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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  80. In the last year, for instance, how many actual hits—or whatever it is that would best describe that in the modern way—how many occasions have you had representations made to you as an organisation about a subject which had something to do with showmen?
  (Ms Aston) Two cases. I have been working for the Local Government Association for the last four and a half months. I can only comment on the facts and the issues brought to my attention during that time. As far as I am aware travelling fairs in terms of the sites for fairs and issues of winter quarters have not been significant issues that I have been made aware of as a policy officer in the planning section. I have mentioned two cases and they have not been specifically on travelling sites, it has been travellers in general, covering unauthorised campovers.

  81. Okay. How receptive would the local authorities be to proposals for new fairs, for instance? We heard a lot earlier about new fairs which have been highly successful, what marketing, if anything, as an Association are you giving to the whole concept of improving tourism in some of our areas that have perhaps been lacking in terms of direction? Has there been any work done in the Association in that connection and in particular about showmen?
  (Councillor Stacey) I am not aware of that.

  82. Why not?
  (Councillor Stacey) That would be dealt with by our Executive. Is it the Leisure, Culture and Tourism Executive?
  (Ms Aston) Yes.
  (Councillor Stacey) It would be dealt with by them. Now as you have heard already various authorities are keen to have fairs. What I can do is find out what, if anything, has been done through the Leisure Executive and let you have that.

  83. Okay. When was the last time that a circular was issued to your members, specifically in connection with show people?
  (Councillor Stacey) I am not aware of the answer to that.
  (Ms Aston) Perhaps I can help with that. We have not issued a circular on it as far as I am aware during the time that I have worked for the LGA, nor in the short time prior because it has not been an issue that is of concern to the LGA. Obviously if we have a small number of comments or issues raised to us through comments from local authorities we would deal with them through the appropriate channels but normally the issue of circulars to all 500 local authorities if it is an issue we believe we need to receive information on we would receive written evidence.

  84. Is there anything in place though? I have heard over the last four months, and presumably over the last year, but over the last 15 years has there been any circular issued by the Association particularly and specifically about showmen?
  (Councillor Stacey) I am not aware of one. The Association has actually only been in existence for the last three years, before that it was the separate associations. I am not aware of one, no.

  85. If you are not going to do that, do you think that national Government should do that?
  (Councillor Stacey) I think that the national Government circular 22/91 on planning issues is there, it is on the table, we have heard it is in the bottom of the drawer. As I have said we are quite prepared to exhume that.

  86. What would you do as an organisation? Would you be in favour or opposed to the idea that the national Government would issue new regulation supplementary to the existing regulations?
  (Councillor Stacey) We think that the existing planning guidance is quite sufficient if it is properly applied, yes.
  (Mr Russell) I think it is fair, Chairman, Mr Donohoe, to point out the fact that since circular 22/91 came out, an awful lot of PPGs which are the general policy advice on planning matters have been revised and updated. Whilst none of those specifically refer, as far as I am aware, to the issues to do with fairs and Showmen's Guild, a number of them have policies which are relevant. There is obviously the one about the green belt, there is the one about helping small businesses and enterprises, as Councillor Stacey said, there is the one on housing which we believe will be reissued this afternoon by John Prescott, there are ones on open space, there are ones on countryside, there are ones on enforcement, there are a whole range of them which have policies which may not specifically say "this applies to the Showmen's Guild" but apply to them just as they apply to any other small business or mixed use. If I suggest what actually might be more appropriate is if circular 22/91 is upgraded and updated to make reference to the fact that in the last nine years an awful lot of new planning advice has flown under the bridge since then—

  87. Thank you, Mr Russell, that is exactly what I want to hear. Can I ask, as an Association do you perceive a lack of understanding about the whole question of the role of the Showmen's Guild amongst your members and amongst the general public?
  (Mr Russell) I do not think we do. I think individual authorities understand what the circular says, I think it understands about consultation.

  88. That is the circular. In a broader sense, we hear of some of the problems, particularly in the north of England, some parts of Scotland, local authorities having absolutely no knowledge at all about the role of the Showmen's Guild, is that the case or is that not the case?
  (Mr Russell) Obviously I cannot speak for all of them.

  89. I see Councillor Stacey nodding his head so I am going to ask him?
  (Councillor Stacey) I can believe that is the case.

  90. Therefore, why then do you not issue circulars? If you perceive that as an Association to be the case why have you not issued the circular to help? Why do you not have seminars to assist?
  (Councillor Stacey) As I have said, what we do, we take action when things are brought to our attention one of two ways, upwards when there is a problem there that is brought to our attention by member authorities, and this one is not. You may well say "Well they would not, would they" to misquote someone.

  91. Maybe this morning's session will have done that for you, will it?
  (Councillor Stacey) Absolutely.

  92. Excellent. That is what I want to hear.
  (Councillor Stacey) As I said earlier, we are quite prepared to take action, this issue now having been raised.

  93. I see the Chairman is becoming edgy because obviously we are running over time, do you think that local people distinguish between the showmen and the travelling people and the others that are on the road?
  (Councillor Stacey) This can only be a gut reaction from talking to people but I think people do, I think people understand that there is a difference between people running fairs and other people travelling. I think it does become blurred to some extent. I come from an authority myself where we have a very stable situation, two long established sites for winter quarters, one of which is also a showground, and everyone understands who the showmen are. It is not a problem.

  94. As an individual you recognise that there is an increasing need for those types of sites?
  (Councillor Stacey) I recognise that there is a need for them.

  95. Does the Association?
  (Councillor Stacey) The Association recognises that there is a need for the sites.

  96. What have they done to alert their members, the local authorities to that fact?
  (Councillor Stacey) It goes back to circular 22/91 which is what in effect told us.

  97. What have you done specifically as an Association over the existence of your term to have alerted and notified and made available to your members that is a problem and something they should look at?
  (Councillor Stacey) Nothing as far as I am aware.
  (Ms Williams) No.


  98. We have your assurance that as far as circular 22/91 either you will press the Government to reissue it, updating it, and in addition you will be pressing your members to implement it?
  (Councillor Stacey) Yes.

  99. Right. Supposing we went on to regional planning conferences, since you know a lot about that. How far has the West Midlands Regional Planning Conference looked at the provision of winter sites for showmen?
  (Councillor Stacey) We are just at the start of our process. Only a fortnight ago we started our process. What we are out to consultation on now is in effect a process that last time round we called Are we asking the right questions. It is raising issues that we think are going to be the issues that people are going to want to be taken into account.

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