Cost and inconvenience of ‘unauthorised encampments’ in Worthing prompts support for new police bill

Recent ‘unauthorised encampments’ in Worthing and across Sussex have prompted calls to support the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Travellers moving into the Goring Gap earlier this year
Travellers moving into the Goring Gap earlier this year

The bill is wide-ranging and, if adopted, could see changes to criminal sentences, policing powers surrounding protests, the policing of trespass and more.

Sean McDonald (Con, Northbrook) put forward a motion asking Worthing Borough Council to back the bill after residents were ‘inconvenienced’ and taxpayers left to pay ‘unjustifiable expenses’ for clearing up after unauthorised encampments.

Mr McDonald’s motion, which was discussed at a meeting on Tuesday (July 20) said: “In recent weeks and months local residents and council taxpayers in Worthing and across Sussex have been inconvenienced by a number of unauthorised encampments on public land.

“Such incursions have resulted in considerable and unjustifiable expense for clearing up sites and making repairs to public property.

“Worthing Borough Council and Sussex Police have reacted quickly in each case and are to be applauded for their efforts.

“However their legal powers to deal with these cases in a more timely manner are currently limited.”

The Northbrook councillor made reference to part four of The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which could give increased powers to the police surrounding unauthorised encampments by making them illegal.

He also claimed that human waste was deposited at some of the encampments and that playing fields were ‘wrecked’ afterwards.

Mr McDonald described how law-abiding taxpayers are ‘fed up of this abuse’ and he also supported the bill due to the potential for increased sentencing.

He explained: “I do like the bill because it is tougher on crime and this is what members of the public want.”

Carl Walker (Lab, Selden) read out a response opposing the motion on behalf of his fellow Labour councillor Helen Silman (Heene).

Ms Silman’s statement called the motion ‘a waste of council time’ saying that Worthing Borough Council ‘cannot influence the passage of the bill through Parliament’.

The statement continued: “None of us should vote for the motion unless we have read and digested the bill which extends over 312 pages.

“There are some parts of this bill which no decent person should support.

“This motion doesn’t identify the people who have recently set up encampments locally and hasn’t given us the reference for that part of the bill which he alleges will make it easier to get rid of those people.”

Ms Silman’s statement also claimed that the bill would target gypsies, roma and traveller communities and the homeless who ‘have nowhere to live’ and are ‘most likely to set up unauthorised encampments’.

She added: “Councillor McDonald’s energies would be better employed to lobby vigorously for more sites to be made available for travellers in our area and the wider county and you should ensure that all sites are provided with sustainable sanitary and waste facilities.”

Cllr McDonald took issue with Ms Silman’s use of the term ‘those people’ to refer to gypsy and traveller communities, saying: “At no point did I ever refer to anybody as ‘those people’ and I would like you to withdraw that comment which was absolutely disgraceful for you to use against me.”

He also said that Conservative governments, which Ms Silman claims is targeting travellers through the bill, had made 41 per cent more traveller sites available since 2010, referring to a statement made by Home Secretary Priti Patel. 

The motion was also met with opposition from Hazel Thorpe (LDem, Tarring) who empathised with Mr McDonald’s experience of unauthorised encampments but added that she would not support his motion.

She called for discussions to take place between residents, the police and those in unauthorised encampments, adding: “It’s not that I don’t empathise with your concerns, councillor,  it’s just that I cannot comprehend or I cannot agree with the wholeness of this motion.”

Dan Coxill (Con, Durrrington), who seconded the motion, called potential increases to police powers as a result of the bill ‘necessary and proportionate’.

He said: “We regularly see the impact that unauthorised encampments can have on our communities – anti-social behaviour, criminal damage and flytipping are just some of the issues that can arise and the cost of dealing with these can, as we know, be significant.

“I’d like to commend both the council and Sussex Police for dealing with these incursions.

“What I believe is clear to me and to many others is that they do not currently possess sufficient powers to take action against those causing damage in our local area and this is why I’m pleased that the Home Secretary has brought the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill before Parliament.

“Overall I think these measures are a necessary and proportionate increase in police powers.”

The motion was passed during the council meeting with seven members voting in favour and five against.