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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 264)



  240. Could you explain what BATCA is?
  (Mr Irvin) BATCA is British Amusement Trades Catering Association; it is to do with funfairs, in a way, as well, but more to do with the seaside elements of them, permanent parks, in a way, the same background of people, with a little bit more professionalism, I think.

Mrs Ellman

  241. Are there great problems getting sites for living quarters for travelling showpeople?
  (Ms Peak) Yes, certainly.
  (Mr Irvin) It is extremely difficult.
  (Ms Peak) We have got a big problem at the moment, where planning has changed. Showpeople used to go onto sites for winter quarters, and our old people, now, when they retire, want somewhere to stay permanently, and a lot of the sites were just for the winter months and now we want permanent sites for all year round. And we have got a great problem at the moment, that is one of our biggest problems.
  (Mr Irvin) Even with established sites. We have one established site, one of the sites we own, which for about 70 years has been a showmen's site, and to safeguard that site we applied for a `certificate of use', which I recommend anybody should do, really, because, although the site has been there for 70 years, users' rights are not a great thing when it comes to the redevelopment of an area, and so on. And, to apply for that `certificate of use', it was just like swimming up a river, upstream, in a way, it took us two years, with affidavits, and various other things, actually to get that site acknowledged by the local authority, even though it had been there for 70 years; that was in the Borough of Hounslow. We have actually recommended to other people now, and we have got about four other people in the area now who have applied for a `certificate of use', and the local authority has fought every one of them, even though all those sites have been there for 60 or 70 years. So, with the problems of getting a new site now, it is almost impossible.

Mrs Dunwoody

  242. But what do the local authorities give as their reasons?
  (Mr Irvin) Quite simply, they do not think it should be there, they think it should be redeveloped somewhere else. The problem is, each local authority, as you realise, has a five-year, ten-year plan, I have seen nothing on any of these five-year, ten-year plans for any permanent sites for showmen.

  243. Even where, traditionally, they have had their own site?
  (Mr Irvin) Even where, traditionally, yes. We have one borough in London which traditionally has had lots of showmen's sites, over the years, the Borough of Hounslow; there is still nothing there, not anything there. Now, I must admit, I have actually said this to local authorities; they have said, "Well, why don't you get the Guild to approach us?" And we actually put on an exhibition about showmen having been in the Borough of Hounslow for 70-odd years, I have mentioned it to people, but it has seemed just to have fallen on deaf ears.
  (Ms Peak) We have actually got an exhibition in (Bournehall ?), in Surrey, round about July, August time, for showpeople, and it has taken us five years to get it.


  244. Mr Scarrott, is there this same problem for your colleagues within Wiltshire, or is it very much a problem of urban areas?
  (Mr Scarrott) My father bought the yard we have got before I was born, so I have not really experienced many problems, because we have never had those problems; except for, there are about four trailers of lorries which will not go in the yard, and over the period of my time we have applied for permission to use different pieces of ground, of friends of my father and mine, and have always been turned down, we are always having to find somewhere else. We have gone about it correctly, to different councils, and we have never, ever, been accepted, we have always been turned down, to park things up during the wintertime.

Mrs Ellman

  245. Is this problem found all over the country, or is it worse in some parts than in others?
  (Ms Peak) It is a countrywide problem.
  (Mr Irvin) Yes; extremely. You see, all local authorities think they have had no direction really to supply sites or to allow development in their plans for things like this; they feel that you should change your way of life, that things should just go into storage, into commercial depots, and things like that, and you should rent living accommodation for the winter, which would mean a big upheaval. People do not want to change their way of life. It is like the situation with the farmers, there are problems with the farmers at the moment, and a change of life is being forced on them.

  246. Why do you think local authorities take the attitude they do?
  (Mr Irvin) Because we are such a small minority. I think there are about 5,000 families, roughly about 20,000 showmen, all over the country; it is such a small minority. It is not really going to become a problem to them, when it comes to elections, or a headache, or anything like that.

