Prospect Park: Travellers

2nd November 2016

Alok Sharma, the Member of Parliament for Reading West, has today sought urgent answers from Reading Borough Council about its plans to protect Prospect Park and other vulnerable sites in Reading from illegal encampments by travellers.

In a letter sent today to the Council’s Interim Managing Director, Simon Warren, Alok has expressed his regret that the Council took seven weeks to respond to a letter about intrusions by travellers in Prospect Park and has failed to answer questions he has raised on behalf of concerned local residents. Alok has also raised concerns that the Council’s administrative leadership is being blocked from answering his questions for political purposes.

Alok originally raised the issue of illegal encampments in Prospect Park at the request of local residents who reported being subjected to various forms of anti-social behaviour and threats by groups of travellers who have been camping unlawfully. Alok has also been liaising with Thames Valley Police in respect of removal of the illegal encampments.

In his latest letter to the Council, Alok has posed ten questions about the Council’s plans to protect Prospect Park and other vulnerable spaces in Reading from illegal encampments, including when the Council expects preventative measures to be installed in Prospect Park and how the Council intends to consult residents about the proposed measures.

Alok Sharma said: “Over the last few months, Prospect Park and a number of other sites in my constituency have faced repeated intrusions by travellers setting up illegal encampments and local residents are understandably keen to see this issue resolved on a permanent basis. It is however disappointing that after seven weeks of chasing the Council for answers, I have received a response from Councillor Liz Terry which provides less information than I had already gleaned from local news outlets.”

Alok continued: “I am pleased to say that my office has had constructive conversations with Council officers about the process for evicting those who choose to camp illegally and those individual officers deserve credit for their hard work. It is however incredibly frustrating that the Council’s political leadership seems hell-bent on playing politics at every opportunity and refuses to work constructively with me or my office to help reassure residents that positive action is being taken. While I acknowledge we have political differences in views on some issues, this is not one of them, and I hope councillors will reassess their attitude to working with their local Member of Parliament for the benefit of residents.”

The full text of Alok Sharma’s letter is as follows:

“Dear Mr Warren,

I have received the enclosed letter dated 28th October from Councillor Liz Terry, Lead Member for Neighbourhoods, regarding illegal encampments in Prospect Park. I assume that it is the Council’s response to my detailed letter of 7th September, follow-up email of 10th October and further follow-up letter of 19th October, all of which were sent to you, in your role as the Council’s Interim Managing Director.

I have to assume that the fact that I have received a response from Cllr Terry rather than from you, as has normally been the case on the numerous other occasions that I have written to you, is an indication that you are indeed under political instructions not to respond to me on a timely basis and to delay responses to my office.

In addition to the fact that it has taken the Council seven weeks to provide this response, Cllr Terry’s letter is completely inadequate in terms of the level of detail provided in answer to the substance of my initial query. I am of course now aware, from my correspondence with residents and from information reported in the local press, of some of the detail regarding the preventative measures the Council plans to install in Prospect Park. However, I would have expected a detailed outline of these measures to be provided in the Council’s response to me, so as to enable me to update interested residents, following my initial letter to you.

I have, over the years, tried to take a positive approach with regards to Reading Borough Council, despite the Council’s political leadership seemingly being unwilling to work cooperatively with me. My office and I have had constructive conversations with Council officers about the process for evicting those who choose to camp illegally. However, this is the latest stark demonstration that the Council’s political leadership is not prepared to engage with me in a meaningful manner in the interests of working together to help local residents.

So that I can update concerned residents, I would be grateful if you could answer the following straightforward questions:

  1. Precisely what preventative measures does the Council propose to install in Prospect Park to protect the park against future illegal encampments?
  2. When does the Council expect to commence and complete the works to install these proposed preventative measures in Prospect Park?
  3. Has the Council consulted affected residents on whether they believe the proposed preventative measures are adequate?
  4. If the Council decides to install wooden fencing, what does the Council anticipate to be the annual cost of maintaining such fencing to ensure it remains effective in preventing illegal encampments?
  5. Does the Council have contingency funding available if the fencing is damaged?
  6. Has the Council considered the suggestion put forward by residents to install metal bollards, secured in the ground by concrete, which would provide a more robust barrier than wooden fencing?
  7. If so, what was the Council’s estimation of the cost difference between installing metal bollards and wooden fencing?
  8. From precisely which budgets does the Council plan to fund the installation of the preventative measures?
  9. What specific action and measures is the Council taking to secure other vulnerable public spaces from illegal encampments, in order to prevent the situation we have recently experienced where an illegal encampment is removed from one site, only for the same group of individuals to then set up an illegal encampment on another nearby site?
  10. What provision is the Council making, in planning terms, for authorised traveller caravan sites in Reading?

In view of the above points and given the high level of interest in this issue amongst local residents, I will be putting a copy of this letter in the public domain.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Alok Sharma MP”

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