Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 54)



  40. In order to maintain your good name, do you employ any form of inspection yourselves as a Guild to look at these sites so that they are not falling into disrepair in order to maintain the standards and, if at all possible, to improve the standards? Is that a role the Guild would undertake?
  (Mr Ayers) We have got a rule regarding how winter quarters should be maintained and how they are used. We have various rules on winter quarters' use and any breach of those rules we will fine a member or put a penalty on him. We have had occasions where we have had to visit sites where certain things have taken place which we do not condone and had to speak to the people and put it right. In the main they are sites which are run by local sections which come under the banner of the Showmen's Guild, not private individuals' property.

  41. I think the Committee would be interested to see the booklet you do have in terms of the standards that you expect.
  (Mr Miller) It has been provided.

  Mr Donohoe: It has been already, has it? Excellent. I will have a look for it.


  42. Yesterday it was put to me that if you are going to have a good ride which is going to be competitive with the sort of fixed places like Alton Towers once the youngster comes off the ride they have to feel almost sick. Inevitably that means that a fair number of them are going to be sick. What do you say to, say, one of my constituents who has the fair close by and has three or four youths puking in their front gardens on their way home from the fair?
  (Mr Miller) They should not have drunk so much before they went to the fair.
  (Mr Ayers) Obviously what we say to them is that we would come along and remedy and put the thing right. The perception that has been put to you I would not totally agree with.

  43. You can have a good ride without making yourself sick?
  (Mr Ayers) Yes. It is a matter of timing, the length of the ride. It is well known in our industry that if you give too long a ride you will make people sick even on galloping horses, on a carousel, on the mildest of rides. It is up to really the operator how he perceives that. Certainly it is not my intention as an operator to make the public sick.

  44. No, but there are a fair number of teenagers who take their friends to the fair with that very much the purpose, to dare them to go on until they are sick.
  (Mr Downie) It is probably the same teenagers, Chairman, who are puking up in your constituent's garden every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night of the year.

  45. Let me take you on then to the question how far does the general public see showmen as a different group from travellers in general?
  (Mr Ayers) The general public, I do not think they do. The general public that are not involved with us—either they have worked on the fair or they have had connections with showmen that they have gone to school with, or anything like that—they probably perceive us in the same mould as the gypsy, new age traveller, on that basis.

  46. What are you doing to try and alter that image?
  (Mr Ayers) Really it relates to a similar question. Obviously every showman has strived for years to present a better image and normally once the general public come to meet us and get involved with us, whether it is through education, business or operating the fair, they do get a different view. It is often said to us "Well, we never really realised what showmen do. We did not understand that you are a community in the way you are". I do not mean this to be derogatory against the gypsy or new age traveller in any way, that is up to them how they live. I am sure the showmen, and I say again not just members of the Guild, are genuine business people who want to be involved in the community in the right way with the right image.

  47. The objection to winter quarter sites in the planning process, do people object because of this misconception about showmen or is it really that the problem is to both put the trailers on and the working areas are not really compatible with a residential area anyway?
  (Mr Ayers) I think there is a bit of each. I think the local residents, unless they are aware of the showmen in any specific way, their initial objection is based on the image of the itinerant traveller, that sort of image. I think part of the planning regulations, we breach those because sometimes it is necessary for us to have our equipment with our living vans. It is the way that we have lived. It is our tradition and it would not be viable for us to buy a warehouse to store the equipment in and a piece of land to live on. That just could not happen.
  (Mr Miller) I think it is fair to say though, Chairman, that some local residents where there is a proposed site, or indeed there has been a showmen's site for many, many years, there has been a friendship grown up over the years that they have been there, this is maybe before the planning application has been finalised and granted. The local shops know our members, when they live in a particular area they become part of the community just as though they have moved to bricks and mortar rather than living in a caravan. They become accepted. Indeed, I have seen myself evidence at inquiries and appeals on planning matters where they have been refused of local residents supporting the planning application for a showmen's yard in documentary form and they have appeared as witnesses and said "We do not mind showmen being there". I have witnessed it myself.

  48. I am just a little bit conscious of the time. I do not want to overrun, we were a minute or two late starting but I want to try and keep fairly brief. Do you think local authorities deal with planning applications by showmen fairly?
  (Mr Miller) No, I do not. I know we are pressed for time and I could speak on this particular subject for ages but I am aware you are having a further oral examination on 21 March in the House and you will have more of an opportunity there from the planning consultants who are at the sharp end of planning applications from our members to present. My experience is that local authorities in regard of planning matters do not even open up circular 22/91.

  49. The hope was that when that circular was issued it would solve the problem for showmen. You welcomed it at the time.
  (Mr Miller) Yes.

  50. There had been a lot of lobbying on your behalf to get it.
  (Mr Miller) Yes.

  51. Are you saying it just is not working?
  (Mr Miller) What I am saying is that it is like the proverbial new broom. When it came along it swept clean because local authorities, planning officers to local authorities said "a new circular has come out, we had better have a look at this" and at the beginning, in the early 1990s, when this first came out there was notice taken of it. I am afraid that as the years have gone on familiarity has bred contempt and local authorities, in my experience, and in the experience of the people at the sharp end, our planning consultants, do not take heed of what is contained within the advice and guidance of 22/91 development plans.

  52. I wanted to take you on to development plans. Each local authority is supposed to produce a development plan. They are supposed to put it out for public consultation. When it goes out for public consultation, if there is no winter quarters and provision for showmen, do you put in objections to it?
  (Mr Miller) When we are advised. I know it goes in the library usually in the local authorities but the advice, the guidance, 22/91, tells local authorities that in their proposals for development within their area they should consult the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain and the address of our registered office is quoted.

  53. How often do they consult?
  (Mr Miller) This is the point I am coming to. Over the ten years it has been in existence I have received half a dozen development proposals for local authorities, which I pass on to the local section, and if there is an omission for a travelling show people's site in that local authority the section makes approaches to the local authority, but we are starved of being consulted because they do not follow the advice in 22/91. There are hundreds of local authorities, why have I only had six in ten years?

  54. What have you done about it? Have you got on to any of the local authorities to press the fact that they have not consulted you?
  (Mr Miller) Certainly. What we are hoping, hope against hope, is that when this inquiry concludes you will help us to get local authorities to play their part.

  Chairman: I think on that note we should finish this first session. We have got the local authorities as the next set of witnesses and no doubt they will have something to say. Gentlemen, can I thank you very much for your evidence this morning, it is very helpful. We have got off to a good start.

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