Council to seek fast-track legal powers to reduce impact of unauthorised land occupations

Councillors have approved plans for a scheme that would offer a fast-track solution to limit the impact of unauthorised incursions on public land in the borough.

Last week's  community services and open spaces scrutiny committee gave its backing for the council’s lawyers to seek additional legal powers that would be used to bring unlawful land occupations to a swifter conclusion.

As well as speeding up the departure of groups of people from land they have occupied without lawful permission, the new powers would also ensure they could not simply leave one site and move to another adjacent one.

Rubbish dumped on Tooting Common in 2013's major incursion

To achieve this the council is to seek a borough–wide injunction that would apply to all council-owned public open spaces and highways and provide an immediate fast-track route to bring occupations to an end without requiring a magistrates court order.

If the injunction was granted, the council would no longer be required to seek lengthy and time consuming court orders in order to secure evictions.

The 2013 clean up cost to taxpayers was £25.,000

As well as streamlining the eviction process the injunction would prevent unauthorised occupants leaving one site and simply moving to another one nearby – which under the current system of regulation, would mean the whole eviction process having to start again from scratch.

Borough wide injunctions are being increasingly used by councils as a reasonable measure to deal with unauthorised occupations of land under their control. Other London local authorities to already be using these injunctions include Enfield, Sutton, Croydon, Barking & Dagenham and Waltham Forest.

Part of the 134 cubic metres of waste dumped on Tooting Common in 2013

Parks and open spaces spokesman Cllr Steffi Sutters said: “As things stand if there is an unauthorised occupation in a park or open space it can take weeks for the eviction process to be brought to an end. During that time a great deal of environmental damage can be done which ends up costing taxpayers large sums of money to put right.

“Let me be clear, the law applies to everyone. People are not entitled to simply set up camp in a park or common. These green spaces are there for the whole community to enjoy and this is not possible if people have occupied parts of that land and essentially restricted it for their own unauthorised use.

Bedford Wood, Tooting Common 2013

“We have seen that in other parts of London these injunctions have proved effective in limiting the impact of these occupations, which is why we will now pursue this matter though the courts.”

The last major land occupation took place on Tooting Common in 2013, where 134 cubic metres of rubbish was dumped which cost taxpayers £25,000 to clear up. Since then there have been 28 other incursions on council owned land in the borough.