The Police and Crime Commissioner David Munro said the urgent need for transit sites in Surrey has been highlighted again after the latest unauthorised traveller encampment in the county was moved on following a police order this week.
The PCC said the need for temporary sites for travellers has never been more pressing as officers try to enforce the restrictions on movement across Surrey due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Surrey Police issued a section 61 notice on Monday ordering travellers to leave an unauthorised encampment which had been set up on recreation ground in Lightwater following an escalation of reports of crime and antisocial behaviour.
In March, the PCC responded to a Home Office consultation by stating he believes the government should change the law to make setting up unauthorised traveller encampments a criminal offence.
The PCC said he believes that criminalising the act of trespass in relation to encampments, which is currently a civil matter, would give police tougher and more effective powers to deal with them when they appear.
However, he said this must be coupled with a concerted effort to provide transit sites to direct travellers to. The use of temporary stopping places with proper facilities have proved successful in other areas of the country – but there are currently none in Surrey.
PCC David Munro said: “The events in Lightwater over the last week have highlighted again the urgent need for the provision of transit sites in Surrey.
“I visited the village at the weekend and have great sympathy with the plight of the residents I met whose anger and frustration was plain to see at a time when they are already having to deal with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“When we are all trying our hardest to restrict unnecessary movement, having no temporary sites to direct travellers too creates the risk that they could be moving from place to place in our communities which is an entirely unsatisfactory situation for everyone.
“Although in Lightwater a section 61 notice was served, the legislation around unauthorised encampments is complex and there are requirements that must be met in order for police to take such action.
“I believe many of the issues surrounding unauthorised encampments are created by the lack of temporary sites which I have long been calling for in Surrey. As I have previously said, I believe that government should take on a greater responsibility by compelling local authorities to provide these sites.
“These changes are urgently needed to break the cycle of repeated unauthorised traveller encampments that continue to affect our local communities.”