Unauthorised encampments

An unauthorised encampment is where a person camps on land that they do not own, and where they do not have permission to reside. They might be in a van, trailer or any other moveable accommodation. This does not include rough sleeping or illegal camping in a tent or makeshift shelter.

People setting up unauthorised encampments will usually keep to themselves. In some situations – such as when they need to attend a wedding or a funeral or visit a hospital, or if they have broken down – the encampment might be closer to residential areas.

Read the government’s guidance about dealing with illegal and unauthorised encampments for a summary of available powers to tackle the formation of unauthorised encampments to help with the reclamation of land and property.

We can only take enforcement action when an unauthorised encampment is on public land in Cambridge owned by us.

Encampments on private land are the landowner’s responsibility, as is cleaning or securing the site. We advise you to seek legal advice.

Encampments on a highway or right of way are Cambridgeshire County Council’s responsibility.

Encampments on council-owned land

If you see an encampment on public land that you think is unauthorised, report it to us.

We are aware of an encampment on Coldham’s Common – you do not need to report it.

Report an unauthorised encampment on public land

We consider each case individually. We will visit each site and make every effort to make sure it is kept clean and tidy. We might provide refuse collection facilities or toilets for this purpose.

We cannot remove unauthorised encampments immediately – we must act according to national legislation and guidelines. We do this 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)

We consider criteria such as:

  • health and safety considerations for the occupiers
  • traffic hazards
  • public health risks
  • serious environmental damage
  • genuine nuisance to the settled community and proximity to other sensitive land-uses

Wherever possible, we seek to prevent occupiers of unauthorised encampments from being established in an unacceptable location.

We have a procedure to follow in terms of proving ownership of land and details of the unauthorised encampment. This enables us to successfully obtain the necessary authority from the court 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 three to 14 days. The date of any court hearing is dependent on court availability, and is beyond our control.

The court can refuse to grant 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.

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