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

Memorandum by Mr A A K Miller, General Secretary of the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain (TF 02)

  My name is Albert Anthony Keith Miller, I am 57 years of age, and I am the General Secretary of The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain, an appointment I have held since 12 May 1986 and I conduct my duties as General Secretary from the Guild's Registered Office, situated at Guild House, Staines, Middlesex.

  What follows is my written memorandum for consideration by the Environment Sub-committee.

  I intend to address the points referred to in the published Press Notice dated 21 December 1999, which will appear at the head of each section of my memoranda.

  1.  The particular needs of travelling showpeople in carrying out their trade.

  2.  The effectiveness of existing planning guidance on the provision of quarters for travelling showpeople.

  3.  Whether any action is necessary to ensure that appropriate regard is had to the need of travelling showpeople within the planning system.

  In my view these three sub headings are inextricably linked insofar as if points 2 and 3 are problematical, which they are, it is axiomatic that Travelling Showpeople will be denied any opportunity to carry out their trade (point 1).

  Historically, it was recognised by the SGGB that the assistance and guidance contained within the now defunct DOE Circular 23/83 had been overtaken by the passage of time and the subject matter of that Circular needed looking at afresh.

  Instigated by the then Co-Chairman (Mrs Marion Roe, MP) of the SGGB's All Party Group, approaches were made to the incumbent Secretary of State for the Environment, and over a three year period regular meetings were held between the SGGB and the DOE resulting in the publication of current Circular 22/91 on 6 December 1991.

  Initially the publication Circular 22/91 proved beneficial to members of the SGGB in the course of planning application submissions.

  The albeit few benefits were particularly rewarding in that it illustrated to local authority Planning Departments that Travelling Showpeople were not "New Age Travellers" or itinerant groups who were, and still are, receiving somewhat stringent media coverage, but hard working business people who bring a great deal of enjoyment to the public who attend their Fairs.

  Throughout the UK my members have lost many of their quarters and of course, young families are growing and the older members of the families are living longer, but my members do tend to be a much more closely knit group than non-Showmen, and the old and young people prefer to live more closely together.

  They do have special and different needs to other groups in the community, such as specific needs regarding land use categories, but they do not come under one specific heading, their need is not solely for commercial use, nor solely for residential use, but a combination of both.

  Although this important point is recognised and addressed in Circular 22/91, it is, in the main, ignored by local authority Planning Departments.

  Another important point I must touch on are the usual quality of life services members who have a permanent base enjoy, which other members whilst awaiting the outcome of Planning procedures, do not.

  They are somewhat obvious, but nevertheless need to be stated, and they are:

    1.  The education of children when not travelling;

    2.  Health care for the whole family unit, both young and old;

    3.  Whilst referring to our aged members, one must also bear in mind giving them the opportunity to enjoy a settled base to live when they become ill, a scenario we all have to consider with increasing age;

    4.  The enjoyment and satisfaction of their spiritual needs, individuals and groups outside of our Industry do not seem to appreciate that Travelling Showpeople have a spiritual need that has to be sated, and guidance and counselling from a Cleric can be of great comfort in times of need.

  In summary, I believe I have illustrated the lack of effectiveness of existing planning guidance on the provision of quarters for Travelling Showpeople, and I believe you can expect to receive further cogent illustrations from Planning Consultancy Practices who have hands on experience of this problem.

  Ideally, I would like to see a designated PPG in place to assist my members in planning matters, even a reference to the problem in an existing PPG would go a long way to assisting my members in their planning problems.

  I trust the detail herein explains my early reference to the inextricable link of the 3 sub headings in this part of my submission.

  4.  The continued value of historic travelling fairs.

  5.  The provision of sites for travelling fairs.

  One particular issue which appears to be an ever-increasing problem to the Showpeople in the organisation of their Fairs is the loss of Fairground sites within town centres, which I believe is pertinent to the sub headings of this section of my memorandum. The main cause of these losses is through redevelopment, or indeed pedestrianisation/enhancement schemes, which preclude the setting up of Fairs. This problem appears to be occurring throughout the country and I would cite three examples to highlight the difficulties.

  Firstly in the City of Norwich, Christmas and Easter Fairs have been held for many years. From 1818 until December 1987 Christmas Fairs were held on the open space below the castle, formerly used as a cattle market, which had vacated the site in 1960 and then became a car park. In 1988 a major development took place creating a covered shopping mall, thus displacing the two Fairs, which moved to the site of the new cattle market on the outskirts of the city.

  Unfortunately the new site was not successful and, on the completion of the new mall, representations to the Council for a return to the city centre resulted in the Fairs being located on a major city thoroughfare alongside the castle in the street known as Castle Meadow. The Showmen were led to believe that they could expect the site to be a permanent home for their Fairs and were required to go to the expense of having permanant earthing stakes installed. However, being major thoroughfare, the presence of the Fairs unavoidably caused disruption to traffic during its occupation of the site and the most vociferous were the local bus company. The Fairs operated on this site until Easter 1998.

  Early in 1998 the local bus company approached the City Council to allow an experiment whereby only buses could use Castle Meadow so that their services could be improved. In May 1998 the experiment started, which not only forced the cars out of the street, but the Fairs also.

  There being no suitable alternative site in the city available for the Fair (apart from one car park for the Easter 1998 Fair, which is no longer available as it is currently being dug up by archaeologists prior to Norwich's new library being built on it), the major part of the Fairs no longer have a home. An "annexe" of the Fair consisting of small rides and stalls has occupied some of the smaller pedestrianised streets, but they are not suitable for major rides and other attractions.

  The only alternative site currently being offered by the Council is a park in a corner of the city centre. Unfortunately this surface is mostly grass with little hardstanding and, for Christmas and Easter, because of the likelihood of unfavourable weather conditions, it is judged by most Showmen to be unsuitable, although there is a chance that this may be tried out.

  On the whole the City Council has done all it could to ensure that the Fairs had a site, but through pressures of redevelopment and other representations the Showmen are now in a difficult position without a permanent site and having lost two major Fairs within their circuits. The result of this displacement is not only the effect on reducing the viability and vitality of the town centre, but also the reduction in income to the Showpeople, who are all self-employed business people.

  Secondly in the West Country the number of Fairs that are able to operate in the Bournemouth and Poole conurbation has been severely reduced due to town centre redevelopment. This has forced the Showpeople to look much further afield and in much smaller towns (and in some cases villages) for sites on which to set up their Fairgrounds. This has the same knock-on effect on the town, as well as on the Showpeople's livelihoods, as set out above.

  Finally I refer to problems experienced by the Midland Section of The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain, in respect of Warwick town centre. Here the Council do appear to be providing for the future of the two "Mop" Fairs, but The Guild is concerned that at the end of the current licence arrangement (the year 2003) the Council may not be as receptive to renewal on the same terms as before

  As the Government has recently issued a Direction in respect of the loss of playing fields—The Town and Country Planning (Playing Fields) (England) Direction 1998—we are making representations through this inquiry in the hope that a similar Direction may be able to be made in respect of Fairground sites. Alternatively some encouragement and direction to Local Planning Authorities to retain Fairground sites within town centres could be established within any revision to PPG 6—Town Centres and Retail Development.

January 2000

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