrated councillor.

A response from crime, policing and fire service minister Kit Malthouse MP said: “We are also conducting a review into how setting up unauthorised encampments can be made a criminal offence.

“The Home Office will be launching a public consultation on these measures shortly.”  Mr Barber welcomed the idea, which he hopes will help to cut back on the time taken to evict groups from unauthorised camps.

He said: “At the moment if the police attend an unauthorised encampment usually they are just observing and would have to wait for an offence to be committed.

“If the act of setting up an unauthorised encampment was an offence, it would make it easier from the outset to take action through the police.

“Every year when this is raised the main thing people say is it takes too long for action to be taken.

“Often it is difficult to establish who the landowner is, or  it can take a while to contact them.

“If it was established they are breaking the law and a policy is put in place, perhaps then the focus could shift to the needs of the travelling community and the establishing of permanent traveller sites.” 

He added: "We have seen it in Lexden, Eight Ash Green and recently Aldham - when it took ages to be able to remove them before the community had to pick up the bill for all the waste left behind.

“This is hugely frustrating for people."