Port Solent on 'high alert' after large convoy of travellers pitch up - with last year's 'intimidation' and destruction fresh in the minds
RESIDENTS and businesses are on ‘high alert’ after a large convoy of ‘hostile’ travellers pitched up at a field in Port Solent.
Police, community wardens and Tony Hewitt, Paulsgrove Conservative candidate for the upcoming local elections, attended the site by Marina Keep where around 20 caravans arrived en masse on Monday evening.
It is thought the travellers gained entry after vandalising the security barriers using a disc cutter before ploughing onto the grass where they were seen ‘tearing along’ and doing handbrake turns.
Politicians have called for an end to the ‘cat-and-mouse games’ seen each summer as travellers pitch up on land, leaving councils needing to seek legal action to evict them
Clear-up costs and repairs to the barriers last year cost the taxpayer around £13,000 with it feared the illegal encampment at the Portsmouth City Council-owned land could prove another expensive stay.
Businesses on The Boardwalk at Port Solent just starting to get back on their feet after lockdown are also anxious after a number of incidents last year at the waterfront destination.
‘Chaotic’ scenes included walk-outs by travellers refusing to pay for food and fireworks being let off at the Harvester.
Mr Hewitt said: ‘There is a lot of concern and upset from locals. If it is the same group as last year they caused a lot of damage.
‘Quad bikes were ridden through the memorial gardens, a ton of rubbish was left and human waste dumped and the gate busted.
‘The clear up last year cost about £10,000 and the new barrier cost £2,500 - yet they are still back on the field.
‘It is sad because it is a community space that people have only recently been starting to enjoy for picnics and walking.
‘People won’t want to go there with the travellers’ cars tearing along and with all the waste and their dogs there.
‘There were a lot of walk-outs from groups at restaurants at Port Solent who turned up and did not pay. At the Harvester they let off fireworks in the outside area and left without paying. It was chaotic.’
Mr Hewitt said the process has begun to evict the travellers from the site.
Last year travellers were booted off the land after 10 days with an order made to stop them returning. The nomads then went to Paulsgrove before being swiftly dismissed and then onto Portchester where Mr Hewitt said they caused ‘a lot of disruption’.
Scott Matthews, who runs Relentless Steak and Lobster House at Port Solent, said the area was on a ‘high alert warning’ as restaurants prepared for trouble.
‘Last year they would come into places and make a fuss or make things up that there was something wrong with the food and get it for free,’ he said.
‘Staff were intimidated and the easiest thing was to let them have it for free to get them out of the building.
‘One manager stood up to them so they just let off a fire alarm and everyone had to clear out and the restaurant ended up losing more money as a result.
‘We are just starting to get things moving again. This could ruin it for everyone. There’s lots of outside dining so people are bringing in their furniture.’
Mr Matthews said the council should put up boulders to stop travellers accessing the site where last year they burnt one of their caravans and were seen ‘driving around doing handbrake turns and turfing up the land’.
An email seen by The News between Port Solent bosses and local politicians says that the barrier was locked and the area’s CCTV shows four men attempting to break the locks with hammers and crowbars, before a fifth man arrived with a petrol disc cutter and cut the locks on the top and bottom barriers.
A police spokesman said: ‘We are aware of an unauthorised encampment which is situated to the rear of the multiplex cinema at Port Solent.
‘Officers have visited the site and will be working with the landowner to seek a suitable resolution.’
The spokesman confirmed police had not yet received any CCTV footage of the incident from Port Solent.
Penny Mordaunt, Conservative MP for Portsmouth North, says that games of cat and mouse with travellers happen every summer, despite police and the council having the legal powers to remove them, and the existence of a designated traveller site in Wickham.
She said: 'Over the past few years there has been quite an increase in the number of designated traveller sites in the UK, so there are places for travellers to go with accompanying facilities.
'These individuals however broke into the site and caused damage to the area, so clearly they have no interest in that. In this instance, we need swift and decisive action from the police and local authority. We have to take a strong line.
'Local businesses are trying to get back on their feet and we don't want people being deterred from going to Port Solent, or any other area for that matter, during the summer months.
'In the long term we need to encourage people like these to use the designated sites instead of damaging local beauty spots.'
Speaking last month about an illegal encampment on Southsea Common, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, who is the Lib Dem leader of Portsmouth City Council, said the current situation was infuriating and demanded change.
He said: ‘It is a problem that is extremely difficult to deal with. It is a cat and mouse game.
‘This is not about travellers – this is about illegal encampments. The law is meant to be respected and when it isn’t, the council has to spend money to defend public spaces from illegal encampments.’
Cllr Sean Woodward, Fareham Borough Council’s boss, has campaigned for tougher sanctions to tackle those breaking into public spaces to camp illegally.
The Tory leader, who is also a county councillor, said the proposed Police and Crime Bill would give police the power to immediately punish those flouting the law as it would make trespass a criminal offence.
‘This will finally solve the problem as far as them getting in and breaking in on open space,’ he said.
‘At the moment the problem is that trespass in this country is not a criminal offence therefore you have to go through all sorts of hoops to make things happen. And police will rarely act.
‘It’s incredibly frustrating. Sometimes you get some groups that terrorise the residents when they arrive and leave excrement all over the place that costs a fortune to clear up.
‘If the travellers arrived for a few days and kept everything clean and tidy and took their rubbish away, people might not mind. The trouble is that most times, this doesn’t happen.’