SOMERSET councils will no longer have to provide unauthorised traveller encampments with water or sanitation after May 17.
Since the first national lockdown, Somerset’s local authorities have been bound by law to provide basic amenities on unauthorised sites, in order to prevent the coronavirus from being spread through unnecessary travel.
With the government further relaxing the pandemic restrictions later in May, this obligation will be removed – and councils can resume legal action to remove travellers from non-permitted sites.
Somerset County Council said every group in this position would be given two weeks’ notice before any formal action was taken.
The council confirmed the changes in a statement published on its official website.
A spokesman said: “The challenges of covid-19 had a potentially greater impact on people from Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities, particularly difficulties in being unable to travel, access to clean water, social distancing and self-isolation.
“In Somerset a multi-agency group was formed to ensure a county-wide response to these concerns. The group considered national guidance and recommendations set out by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to ensure that all parts of our society are kept safe during this time.
“It was agreed that as national restrictions were relaxed, we would review the current changes.”
The multi-agency group includes the county council, all four district councils, the police, the fire service and the Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group.
From May 17, the councils will no longer be legally obliged to provide unauthorised encampments with water and sanitation facilities.
From this date, enforcement action against such encampments – including the issuing of court orders – can also resume “where needed”.
The county council has promised those affected would be given two weeks’ notice “as a minimum”, with efforts being made to secure them alternative accommodation at a designated site.
The council’s cabinet voted on April 21 to approve a further £48,000 for multi-agency work to address gypsy and traveller encampments in Glastonbury.
In a joint statement, Somerset County Council and Mendip District Council said they would work together with other partners to resolve any issues surrounding the current sites.
They stated: “Throughout the pandemic, local authorities have been instructed to follow government guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus within gypsy and travelling communities.
“This included providing sanitation, water, bins, refuse collections, and issuing health advice. We were also asked to consider how they could support access to food, medication and other essentials.
“All agencies in Somerset worked together on this response, including providing support at three locations in Glastonbury – The Old Beckery Road (by Screwfix/ Topps Tiles), Bretenoux Road, and Kennard Moor Drove.
“In line with the national roadmap and the lifting of national restrictions, these local provisions are due to be removed from May 17.
“However, the multi-agency group will continue to work closely with all affected communities to consider next steps and resolve any issues.”