The government has instructed local councils and the police to do more to stop protest camps, including those against oil and gas operations.
In a letter last week, two government ministers urged public bodies not to “gold—plate” human rights law when dealing with camps.
The local government minister, Brandon Lewis, and the policing minister, Mike Penning, told police and local councils to use the “strong powers” they had to stop camps forming
Over the past two years, anti-fracking campaigners have set up camps outside many exploratory oil and gas sites across the UK. One of the first camps was established outside Cuadrilla’s site at Balcombe in West Sussex in July 2013. One of the most recent is the current camp at Europa’s site at Kiln Lane, near Immingham in Lincolnshire.
The Ministers’ letter said: “We are very concerned by reports that local authorities and the police are not being seen to be doing enough to stop unauthorised traveller encampments”.
“Public bodies should not gold-plate human rights and equalities legislation”.
In many cases, local authorities have taken legal action to remove the camps. Sometimes, as at Balcombe, campaigners made successful challenges in the courts and delayed eviction. At Kiln Lane, North East Lincolnshire Council served an eviction notice last week, giving campaigners seven days to remove tents from the grass verge.
Campaigners have argued that they have rights to protests under articles 10 (freedom of expression) and 11 (freedom of peaceful assembly) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Ministers’ letter added: “We want to see local authorities, the police and other local agencies working together to address the problem of unauthorised encampments.”
It reissued what the ministers said were the “robust powers” to remove camps from both public and private land. This included a recommendation that police and local authorities should identify sites where protests could be directed or permitted. If a local site was regarded as vulnerable, local authorities could consider applying to the courts for a pre-emptive injunction preventing camps in a defined geographical are, the guidance said.
When deciding whether to take action, the ministers suggest public bodies consider
- The harm that developments can cause to local amenities and the local environment
- The potential interference with the peaceful enjoyment of neighbouring property
- The need to maintain public order and safety and protect health
- Any harm to good community relations
The letter was dated 27th March, the final week day for government business before the start of the pre-election purdah period, which began today. We asked the Department of Communities and Local Government why the letter had been sent last week. But the press officers were unable to comment.