June’s View from Westminster.

Andrew Jones writes a monthly column for the Advertiser series of newspapers. Below is the June article.

This month, all the political talk seems to have been of votes of confidence in the Prime Minister and whether the Leader of the Opposition will be fined for breaking the rules.  People might be forgiven for thinking MPs talk about little else but themselves and their behaviour.

But, like most MPs of all parties, my regular meetings with constituents and busy constituency diary have been the main focus of my attention. 

And it has been a busy month with surgery appointments, talks to two schools, several visits to businesses and brilliant events such as the Almsford Community Day, Platinum Jubilee events and the amazing Knaresborough Bed Race.

And it was great to see the Bed Race back and judging by the crowds who came to see it, the people of Knaresborough and beyond thought so too.   

But I wanted to let people know about my actions on another issue affecting a great many Knaresborough residents last week and people further afield too.  Because at the beginning of the week an encampment of travellers set up on the rugby club site at Hay-a-Park. 

This is council-owned land and after previous encampments the council had put boulders around the edge of the land to stop future gatherings.  Those boulders were moved to get access illegally to the site.

Now I understand the viewpoint that some have that this happens year-in year-out around the time of the Appleby Fair although in this instance I understand that the fair was not the final destination.  I understand, though don’t wholly support, the view that if the travellers are only there a couple of days and cause no trouble then we should have a ‘live and let live’ approach.

But in this case, in Knaresborough, from the reports I have received from residents, police and the council there was disorder and anti social behaviour completely off the scale compared to that associated with previous traveller encampments in our area.

Vandalism of property, damage to cars, late night motorbike and quadbike racing through residential estates, break-ins at barns, use of pavements and open space as a toilet were just some of the unpleasantness residents nearby reported and had to put up with.

Most people who know me also know that I tend to take a reasoned and pragmatic approach to issues.  I am not a ‘sensationalist’ and don’t go for headline-grabbing soundbites demonising individuals or groups.  I like to bring people together; not force them apart.  I say this to demonstrate that I am not seeking to set all travelling communities in one mould.  That would be ridiculous.

Some in this group, however, took the openness and generosity of spirit which is the hallmark of our communities and simply abused it.  That is why I think we need to take action to protect the rights and property of residents against future incursions of this nature.

Currently, the law states that a notice has to be served on travellers to quit the land they illegally occupy.  Three days are allowed to do so before removal can be enforced.

I have written to the Home Secretary asking her to look at ways in which enforcement can be brought forward on the advice of the police where law-breaking occurs from the activities of a travelling community.  I have also written to our local Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, Zoe Metcalfe, asking her to look at the policing of this encampment and to see if any improvements could be made with the benefit of this experience.  Finally, I have asked the council to look at how it can secure public land more effectively and more anticipate the movements of travelling communities and provide appropriate sites to be used as layovers for them.

Amid all the celebrations and communities coming together which we have seen, participated in and enjoyed this month this was a darker episode for many.  I want to make sure that local people and travelling communities can enjoy their everyday lives in peace.  It is a shame when the minority act in a way that risks labelling the majority and that is what my actions are seeking to avoid.