Thank you for contacting me about the right to roam.
I know the value so many people here in our area place on access to the countryside. I would like to reassure you that the new measures which have now been set out by the Secretary of State will not affect ramblers, the right to roam or rights of way. Instead, the new proposed measures will be applied in specific circumstances relating to trespass with intent to reside.
As you may be aware, the Home Office consulted on measures to criminalise the act of trespassing when setting up an unauthorised encampment in England and Wales. Ministers also consulted on other measures to strengthen police powers in order to tackle unauthorised encampments. The views expressed throughout the consultation have been considered and have informed the Governments next steps, including the conditions for the new offence which will be put to parliament for scrutiny. I would like to assure you that a person must meet the conditions of the new offence for enforcement action to be taken against them. The conditions for the new offence seek to ensure that anyone accessing the countryside, including ramblers and hikers passing through privately owned land, will not be caught by the new proposals. My Ministerial colleagues are clear that the intention behind the new offence is to deter trespassers from setting up or residing on an unauthorised encampment and to support action to tackle unauthorised encampments where necessary.
I am enthusiastic about promoting recreation in the countryside, and understand the benefits outdoor activities can produce both physically and mentally. Our countryside is of great importance and it cannot be understated just how much the scenery means to people. I am therefore encouraged by Government action to ensure we leave our environment in a better state for future generations, including our wonderful countryside.
I support the Government's strong track record on access to the countryside. For example, it has enabled the establishment of a 2,700-mile path around the entire English coastline, meaning walkers will be able to enjoy, explore and experience some of our finest and most important cultural and natural heritage – from the white cliffs of Dover, to the industrial heritage of the North East. When completed, I know that the England Coast Path will be the longest continuous coastal walking route in the world. Furthermore, I am pleased that the Prime Minister has committed to protecting 30 per cent of the UK’s land by 2030. This means an additional 400,000 hectares, the size of the Lake District and South Downs national parks combined, will be protected to support the recovery of nature.
Unauthorised Traveller Sites: The setting up of illegal traveller sites can be a nuisance for local communities and an inappropriate development of open space. I know that many local residents across the country are concerned about anti-social behaviour, fly-tipping, and noise related to unauthorised sites.
After two consultations on this issue, as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill new laws will be introduced to increase the powers available to the police in England and Wales. The Bill will introduce a new criminal offence where a person resides or intends to reside on any public or private land without permission and has caused, or is likely to cause, significant harm, obstruction, or harassment or distress. In addition, the Bill amends the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to broaden the list of harms that can be considered by the police when directing people away from land; and increase the period in which persons directed away from land must not return from three months to 12 months. Amendments to the 1994 Act will in addition allow police to direct trespassers away from land that forms part of a highway.
I can reassure you that the Government has taken steps to ensure that those exercising their rights to enjoy the countryside are not inadvertently impacted by these measures.
I believe these new measures are a proportionate and necessary increase in powers for the police. The Government has made it clear that only a minority of travellers are causing problems, such as through abusive behaviour and extensive litter and waste at illegal sites. The vast majority of the travelling community are decent law-abiding people and we must ensure that there are legal sites available for travellers. As of January 2020, the number of lawful traveller sites increased by 41 per cent from January 2010. The Government has also given £200,000 to support projects working with Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities to tackle discrimination and improve integration, healthcare and education.
I am confident that Government action will help to reduce the number of illegal caravan sites across the country, while respecting people’s right to a nomadic way of life.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP