Travellers face jail if they breach a planned permanent legal ban on unauthorised camps across a large area of inner-city Leeds.
Unauthorised camps have cost Leeds City Council nearly £2m in legal and clean-up costs since 2004.
Now councillors are briefing their legal team to bring in an injunction banning travellers from Armley, Wortley and Holbeck.
The move would mean travellers being hauled before the court if they set up illegal camps in the area – they could face a fine or prison. At the moment it is a civil offence, and councillors have to apply to the courts to move the travellers.
Metal gates have already been erected to block off an area next to Wortley Towers, in Tong Road, New Wortley, where travellers recently set up an unauthorised camp.
Coun Jim McKenna (Lab, Armley) said: “I don’t know why it’s not been done before, the cumulative impact is something that’s got us talking again as it’s had some publicity.
“As we are actively seeking a new permanent camp in Leeds the courts are now sympathetic.”
Residents and councillors have been angered by travellers moving to and from sites just a few hundred yards apart.
The injunction would be the second in Leeds – an area of Burley was protected by the courts last year.
Coun McKenna said: “I suspect more and more we will see these injunctions, if they are not in Armley the problem starts all over again somewhere else.”
He said he hoped the injunction would cover Wortley, parts of Holbeck and a large area of Armley.
At present unauthorised sites are subject to civil law - eviction notices last just three months.
Coun McKenna said that under the new injunction, unauthorised camps would be permanently banned and any set up on protected land could yield charges of illegal trespass.
The Government last month gave the council £1m for 12 new permanent traveller pitches in Leeds.
Coun Peter Gruen, the council’s executive member neighbourhoods and housing, said council officers are making the application to Leeds County Court. They must prove camps are causing a problem at designated spots – making a city-wide injunction difficult.
Helen Jones, from Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange, said: “We need to negotiate and we appreciate the efforts the council is making but I think punitive measures before we have more authorised places to go is frankly frightening. People need to accept that they need to be somewhere.”