COMMUNITY leaders are set to lobby the Government in a bid to make trespassing a criminal offence and clamp down on unauthorised traveller encampments.

As reported, trespassing is a civil offence in the UK, whereas in Ireland trespassing became a criminal act in 2002.

Now, at a full council meeting on Wednesday, Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) members backed a cross-party motion to urge the government to take action to change the law after the authority suffered a spate of incidents.

The move comes after TVBC announced in July that it had secured a High Court injunction to stop the set-up of unauthorised encampments on certain areas of land.

READ: Local authority issues application to High Court over travellers >>> 

However, one councillor did stress the local authority should make it clear when they write to central Government this is a "last ditch act", adding "genuine nomadic travellers" should be protected.

Liberal democrat Cllr Alan Dowden, who seconded the motion put forward by Cllr Phil Bundy, said: "Those who have had the very unpleasant experience of dealing with unauthorised encampment of travellers, often in numbers of 30 or more caravans, plus cars and accompanying work vehicles, are painfully aware of the enormous impact, to individuals, authorities and the wider community.

"A cost that is environmentally, financially and emotionally damaging.

"I have dealt with six occasions of unauthorised encampment on parish land when North Baddesley was part of Valley Park. I have been verbally threatened, had a knife pulled and brandished at me, in front of two policemen, who remained powerless against a large group of male travellers."

Romsey Advertiser: Cllr Alan DowdenCllr Alan Dowden

He added: "We have a duty of care to residents to protect our community open spaces from unauthorised encampments which, when occupied, deny the rights of our residents to enjoy their community spaces. That is the most important thing to me."

READ: Romsey community leader claims  '40 bags of rubbish' were cleared after travellers leave rugby pitch >>>

Conservative Cllr Phil Bundy said: “Though the High Court injunction provides a vital tool to help us tackle unauthorised encampments, it is important that we do everything we possibly can to put an end to this issue.

"The objective of the motion is not to penalise those in society who behave in a law-abiding manner, but to protect our residents from the anti-social and irresponsible behaviour we have experienced from travellers.

“The cost of clearing up afterwards can run into thousands, resulting in a heavy burden on the taxpayer when it occurs on council land and crippling farmers and other private landowners when travellers target their fields and open spaces."

Romsey Advertiser: Cllr Phil BundyCllr Phil Bundy

READ: Councillors condemn travellers for camping on recreation ground >>>

He added: “Sadly, the police are limited in the actions they can take under the present law because there are certain thresholds that have to be met and police budget resources are limited.

“That is why we are urging the government to take action as quickly as possible to change the law, so that we can put a stop to this behaviour and save the taxpayer and private landowners money at a time when they can ill afford significant clean-up costs and hefty solicitor fees.”

However, Liberal Democrat Cllr Sandra Gidley did express concerns for nomadic travellers and said: "I do think we need to make it clear when we write to central Government this is a last ditch act, because I do think genuine nomadic travellers do need to be protected."