FRESH hopes of speeding up the eviction process for illegal travellers’ camps have been sparked by a Government consultation.

The news comes after it took Sedgemoor District Council four days to move a small group of travellers who pitched up on land in Marine Drive, Burnham-on-Sea, on Monday, April 23.

But now housing minister Dominic Raab has launched a consultation to address the issue and will assess whether court proceedings can be sped up to ensure encampments are moved as quickly as possible – a move welcomed by MP James Heappey.

In Ireland it is an offence for any person to enter and occupy land without the owner’s permission, or bring any object on to the land, if it is likely to “substantially damage” the land or interfere with it.

This means police have discretion to direct trespassers to leave land if they suspect that this offence is being committed and any failure to comply with a direction is punishable by a fine and/or a one-month prison sentence.

Mr Heappey has been campaigning for these tougher laws after a number of incidents in his constituency. Over the past two years, there have been illegal encampments in Berrow, Street and routinely in the car parks and sports club of Burnham-on-Sea, as well as in Shepton Mallet and Brean.

Mr Heappey said: “I have been pushing the Government to be ambitious in the scope of its review in to dealing with illegal traveller encampments.

“It is great the Government has responded in the way that they have. The trespass laws introduced in Ireland have proven to be a huge success in tackling illegal encampments there.

“I hope the review finds a way of delivering similar powers in the UK. We have been particularly affected by illegal encampments in the Wells constituency over the last few years. All that any of us are asking is that both travelling and settled communities live by the same laws.”

Sedgemoor District Council served a notice on the travellers to vacate the site within 24 hours on Tuesday, April 24,

The travellers remained on the land despite the warning and Sedgemoor District Council was forced to take legal action, applying to Weston Court for a Possession Order.

The travellers eventually left the site on Friday, April 27 but not without leaving seven bags worth of rubbish and an old petrol can on the site which Sedgemoor District Council's Clean Surroundings team was left to clear up.

Sedgemoor District Council said it was difficult to work out the precise costs of the work carried out due to the travellers illegal encampment, but confirmed that the court fee alone cost £355.

A Sedgemoor District Council spokesman said: "There are legal procedures which have to be followed to remove travellers, but we act as quickly as the law allows us, as was the case last week."

Burnham's mayor, Cllr Bill Hancock said he was worried there would be more illegal encampments as the law does not allow councils to act quickly enough.

"The law has not changed since last summer, it is a complete waste of time," Cllr Hancock said.

"The travellers know they have virtually a week because of the all the legal processes.

"Our business was on tenterhooks last week, it can be a nightmare for small businesses and needs more action from central Government.”