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Unauthorised encampments

On average Derbyshire Dales sees around 20 unauthorised encampments a year. Some only stay a few days whilst others may remain for a longer period. The Council and its partners have well-tested ways of managing these encampments. We do this with due consideration of everyone in the encampment and the rest of the community.

We ensure that the Human Rights Act, equalities, and other related legislation has been complied with. We also make enquiries about the general health and welfare of the group and the children’s education. We recognise that these rights need to be balanced with the rights of other residents and visitors to the Derbyshire Dales to enjoy our open spaces.

The following FAQs help explain how we manage unauthorised encampments in Derbyshire Dales:

Managing unauthorised encampments

Behaviour of individuals

Encampments on private land

Vehicles

Securing our open spaces

Managing unauthorised encampments

I have seen an unauthorised encampment on an open space. What should I do?

If the unauthorised encampment is on an open space, such as a park or a car park, in Derbyshire Dales, then please report it by telephoning 01629 761212.

If the unauthorised encampment is on the public road or road verge then please report it to Derbyshire County Council on 01629 538466.

If you witness anti-social behaviour and are able to identify culprits(s) you should report this to the Police on 101, unless it is happening at the time and an immediate response is required when report it on 999.

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How quickly can the council remove an unauthorised encampment?

The law requires us to:

  • show that the unauthorised encampment is on the land without consent
  • ensure that human rights, equalities and other related legislation has been complied with
  • make enquiries about the general health and welfare of the group and the children’s education
  • follow a set procedure in terms of proving ownership of land and details of the unauthorised encampment
  • gather sufficient evidence to demonstrate to a court of law that the unauthorised encampment is causing detriment or denial of open space usage to the local community.

This information is necessary in order to be successful in the application for a court order to the County Court. Otherwise the application will be challenged and could result in refusal. This would incur further delays, as the procedure would need to recommence from the beginning. We aim to visit an unauthorised encampment within a few hours of becoming aware of its existence.

The timescale for an eviction order application to be heard by the courts depends on court availability, the nature of the land being occupied, and the behaviour of the campers. On a recreation ground or public park, where the campers are denying lawful use of the open space, eviction could occur within 5 days. On other sites where campers are not causing significant detriment to the local community the eviction process could take 2 weeks, or occasionally longer.

Once a court eviction order has been granted and served, the campers often leave the land within a matter of hours. Very occasionally they do not comply with the court order voluntarily, in which case the Council will employ bailiffs to enforce the court order.

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How long will the unauthorised encampment be staying?

We can't always know this. We always try to determine this with a representative from the unauthorised encampment in the first instance.

Some encampments only last a few days and leave before an eviction notice has been applied for. However, the average duration is usually between one and two weeks.

In some circumstances a small encampment may be allowed to stay longer. We always consider whether an encampment has particular welfare needs that can best be met by tolerating the encampment for a period of time. In all such cases we will take into account any impact that the encampment might have on the neighbourhood.

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Can the Court refuse to grant the council an Order to move the unauthorised encampments on?

Yes, if:

  • there is an unavoidable reason for the encampment to stay
  • the council has failed to follow the proper processes and procedures or
  • there is insufficient evidence of the encampment having a significant impact on the local community.

It is important that we take the time to make all enquiries, follow all procedures, and collate the necessary evidence, before appearing before a Magistrate to seek a Court Order.

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Can the Council or police block entry to or exit from an unauthorised encampment following its initial set up?

No. It is illegal to stop entry/exit following initial occupation. Trespass on land by itself is not a criminal offence. If an encampment has been set up without permission, the council and/or police must follow the legislation and guidelines and seek eviction through the Courts if necessary.

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Can the police evict an unauthorised encampment?

Yes, in some exceptional circumstances.

The police will visit the site and may use powers under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. These powers will only be used in situations of serious criminality or public disorder not capable of being addressed by normal criminal legislation and in which the occupation of the land is a relevant factor. It is for the police, not the Council, to decide if Section 61 is to be utilised. The duty of the police is to preserve the peace and prevent crime.

Prevention of trespass and the removal of trespassers are the responsibility of the landowner - not the police.

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Behaviour of individuals

What happens if the site is damaged or broken into?

Breaking in and damaging property are criminal offences which are investigated by the police. Any enforcement over these issues will be subject to sufficient evidence and witness statements. Witnesses would be required make a statement to the Courts confirming that they can identify the person(s) who caused the damage.

