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BLOG: New law is needed to protect businesses from extortion

The siting of impromptu Gypsy and Traveller camps in Chesterfield are always a controversial issue and there is always a significant public outcry when a camp appears in our town.

Much of this is based on people’s experiences of the huge clean up required afterwards and the impact it can have on the owners of the land.

We have seen temporary encampments appearing on public and private land, at Queen’s Park, Holmebrook Valley Country Park, Millenium Way business park and numerous other sites. This has often cost the Borough Council and local businesses thousands of pounds in legal fees to evict them, and then hundreds of pounds more in clearing up the sites once they have left.

There is also a growing problem of Travellers setting up unauthorised encampments on business premises and then demanding cash to leave the site. This happened to a local business in Dunston recently and the advice they received from the Police was that often paying for the travellers to leave is cheaper than taking legal action.

This is simply extortion and so I am proposing a new bill in Parliament which I introduced on 22nd May to make it a specific offence to demand money to leave land that you are occupying illegally.

The ‘Unauthorised Encampments’ bill had its second reading in Parliament and although there is not time for it to be brought into law in this parliament, I hope that it will be the start of a debate about how the balance between a recognition of traveller lifestyle can be done in a way that doesn’t impinge upon the lawful business activities of our businesses.

Adjusting legislation to protect landowners and businesses will re-balance the law more evenly to prevent these extortionist practices.

There needs to be accommodation for Gypsy and Traveller communities in a way that can win the confidence of local communities, but ensuring that action is taken against criminal elements is a part of building that public confidence.

The Traveller community does face discrimination and mistrust and there is always opposition to any proposed traveller sites, achieving a better balance could lead to there being less hostility in future whilst preventing businesses or communities from feeling powerless and as though the law is against them.

It is one thing to acknowledge that travellers will need somewhere to be, it is quite another for them to use their presence as a negotiating and money making tool.

However, whilst it is important not to generalise, there are historic problems linked to traveller sites that makes communities uneasy about having a site in their area. And, though there is a duty on all of us to not discriminate and prejudge travellers, there is also a duty on the travelling community to adhere to the law and be respectful towards the communities they move in to.

The best approach we can take is to create permanent Gypsy and Traveller pitches in every area so that there are always places for Travellers to set up camp. This will hopefully reduce the number of illegal encampments whilst also encouraging Travellers to feel like they are an equal part of the community. But we also need tougher legislation to protect the rights of businesses and local authorities and to prevent criminal behaviour.

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I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

Contact Toby

Tel: 01246 386286
Post: 113 Saltergate, Chesterfield, S40 1NF


I hold regular surgeries for my constituents.
Please call 01246 386286 or email to make a booking.

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