  247. Has the problem got worse, over the years?
  (Mr Irvin) Much worse.

  248. Could you quantify the problem in any way, could you say how it has got worse?
  (Mr Irvin) What I can think of is, the planning that has come about lately, in the areas of Surrey, and different places, has actually come about not really through the correct channels; people have had to buy land and actually force that land to be changed and defy planning decisions that are actually against them, and so on, and really, really force the issue in an extreme way. And it is not the correct way to go on. Really, people have had to break the law, in a big way, actually to get anywhere.
  (Ms Peak) We actually put in planning applications for these sites to local authorities, and, as you know, there is Circular 22/91, and, in my experience, and I have dealt with a lot of showmen's sites in London and the Home Counties, the local authorities do not take any notice of them, and we always have to go back on appeal, if we do win a site it is on appeal; and it is a terrible strain on local authorities, in their coffers, and also on us as well. And I do not think it should have to come to government level, I think the local authorities should have some kind of legislation to be able to deal with it themselves and make provision in each one of their boroughs for showpeople.
  (Mr Irvin) The only places that seem to be provided by local authorities are sites for gypsies, there is another word for that.
  (Ms Peak) We were left out; there was a Bill passed, a few years back, in the sixties, and we were left out. Every borough has to provide a gypsy site, and they fund it, and, our local gypsy site, they have just spent £300,000 in redoing toilets, and things like that. Showpeople fund their own sites, and their own bills, there is no strain on the local authority whatsoever for showmen's sites.
  (Mr Irvin) When you take into consideration the employment we have actually provided for showmen, people who work for showmen, the taxes that are paid, and so on, what we are actually getting back from society is nothing, really. It makes you feel sometimes you are the lowest of the low.

  249. Why do you think that is?
  (Ms Peak) Ignorance.
  (Mr Irvin) Ignorance, I think, more than anything.
  (Ms Peak) We have got a scheme going in Surrey now, called `Safer Surrey for Travellers', and it is with the local authority, Surrey County Council and the Metropolitan Police and also the Surrey Police, and the Health Authority as well, and we try to fetch as many authorities as we can into this forum; and it is to educate the authorities as well as to educate travellers, because there is an ignorance on both sides, not so much for showmen, because they always follow the law to the letter. But we get mixed up with gypsies and with the new age travellers, who seem to do what they like. But it is just educating people to the difference between showpeople, and we class ourselves as small business people that pay into the system, and have done for years, and the gypsies and the new age travellers. I do not really know their finances, what taxes they pay, but I do not think they pay much, but we try to educate the authorities about the difference.


  250. Who pays for this scheme, the `Safer Surrey' scheme?
  (Ms Peak) We have just got funding from the Metropolitan Police and also the Surrey County Council at Kingston, and we have got a five-year scheme going, we have got funding for five years.
  (Mr Irvin) You asked if there is any prejudice against us. I am a little bit unique, in a way, I run a successful hospitality company as well, which is quite large, and we have quite a high turnover in that; and, to put something into perspective, we wanted to run an event in Ascot, it was a piece of ground opposite the Racecourse, at the time, we offered £4,000 for a small piece of ground there to run a funfair: definitely not, not what was wanted at all. So I sent a colleague back in the morning, and we offered £2,000 for a hospitality funfair; "No problem at all, Sir," it was booked straightaway. And that puts it in perspective, really; and that is how stupid things are.

Mr Gray

  251. Very briefly. I was interested in this question about the confusion between new age travellers, gypsies and showpeople. Is there any overlap between them, are some showpeople actually gypsies?
  (Ms Peak) No; none at all.
  (Mr Irvin) No; none at all.

  252. So a totally different group of people?
  (Ms Peak) Totally different.
  (Mr Irvin) Totally different.

  253. Is that a common misunderstanding?
  (Ms Peak) We live in caravans, our lifestyle dictates that we live in mobile homes; some of our homes are luxurious. There is a market for mobile homes, there is a market out there for anybody, any member of the public, any member of the gypsies, any member of the showmen, to buy, and they are all the same, like when you buy a Jag. car, it is exactly the same format; but, because we travel and our lifestyle dictates that we have mobile homes, people class us as gypsies.

