Protecting green space from trespassers
Earlier this week I drove into Cambourne and saw that the digging of a long protective ditch and earth bund at the entrance was proceeding apace. This now runs for hundreds of metres on both sides of the road. The land is private, and I understand that when complete it will be sown with wildflowers to reduce the elongated gash of freshly turned over earth. Prettifying this exercise in medieval defensive earthworks is all very well, but the cause of all the effort is the recent return, and return again, of caravans and horses occupying the land unlawfully, and, I am afraid to say, leaving the usual residue to be cleared up.
Last week I read in the Cambridge paper that a children's football pitch in the City had been occupied in similar circumstances, and as a result, a football event called off. Closer to where I am, the caravans that occupied the land along the A505 for weeks during April and May - except when their owners decided to try to move to the Genome Centre at Hinxton - are looking like they are coming back.
I have asked South Cambridgeshire District Council what can be done to reduce this problem and to find a better way than these desperate, ugly earthworks sprouting up. The response I have had is that illegal encampments are a problem for national government to resolve, and that in any case "when we talk to most traveller families who come to the area we find out that they are only here for a short time as they have an unwell relative at a local hospital, or are attending a family celebration. They then move on."
If local councils in Cambridgeshire want to explore creating temporary sites for travellers, then that needs to be looked at, including the costs of servicing those sites. However, other councils, such as Harlow, have worked with their local police forces to establish preventive injunctions on green space across their districts. I am not saying everywhere should be off limits, but I am saying that village greens and sports pitches should be the subject of such injunctions, which the local councils and the police should put together and agree to enforce if breached. The recently published Inspector's assessment of the Local Plan, which South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge City Councils are due to adopt later this month states that
"The Plan makes adequate provision for gypsies and travellers and travelling showpeople who have been identified as meeting the current PPTS definition. However, the Council has not yet completed the review, required under the Housing Act (as amended) which is not limited to those meeting the PPTS definition. For the reasons given above, we have concluded that this matter should be addressed through the review of the Plan."
So there we have it - this review of the plan in 2019 offers the opportunity to be innovative, to apply the law - equally, fairly, without prejudice - to protect our open spaces, our children's play areas, our village greens. Rule this out - and landowners will increasingly resort to trench warfare.