If you see any criminal activity being carried out by any member of the public, please report it to the police by phoning 101.

Trespass on land by itself is not a criminal offence. Prevention of trespass and the removal of trespassers are the responsibility of the landowner - not the police.

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What happens if there is lots of noise from an encampment?

We will ask campers to be more considerate of local residents and this is usually effective. However, reports of noise nuisance will be investigated by the Council and if appropriate, used as part of the application for a Court Order for eviction.

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How do we deal with rubbish from the site?

We regularly visit unauthorised encampments on District Council land. We provide practical help to ensure every effort is made to try to keep the site tidy.

The tidiness of a site is one factor that we take into account in determining how quickly we proceed to Court to get an Order. We always ensure that any waste is removed from the site after the encampment has moved on.

Private landowners are responsible for the removal of waste from their land.

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Why will the Council provide skips and portable toilets for some encampments?

The cost of clearing up a site can be quite considerable when large amounts of waste material are left behind. In some cases it is prudent and more cost-effective to provide skips and toilets. This can also reduce any adverse impact on the surrounding environment. We might also provide facilities where welfare checks indicate that this would be the correct course of action.

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Encampments on private land

How can the council help if an unauthorised encampment moves on to private land?

We can give advice to landowners.

The landowner will have to take action to evict the unauthorised encampment. He or she can attempt to agree a leaving date with the representatives of the encampment, or take proceedings in the County Court under the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 to obtain a Court Order.

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What happens if a landowner decides to let an encampment stay on their land?

If the landowner is in breach of any planning or licence requirements, then we may take proceedings against the landowner to remove the illegal encampment.

If the landowner has planning permission for a caravan site, or he/she is a farmer and the occupants of the encampment are working on the farm, the encampment is not unauthorised.

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Vehicles

The unauthorised encampment has moved on to a public car park. Will the council be enforcing car parking charges?

Encampments in car parks are 'unauthorised', and the legal process for eviction is entirely separate from the normal enforcement of car parking terms and conditions.

Enforcement of car parking terms and conditions is difficult to apply in the case of transient caravan dwellers. In such circumstances, chasing an unenforceable fine adds unnecessary costs. The most effective remedy is to seek possession through the Courts.

In addition, issuing and enforcing car parking charges could deem the encampment to be authorised. This could be counterproductive to the process of managing and seeking a court order to evict an unauthorised encampment.

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What about vehicle checks?

The police often run vehicle checks on new encampments. Individuals may be prosecuted as and when appropriate. Most of the vehicles are modern and well-maintained as they are used to support business interests. They are generally found to have valid MOT and tax.

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Securing our open spaces

What measures does the council take to prevent unauthorised encampments accessing sites in Derbyshire Dales?

If a site regularly attracts unauthorised encampment we will review its security arrangements. We consider the installation of bollards, boulders, fencing, gates or landscaping as possible security measures for individual sites. However, many of the sites used for encampments provide open access for residents and visitors too and we have to balance security against continuing to allow access to the general public.

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Why are we not providing additional protection to all of our open spaces?

The Derbyshire Dales has many areas of public open space. We are mindful that other people still wish to use these open spaces and parks. Public areas, car parks and picnic sites must continue to give access to residents and visitors and also to emergency and maintenance vehicles. They must also give easy access for disabled people, so no site can be fully secure.

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Why can’t we defend, or ‘lock-down’, all of our open spaces when we know that Gypsies and Travellers are on the move in the locality?

When eviction notices are served on unauthorised encampments, those camping will depart any time within a few days. Protecting all of our sites during such periods would require the provision of 24 hour security and temporary barriers for up to 2 days at tens of open spaces, and at short notice. Access by legitimate users and maintenance and emergency vehicles would also be severely curtailed. Whilst we do occasionally provide temporary security at vulnerable sites during times when occupation is particularly likely, we are not able to maintain these arrangements at all times.

It is more feasible and cost-effective to manage unauthorised encampments as and when they occur, and where necessary to take legal proceedings to evict them.

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Do we liaise with neighbouring councils and the police?

We work positively with our local partners. We pass on information to Derbyshire County Council and to other neighbouring authorities when we become aware that unauthorised encampments are leaving the District. When we in turn receive information from our neighbouring councils and police we will endeavour to provide additional protection to our most prominent open spaces but we do not have the resources to protect all our sites.