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

Memorandum by Epping Forest District Council (TF 64)

  Thank you for your letter of 22 February 2000. I am glad for the opportunity to set out in writing our experience with regard to accommodation for Travelling Showpeople.

  Firstly, I believe the phrase "winter quarters" is no longer applicable. Such accommodation these days includes homes for retired showpeople all the year round and working families are encouraged to provide steady schooling for young children such that they are not away from home all year. Moreover, modern roads and transport, together with a reduction in venues for travelling fairs, lead to people and equipment being able to travel more freely between their base and fairs so that they are on the home site from time to time through the summer months.

  Consequently, the base is occupied to a large extent all through the year and cannot any longer be legitimately termed "winter quarters".

  This Council has been aware of its responsibilities to travelling showpeople for many years, and in accordance with Circular 22/91 included a policy in its 1998 adopted Local Plan—policy H12, see attached extract. You will note in paragraph 9.80 that the Council has three sites within its area that serve the needs of travelling showpeople, each in a different way, and these three sites were to meet the needs of the local population of such people. Thus the policy is negatively worded.

  However, the Council's experience in regard to the site at Moreton is pertinent, and the subject of other representation that you have received.

  The Moreton site is long established and had grown in extent and the number of residents over the years. In the early 1990s, it spread onto an adjacent meadow without planning permission and the Council served an Enforcement Notice against this incursion and was successful at appeal in arguing that this expansion was not appropriate. The Notice was upheld, but the Council had recognised that the original site had become too small for the community of travelling showpeople. Their numbers had increased through marriage and second and third generations were now occupying the site. Due to the recognised difficulties in terms of safe working and fire hazards the Council did not seek to prosecute non-compliance with its Enforcement Notice, and worked with the community at looking at alternative sites or other solutions to its overcrowding problem. This was in accordance with para 15 of Circular 22/91. However, the travelling showpeople were somewhat intransigent in not being willing to consider splitting its community into two or more smaller groups nor relocating its storage of equipment separately from the mobile homes. I believe its difficulties could have been addressed earlier if they were more flexible in these areas.

  After extensive consultation, no suitable site could be identified by the Council that met the expressed needs of the showpeople. However, they came forward with a site close to their existing site on the other side of Moreton Village.

  A planning application was received, registered and publicised in the normal way. A great deal of local opposition was expressed against the proposal. By the time the application was reported to Committee the Council had received objections from the Parish Council, from a locally formed action group and from 128 residents of the village and the locality, plus a 300 signature petition, all objecting to the proposal.

  I must emphasis that the objections were largely concerned with relevant planning issues. There was very little comment about the type of people making the application. After all the village residents had lived with the travelling showpeople community for many years without any ill feeling. However, there was a great feeling of injustice developing if permission was to be granted. This was the Green Belt and the "static" village population could not hope to provide new accommodation for its second and third generations, but a special case was being argued that the travelling showpeople could provide new accommodation in the Green Belt for further generations ad infinitum.

  An unbiased professional assessment taking into account the special circumstances promoted by Circular 22/91 was prepared by officers for the Council's Committee, but elected Members also had regard to the weight of local opposition and planning permission was refused on proper planning grounds.

  I see no fault with this outcome. It seems perfectly reasonably for elected members to have regard to local opinion when considering cases that rely upon very special circumstances to warrant setting aside the normal Green Belt policies of restraint.

  Unfortunately, no such tempering of professional assessment is allowed at appeal stage. There is great disquiet that planning permission was granted for this larger relocated site on appeal in the face of such heavy local opposition. The injustice I referred to above is now apparent. That travelling showpeople are allowed to live in mobile homes in the Green Belt is accepted, but why should they be accorded a special status that enables their sons and grandsons to continue to live at the same site when they grow older and have families of their own when other residents of the village cannot provide the same for their offspring because of Green Belt policies?

  The strength of local opposition must be given some weight. The Human Rights Act 1998 secures rights which are to be applied to the community as a whole as it does for minority groups, and the views of a local population cannot be dismissed as irrelevant.

  I believe some consideration needs to be given to:

    (a)  the rights of second and subsequent generation showpeople to be treated as special cases;

    (b)  how such special treatment endorsed by Circular 22/91 can be justified in the face of considerable local opposition; and

    (c)  travelling showpeople being willing to divide their storage of equipment from maintenance work and from residential accommodation and not simply dismissing the suggestion as not being compatible with their traditional way of life.


Assistant Head of Planning Services

(Development Control)

March 2000

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