IN the late 1980s the-then Labour Council lost power at City Hall to the Conservative Group, led by one Councillor Eric Pickles.

Although the defeat was a narrow one - for two years the Conservatives needed the second and casting vote of the Lord Mayor to get policies through full council meetings - the local issue above all that helped bring Labour down was the row over what to do about illegal gypsy encampments.

Now, as then, the council had two official gypsy sites, regulated and maintained by the local authority. Bradford at large looked on with a mixture of exasperation and incredulity as the row sparked off by the mess left behind by the encampments turned into an ideological battle over the human rights of travellers.

They were 'travellers' to those on the Left and 'gypsies' to those on the Right. Interestingly, the people on the council's two official sites said these people were not really gypsies: they were 'itinerants', 'tinkers'.

The problem that bedevilled Bradford a quarter of a century ago seems to have returned. Over the past year or two caravan illegal encampments have turned up over night on the car park at Shipley railway station, the Cenotaph in Cleckheaton Road, Low Moor, Carbottom Recreation Ground in Bankfoot and most recently the football pitch at Wesley Place Field, Fifth Street, Low Moor.

The commonest complaint is that neither the police nor the local authority do anything to stop this problem recurring. Indeed, the law may be used against a private landowner if the wrong action is taken against gypsies or no action is taken at all.

This potential nightmare is spelled out in guidance and advice documents issued by the council containing answers to frequently asked questions. For example:-

What if the landowner decides to let them stay on the land temporarily?

The answer given is: "Unless the landowner has already obtained planning permission for a caravan site then they could be in breach of Planning and caravan site legislation."

But what if the landowner fails to take action either through the County Court or by private agreement to remove the gypsies/travellers, what will the council do?

"If the landowner is in breach of any planning or license requirements then the Council may take proceedings against the landowner to require removal of the encampment. Whether the Gypsies/Travellers are causing a nuisance or not is not an important factor in this case."

So you may be damned if you do and damned if you don't. Is it any surprise that folk who are left with the responsibility and expense of cleaning up the mess and rubbish left behind when these encampments move on wonder what they pay Council Tax for?

These guidelines make clear that if an encampment occurs on local authority land or property then the Council can take action to repossess it. If, however, the encampment is on private land the responsibility falls on the landowner to take action.

This can be of two kinds. Either apply to the County Court to serve an order for the encampment to disperse and be gone by a given date, a process that can take up to ten days. The charge for serving the papers, legal expenses and court fees will fall upon the pocket or purse of the landowner.

Or the landowner or tenant can adopt a process known as 'self help'. This is not recommended. The Council advise that this course of action should only be considered where less than six caravans are involved. Failing any amicable arrangement agreed between the trespassers and the landowner, the latter may use towing trucks to remove the caravans,

"If you consider taking such action, the police should be notified and asked to attend to prevent the possibility of a breach of the peace. Be aware that you may be held liable for any damage caused to the vehicles or their contents," the Council warns.

If you have already been visited by uninvited guests the Council suggests that you erect fencing, bollards or gates to prevent unwanted access, which usually occurs at night or at the weekend.

The Council also advises that you should never offer payment as an inducement to leave nor make threats of intended legal action that you are not prepared to carry out. In addition, be wary of the consequences if you provide water, sanitation or skips.

In the event of finding the caravans and vehicles of strangers parked proprietorilly on your land or property, call the Council's Gypsy Liaison Service on 01274-434405 or email