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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 314)



Mr Benn

  300. Where does all of this experience now leave Circular 22/91; is it the case that it had an initial impact, in your view, and is now just not being implemented by local authorities? Does it need to be strengthened, does it need to be enforced more effectively?
  (Mr Baseley) In my view, and perhaps I am well qualified to speak on this, because I can now see with hindsight where perhaps we could have concentrated on some of the wording a little bit more, but it is easy with hindsight, I think the Circular is in desperate need of updating and reviewing. I think, guidance for all of us, planning authorities, for showmen, for professional practitioners and the Inspectorate, in terms of what can amount to `very special circumstances', it is alright glibly talking about `very special circumstances', but there is no guidance for anyone to hang onto. I also believe that, I have had difficulties in the witness box, in planning appeals, the fringe of urban areas is something that sort of turns round and haunts me, because it is not too precise; and we have had planning authorities that have argued with me that I did not mean what I was saying, if you see what I mean. Inevitably, because of the problem, it will be sites beyond the existing urban boundaries where sites, viable and approvable sites, can be found, and sites which showmen can afford to purchase; and, therefore, I think the Circular should reflect that. Also, the Achilles heel, as I have called it, is the statement, which is quite proper, that nothing in the Circular should undermine the advice of other Circulars and Government advice, and particularly the `very special circumstances' that are needed in the green belt. But, in my view, what there should be is a cross-referencing, that has been mentioned before, a cross-referencing in those PPGs and other Circulars, so that 22/91 is not stand-alone; everyone else seems to ignore it and tiptoe around the edges of it and never wants to get to grips with 22/91. And then the final thing, in my humble opinion, is that asking local authorities to co-operate really was not strong enough. I feel that there should be a much stronger duty placed on local planning authorities to take this problem seriously, that there is a strong and definable need which still has to be addressed. And, hopefully, in 20, 25 years' time, if everything works according to plan, perhaps the problem will be well on its way to being resolved; but, in the meantime, in my estimation, there are still hundreds of families that are homeless, potentially, and the planning system is still tiptoeing around the edges and not getting to grips with it.

  301. Just very briefly, apart from retaining your services, is there anything else that could be done to help travelling showpeople in their dealings with the planning system?
  (Mr Loveday) Not wishing just to agree with what Ian has just said, but he mentioned cross-referencing, I think actually we could go slightly further and say the sorts of PPGs where that cross-referencing could happen, and that is PPG4, small businesses, because showmen are inherently that, we have got PPG12, which is the local plans one, PPG18, particularly, which is the enforcement one, because, I think, when it comes to enforcement, showmen, because they are living there, there needs to be a special cross-reference in that, the green belt Circular, perhaps. But I think the other thing there may be is a requirement on the local plan which says, I think the Circular said something like, "Advice about this can be obtained from the Showmen's Guild," I think that is the wording within it, perhaps it could be that one of the statutory consultees for local plans should be the Showmen's Guild. Because I would admit, on my own behalf, and in this respect I am not speaking for the Guild, that the Guild have been not as forward as they could have been in the process of planning, only a few local authorities have consulted them on their local plans, whereas, if it became more of a requirement that the Showmen's Guild would have to do it, and that is on both sides.

Mrs Dunwoody

  302. Can I just ask you something. The pressures on this group are not going to lessen, they are going to get worse, the problems of the rising price of land are going to have a direct impact on them. Has anybody ever worked out any way in which the planning system could respond to that, by doing a regional plan or doing some input at a level which will defend what are traditional grounds; because, otherwise, it seems to me, you are on a declining curve anyway, these people are going to be forced out of business?
  (Mr Loveday) We have been talking about the showmen's yards; what you are talking about is the fairgrounds themselves within the—

  303. No, I am talking about both, because if people have nowhere to live it does not matter what work they do, they just keep moving?
  (Mr Loveday) Absolutely; vice versa, yes.

  304. What I am really saying to you is, is there any coherent plan, at any level, that says, both for their permanent yards and for their use of recreational sites, "This group must have room to move, they must have agreed planning protection"? Because, if there is not, it seems to me that what you are demonstrating is, each one of you has demonstrated the same thing, that if you ask individual authorities you get no response, in effect, if you find a particular ground, as long as there is local opposition they will not get it, and if you ask for any kind of planning input you are told that it is going to be in the green belt and that is going to be inconvenient. What I am saying to you is, if you draw all that together, what you are really saying is, unless there is a coherent plan that says, "This group must be protected," it does not matter what you do about individual sites, within 20 years they will have gone?
  (Mr Loveday) I am not aware of anything that is like that, at the moment. Perhaps some advice contained in some Government, in 22/91, for example, there is a reference—

  305. So that, unlike Romany, unlike diddicoy, or whatever words one uses, there is no protection for this group?
  (Mr Loveday) Absolutely.


  306. What about the plan-led system; surely the theory, at least, of the plan-led system is that there should be a regional plan? Now would it be possible for you to identify the number of showmen's winter quarters that were needed in any one region, or do you think that is an impossible task?
  (Ms Montgomery) It is a very difficult task. I have attempted to do that on a regional basis, in accordance with the Showmen's Guild, London and Home Counties Section, where there are about 130-odd families at the moment.

  307. So there could be a recommendation, in a regional plan, that within the region so many sites ought to be earmarked; then would it be possible to break it down to individual local authorities, so that it could go into their unitary development plans?
  (Ms Montgomery) I think the difficulties come, as I am sure you have seen from Bromsgrove, that the councils themselves see that if they have not had a problem, or they have not had a history of showmen's sites, they do not believe that they should provide for that site. So I think a regional context is the preferred one.

  308. But if it were in a regional context, saying, "Look, within the region, there must be this number of sites," then there would be more hope of each individual plan putting it in?
  (Ms Montgomery) Certainly.
  (Mr Baseley) I certainly think that identifying, pinpointing, individual local authorities, particularly around London, will be very difficult. The nature of the problem there—

  309. But then always they are going to be able to say, "Well, it should be the next one's responsibility"?
  (Mr Baseley) That is correct, and, in actual fact, a lot of authorities have used the argument that, "Well, we don't have many fairs in our district." But one of the common characteristics of trading in and around London is that much of the activity today still is within inner London, it is impossible for them to live there, but they could actually live, I suppose, around the M25, in any area, and still be convenient to their areas of trading. Could I make just a final point about plan-making. I am fearful of being site-specific, for one particular reason, and that is that, using the Epping Forest example, we tried 21 different sites.

Mrs Dunwoody

  310. But then what is the alternative? With respect, I understand all of that, and you have made it clear, but then what is the alternative?
  (Mr Baseley) The alternative is for the showmen themselves to come up with the site, that is then vetted for its discreetness, for its screening, and the rest of it.

  Mrs Dunwoody: But you told us specifically this morning that, in two very clear instances, that did not do them any good.

  Chairman: And that is contradictory to the plan-led system.

Mr Donohoe

  311. Just on that basis and on a point that you made earlier, Mr Loveday, do you think that the Showmen's Guild itself best represents its members?
  (Mr Loveday) It is not for me to say, in one way, but—

  312. But in your opinion?
  (Mr Loveday) In my own opinion, the Showmen's Guild do not take enough active part in the plan-led system.

  313. Is that your view?
  (Mr Baseley) Yes. I think the Showmen's Guild is characteristic of the showmen's lifestyle and characteristics, they are fiercely independent.

Mrs Dunwoody

  314. But they do not maintain a planning department?
  (Mr Baseley) Of course they do not.
  (Mr Loveday) No, they do not.

  Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very much indeed for your evidence.

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