In the last week, residents that live close to the Cricklewood B&Q may have noticed a traveller encampment appear in the car park there. This is, unfortunately, a regular occurrence – not just in our area, but across London.
On news that the travellers had arrived, I contacted B&Q head office and pressed them to take the steps necessary to evict the travellers and to increase security at the site to prevent future incursions. To their credit, B&Q had begun the legal action necessary and were working with the local police and LBB to resolve the situation.
Our local police Borough Commander, Detective Chief Superintendent Simon Rose, updated local residents with the following, which I hope you find reassuring:
I agree that the persistent unlawful encampments and the criminal behaviour is unacceptable and wanted to update you about what has been going on and behind the scenes with Mr Freer, the Local Authority and the Police to do something about it. We are not ignoring it, and whilst progress is too slow I do want to reassure you of the ongoing commitment here to try and do something about it situation and set out what has been happening.
Mr Freer will be aware of this. He has been very very busy behind the scene pushing this issue with us, the Local Authority and B&Q as well as supporting the local Neighbourhood Inspector (Jason Moseley) to leverage action with B&Q. I am personally very grateful for this, as it does make a difference. We are also receiving all the assistance we are asking for from the Local Authority.
Jason recently provided me with an internal update which I have incorporated into this reply. Also attached is the letter B&Q sent to Jason following the most recent meeting he had in November (and before this most recent incident) in which he was driving the changes we wanted to see.
There have been four unauthorised encampments since 1st January 2018. B&Q appointed bailiffs to all of these and they were evicted within 24 hrs. March 11th – following day eviction. August 4th – following day eviction. October 22nd – following day eviction. October 9 – following day eviction. The latest encampment was dealt with swiftly and they were evicted the same day.
I do very much appreciate the impact of an illegal encampment even for one day, with the criminal damage, the thefts, the killing of the rabbits and the fly tipping and littering. I personally have seen it first hand when I was a Barnet resident in Hampden Way a couple of years ago and more recently now in West Enfield where there was an unlawful encampment very close to my current home for an extended period before enforcement action was eventually taken. In Barnet whilst I am here I can promise you we will always push for the earliest eviction and any proportionate legal and defendable enforcement will be pursued.
Following the November security review meeting with B&Q, which has been an ongoing process, we are reissuing a copy of the formal crime prevention advice “design out crime report” to B&Q and will review with them what they are willing to adopt in the New Year. At the November meeting we raised concerns that the site is not being properly secured overnight.
Target hardening measures were looked at in detail and Jason was content that progress is being made on this issue by B&Q. The site itself presents various problems for more widely used target hardening measures. Customers with trailers and high sided vehicles regularly attend (particularly trade customers) and any target hardening that prevented such vehicles readily attending would have to be balanced against the impact on trade sales.
A robust chicane arrangement was previously trialled in a B&Q store in Chingford, but this has had a negative impact on trade sales and legitimate customers regularly get stuck/cause issues on the high kerb line. Height restrictors were discussed in November as an alternative. It was suggested that part of the car park be left open with access to the main car park through a height restrictor. B&Q had already obtained a quote for such measures and are reviewing options which was encouraging, but we will review this with them in January. The obvious concern that follows from this though is that the travellers will set up camp right in front of the store in the unrestricted part. There is a limit to what can be done to prevent encroachment although this provides justification for use of same day eviction civil powers. I will come on to why we will not default to Sec61 shortly and the letter explains the B&Q position on same day evictions.
Webuyanycar also have access rights to the car park, meaning that any height restrictor would have to be movable to allow a car transporter through. B&Q will discuss with webuyanycar – potentially provide them with a key. The style of height restrictor was also reviewed. Hinged and locking at one end (and not the centre) with closed shackle padlock preferable option. CCTV in the car park area was also discussed and B&Q will chase this again with their security team. Although this will not prevent encampment, it will allow for positive enforcement against offences. (It will not be sufficient to address the identity of the person cutting the lock before travellers enter as their principal tactic is one car attended cuts the lock and then leaves so others can attend and ‘find’ the gate open). If this CCTV is installed will can provide signage which will lower motor vehicle crime, obviously helpful, but a peripheral benefit. We will be following this up in Jan.
Parking enforcement options against travellers has also been reviewed. As vehicles must be registered somewhere, and eventually some time down the line unpaid fines will catch up with them. We are happy to pursue this with B&Q and are exploring how this could be done. Barnet Local Authority have had some success here seizing and crushing two tipper trucks last year via this route elsewhere on the Borough. We have also been able to seize two vehicles in November by this route in Brent when we raided the traveller site there so we are happy it can work. We will also always offer to be present to prevent Breach of the Peace whilst these tickets are issued. Parking enforcement for B&Q is sub-contracted but they were happy to accept this offer. Again, we will review this with them in January and see what progress can be agreed.
We have also discussed at length B&Q’s eviction procedure. It is an option to use Sec 61, but MPS policy is we expect private landlords to take responsibility for their property and now offload the cost to the MPS. We will use Sec61 if certain criteria apply around threat, harm and risk.
We also have an agreement with the Local Authority which goes significantly beyond MPS policy around the conditions around the use of Sec 61 and the wider enforcement tactics. This is because the leader of the Local Authority is of the very firm view that unlawful encampments should be prioritised. I share this view and appreciate that these matters are a significant concern to the communities of Barnet. This is why generally unlawful encampments are moved on much faster in Barnet than surrounding Boroughs (I regrettably know this from personal experience) and in Barnet we actively seek opportunities to seize and crush vehicles for unpaid fines, seize and prosecute for technical no insurance for pubic waster carriage offences and prosecute and prohibit continued use on the roads (PG9) for ‘construction and use’ offences by requesting specialist traffic support for vehicle examinations.