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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280 - 299)



Mr Donohoe

  280. If I can move then to the sites for the showpersons' quarters; what sort of sites do travelling showpeople need for their winter and all round quarters?
  (Mr Baseley) I think that the game has moved on considerably from winter quarters. Modern day living standards require that showmen need the same standards of living as do the rest of the world. One of the greatest difficulties that travelling showpeople face is, the sheer nature of their lifestyle and business requires that they live and work with their equipment, 24 hours a day; and that means, in planning terms, that it is not a very easy bedfellow with any of the other common urban land uses. There would be very certain and definite complaints if a showmen's site were located, for instance, directly adjoining a housing site; equally, the planning system would act against showmen if they were located adjacent to an industrial estate, because it would be deemed unsuitable to be living within an industrial environment. I have had difficulties with travelling showpeople who have had the noise of their own generators, in testing, being quoted against them as being an unreasonable intrusion on their living standards. Therefore, showmen are forced to look beyond conventional development areas, beyond the normal urban fringes, and this is where the planning difficulties start.

  281. So what representations do you make, in that respect; you do not suggest to the showpeople that they break the law to get these sites in the first place?
  (Mr Baseley) Not at all.

  282. Do you try to identify sites for the people?
  (Mr Baseley) Yes, we do try to identify sites, and, frankly, it is not an easy situation, because we find that as soon as we talk to local planning authorities about the potential for a site, I suppose quite understandably, they run for cover. There is a presumption that most local authorities would be happy for it to exist in the next authority, or the next authority along, but not in their actual, own administrative area.

Mrs Dunwoody

  283. But is not there a difference between the two types of sites? I think we are in danger of confusing two things. Surely, the sort of site that is needed for a travelling fair that comes and goes in agreement with the authority, you can encompass within the use of their recreational grounds, if possible; but, surely, there is the differentiation between that and something that is required for them as a permanent base?
  (Mr Baseley) That is quite correct. We are talking about two different problems relating to the same industry. The questions that I commenced answering related to showmen's accommodation, permanent accommodation, and it is a different planning problem. In fact, I would chance to say that the fairground issues themselves are not, strictly speaking, planning problems.

Mr Donohoe

  284. But, as consultants, do you not try to get this problem resolved by virtue of identifying sites, where there has been a tradition of having such sites, and driving that on, by virtue of making the application for the change of use of land; that is your job, surely?
  (Mr Baseley) Yes, of course.
  (Mr Loveday) Of course we do, that is exactly what we do, and we try to do it not only through—

  285. So how successful have you been, have you had instances where you have been successful in getting these planning change of uses without there being an inquiry and without there being any application to central government?
  (Mr Loveday) Yes, there have been, and I can say that Leicestershire is an area where I have been successful, I know Ian has been as well, and the districts within Leicestershire have been sympathetic. I have had sympathy within Cambridgeshire, some of the local authorities of Cambridgeshire. I could also name a number where I have not been successful, and never would be in a million years.

  286. But do you not try to target these areas where you are not successful and drive them into operation, by virtue of making the appeal all the way to the central government levels?
  (Mr Loveday) Yes, indeed, and also going through the local plan process, but going through the local plan process, which is the right and proper way, we even end up then where, particularly, I have to say this, it is more sensitive where there are green belt issues involved, where many local authorities and the inspectors who judge the local plan say, "Well, there's no need, because this is all green belt, for a policy."

  287. Yes, but why should there be a difference between the showpeople and the ordinary people, and, say, villages which are surrounded by green belt; the people in these small villages have got exactly the same needs, have they not, they should not have some discrimination against them, when it comes to getting accommodation for their offspring, or their older people? This is the other area that you would have to address, where there is a problem?
  (Mr Baseley) There is a difference, in that, the general man in the street, the planning system recognises their needs and makes provision for them; the significant difference with travelling showpeople is that the planning system has consistently failed to recognise and tackle the needs of travelling showpeople. That is the difference.

Mrs Ellman

  288. You have just said that the planning system consistently fails to meet the needs of travelling showpeople; whose responsibility is it to make planning authorities more aware of those needs?
  (Mr Baseley) I suppose, the responsibility is shared. We try, as planning consultants, we make representations about local plans, we also make representations to Government, in the preparation of Planning Policy Guidance Notes, and things like that, and we try to talk to local planning authorities, on behalf of our clients, to make them understand the qualities that can be brought to areas and the benefits that can ensue, as well as tackling the downsides of it. But it really is an uphill struggle. David said, yes, of course, we have had success, and I bet we could all measure the success that we have had, I, over 15 years, on the fingers of one hand. The biggest area of success was actually before the introduction of the Circular itself; and that authority, which was so very, very helpful, once they had done their job, put up the shutters. They said, "Done it; someone else take some of the strain now."
  (Mr Loveday) I think that is absolutely right. I have found, over the years, and, I have to say, my involvement started with showmen in 1988, which is just before the last Circular, and my first inquiry was just after the publication of that Circular, so I was involved quite heavily in the honeymoon period—I call it the honeymoon period, in my memorandum—after the Circular came in, and there were a lot of permissions given, both on appeal and by local authorities without needing to go to appeal. Since then, it does seem to me that it has now become part of, or tried to be part of the system in the local plan system; the local plan system takes five-plus years to sort itself out, and longer. To me, there is a lack of understanding, within the planning councils, the actual local planning authorities, of the needs of showmen, and, as Ian said, quite rightly, it is a double-edged thing. I think there needs to be assistance both from the Showmen's Guild, into that system, and from elsewhere.

