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

Memorandum by Guildford Borough Council (TF 63)

  I thank you for your letter of 22 February 2000 it has fallen to me to reply as I have been involved with the Showmen's site on the Guildford Road, Normandy, since it was first unlawfully occupied in 1995.

  Rather than give a history in relation to the matter, I am attaching[12] to this letter a chronology which has been prepared in connection with Court proceedings to secure compliance with the valid Enforcement Notice in relation to the land at present occupied as a Showmen's site in Normandy.

  It is apparent to me from my involvement in two Public Local Inquiries and on consideration of the evidence submitted to those Inquiries that the Department of the Environment Circular 22/91 is not being used by travelling showpeople as intended by the Circular as a means of securing sites within the planning system.

  Paragraph 6 of Circular 22/91 directs Local Planning Authorities to take into account the needs of travelling showpeople when preparing or revising Local Plans. In the course of the preparation of the current Local Plan adopted in October 1993, notification was sent amongst others to the Showman's Guild. No indication was given by the Showmen's Guild that there was a need for showpeople's sites within the Guildford Borough and the Council, being unaware of any particular need, made no provision within the Plan adopted in 1993 for showpeople's sites. The current Surrey Structure Plan makes no mention of a need for showpeople's sites within Surrey, and so far as I am aware, the Showmen's Guild has not made representations to the County Council of a need within Surrey. I am not aware that the Draft Replacement Surrey Structure Plan makes any reference to such need.

  It is self-evident that paragraph 6 of Circular 22/91 depends upon Planning Authorities being aware that there is a demand or need for travelling showpeople's sites within their Districts. Quite simply stated, if local Councils are not aware that a demand or need exists, then they will not and cannot be expected to make provision when preparing Local Plans. The first indication that this Council received that there was any demand for such a site within Guildford Borough occurred in October 1995 when part of the site at Guildford Road, Normandy, was unlawfully occupied. I would stress that there was no attempt by those showmen involved to have any pre-occupation discussion with the Local Authority. The only contact relating to this land from one of the current occupants occurred shortly after the land was purchased and at that time the enquiry centred upon enlarging the access road for agricultural or forestry purposes. There was therefore no prospect of applying the helpful guidance at paragraph 14 of Circular 22/91.

  The evidence given at the latest Public Inquiry by Mrs J Montgomery BSc ARICS, who is stated to be an advisor to the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain for the past eight years, states that there are a large number of showpeople looking for alternative sites in the south-east of England. Unfortunately it does not seem to be the policy of the Showmen's Guild of those showpeople who are seeking sites or the retained planning agent to write to Local Planning Authorities making clear their needs and seeking allocations within the Local plan.

  I believe that one of the reasons why this course of action is not pursued by travelling showpeople is that an allocation of land within the Local Plan would increase its value and increase the cost of acquisition to the showmen. It does seem that travelling showpeople have adopted a strategy of choosing sites by price and accepting the fact that fighting enforcement action will be a necessary part of the cost of obtaining a site.

  The pattern of development at Guildford is typical and involves purchasing land at agricultural value, moving onto the land and developing the land as quickly as possible. Because of the numbers of persons involved, the fact some are children and the amount of equipment it is very difficult for Local Authorities to react to such large scale breaches of planning control, particularly where the land is in the ownership of those living on the land. A retrospective application for planning consent is then made and it is argued on behalf of the showpeople that it is unreasonable for the Local Authority to pursue enforcement action until such time as that application has been dealt with. An appeal inevitably follows if permission is refused, often as in the case of Guildford, there will be two or three appeals, and as the showmen have had considerable success in securing travelling showmen's sites in this way, one must expect that they will continue to adopt this tactic so long as there is a reasonable prospect of eventually being granted planning permission for the use of the land. Such an approach makes a mockery of a Plan-led system.

  One of the features of the approach adopted by the showmen to securing sites is to engage agents to carry out an extensive search for suitable sites to show that no other alternative sites are available. At the recent Public Inquiry relating to the Normandy site, it was revealed that a possible suitable site was rejected out of hand on the grounds of cost, it being stated that showmen could not afford to fund a site for their home and equipment at a cost of approximately £140,000. If that is the case, then there are obviously serious implications for travelling showmen and the continued existence of such businesses within the south-east given the value of land with development potential.

  If travelling showpeople are to be accommodated with a Plan-led system, then the onus must be upon the showpeople themselves to carry out an audit of their requirements within each county and make known, through the Structure and Local plan process, their needs during the Plan period; in this way, Local Authorities will be able to assist travelling showpeople as they currently assist other businesses to find suitable locations within the planning framework. The present situation where Circular 22/91 is ignored by travelling showpeople until such time as they face an enforcement appeal or retrospective planning application is, I suggest, wholly unacceptable. Travelling showpeople must accept that the acquisition of suitable sites is a proper cost for which provision should be made within their business. It is noted that in some areas living accommodation and equipment storage have been separated, such separation is likely to increase the number of sites available to travelling showpeople and storage of business equipment away from the home is very common and is acknowledged as being a way forward by Mr Albert Ayers President of the Showmans Guild.

L W Roberts

For Clerk and Solicitor

March 2000

12   Ev. not printed. For further information please contact Guildford Borough Council. Back

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