Council granted fast-track legal powers to tackle unauthorised land occupations

Published: Friday 15th March 19

A High Court judge has granted Wandsworth Council new legal powers that offer a fast-track solution to limit the impact of unauthorised incursions on publicly owned land in the borough.

An injunction awarded by the court can now be used to bring unlawful land occupations to a swifter conclusion.

As well as speeding up the departure of people from land they’ve occupied without permission, the new powers ensure they cannot simply leave one site and move to another one nearby.

The borough–wide order applies to green open spaces, council-owned car parks and local housing estates and provides an immediate route to bring occupations to a close without requiring a magistrates’ court order.

Injunctions of this type are being increasingly used by councils as a reasonable measure to deal with unauthorised occupations of land they are responsible for maintaining. Other London local authorities already using similar orders include Enfield, Sutton, Croydon, Barking & Dagenham and Waltham Forest.

Parks and open spaces spokesman Cllr Steffi Sutters said: “We are pleased the court has approved our application for additional powers to protect our parks and open spaces.

“Without the legal powers contained in this injunction it can take weeks for an eviction order to be granted. During that time a great deal of environmental damage can be done which ends up costing taxpayers large sums of money to put right.

“No-one is entitled to simply set up camp in a park or common. These green spaces are there for the whole community to enjoy and this is not possible if people have occupied parts of that land and essentially restricted it for their own unauthorised use.

“We have seen that in other parts of London these injunctions have proved effective in limiting the impact of these occupations, which is why we have pursued this matter and sought these extra powers from the courts.”

The last major land occupation took place on Tooting Common in 2013, where 134 cubic metres of rubbish was dumped which cost taxpayers £25,000 to clear up. Since then there have been 31 further incursions on council owned land in the borough.

The injunction is an interim one which will remain in force for the next three months until a further hearing is held when the council will seek to make the order permanent.

Anyone who breaches the order faces being found in contempt of court and could be fined, imprisoned or have their assets seized. A copy of the order and a list of sites it applies to will shortly be published on the council’s website.