New traveller site will not cure Northampton's illegal encampment problems says new MP

MP Andrew Lewer does not believe more designated traveller sites are the answer to Northampton's problems.
MP Andrew Lewer does not believe more designated traveller sites are the answer to Northampton's problems.

A new designated area for travellers to stay in Northampton will do nothing to deter illegal encampments from pitching up in the town, an MP has said.

Andrew Lewer has responded to the claims by former housing minister Sally Keeble made in the Chronicle and Echo last week, in which the politician blamed town leaders for failing to "bite the bullet" over such a site.

Sally Keeble blasted Northampton Borough Council for failing to act over traveller sites earlier this week.

Sally Keeble blasted Northampton Borough Council for failing to act over traveller sites earlier this week.

She said Northampton's parks have become a target for illegal camps because the borough council has missed numerous chances to designate a patch of land for groups to pitch up on.

But new Northampton South MP Andrew Lewer said the current provision - just one long-stay site for 35 caravans in Ecton Brook - is "adequate".

He said: "We already have a designated site for Northampton.

"I notice a lot of Labour politicians are suggesting we need more spaces.

Rubbish left at Lings Park in the wake of a traveller encampment.

Rubbish left at Lings Park in the wake of a traveller encampment.

"But I also notice they are not very specific about where.

"I think people recognise the authority's obligation to provide specific traveller sites and a site has been provided. The feedback I get is that people are happy with the current provision."

Over the past fortnight one particularly large group of travellers, comprising of more than 30 caravans, has been the source of complaints in Northampton.

The use of quad bikes on Lings Park was a particular source of concern, while children were reportedly verbally and physically abused by illegal camp members while taking part in a park run around The Racecourse on Saturday.

Travellers at Eastfield Park last week.

Travellers at Eastfield Park last week.

Proposals to create a designated traveller site near Billing Aquadrome were dismissed during the 2000s after a backlash from the public.

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.

The Labour politician's comments have sparked a backlash from Conservatives in Northampton.

Councillor James Hill (Con, Rectory Farm) tweeted on Monday: "@Sally_Keeble wants more legal traveller camps created in Npton- Which of her @NBCLabourGroup Cllrs wants to volunteer their wards first?"

Mr Lewer said the only solution to the illegal camps is through tougher policing.

"The police need to make further use of the powers available to them," he said.

"Given the level of public concern around this, maybe they need to use the powers available to the m more stringently.

Chief inspector Lara Alexander-Lloyd, of Northamptonshire Police, said she was aware of the complaints made by the public the encampments.

But she said officers had to work within the confines of the law when dealing with camps.

Police can issue so-called "section 61" orders on unruly camps, which gives the force powers to physically eject vehicles from land if the owners refuse. Despite the cpomplaints ove the past fortnight, no vehicles have been towed off any of Northampton parks.

“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.”