The Women and Equalities Committee in Parliament is holding an inquiry into the above.
CLP in conjunction with Ruston Planning made submissions in January to this Committee. Lots of other Gypsy and Traveller groups, representatives and planning experts have made strong submissions as well. Here are our submissions:
We welcome this inquiry by the Committee and the opportunity to make submissions on this issue.
Gypsy and Traveller support groups, lawyers acting for Gypsies and Travellers and Gypsies and Travellers themselves are agreed that the central answer to the severe disadvantages and inequalities faced by the Gypsy and Traveller community in the UK is the provision of adequate and suitable accommodation i.e. pitches for Gypsies and Travellers. Some 15% of the Gypsy and Traveller population in England remain without authorised pitches. In other words the central issue is accommodation.
The report of the MWG was totally flawed in that it only contained one commitment related to the issue of accommodation and that commitment was almost worthless:
Commitment 12 The Department for Communities and Local Government will help Gypsy and Traveller representative groups showcase small private sites that are well presented and maintained.
In contrast the Welsh Government have introduced a duty to meet the assessed need for Gypsy/Traveller sites in the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 (section 103).
Since the coalition Government came to power in 2010 and continuing with the current Government, Gypsies and Travellers have faced an almost continuous stream of legislative and policy changes which have hindered and militated against their traditional way of life:
The Localism Act 2011 – revoked Regional Strategies (which were an important regional oversight for the provision of pitches).
Revoked Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Circular 01/06 Planning for Gypsy and Traveller sites which was making some progress in providing sites .
Introduced Planning Policy for Traveller Sites (PPTS) which introduced a much less clear set of policies.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and subsequent restrictions on legal aid (e.g. restrictions on payment of costs for judicial reviews) have made it much more difficult and sometimes impossible for Gypsies and Travellers with accommodation problems to get legal advice and representation.
Town and Country Planning (Temporary Stop Notice) (England) (Revocation) Regulations 2013 (SI 2013/830) – enabled local authorities to issue TSNs on caravans used as main residences.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (SSCLG) had a policy of recovering for his own determination all Gypsy and Traveller appeals in the Green Belt. This was found by the High Court in Moore & Coates v SSCLG  EWHC 44 (Admin) to be in breach of the Equality Act 2010 and of Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
Amendment of PPTS – aside from the significant changes to Green Belt policy (making the grant of planning permission in the Green Belt considerably harder to achieve), the most controversial change in policy was to the planning definition of “gypsies and travellers” (The Government insists on using the lower case even though it has been pointed out to them on many occasions that Romani Gypsies Irish Travellers and Scottish Gypsy-Travellers have been recognised in case law as ethnic groups); now, if a Gypsy or Traveller stops travelling permanently for health reasons or reasons of old age, he or she will no longer fall within the new planning definition. We discuss this devastating change below.
The Housing and Planning Act 2016 – this abolished the duty on local housing authorities to assess the need of Gypsies and Travellers and also revoked the definition used in such assessments
We believe that the Government’s new planning definition discriminates against Romani Gypsies and Irish Travellers, breaches their human rights and is ripe for challenge by way of judicial review.
The change to the planning definition of “gypsies and travellers”
In the Annexe to the new PPTS the Government explains that any reference in the policy to
“gypsies and travellers” means:
“Persons of nomadic habit of life whatever their race or origin, including such persons who on grounds only of their own or their family’s or dependants’ educational or health needs or old age have ceased to travel temporarily, but excluding members of an organised group of travelling showpeople orcircus people travelling together as such” (our emphasis).
In the 2012 version of the PPTS the planning definition of “gypsies and travellers” had included the words “have ceased to travel temporarily or permanently” which meant that Gypsies, Travellers and Travelling Showpeople who had stopped travelling on a permanent basis because of ill-health or old age, were able to seek planning permission for a caravan site to meet their accommodation needs and rely upon the positive planning guidance in the PPTS when doing so. This is no longer the case. This change to the planning definition will have a most damaging effect upon the most vulnerable members of the Gypsy and Traveller communities.
Some local authorities are contracting organisations to compile evidence on the extent to which individuals and families travel for work – this is already leading in many cases to nil assessments or greatly reduced assessments.
We call upon the Committee to resolve that:
- The Government should reintroduce a duty to meet the assessed need for Gypsy and Traveller sites (As previously contained in the Caravan Sites Act 1968 – the relevant section was repealed by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994);
- The Government should reinstate the definition of Gypsy and Traveller contained in the 2012 version of PPTS.