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

Memorandum by the Association of Independent Showmen (TF 44)

  In response to your telephone call recently, I am sending this letter to elaborate on the existence of the Association of Independent Showmen. Also enclosed is the Association's report for your inquiry into Travelling Fairs and I thank you for allowing me extra time to compile this.

  The AIS was formed by a group of travelling showmen who felt that their membership to other trade bodies, more well known, was not beneficial to them. Without going into these other organisations' rules, we cannot fully explain the implications of membership to these bodies.

  We have over 80 members who own and operate fairground equipment. 85 per cent of membership have showmanship as their only occupation. In the last 12 months, the AIS arranged over 70 fairs, nationwide, using only our members' equipment.

  The Association is a member of the Joint Advisory Committee of the Health & Safety Executive—this committee assists the HSE in bringing about operational regulations in the fairground industry with three AIS members having proof read the latest Guidance on Safe Practice.

  We have an Education Liaison Officer who attends meetings of EFFECOT (European Federation for the Education of the Children of Occupational Travellers) and NATT (National Association of Teachers of Travellers), advises members of educational requirements and arranges schooling for members' children whilst on the road with the assistance of the Traveller Education Service.

  Our members are kept informed of the current legislation on health & safety, education, transport and we have recently elected a Planning Advisor to the committee to aid with members' planning applications.

  We enclose a copy of our rule book[1] which, with the help of our area representatives enable members to operate with the same strict guidelines of the more well known organisations.

  We hope that the Department of Environment will use the information we provide as a means to assist the showman's way of life and not to jeopardize it.


  By the term "we" relates to the AIS as a group of showmen.

  As a basis for our opinions we refer to circ 22/91 "Travelling Showpeople".

  Most showmen like to have their families with them but it is understandable if planners wish to impose restrictions on the number of residential units on the site. It should not be assumed that sites will be intensively occupied. Most showmen like to have the security of being able to return to their yards in cases of emergency, but what difference should it make what time of year the site is occupied.

  Not all showmen are members of the well known Showmans Guild of Great Britain because of their financial requests and restrictive working rules. We have a strict code of conduct too.

  It is a fact that a number of showmen can and do operate from houses but they no longer attend traditional travelling fairs. These people perhaps work at fetes/galas and do not leave their homes for any period of time. However of our membership there are over 12 families that live and travel in the traditional way. Only two of these have yards with planning permission. It needs to be made clear that travelling showmen are not gypsies or part of the growing new age traveller type. With the assistance of associations like ours we can help assure the planning committees that applications are from bona fide travelling showpeople who travel because of their occupation, not just because they like it.

  Showmen need to live on, maintain and store their equipment on their yards. More often than not objections are made because of the fear of excess noise; judgement cannot be made if there is no proof. All households make some noise and being a showman does not automatically mean that you make more. Usually a showman's vehicles do not move once in the yard until it is time to leave again. Many house-dwellers bring all types of works vehicles home with them but there tends to be no concern over this.

  There is always the fear that there will be noise pollution but those who live in houses take no notice of the neighbour who tinkers with his car every weekend, or keeps budgies in an aviary or mows his lawn regularly, this is all noise that may be offensive to someone. People can and do live near more noisier businesses than that of a showman's yard in the winter; public houses, for example.

  Most maintenance is that of painting but if there had to be some noisy work done is it not possible for neighbours to communicate with each other to sort out suitable times to do this? This policy is able to work both ways.

  We admit that sites need to have screening but time does need to be given to allow hedgerows to grow as it is not always possible to find a site with immediate all round screening. However, the showman should not choose a site in the middle of an open field or housing estate, an ideal site is a farm yard or the edge of an industrial development.

  Each planning application needs to be looked at by a central department who have the full understanding and sympathy of why we live the way we do. Surely the old exemption from site licensing was ideal for all concerned as this allowed a reasonable amount of control for the councils and ease of living for the showman. There are not many bona fide travelling showpeople left who do not have permanent sites, but we do exist and need more leniency on the planning regulations of some councils. Not all showmen have large rides and the applications for permanent sites should be considered as individual and not treated the same as the last one.

  There needs to be a generalisation of the definition of "detrimental to the environment". One man's view of this can be totally different to anothers. In some people's eyes being a travelling showman makes you automatically "detrimental" and that's before you have even applied for planning permission. It is a sad fact that the majority of people who are opposed to the yards of showmen are those in the upper class bracket of life and these are normally the ones on parish councils and planning committees. We have to have a way to stop this narrow mindedness as this is one very big obstacle in our way.

  The circular 22/91 states that there should be adequate publicity for showmen's planning applications; why does this need to be stressed upon more so than any other application? That in itself is prejudicial.

