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Police use vehicle-related legislation in response to unauthorised encampments in Northampton

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Vehicle-related legislation was used by the police for the first time in Northampton last week, to deal with issues relating to unauthorised encampments on public land. 

On Thursday, August 2, officers from Northamptonshire Police seized two vehicles from an encampment on Grange Wood Park in East Hunsbury, using powers under Section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (S34 RTA) and Section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 (S59 PRA). 

Northampton Borough Council, which works closely with the police and other local authorities to ensure unauthorised encampments are dealt with appropriately and proportionately, has recently granted Section 34 designated status to public spaces in Northampton. 

This makes it an offence to 'drive a mechanically propelled vehicle without lawful authority on any common land, moorland, or land of any other description, not being land forming part of a road; or on any road being a footpath or bridleway or restricted bridleway'. 

Use of these powers is currently being trialled across Northampton borough, whereby anyone driving a vehicle on designated land can have their vehicle seized, after being warned, with the vehicles then held at an undisclosed location. They may also be issued with a court summons, which upon a successful prosecution can result in a fine or even a custodial sentence. 

Section 34 and Section 59 powers were also used again this week, when officers issued seven warnings to the owners of vehicles parked on recreation ground in Far Cotton, advising that if officers returned to find the vehicles still there, they would be seized. Section 59 warnings remain valid for 12 months and mean that if the vehicles are found off-road again within that period, anywhere in the UK, they can be seized immediately without further warning. 

On seizure of a vehicle, the owner is required to present their documentation to a police station and pay a minimum of £200 per vehicle plus pound fees, which will accumulate. Where a vehicle is not released it may be retained for 21 days and is then subject to disposal. 

Sergeant Wyn Hughes from Northamptonshire Police said: “Northamptonshire Police regularly uses Section 59 powers to deal with issues such as motorcycle nuisance and this, along with Section 34 legislation, is available to officers to tackle any anti-social use of vehicles or motorcycles, or their use in a prohibited location.  

“With regard to unauthorised encampments, we recognise the impact some of these can have on the local community and we work closely with our local authorities partners in order to identify the most appropriate powers in each case. 

“Any use of powers must be necessary, reasonable and proportionate, depending on the circumstances, and the use of these additional powers under the Road Traffic Act and Police Reform Act gives us greater flexibility to deal with any issues that arise.”

Cllr Mike Hallam, Northampton Borough Council Cabinet member for environment, said: “Residents will have noticed the new signs during the past month, they can now see the result after we launched the activity last week.

“The legislation applies to anyone driving a vehicle on our parks without prior consent, and those doing so risk having their vehicles seized and impounded.

“Northampton’s parks are intended as spaced for the public to enjoy and they should not have to concern themselves with the dangers vehicles bring.” 

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