This summer, Solihull Council and police seem to have been constantly trying to evict one unauthorised camp or another from our town’s green and open spaces. I hope that we can learn from how other communities have tackled this challenge and ensure that the holidays pass more smoothly next year.
The Council is currently conducting a review into how it responds to incursions, and I have submitted my own research for consideration. You can read my ‘Knight Report’ on my website – julianknight.org.uk.
I have previously discussed some of my ideas in this column, but they include both improved physical defences (rather than tree trunks two men can move aside!) and new legal tactics such as town-wide injunctions and full bans on specific individuals.
But whilst the powers to directly tackle these encampments rest with council officers and the police, I have been keen to do what I can as MP to draw attention to the problems we face here in Solihull.
That’s why I’ve personally updated Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, on the situation, as well as writing a letter to Downing Street to ask what changes to the law on traveller camps the Government is considering.
I have also held a joint meeting with Nick Page, the Chief Executive of Solihull Council, and Bas Javid, the Chief Superintendent of West Midlands Police.
One thing I’ve learned at Westminster is that campaigns like this can me much more effective when they are cross-party. I work with MPs from other parties frequently at Westminster on a huge variety of issues, from fighting fraud to getting a better deal for drivers.
Unfortunately, the other parties don’t share my concerns – and the concerns of all the residents who got in touch with me over the summer – about unauthorised camps.
Both Labour and the Greens, Solihull’s other main parties, want to actually extend the legal rights and protections afforded to travellers, which will delay evictions and doubtless lead to more incursions. Some even want to grant them the right to stay on public land all winter!
This means that it could prove very difficult to pass any new legislation through Parliament. But I’m ready to work with MPs from across the House to make sure that the law governing travellers is up-to-date and fit for purpose.
Originally published in the Solihull Observer, 21/09/17.