An unauthorised encampment is where any person camps (in vans, trailers or any other moveable accommodation) on land that they do not own, and where they do not have permission to reside. This does not include rough sleeping or illegal camping (use of tents or makeshift shelter).
What happens when there is an unauthorised encampment in the city?
Most of the time, people setting up unauthorised encampments will keep to themselves. In some situations (such as for people needing to attend a wedding or a funeral, if a relative is in hospital, or if people have broken down), unauthorised encampments might be closer to residential areas.
If an unauthorised encampment is on council-owned land, the council has powers to take legal action where needed, but if the encampment is on private land, it is the landowner's responsibility. If the encampment is on a right of way or highway it is Cambridgeshire County Council’s responsibility to take action.
For a summary of available powers to tackle the formation of unauthorised encampments to help with the reclamation of land and property see government guidance: Dealing with illegal and unauthorised encampments - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
What should I do if I suspect that an encampment is unauthorised?
We can only take enforcement action when an unauthorised encampment is on land in Cambridge owned by us, if you see an encampment you believe is unauthorised please fill out the webform to report it to us.
If an encampment is on private land, the responsibility to deal with the occupiers of unauthorised encampments is of the landowner themselves. The landowner would be advised to seek legal advice. Any site clean-up or securing of the site is also the responsibility of the landowner.
What can the council do about an encampment on council-owned land?
We consider each case individually. In all cases the site is visited, and every effort made to make sure that people keep the site clean and tidy. This sometimes means that refuse collection facilities or toilets may be provided for this purpose.
We cannot remove unauthorised encampments immediately: we must act according to national legislation and guidelines by:
- showing that people are on the land without consent
- making enquiries regarding the general health, welfare, and children's education by undertaking a welfare assessment
- ensuring that the Human Rights Acts 1998 has been fully complied with and Equality Act 2010 (especially if an unauthorised encampment is set up by people of Gypsy, Roma, or Traveller heritage)
Each encampment location will be considered on its own merits against criteria such as health and safety considerations for the occupiers of unauthorised encampments, traffic hazards, public health risks, serious environmental damage, and genuine nuisance to the settled community and proximity to other sensitive land-uses. Wherever possible, the council will seek to prevent occupiers of unauthorised encampments from being established in an unacceptable location.
The council has a procedure to follow in terms of proving ownership of land and details of the unauthorised encampment, and this will enable us to successfully obtain necessary authority from the courts to order the people to leave the site
The process to remove unauthorised encampments is bound by the legal process and usually takes anywhere from 3 to 14 days. The date of any court hearing is dependent on court availability, and this is beyond the control of the council.
Note that sometimes the court can refuse to grant the council an order to move people on from an unauthorised encampment. This can happen if there is an unavoidable reason for people to stay on the unauthorised encampment, or if the court believes we have failed to make adequate enquiries regarding the general health and welfare of people on the site. We must try to find out this information before going to court.