POLICE and council officers have issued assurances after an unauthorised encampment sprung up at one of the most popular public spaces in Darlington.

Darlington Borough Council and Durham Constabulary visited the site shortly after five caravans were parked on the field at the Berkeley Road area of the park on Wednesday evening. They said they were working together with both the travelling community and residents to take appropriate action.

The encampment at the 1853 grade II listed park follows similar and relatively short-lived incidents recently close to Cummins factory on Yarm Road and at beauty spot Rockwell Pastures.

Police said every such case was “treated on its own merits” and regular visits would be conducted by officers and members of the local authority to monitor the situation.

As an increasing number of residents saw the encampment in the park, many reacted on public social media. Stephen Brooklyn said the council needed to stop anyone driving in the park as people were doing so nearly every night as he walked his dog.

Ryan Chapman wrote: “I honestly don’t see what the harm is, as long as they don’t cause trouble and clean up after themselves, leave them alone. Honestly don’t see why anyone can’t just pitch up a tent or rock around the country in a caravan on public land.”

Park East councillor Cyndi Hughes said illegal encampments caused distress for some residents and council officers had said the South Park incident was being dealt with as a matter of urgency.

Billy Welch, the Shera Rom, or Head Gypsy, from Darlington, said he was unaware of who had pulled up at South Park, but it could be to deal with an issue such as a breakdown, and could be a very short-term move.

He said travellers had been living nomadic lives in Britain for 1,000 years and Gypsies for 500 years and had fought for the country in wars, making the groups “as much a part of British culture as anything else”.

Mr Welch, who is opposing government plans to increase police powers to force people to move on from unauthorised encampments by making trespass a criminal rather than civil offence from the autumn, said: “I don’t understand why there is such a fuss when they turn up somewhere. Darlington council don’t make a big fuss about it, they’ve got a good understanding of the situation.”