  289. If there is no understanding within the planning authorities in general, does not that mean that somebody is not putting the case properly?
  (Ms Montgomery) If I could just highlight a recent example, a case that I have been involved with, within Surrey, a problem site, where there are showpeople in breach of planning. I wrote to about 150 local authorities, in the whole of the South of England, highlighting the problem that we had in trying to find another site, and this was independent of another search that we carried out with land and estate agents; and each of those local authorities was made aware that there was a big problem within the South East of England generally, as well as the specific problem with the particular showpeople involved in this particular case. And these types of letters and contacts with the local authorities have been made by myself, last year, and probably every year for the last seven or eight years, looking, desperately looking, for some showpeople, writing to local authorities and trying to get as much feedback as we can, and I am sure my colleagues have done the same sort of exercise. So local authorities should be aware that there is a need for showpeople's sites within their area.
  (Mr Baseley) I think there is a fear. I am an ex-local authority director of planning, and, speaking from the other side, or trying to imagine it from the other side of the fence now, I am sure that many local authorities are filled with trepidation at the thought of accommodating uses which do not fit the conventional pattern and have a mixture of industry, caravans and testing activity, and all those sorts of things, all in one, that cannot even compete financially within urban areas for land. That is one of the other big problems.

Mr Gray

  290. I want to examine a bit further the reasons why it is that these applications are failing. I am not certain, your description of Sir Humphrey saying, "It doesn't fit traditional patterns, and therefore we're going to turn it down because it's all too confusing," that does not really make much sense. Surely, there is prejudice here?
  (Mr Loveday) Can I say, my view is that it is not necessarily overt prejudice, I have come across open, rank prejudice, in dealing with planning applications, "We don't want this type of person near us," has been said in open meetings; but that is something you can actually deal with, because it is open and it is there. But I think the point that Ian is making is that, I genuinely feel that underneath many, I do not say all but many, local authorities, many, I do not say officers, even, but perhaps the membership are more susceptible to the political side of the planning process, more susceptible to lobby from pressure groups within an area, they will be convinced that this is not the right thing to do, so the way to do it is to deal with it in the quite proper planning ground, so which is difficult noise, difficult this, difficult that, but actually it is, "We don't want them here."

  291. So it is prejudice, but it is being covered up by finding a legitimate reason. Do you think that comes about because, in the earlier evidence, we were hearing about the confusion in some people's minds, and I suspect in some local authorities' minds, between gypsies, new age travellers, other travelling people and travelling showmen, and that fact is that they are quite different, but actually many, many people believe they are similar?
  (Mr Loveday) I think, with local plans, you find a lot of the policy base for local plans deals with, it will be a policy relating either to mobile homes in the countryside or travellers generally; and there is no splitting, no definition, no mixing or changing, or separation between any of the different groups. And they are different, whether we like it or not, they are entirely different. The basic difference is that one moves on and on and on, and one moves around and comes back and keeps coming back to the same place, and that is the essence of the showmen's style, and that is where they need the permanence. And genuinely I just do not think people understand that; many people I speak to think of a fair as being like a circus, going round as a group, but, as you all will know, it is not like that at all.

  292. Two other questions then. First of all, just to be devil's advocate, for a second, would you not agree that a showmen's permanent residential site is actually pretty unattractive, in fact, and if you came along to my local authority and said, "I'm going to plonk this thing down on the green belt that is in your constituency," I am going to object to it, am I not, and would I not be perfectly reasonable, on behalf of my constituents, I am being devil's advocate here?
  (Mr Loveday) I could understand that entirely.
  (Mr Baseley) I think that is the established perception; but our job, part of our job, and we feel that we are having success in this, is that, if one accepts that we are not going to find sites, in competition with the rest of the development industry, within urban areas, and, therefore, by definition, we are looking into the countryside for sites, perhaps it comes down to the quality of the sites that we identify, how discreet and how well-screened they are, how well the site itself can be developed and landscaped. And I believe that that is one of the `very special circumstances' that could be taken, and should be taken, into account, in dealing with applications.