  254. So, some of the prejudices in society in general, or in local authorities, in particular, that might exist particularly against new age travellers, which should not exist against gypsies but actually do, you might actually find your experience in some of those prejudices as well, even if completely incorrect?
  (Ms Peak) Yes. We had a meeting with the Metropolitan Police, and we actually went into a meeting to educate them about the difference between gypsies and showpeople, because they did not know, and this is an authority that should know these things and know the difference between us.

Mr Benn

  255. You mentioned Circular 22/91, which was introduced with the purpose of trying to make local authorities take account of your particular needs; did it ever work, when it first came in?
  (Ms Peak) No. When it was hot on the trail, a few local boroughs read it, because it was on the top of their pile, but as soon as it got to the bottom of the pile it was never brought out again. And, the planning problems that we are having now, the local authorities, every single one of them, we have taken to task because they just have not taken notice of that, they have not realised that we are a `special needs' case. Because, as I say, gypsies have got sites; my tax money pays for gypsies' sites, my tax money pays for a gypsy to live down the road, and I cannot live at this end of the road, and it is very annoying.

  256. So it never worked?
  (Ms Peak) No.

  257. Is that a view that you all share?
  (Ms Peak) Yes.

  258. Can I ask what assistance the Showmen's Guild gives its members, in trying to address this problem of getting planning permission for sites, what support is available?
  (Mr Irvin) Support is limited, to a certain extent; the reason it is limited to a certain extent is because the Showmen's Guild do not have the funds, really, actually to do that, they are limited by the amount of funds, the subscriptions which come in from various showmen. As we said to you, earlier on, we are not funded in any way, perhaps that is the reason for some of our problems, but it is certainly limited to the amount of support they can actually give. People will put in time, but, at the end of the day, things like this need direction from local government, or vast amounts of money put in from somebody else, and neither one of those things is coming forward.
  (Ms Peak) When we have planning problems and we go to local government, they are very supportive in the ways that we want to be that they know of; but we had this problem. The committee that I am on, `Safer Surrey', is trying to iron out these problems, I have been doing it now for six years, and I have been doing it totally voluntarily, because I want better for my children. And I think we have got to educate our Showmen's Guild, as well, into the showmen's planning, as well as local authorities. I think we have got to have a happy medium; we must have some kind of sub-committee where they do that task specifically.

  259. You referred, a moment ago, to some members bypassing the planning system, I think, as you put it, out of frustration, because nothing is provided, moving onto a bit land, maybe then applying for planning permission subsequently, which has been the source of some concern from local authorities who have given evidence to us. Are you saying that happens only because of complete frustration with the failure of local authorities to provide a site?
  (Ms Peak) There is a lot of ignorance as well, because a lot of showpeople are not well up on planning matters, their life's work is travelling funfairs. My family go back seven generations, there is nothing you can ask my family about showkeeping that they do not know. But, when it comes to planning, this was the thing that was alien to them, because they did not have to think about planning, years ago; it is only, I would say, this last 15, 20 years that we have had this problem, and, I do not know, I think it is just something they need to be educated about. There are a lot of sites that have been done away with, a lot of showmen's sites, that have been built on, there are big housing estates on one place. Like Hendon, in North London, that was a big showmen's site, for years, showpeople used to travel the country, and they always knew that, if they had a week off, or it rained, or that fair was cancelled, they had the security of knowing that they could go back to that depo®t; that is a police training school now. And, all those showpeople that were on there, neither the authorities nor the Government made any provision for them, they just had to find their own plots of land, or places to rest up; and that is why a lot of them went on sites that had no planning permission, and went on there just out of frustration and need.
  (Mr Irvin) Also, I think a big problem for us is what is happening in London now; local authorities want you to stay less time on a site. We had one particular local authority, the event finished on Sunday, we had to dismantle on Monday and be off by the end of the Monday; the next event started on the Friday, but they did not want you to attend until the Wednesday. So we said, "Where do we go, with all this equipment, from Monday until Wednesday?" We just sat there, and nobody wanted to answer that. In the end, we actually stayed, we had to stay a day over, be found for the day, put the place in jeopardy, because where were you going to move that complete fair for that day. Years ago, you could actually have gone, as Sue said, there were large sites inside London, one at Becton, one at Hendon, different ones, where you could put that equipment for that day.
  (Ms Peak) My grandma had a showmen's yard in Tottenham Court Road, in the middle of the West End. We have problems now, as George will tell you, just getting a fair in the middle of the West End. But we were accepted, we were there for 70-odd years; but it changes, things change.

