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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



Mr Donohoe

  180. When was the last time your council had a reception for the Showmen's Guild or the showmen when they came to town or had any dialogue of any description with the Guild?
  (Mr Noble) We meet with the Guild on a regular basis for the Goose Fair or a Committee of the Guild and for Nottingham Goose Fair we always have a goose fair lunch to launch it and the Guild are invited.

  181. How about you in Thurrock?
  (Mr Lewis) I am not familiar with the appeals process.

  182. No, not the appeals process. I am asking in terms of the last time that you had a reception or had any delegation or had any discussion or dialogue with the Showmen's Guild themselves?
  (Mr Lewis) Not in my memory of the authority.

  183. You have not had it. How about in good old Bradford then? You have a reception every week!
  (Mr Tinker) No we do not but I was at a civic reception with Mr and Mrs Wright from W Marshall's Amusement not more than 12 months ago and that was tied in with the Bradford Festival. We do meet with them on a regular basis.

  184. You do meet them fairly regularly to discuss the problems?
  (Mr Tinker) Yes, we do.

  185. So 1986 is maybe going to be the regulation that will see a change soon, will it?
  (Mr Tinker) It might do.

  Mr Donohoe: It might do, that is a good answer from you I tell you.


  186. Can I take you on, particularly Thurrock, to this question of winter quarters. What happened at the South Ockendon site, was that a bit of a problem?
  (Mr Lewis) Yes, I think you are possibly referring to the Wheatley Site, there is actually a much bigger expansion that is occurring which is subsequent to that. The problems that occur tend to be the conflict is created and, therefore, there is the pressure to resolve that conflict and that often happens through the appeal process regrettably. The sites within the borough tend to be on green belt land where we have problems. Looking at the circular where it points to criteria, it is very difficult to find a site which would match the criteria, being on the urban fringe but not in the green belt. I listened to the comments earlier about the showmen's sites being very special circumstances, I am not sure our authority would take that same stance of it being special circumstances.

  187. This planning application, was the council late in determining the permission?
  (Mr Lewis) It was late in determining the permission, yes. It made a resolution that it would have refused a permission had it not been for the appeal, primarily on the grounds of green belt and the absence of identified need.

  188. The inspector actually found against the council, is that right?
  (Mr Lewis) Correct, yes.

  189. Did you get costs awarded against you?
  (Mr Lewis) No.

  190. How far was this cowardice on the part of councillors and how far did the council really feel it was on very good grounds? It is very tempting for the councillors to say "We will say no because local people are against it. We know we will be overturned when it goes to appeal and then we can blame the Secretary of State and the inspector rather than take the blame ourselves as a council".
  (Mr Lewis) I do not think in this instance it was cowardice. I think there were some other arguments relating to the transfer of land from one side of the road to the other to allow for former sites to be used for a golf course and therefore the provision that had been identified was felt to be a balanced provision. There was a technical argument that was probably lost within the appeal. Thurrock believe very much also that having identified the number of sites in the past that they have done their bit, so to speak.

  191. So Thurrock has done its bit, the neighbouring authorities have not?
  (Mr Lewis) That is correct, yes.

  192. Would you like to name the neighbouring authorities?
  (Mr Lewis) The immediate adjoining authorities would be Basildon, Brentwood, London Borough of Havering, south of the river Dartford.

  193. None of those has played the same role as Thurrock, is that it?
  (Mr Lewis) That is correct. There is not the same identification of sites in those other areas at all.

  194. What has the regional planning conference said about sites?
  (Mr Lewis) Not a lot to my knowledge.

  195. Surely if Thurrock thinks it is being hard done by is it not something you should try and insist goes into a regional strategic plan?
  (Mr Lewis) I think we would like to see it being tackled more as a regional problem. I think there was a parallel to be drawn with the legislation that sought to identify sites for gypsies and travellers—if I can identify it like that—where there was a greater understanding of the nature of the travellers in the area, their general movement so a level of provision could be made relative to those numbers. The same does not apply with showmen. No-one I think can say "This is the nature of the showmen community, this is where their ties are, this is the area that ought to be catering for them", that does not seem to exist for showmen.

  196. But you do know how many shows there are presumably within the area of those local authorities? Is it not logical if you have so many shows then you need a certain amount of quarters for them or do you always assume that the showmen come from Berlin or from somewhere else?
  (Mr Lewis) I think there is often a lack of wanting to understand the size of the community. I think it is difficult to understand just how many caravans may be attached to a particular family at a particular site and the desire once a community are there then to expand and the family staying with their community does put pressure on existing sites to grow even bigger still. That is the difficulty at Thurrock where there is a growing population and the expectation is expansion within that same area.

  197. There is an assumption, is there not, for housing that there should be an expansion of housing to meet the needs of the children of the existing people in the houses so should there not be the same assumption as far as showmen are concerned that there should be expansion at least to meet the needs of their families, particularly since it appears to be a traditional family business and very much passed on from one generation to the next?
  (Mr Lewis) That is a personal view that I share, that should be the case. In identifying the new sites though it then becomes a difficulty in saying "These are the new sites but they can only be for these particular individuals" without them being offered on the open market where there could be showmen from the rest of the region and the rest of the country. Again, it is identifying the local ties with that area to suggest that these are Thurrock showmen, Essex showmen, South East showmen or beyond.

  198. How would you demonstrate that? Are you expecting them to have a stamp on their back or something that says "We come from Thurrock, Essex"?
  (Mr Lewis) It is very difficult. It is adding human rights issues in to it. It could be regarded as an invasion of privacy and the same does not apply to the residential community in houses. There is not a process where houses will only be occupied by people who may have moved five miles to get there.

  199. Circular 22/91, the Local Government Association told us it needed bringing up to date and reinforcing. Would you agree with that?
  (Mr Lewis) Yes. I would like to see it certainly revamped, if only to put it high on the agenda so that it is fresh in everyone's minds yet again. As to the changes that could take place within it, it is difficult to say. I indicated I perhaps disagree on the showmen's sites being identified as very special circumstances to have them on the green belt and there might need to be some clarity or explanation to suggest there. The criteria that points to urban fringe sites, there is always pressure on the urban fringe for other competing uses and it is also more vulnerable in terms of visual amenity quite often, so the potential for raising conflict is even greater by pushing in that direction.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, gentlemen. We have given you the chance, if you like, to respond to the written evidence that we have received, it seemed only fair. I notice that you got your retaliation in with a written document, for which we are very grateful. If either of you want to put in a further comment about the evidence we have received, because we are keen that the evidence is a dialogue, hopefully it will take us forward to a situation where there are very attractive fairs in Bradford and Nottingham in the future and you have sorted out your problems with accommodation. Thank you very much, gentlemen.

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