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Newspaper Columns

KM Column - Illegal Encampments Meeting - 1 August 2019

Open spaces are an important part of the community in Leybourne. It gives a space to take the kids to play or walk the dog. But in recent months it’s been frequently occupied by travellers, making the fields unusable. That’s left many feeling unsafe. With summer finally here, we want to be able to enjoy our parks and open spaces. Leybourne Parish Council chair Bob Ulph wants to do more to ensure that parks across the village are protected all year around so he invited the Police and Crime Commissioner, Matthew Scott, Chief Inspector Peter Steenhuis of Kent Police, Leybourne Parish Council and me to discuss illegal encampments and other local matters. I was very grateful for the chance to listen. Thank you to everyone who came.

We had some really positive news as to how we can tackle this problem. In February this year, the government made £1.5 million available to local authorities to handle unauthorised encampments. I hope the three borough councillors will now ensure the money available is spent locally. Leybourne Parish Council has led brilliantly and the leader of TMBC has made sure more money is available, it’s now up to the local councillors to represent our community and get the funds to those in need. There are thousands of pounds ready to spend on protecting Lillieburn to prevent future incidents.

There are still problems when some encampments take longer to remove than others. We need better reporting and a speedy response to every occasion. 

I have been campaigning for change in Parliament too. We need to our laws to match those in Ireland and elsewhere so I’ll be writing to the new Home Secretary, Priti Patel MP, to ask for trespass to become a criminal offence as soon as possible. Together, we have already made huge strides to tackling this problem. It is great to see the community working together and great to see the leadership offered locally by a fantastic Parish Council. The work that Bob Ulph has done goes to show what a difference local representation can make and how to deliver for our community.  

Georgie Welford