  To prevent the resale of yards after permission is granted could there not be restrictions put on at the planning stage as to the type of people allowed to habitate the site? This would prevent resale to undesirables later on. We suppose that the Government's ideal is for everyone to live in a house and do a nine to five job, but many of the bona fide travelling showpeople cannot just give up a lifestyle and livelihood at the drop of a hat. The travelling fair is still a financially viable operation but admittedly more and more showmen are settling in houses and doing other work too. For the few of us left living the traditional life we need to be near our equipment for security whilst we are in the different towns and villages.

  We believe that a showman should be able to pull onto a suitable site, with the agreement of the local council for a trial run of one winter period and if at the end, and end only, there are no objections that cannot be rectified then permission be granted. The objections should not be considered until the end of the trial period as this would prevent enforcement orders being made on the land and the showmen being made "homeless" at a difficult time of year. If of course there is solid proof that illegal or unlawful activities are occurring this could be dealt with by the usual policing or environmental health policies.

  The sites should, as mentioned before, be in a suitable location but it must be accepted that there may be some temporary viasability of the site until after full permission is granted as it is unlikely that anyone would pay the price of various screening until they know that the site is permanent and the money not wasted.

  The old adage "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" is very true, do not judge us before you know us. The inbuilt fear people have of travellers is usually unfounded and, if we are given the chance, people's opinions of us change. Without that chance being given there is no hope for us in being allowed the peace and security that every man deserves.

  For your interest we have listed a few of the objections to planning made to members of the Association of Independent Showmen in their plight at finding a suitable base.

"I can see a lorry because the leaves have fallen off the hedge. I haven't heard any noise from there but they really shouldn't be there. In fact they are lowering the value of my property"

  This objection was relating to one living wagon and two lorries, surrounded by deciduous hedgerows. The site already had planning permission on it for a house and race horse stud. The showmen were evicted from the site two weeks before the birth of their first child. The site is still unbuilt on but is used for the storage of manure and agricultural machinery.

"There is no screening and is therefore detrimental to the environment"

  This site was originally one three acre area. The two outside yards were sold and used, with planning permission, as this: a builders storage yard with a chalet bungalow newly installed, surrounded by a six foot high fence constructed from motorway crash barriers. The other side was a caravan site used for housing foreign students who were illegally working on the land and a lake of human excrement to be used on the land.

  The showman planted larch and conifers around his perimeter but the planners said this was the wrong type of tree for the area. On appeal the council refused time to allow natural hedgerows to grow. For living purposes the showman required three residential mobile units but enforcement orders were placed on the land preventing habitation by showmen, storage of lorries and scrap. On enquiring what the scrap was, this was the showmans 1953 traditional fairground ride which was insured, safety tested and used during the season to earn the showmans living.

  The land was subsequently sold to gypsies and immediate planning permission granted for three permanent chalets. There is still no screening.

"The site is in a green belt area"

  The showman owned twenty acres of orchard with the original vehicular access. In the middle of the land, the showman and his family used an area of 0.5 acre and lived in two living wagons and had two lorries. With the prospect of retiring he thought for his childrens future security he would apply for planning consent. This was refused and enforcement orders issued. After paying rates and council tax for the ten years they have lived on the land they all had to leave. The children were removed from school and the family once again had to find somewhere else to go.

"Permission is refused as there is a fear that the yard will be sold on to gypsies"

  This was completely unfounded. On speaking, off the record, to the head of the planning committee, he said that they liked the showmen living in the area but they did not want gypsies moving in if the yards were sold. There are now four families hoping that an appeal will reverse the decision of the local council.

  The inquiry would probably not believe that there is prejudice against showmen which could damage their prospects of ever finding a permanent yard. Below are some of more humorous comments made to or overheard by the author of this report. It is unlikely that these opinions would ever be voiced to those living in a house and we find it very offensive that people should have the opinion that we are any different to the next man.

  Overheard on a village green. "That woman's washing is always clean. I wonder how she does it?" I didn't have the heart to tell her that not only have I got a washing machine but also a tumble drier!

  Overheard at school. "That little girl is always clean and at school on time." I didn't have the care to ask these people why they thought my daughter should not be clean and attending school.

  Said to my husband by a customer. "It must be lovely not having the usual bills to pay" Wrong! We pay rent to the various councils, National Insurance, Income Tax, Council Tax and all other household bills if we are fortunate enough to be connected to domestic services.

  "You lot are gypsies" To a showman this is like comparing a Sikh to a Muslim.

  The Association of Independent Showmen appreciate the time you are taking in reading this report.

  This report should be read in conjunction to the letter written by Janet Catton of Cattons Fun Fairs which is already in the Committees possession.

February 2000

1   Ev. not printed. Back

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