A failure to provide land for traveller groups to stay legally in Northampton is to blame for the recent spate in illegal camps across town, a former housing minister said.
Former Northampton North MP Sally Keeble believes Northampton Borough Council has missed vital opportunities to provide accessible land for the travelling community.
All that exists in Northampton is the Ecton Lane site for long-staying families, which is currently full.
Mrs Keeble said: “There has been an historic failure by authorities in Northampton to provide suitable places. They have failed to bite the bullet.”
In the early 2000s, proposals to create a temporary site at Crow Lane were dismissed. Leader of the borough council in 2003, Councillor Phil Larratt, said setting up temporary travellers’ sites would have made the town “attractive” to the travelling community.
And earlier this year a report by the borough council found there was no need for such a site, though Mrs Keeble disagrees with its findings.
A borough council spokeswoman said: “We do provide a designated traveller site in Northampton and there are currently no plans to increase the number of sites available. That decision has been informed by the West Northamptonshire Travellers’ Accommodation Needs Study which was published earlier this year.
“We continue to work closely with the countywide traveller unit.”
Chief inspector Lara Alexander-Lloyd, of Northamptonshire Police, said she was aware of the complaints made by the public about a large encampment this week. But she said officers had to work within the confines of the law when dealing with camps.
“We have to operate within the parameters of legislation,” said the chief inspector.
“It is a very difficult point.
“I am a member of the public too and I understand the concerns. But we have to consider every single time, which power to use and which one is the most appropriate.”
Chief inspector Alexander-Lloyd added that, without witness evidence, it is impossible to convict traveller groups for other crimes such as causing criminal damage. The chief inspector said she would be calling for a meeting between the police, county council and partners to discuss a longer-term solution to illegal traveller camps in Northampton.
“I am calling a meeting of partners so we can get a longer term solution and ask are there things we should be considering? This isn’t going to be resolved by the police turning up and using their section 61 powers every time,” chief inspector Alexander-Lloyd added.
Anjona Roy, of the Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council, said some of the criticism of the traveller group on social media this week showed a great deal of work was still needed to mend divisions between the travelling and settled communities
She said: “The stuff that I have seen on social media, reports of people riding on quad bikes and driving at people is unacceptable, whoever you ask. If they are doing things that are wrong they should be treated like anyone else.
“But some people do still feel it is entirely acceptable to use derogatory language and act in a racist way towards this community and that needs to stop.”