A BID to bring in a blanket ban on travellers stopping on public spaces across Southend has been narrowly rejected by councillors over fears that it could be challenged in court.

The injunction had been suggested by five Tory councillors who claim existing powers to prevent travellers from pitching up on public land are not strong enough, leading to high clean up costs imposed upon the taxpayer.


Proposal - Conservative Tony Cox

They hoped to get the idea through during an Extraordinary Council meeting tonight but it was narrowly defeated in a vote which saw councillors voting equally on either side of the chamber, leaving Mayor John Lamb to make the deciding vote.

Tony Cox, leader of Southend’s Conservative Group, said recent encampments had led to criminal and antisocial behaviour, with the disruption and clean up resulting in significant costs for Southend’s residents.

He went on to say the injunction had been suggested by the police, adding: “Acting on their advice, here we are tonight. The police want it, residents want it, businesses want it, I just hope people in this chamber want it too.”

Council leader Ian Gilbert said the while administration takes all criminality and antisocial behaviour seriously “regardless of where is emanates”, it is not in the business of “demonising any particular group”.

He said: “A borough-wide injunction is disproportionate to the scale of the problem we face, and is unlikely to be granted by a court. The legal opinion of the Strategic Director of Legal and Democratic Services, backed up by counsel’s advice, is clear that we currently do not have the evidence to make the granting of such an injunction likely.”

He went on to cite a case in the London borough of Bromley where the local authority obtained a borough-wide injunction which was later rejected by the High Court when challenged.

He added: “The costs of seeking a borough-wide injunction, particularly if contested, would be very significant.

“We would of course seek further legal remedies – and be prepared to incur such costs - if such steps were necessary [and] proportionate.”

Conservative Kevin Buck hit back at Mr Gilbert, claiming that failing to support the motion would be a failure to support the “freedoms and rights” of residents.

Carole Mulroney, leader of the Lib Dems said the administration had a responsibility to protect taxpayers' money and warned that pursuing an injunction risks costing the council “many, many thousands of pounds” if it fails.

Councillors did back three weaker proposals from the Tories, which included taking a “proactive approach and any additional measures that are required” to secure public open spaces, and “adopt a strong stance” to permanently prevent travellers from illegally occupying the sites.

They also agreed to “take measures to improve communication with local residents when unauthorised encampments do occur”.

The meeting was held after a group of travellers had to be moved on from a number of public spaces in Southend at the beginning of June, including the Gas Works car park in Eastern Esplanade, Gunners Park in Shoebury and St Mary The Virgin Parish Church, also in Shoebury.