Travellers who camped illegally on Siston Common and then in a Keynsham car park moved on to playing fields at Emersons Green this week where their arrival sparked an immediate petition to turf them out.
The travellers set up camp on Walkers Playing Fields at Blackhorse Lane (pictured) on Monday and were there until Thursday when they moved off.
A total of 587 people signed the petition and the organisers hailed victory when the travellers left the fields, which are the home of Emersons Green Junior Football Club and used by other teams, as well as the nearby Blackhorse Primary School and dog walkers. There is also a playground on the site.
Comments on the petition included: “This is a football club for local girls and boys … These travellers are ruining training, football games and arranged matches. Please remove ASAP.”
Another person wrote: “It’s a playing field for people to enjoy, not a camping site/caravan park.”
Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore has now written to Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, requesting advice on how South Gloucestershire Council might adopt the measures used in Harlow in Essex that prevent future encampments through High Court injunctions.
He said: “While the council and the police are doing all that they can to combat the setting up of camps, a stricter policy that has been adopted in Harlow, which has taken out a High Court injunction protecting designated sites, would allow for sites to be cleared far faster, and gives tough penalties, including custodial sentences, for those who break the ban on illegal camps.
“I believe that similar measures should be adopted in South Gloucestershire in order to protect our valued common land and community spaces in my constituency.”
In his letter he says that the process of seeking an eviction notice results in a delay of several days before any illegal traveller encampment can be formally evicted, which has caused significant distress to local residents who feel that travellers encamped illegally on common land should be deterred from setting up camps, with stronger powers to remove them.
Harlow Council and Essex County Council were recently granted an interim town-wide injunction from the High Court, banning the setting up of unauthorised traveller encampments in Harlow.
Breaching the injunction could lead to a custodial sentence, and in addition to a town-wide ban against 35 named travellers and persons unknown from setting up unauthorised encampments in Harlow, the injunction also covers and protects 454 sites from future unauthorised encampments, including parks and playgrounds, previously occupied sites, highway verges and schools.
Mr Skidmore also asks Mr Clark: “Given that significant amounts of land in Kingswood are classified as common land, would it be possible for your department to investigate how common land can be given especial protection, given it is highly vulnerable to such encampments?”
Last summer a campaign by local residents, councillors and Mr Skidmore managed to get bollards installed around part of Siston Common to protect against future incursions.