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

Memorandum by Surrey County Council (TF 05)

  I am responding to the request for comments on issues raised in Press Notice No 6 pertaining to the Environment Sub-committee's inquiry into matters concerning travelling fairs and travelling showpeople. The following are officer comments.

  In relation to the issues listed in the press notice, the Sub-committee will perhaps be aware that Surrey is the venue for a number of travelling fairs during the year, some of considerable historical antecedence and importance to the various travelling communities. The County Council does not take a particular attitude to such fairs, except to recognise their importance and the contribution that such regular events can make to the County's calendar and to the general community at large.

  In view of the number of travelling showpeople's families resorting to Surrey there are a number of permitted sites for travelling showpeople for overwintering purposes where the provision of living quarters and space for the storage of equipment exists. These sites are usually small and may be limited in occupation through personal permissions, and sometimes temporary arrangements.

  There are also sites where residence has existed without planning permission leading to attempts to find alternative accommodation and, ultimately, failure to gain a regularisation of the planning position for the original site. New proposals for sites are judged in the normal way against the policies of the development plan and national guidance contained in Circular 22/91. Surrey District Councils, through policies in Local Plans, seek to deal with travelling communities through an assessment of need and the application of criteria for controlling the potential impact of such development.

  Generally, planning policies for Surrey are restrictive, particularly within the Green Belt, although such policies are not necessarily fatal to an application for permanent quarters where benefits are judged to outweigh harm thus providing for an exceptional case. But these cases are indeed exceptional. By applying particularly Green Belt policies, it is undoubtedly the case that travelling showpeople, in common with other travelling communities, experience considerable difficulty in obtaining sites for permanent quarters which suit their purposes.

  In terms of evidence to inform the situation, it has proved difficult for the Surrey authorities to assess the adequacy of existing sites and the need for further provision. In the past, the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain (London and Home Counties Section) has also not been in a position to provide figures for families requiring residence, or a list of sites in the County and surrounding parts to assist with the investigation of alternative accommodation. Nevertheless, to assist at public inquiry, the Guild has consistently stated that the South-East is deficient in sites for travelling showpeople.

  Whilst we would suggest that, within Surrey, there is not sufficient evidence to hand in relation to the need for further sites to require a change to national planning guidance, if the Sub-Committee were to conclude that the difficulty in providing satisfactory accommodation was a common experience, then revised national planning guidance may be a requirement to ensure that the planning process properly addresses the need issue.

  Nevertheless, what is clear is a requirement for local authorities, in partnership with travelling showpeople's representative bodies, to identify existing authorised and unauthorised sites and to carry out a proper assessment of need amongst travelling showpeople within their areas, in order to inform the policies of the development plan.

February 2000

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