THE rise in traveller activity across Andover has been a hot topic in recent weeks.

Numerous camps have been spotted right across the town, dividing residents’ opinion and drawing the council into tougher action to deal with the situation.

Here we look back at when and where that activity has taken place, as well as what is being done about the situation in and around the town.

When did the traveller camps first appear?

Traveller camps in Andover are by no means a new development.

Government figures show that in January of this year there were 10 unauthorised sites in Test Valley, and in January 2018 there were 14.

But the leader of the borough council, councillor Phil North, admits that there have been “more incidents of unauthorised traveller activity in Andover this year than ever before”.

Much of that activity took place across August and September.

A large group of around 30 vehicles arrived at Picket Twenty on August 5.

Another group then set up a camp at an used site in Anton Trading Estate on August 18, remaining in the area for 11 days.

Later that day a group appeared at Walworth Business Park,

The same group then moved on to Kiel Drive, in Saxon Fields, the following week. Over the course of September, camps were then spotted in Elbe Way, in Saxon Fields, as well as Augusta Park and Picket Twenty before returning to Saxon Fields.

What’s the problem?

Traveller camps have been established on both private and public land – but in both cases their presence has been unauthorised, meaning landowners and the council have had to intervene to have them evicted.

In many cases access has also been gained to sites via force. The group of 30 vehicles that entered Picket Twenty in August accessed the site after using power tools to cut though perimeter barriers.

And when the encampment at Walworth Business Park was set up, caravans blocked the road, causing what witnesses described as “mayhem” on the estate, as bolt cutters were used to gain entry to the site.

Residents have also reported instances of human waste being left behind by travellers groups at Picket Twenty, Anton Trading Estate and Saxon Fields.

Is it the same group of travellers?

Although the group that broke into Walworth Business Park were the same ones that then set up a camp in Saxon Fields, there are believed to be multiple groups of travellers coming and going.

At times, there have been more than one group in the town at once.

What are the rules regarding unauthorised traveller camps?

Different areas of the country have different rules.

For example, in Basingstoke and Deane the council was granted a temporary injunction in July last year which allows the authority to ban the setting up of unauthorised encampments in a large section of the borough.

However, in Test Valley there is no injunction in place and so the council has to rely on a more drawn-out process of asking the travellers to leave, serving an eviction notice and going to court - which can take a number of days.

Other authorities, such as Poole Borough Council, which is now part of the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council, has in the past provided skips and portable toilets to travellers, aimed at limiting clean-up work after travellers left.

Why do they keep returning? 

A charity that works on behalf of travellers and gypsies says a lack of available areas for roamers is to blame.

What is the council doing about it?

Councillor Phil North, leader of Test Valley Borough Council, has been vocal in recent weeks about taking a tougher stance on traveller activity in the town.

Currently the council has to go through what he describes as an “arduous” court process, but given the spate of incidents of late the authority has been looking into the possibility of having a court injunction, similar to that of Basingstoke and Deane, put in place.

This would enable the council to remove travellers from the area immediately.

Physical measures have also been put in place by the authority. In August TVBC announced plans to beef up security at Picket Twenty with the installation of a metal fence and a moat. Mounds of earth have also been built around the field in Elbe Way, Saxon Fields, and those in Roman Way.

The mounds in Roman Way have also had wildflowers planted in them. Test Valley Borough Councillor Nick Matthews has said the final phase of the project will be completed within the next four weeks.

What are some of the issues surrounding injunctions?

From the council’s perspective, the biggest issue in securing a “blanket ban” injunction is proving to the courts that such action is necessary.

Borough Cllr Nick Matthews noted in his monthly video update on social media that the recent increase in traveller activity may actually work to the council’s benefit in this respect.

He said: “One thing that goes in our favour, I would suggest, is the amount of visits we’ve had of late, and the mess they leave behind and so on.

“The more prevalent their encroachments are, the better case we have to get a blanket ban through courts.”

But on the other side of the coin, charities such as Friends, Families and Travellers have warned against the imposition of such injunctions as they simply force travellers to move onto new sites.

Abbie Kirkby, advice and policy manager at the charity, said: “The use of high court injunctions is ruthless and unjust; it’s comparable to putting spikes in and around cities to stop the homeless from sleeping there.

“Where are Gypsies and Travellers supposed to go, when local authorities try to pretend they don’t exist?”