Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has narrowly voted to follow its monitoring officer’s advice and rejected a call to pursue a borough wide injunction against illegal encampments.
The motion was put forward by the opposition Conservative group, which lost power this month to a joint administration of Labour, Independent and Liberal Democrat councillors.
In their motion the Conservatives noted: “Public concerns about travellers illegally occupying public open spaces and other areas in the borough [and] whenever travellers are evicted by the council from one site they move on to occupy another available site in the vicinity”.
It called on officers to ”seek through the courts a borough wide injunction to deter illegal encampments and ensure their swift removal”.
But a report to the council by John Williams, Strategic Director - Legal and Democratic Services, advised against this.
Mr Williams’ report said that since the subject last arose in August 2017 there had been 12 unauthorised encampments on council land and “travellers have been moved on quickly, in some cases before possession proceedings have even been commenced”.
He said: “The travellers generally leave the borough once they are moved on. While the encampments have caused some problems, the impact and harm is not on the scale seen in some other districts, not least because of the short period of time they are in situ.
“Certainly the council gets involved in clearing up rubbish after its land is vacated, but commercial fly tipping is not a general problem.
“In the light of all the current information, I do not consider that the council has the evidence to commence legal proceedings for a borough-wide injunction, or stands any reasonable chance of convincing the court that such an injunction should be granted.”
Council leader Ian Gilbert said Southend had long taken “a robust approach to dealing with illegal encampments” but the injunction would be “disproportionate to the scale of the problem we face, and is unlikely to be granted by a court”.
He noted that the London Borough of Bromley recently had an application to extend a similar interim injunction rejected by the High Court, which granted a more limited injunction, and said: “There is not a reasonable likelihood that such an injunction would be granted in the near future, and therefore it is most likely that such a course of action would be a waste of taxpayers' money”.
The council vote was tied with the motion being rejected on the mayor’s casting vote.