Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Travellers on Mitcham Common

Over the last few days I along with my Pollards Hill colleagues Richard Williams and Zenia Jamison have been dealing with the issue of travellers who decided on Sunday night to set up an encampment on Watneys Road. Normally it would be fairly easy to move them on but regretfully Merton Council have been legalistic to put it mildly and have come up with all kids of reasons not to move them on some of which I have my severe doubts about their reasoning.

The local councillors have worked closely with the local neighbourhood police who've been fantastic about the matter(though their hands are slightly tied because of the Council) along with the Mitcham Common Conservators who run the common(though the highway is under the control of Merton Council). Whilst initially we were lead to believe that the issue would be resolved within 24 hours, we've now been given a whole list of reasons why their removal cannot take place quickly. Currently Watneys Road is closed off to traffic at both ends and a barrier exists at both ends(regretfully one of the barriers was broken to get access to the road on the night the travellers accessed the site, no prizes for guessing who did this act). Effectively it's a closed road though it is still the public highway as emergency vehicles have full access.

The main reason given for not removing them is that the Council must at all times take into consideration the education and health and welfare needs of the families on site. Fair enough I say, but surely if they believe children are at risk then they should take action, indeed some of these travellers have been on other sites where the assessments have taken place. If any child was in danger, I hope the council would act promptly rather then prevaricating. We have also been told this may take 3-4 days before any decision can be taken and whether legal powers can be used or not. If a child is in danger it should not be a question of waiting, the council should be acting promptly on the matter.

We then get on to their removal, we've now be informed that it could take up to two weeks to remove them form the site, this is despite them causing an obstruction on the highway. The following has been given as a reason by our legal department
"There is section 137 of the Highways Act 1980 where it is an offence to obstruct the highway and of course the police can commence proceedings for obstruction. But unless their presence is causing a danger you will need to take into account all the issues raised in the statement of policy I sent you i.e. can they be tolerated and the decision to use this power should only be taken after the Travellers' Human Rights have been taken in to account. Assessments would have to be carried out by Housing, children's services, adult services if there are elderly or vulnerable adults and education."

Let me comment on the human rights; they've been obstructing the highway, they've been lighting bonfires on the common and residents have told us that they've been intimidating people walking from the bus stop. The Council may have concerns about their rights but what about the human rights of local residents? Lawyers will have varied interpretations of the law but if this was true then effectively it would be a free for all for travellers in this area as Merton Council would hide behind the Human Rights Act when other legislation can ensure they're removed promptly. Indeed on this advice, travellers are free to set up shop where they like in Merton Council because the Council won't act for weeks.

This calls for commonsense and I hope Merton Council do something soon instead of hiding behind bureaucracy and inertia as the current situation is intolerable for local residents'. Indeed I do wonder whether the Council would've have acted differently if they'd turned up on Wimbledon Common instead of Mitcham Common.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like it or not Martin, the Human Rights Act does have a significant impact on the ability of authorities to do what many might think obvious. As the Tories have argued for a long time the Act is used by lawyers to overide the "rights" of the many for the benefit of the few. The Act was brought in by Labour and imported wholesale European legislation with scant regard for how this might affect British law. The Act ought to be replaced with a British bill of rights that properly protects the rights of all decent law abiding people. In the meantime good luck in getting this issue sorted out. Marc Hanson

2:00 pm  
Anonymous Mark (from Franklin Crescent) said...

Martin -

I noticed the travellers, though I haven't had any trouble from them. (I haven't been past that part of the common for a day or two so I don't know if they're still there.) Obviously the police should deal with any cases of threatening behaviour but there will be travellers who are behaving well and we shouldn't juat lump them in with any of them who may have caused trouble.

The case did make me wonder about Watney's Road, though. Its closure to traffic a few years ago seems to have worked quite well. Could the road be removed and the land be returned to the Common (perhaps with a lit footpath so people can get back from the bus stop safely)? Or is it needed as a fire access?

10:02 pm  

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