With issues of travellers and unpermitted camping in and around Newport, NIALL GRIFFITHS investigates the process of how local authorities engage with the nomadic communities.

THIS summer has seen the presence of traveller communities in Newport felt perhaps more acutely than in recent years.

Last month, the Argus covered two separate incidents of unauthorised camps setting up on land within the city.

Two weeks ago, more than 20 caravans set up on land at Glebelands Park, causing traffic around the park to grind to a halt as travellers accessed the site.

Earlier in August, another set of travellers pitched up in the car park of the Newport International Sports Village (NISV).

Their appearance came just as some of Team GB’s athletes were arriving to practice at the International Velodrome prior to their Rio successes.

Around this time a number of travellers could also be sighted across from the Transporter Bridge at Coronation Park, a site well-frequented by Gipsy groups.

Both incidents led to specialist cleaners from Newport City Council and Newport Live, the charitable trust running the city’s sports and leisure centres, leading clean-up operations.

Between these incidents, Newport City Council passed plans to build a permanent site in Ringland following voting margins of four to three.

The approved 4.78 hectare site on Hartridge Farm Road will be used by traveller families already living in Newport on illegal or unsuitable sites.

The council have now applied to the Welsh government for funding of up to £1.5 million to help pay for the first phase of construction.

But, the narrow voting, coupled with the hundreds of objections, is further evidence that the prohibited presence of travellers in Newport remains a contentious issue. Whatever people may feel about the illegal occupation of land, travellers have the same rights as everyone under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), notably Article 8.

This states that “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence”.

These guidelines also apply to mobile homes or caravans that may be unlawfully or illegally parked and may even apply to those situated on unauthorised sites.

But, according to government guidance, this must be “balanced against what is proportionate and does not prohibit a local authority taking steps to address instances of unauthorised camping”.

A council spokesman said: “If the council was able to identify and provide a suitable authorised transit site, then the police could use their legal powers to direct them to this site and we wouldn’t have to use common law powers or possession proceedings.

“But, in the absence of anywhere for them to go, the council is constrained about how and when we take action to evict them, because of our housing and human rights duties towards the travellers.”

The exact process that Newport City Council follows is one that is measured and takes into consideration the rights of the travellers.

Newport Norse, the council’s estates management company, assist in managing unauthorised encampments while safely and legally removing them from the premises.

Upon being alerted to an unauthorised encampment on council-owned land, two Newport Norse staff members are sent to find out who the travellers are, where they are from, where they are going and how long they are intending on staying for.

The number of caravans and vehicles on site, as well as the number of children, is also taken into consideration.

A Partnership Notice, which informs them of expected behaviour and the date by which the council wishes them to leave, is issued – and this is usually 48 hours.

If the travellers do not leave by the requested date, Newport Norse then take instructions from the council as to how they want to proceed, a process which can take a few days.

The bailiffs’ first site visit will include a welfare assessment and if there are no welfare issues the bailiff will then serve notice and usually evict within 24 to 48 hours.

A council spokesman said: “Basically, a landowner is entitled to use ‘reasonable force’ to protect his land against trespassers, provided he doesn’t commit any public order or criminal offences.

“The council engage the bailiffs to tow the vehicles to the nearest highway being careful not to hurt anyone or cause any damage to their property

“It’s far quicker and less costly than going to court for a possession order or injunction, but it’s not without its legal difficulties.”

Under the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, local authorities such as Newport have a duty to identify the accommodation needs of Gypsies and travellers and address them accordingly.

A Welsh government spokesperson said: “We want local authority Gipsy and traveller sites to provide a good standard of living and be designed and managed in ways that are suitable for the communities that live there.

“Providing official sites of a good standard also helps to reduce the number of illegal encampments.”

In 2009, the Welsh government estimated that there were 4,000 Gipsies and travellers living in the Wales – either on permanent sites, in transit or living in ‘bricks and mortar’ accommodation.

Figures from 2013 show the proportion of Gipsy and traveller caravans situated on unauthorised encampments in Wales was estimated at 17 per cent, accounting for 169 caravans in total.

A potential avenue that Newport City Council are yet to explore, aside from a permanent camp, is a transit site.

Transit sites must be permanently designated and “cannot be occupied by residents for longer than three months at a time”.

The Welsh government’s Guidance on Managing Unauthorised Camping states that these sites ‘can be used for the intended purpose of facilitating the Gipsy and traveller nomadic way of life’.

These are not to be confused with temporary encampments, which are intended to be used by local authorities temporarily where accommodation is needed but none is currently available in the area.

While there is no set transit site in the city, the council’s stance on the recent clean-up operations is a clear one.

Speaking after the incident at the NISV, a council spokesman said: “Newport does not currently have an official transit site for travellers passing through the city to use.

“That said, it is also not acceptable for private or publicly-owned land to be illegally occupied, especially when it is subsequently left in a state of disrepair or blighted with refuse.

“The council will continue to work with land owners and Gwent Police whenever land is illegally occupied by travellers, and it would appeal to the travelling community to treat land in Newport with respect.”