Rural landowners have called for a new offence of criminal trespass for those who enter and occupy private land for residential purposes without consent.
The CLA has told a government review tackling illegal traveller sites that the law in England and Wales should be changed to make it an offence to set up unauthorised residential developments and encampments in the countryside.
A consultation led by Housing Minister Dominic Raab is looking into the effectiveness of current enforcement against illegal sites. The CLA said the police and local authorities are often unwilling to assist when unauthorised camps are on private land and do not use current enforcement powers effectively to remove illegal camps.
CLA South East represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses across Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, the Isle of Wight, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
Regional Director Robin Edwards said: “Illegal encampments in rural areas have a detrimental economic, environmental and social impact on local businesses and communities as well as to the private landowner. The current law is failing and it is time for a new approach.
“Existing powers for removal are not used frequently enough or effectively on private land to ensure swift removal. To really tackle the problem, it is vital to make the law simpler and easier to enforce.
“This can be done by making it a criminal offence to set up an unauthorised residential camp. This would act as a deterrent to those who might consider occupying land without consent and provide greater certainty for the police to act if they understand that an offence has been committed.”
Mr Edwards said the planning system was being undermined by the problem of unauthorised developments and called for better resources to bolster the response of planning authorities and the Planning Inspectorate.
He said: “We urgently need more funding for these woefully under-resourced departments to speed up removal of sites and the enforcement appeals process. The current length of time taken to process enforcement appeals for unauthorised development is undermining the public’s view of the planning system.
“In addition, local authorities must provide sufficient permanent or temporary residential sites for the traveller community to avoid the problems that arise from unauthorised encampments.”
Since 2010, the Government says the number of traveller caravans on authorised sites has increased. However latest figures show approximately 16% of all caravans – around 3,700 – are on unauthorised sites.
Housing Minister Dominic Raab said: “The vast majority of the travelling community are decent and law-abiding people. But, we are particularly concerned about illegal traveller encampments, and some of the anti-social behaviour they can give rise to.
“We must promote a tolerant society and make sure there are legal sites available for travellers, but equally the rule of law must be applied to everyone.”