  293. It then goes to appeal, and I believe I am right in saying that appeals against decisions against sites are twice as likely to be overturned at appeal as any other planning application; in other words, that there is a significant amount, call it prejudice, call it what you will, at the local authority level, they are twice as likely as anything else to be overturned at appeal. Am I right in deducing from that that you would say that the Planning Inspectorate actually treat you very well and treat you perfectly fairly, and that you would have no criticism against the Inspectorate, where you might have criticism against the local authority?
  (Mr Baseley) I think that the first part of your statement I could agree with totally. One of the reasons, I believe, that we enjoy a higher level of success on appeal is because it was too hot a potato to handle by the planning authority, and therefore things were perhaps stacked in our favour in all equity by the time we got to appeal. The slight criticism I would have with regard to the Inspectorate is inconsistency, and particularly inconsistency in terms of deciding and determining what are acceptable `very special circumstances'. And just one thing I think that is worth mentioning here, when we talk about `very special circumstances', the Planning Guidance always refers to green belt, and the same premise is not alongside development in the countryside. But I think, really, `very special circumstances' apply to both; green belt is just more protected countryside, and I think that is quite an important factor. With regard to consistency of `very special circumstances', we would ask the Inspectorate perhaps, forgive the expression, to get their act together, in terms of discussing it amongst themselves, so that there is some general consensus view about what can be `very special circumstances'. The other case that will always rankle with me is that we have just, well, about a year ago, failed on a site in Kent, where the inspector, this is a senior inspector, with an application recovered by the Secretary of State, went through every item, all of the criteria in the Circular, and gave it a clean bill of health. And then, when it came to `very special circumstances', we succeeded on everything other than my perception that, whilst we had carried out a survey both of local authorities and agents selling land, throughout the whole of the South of England and East Anglia, and the inspector asked me why I had not done the same survey within Greater London; and I explained because land values were so high there was no way that our clients could compete with the development industry. And the appeal was turned down because we had not actually carried out that last check, that it was felt was needed to demonstrate `very special circumstances'. The Secretary of State agreed with that, but also said that he could not believe that a site could not be found within Greater London, and particularly directed us to the Docklands. Now it is quite interesting, if I may say, that the memorandum from the Department, the DETR, with regard to this issue, the same people, presumably, who vetted the actual appeal decision on recovery to the Secretary of State, say: "Potential sites within Greater London and its neighbouring counties are inevitably scarce, and those that do exist are likely to be the subject of legal constraints or demands from competing users." We have subsequently tried to tackle that problem, and we are trying it again for the same group of travellers. We have been to every authority in Greater London, we have been to every estate agent, and two sites only were identified to us, out of 70 or 80 inquiries that we made, both of them four-acre sites where our clients actually occupy 13.5 acres of land. So two four-acre sites were identified, neither of them were available to purchase, they were available for a limited, five-year period on lease, and the cheapest of the two areas of land was a quarter of a million pounds a year to rent.


  294. The cynic in me thinks that this must be quite good business for planning consultants?
  (Mr Baseley) It is, Sir, and it did not ought to be.

  295. That is alright; it is very nice to hear someone wants to put themselves out of a job.
  (Mr Baseley) But, I fear, if we are successful, I guess that that is what is going to happen, but it does not cover the injustice that exists at the present time within the system.

Mr Benn

  296. Where do all these difficulties you have just been describing leave this concept of `very special circumstances', in relation to green belt land; can you give us an example of where you have been able successfully to argue and get permission?
  (Mr Loveday) Yes; the Turning-Wheel, which is the first one straight after the publication of the Circular. We were able successfully to argue that the family that had been there for, I think, at the time, ten years, they had been through two previous appeals, had been through the High Court; theirs is the case that actually defines the difference between showmen and gypsies, in the High Court, the Hammond case. They had been through all of that, and then they were about to be turfed out, and we went again, we amended the thing, we used the system, I am afraid to say, to amend the application, to give them one last try, went to appeal, we had been writing to local authorities for 12 years, in the same way that they had, to local authorities, estate agents, and we had seven volumes of appendices, this thick, with the answer "No" emblazoned, long and hard. And then we were told that we had proven that there was a very special need; that was 12 years, seven appendices. I was delighted for my clients, and they are still there and it is fine, everybody is happy. But, up until then, that had not been proven, the special need.

  297. Right; but they were already there and you finally got permission for them?
  (Mr Loveday) Yes.

  298. Any examples you can give us of new sites that have been acquired, where permission has been given in green belt land?
  (Ms Montgomery) Yes, certainly. There is one at Bromsgrove, that I think you may have had evidence on.


  299. The Committee, in fact, visited that, and we were particularly interested in that, because not only did the planning inspector find in favour of it, but he awarded costs, which does suggest to the Committee, I think, that perhaps the local authority had used the planning system to avoid themselves having to take a difficult decision?
  (Ms Montgomery) I think you have summarised that succinctly, yes; but that is a classic case.
  (Mr Baseley) We have just succeeded in the green belt in Epping Forest to transfer a group of showmen who have lived on a site since 1926, and, therefore, are probably the oldest-established members of the village which they live in, there has never been a problem with them; when they wanted to move, no-one wanted them. The officers of Epping Forest District Council have helped us tremendously, and we examined 21 other sites, including putting in an application on a site; our clients were prepared to buy 21 acres of land to occupy five acres of land, surrounding by woodland. And the whole community rose up against it, and said, "These people are from another village, they should get back to where they came from, we don't want them here," and the application was turned down. We then found a derelict quarry, on the edge of the village that they live in, and the whole of that local community rose up again against them and caused an awful lot of upset, where there had been no upset before. We have just succeeded, on appeal, recovered by the Secretary of State, who supported them, but it has taken us five years to relocate an established group of showpeople, with the local planning authorities trying and on our side.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 5 June 2000