  260. Is part of the problem just great pressure on land, as you said, sites have been built on; you do not think that is the case?
  (Ms Peak) No, not at all; there are plenty of sites available.
  (Mr Irvin) There are sites available.
  (Ms Peak) Yes, there are plenty of sites available; it is the planning structure that is wrong, it is the planning, we have got no legislation whatsoever.

Mrs Dunwoody

  261. Are you suggesting a permanent site? One of the hazards, surely, is that there will be gaps between fairs just on economics. A local authority, faced with having to decide how they are going to service a site, is going to be faced with two problems: some of your rides are much bigger than they were, and therefore you need quite large storage sites; if they are going to be for permanent sites during the winter, you will want other facilities, you will want proper plumbing, you will want different, straightforward facilities like that. So a local authority is going to have to think seriously whether it wants to put the money into a site that is big enough, that has the kinds of facilities you need, and that might be used for only half of the year?
  (Ms Peak) We are not asking any local authority to provide funding for anything. I live on a site that has got 28 separate yards, we call them yards because they are residential and light industry; now I thank God that our property has got planning permission. I am the mother of a family, and my husband and my son go out and do the fairkeeping, and they come back, and I stay in the yard. A lot of women do not want to travel now, it is not necessary; they take the loads through, they take the rides through, with the husbands, as you see in my witness statement, we do various jobs. But times have changed, we need now our children at school longer, we need our old people to have a settled life, and we need our old people to have local authority care, such as local doctors. My mother-in-law is 83 years old, and she has got to travel about with the fairs, because she has got nowhere to stay.
  (Mr Irvin) You mentioned funding. Take the Borough of Hounslow. For about ten years now, we have actually been asking the Borough of Hounslow, if we bought a site, would they give us planning permission: no way at all, no way at all, everywhere we have looked at they have said "No," even land of their own, we have asked to buy it off them, they have said "No." In that time, they have sunk an awful lot of money into providing the gypsy sites, which they have had to provide, with our tax money, our rates, yet they will not give us permission to buy a site of our own; how do you think people feel about that.
  (Ms Peak) There are no showmen's sites in the whole of England, Scotland or Wales that are funded by a local authority.
  (Mr Irvin) None at all.
  (Ms Peak) Every showmen's site is funded by showmen, and the local authorities are getting a nice revenue off the local council tax.
  (Mr Irvin) We run a business, we would not expect to be funded by the local authority.

  262. No. But the difference would be that the local authorities would be required to produce a site for travellers, or Romanies, but not for you?
  (Ms Peak) That is right.

  263. So it is the difference between a requirement of law and a non-requirement of law?
  (Mr Irvin) Yes.
  (Ms Peak) Yes.


  264. But how far is it this problem that you want a site which is both residential and light industry; it does mean that it is difficult to fit it in, in some parts?
  (Mr Irvin) But how do they manage to fit their gypsy site into there, which is exactly that, that is light industry and living there at the same time, and it looks an awful sight when it need not be, actually.
  (Ms Peak) Our site has been running for 15 years now, and we have got light industry and residential, and it is a success case; a lot of other showmen's yards are run the same, that have got planning permission, and there is no problem whatsoever, it works. The proof of the pudding is, 15 years later, we have got no problems.

  Chairman: On that note, I think we had better finish this session and ask the next witnesses to come forward. Thank you very much indeed.

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