Nationally it is recognised that there are more Gypsy/Traveller caravans in circulation than there are 'authorised' legal places for them to stop.
Some unauthorised camping may in certain circumstances and situations be tolerated for a defined time period. In these cases the campers will asked to comply with the Council’s Code of Conduct for Caravan Occupiers. There are locations, however, where encampment will not be acceptable under any circumstances and the Council has prepared a list of Unacceptable Locations which is available in the Code of Conduct.
Each camp location is considered against criteria such as:
- public health risks
- serious environmental damage
- genuine nuisance to neighbours
- traffic hazards
- proximity to other sensitive land-uses
The Council's unauthorised encampments policy [pdf document] deals with the decision-making process adopted to manage unauthorised encampments in an efficient and effective way balancing the rights of both the settled and travelling community.
In Darlington unauthorised encampments are investigated by the Environmental Health Section. This involves seeking information from travellers, in confidence, about their family needs in relation to health, welfare, education and accommodation and consulting with the Health Visitor and Education staff, employed to support travellers, asking for their professional opinion relating to the travellers needs.
The welfare needs of unauthorised campers are material consideration when deciding whether to start eviction proceedings or to allow the encampment to remain longer. Welfare needs do not, however give an open-ended 'right' for unauthorised campers to stay as long as they want in an area. For example, the presence of a pregnant woman or school age children does not mean that an encampment can remain indefinitely. To defer an eviction which is justified on other grounds, the need must be more immediate and/or of a fixed term. All cases are decided on their individual merits.
Good practice suggests that eviction should be delayed while such acute welfare needs exist and are being met; during this period the encampment should be pro-actively managed and the status regularly reviewed.
Any decision to tolerate the presence of a traveller, or travellers, will be dependent upon suitable arrangements being made for provision of drinking water, toilet facilities and collection of household waste. The traveller will be expected to pay directly for these facilities.
Where there is a suitable pitch available on a Caravan Site in the Borough of Darlington the Council may request the Police to use their powers under Section 62 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 [external link] to direct trespassers to leave land and to remove any vehicles and other property.