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

Memorandum by David J Loveday (TF 12)


  1.1  This memorandum has been prepared to assist the Sub-committee in their deliberations on the following two issues:

    (a)  The effectiveness of the existing planning guidance on the provision of quarters for travelling showpeople, and

    (b)  Whether any action is necessary to ensure that appropriate regard is had to the needs of travelling showpeople within the planning system.

  1.2  In preparing the memorandum, I have drawn on my personal experience in dealing with these matters over the last 11 years with particular reference to sites and Councils that I have dealt with in both Green Belt and non Green Belt locations.

  1.3  The memorandum will discuss five main topics and then offer conclusions:

    (a)  Pre Circular 22/91 discussions with government.

    (b)  The "honeymoon" period of 1992.

    (c)  The Local Authority standpoint. (The effectiveness of the system).

    (d)  Central government decisions. (The effectiveness of the system).

    (e)  Where do we go from here? (Is action necessary?).

2.  PRE CIRCULAR 22/91

  2.1  In June 1991, I was consulted by the DoE on a draft circular (Circular 22/91).

  2.2  In my reply, I made two points which, I feel, lie at the heart of our concerns at the present time. That is that the draft, and the published version, indicate to Showmen and Local Authorities that sites on the fringes of built up areas are likely to be the most suitable and that Green Belt should prevail unless "very special circumstances" can be shown to depart from that view. That is wrong in my submission.

  2.3  The difficulties now being experienced can be traced back to this basic

misunderstanding of the Showman's plight. People, in the main, do not wish to have a yard near to their houses. In Green Belts particularly, those people can fall back on policy to salve their consciences. In addition, land on the fringes often has a "hope value" which puts it beyond the reach of the Showmen to purchase.

3.  THE HONEYMOON PERIOD (1992-1994)

  3.1  I was fortunate to deal with the first appeal to be heard following the publication of Circular 22/91. This took place in early 1992. The appeal was dismissed on technical highway grounds (which we overcame), but the principle of the use was accepted in the Green Belt of Surrey. Subsequent to that, another appeal for a larger site, within the same district (Tandridge), was allowed by the Secretary of State (The Plantation).

  3.2  The Circular was at the time fresh and much vaunted as the panacea for all the ills of the showmen's world.

  3.3  There were a number of applications made at that time that were successful.


  4.1  The first time that I began to see a subtle change of emphasis was a couple of years after the publication of Circular 22/91. It was at the time that a number of Local Plans were being produced and taken to Local Inquiry. In Tandridge, the Local Plan Inspector saw no reason to include a Policy relating to Showmen, despite my objection to the Plan on that basis, as the majority of the area was Green Belt and therefore even with a Policy, "very special circumstances" were necessary. Why have a Policy in such areas?

  4.2  I began to think, "why have a Circular?"

  4.3  The same attitude prevailed in Crewe and Nantwich where the Policies relating to Showmen and Gypsies were combined. An appeal here was dismissed because we could not show the "very special circumstances". If any Members of Parliament wish to they should visit showmen's depots whilst the families are over wintering. Then they would be able to see whether or not there is a need generally to find additional sites. A site near Guildford was within the Green Belt and again was turned down because we could not show very special circumstances. There, the Council served and injunction on the Showmen. Their area is just like Tandridge, it is all Green Belt. Where does one look?

  4.4  One of the problems is that the Showmen's Circular implies "very special circumstances", and then Green Belt advice asks for "very special circumstances". That is two tests. That cannot be right.

  4.5  I objected to the East Cambridgeshire Local Plan. That area is not within the Green Belt. In that Local Plan, the Policy said two things that were completely at odds with one another. It is clear to me that many Local Authorities do not know what showmen are or how to deal with their needs despite the advice in Circular 22/91.

  4.6  The basic problem is that, if one has a sympathetic Local Authority (both officers and Members), then Policies and the Circular will be used in a positive way to assist the showmen. If the Local Authority is not, then those same Policies and Circular can be used in a negative way to block proposals.

  4.7  The Circular has become sterile with many Local Planning Authorities. Each case will be "treated on its merits". That was the position pre 1992. It does emphasise the need for a radical review of the advice and Guidance.

  4.8  The case I referred to in East Cambridgeshire is very apposite in this regard. Admittedly my clients moved on to the site without first having received planning permission. A subsequent application was supported by the majority of villagers (who gave vocal support at the subsequent Inquiry), but the Parish Council voted against the scheme and that view prevailed with officers and members at District level.

  4.9  At a subsequent appeal. The Council assured the Inspector that an appropriate site could be found. The Inspector accepted that view.

  4.10  Since the appeal we have spent an inordinate amount of time and money trying to find a suitable site. The Council have suggested none. Fine words at the appeal! We now have reapplied for the same site and received a refusal. This will shortly be going to appeal.


  5.1  I have referred to a number of planning appeal decisions above. Space prevents me from adding appendices. It is clear to me that the Planning Inspectorate decisions are becoming (understandably) increasingly influenced by the primacy of the Development Plan. Showmen's Yards are defined at present as being inappropriate development in the Green Belt. Normally the test of "very special circumstances" is to be given before allowing such development in Green Belt locations. I accept that. However, up to date and relevant Development Plans are being given almost equal weight. The test in Section 54a of the Act is that the Development Plan should prevail unless material considerations "indicate otherwise". An "indication" is nothing more than a pointer. That is a long way away from the "very special" test.

  5.2  If this position is to prevail, then it is for Local Plan Inspectors to ensure that there are relevant and workable policies relating to showmen in Local Plans. (I accept that it is also for the Guild and Showmen themselves to be more pro-active in the Development Plan preparation).


  6.1  The start point for the consideration of Showmen's needs should be the availability of sites. Where there are none, or those that are there are full, the Local Plan for an area should provide guidance or indicate where a search for sites might be made. That is included as advice in the current Circular but is not being adhered to either by Councils or by all Local Plan Inspectors, in my experience.

  6.2  Where Local Plans do not provide guidance, then Government must presume for them. Decisions based on an inadequate policy must be quashed.

  6.3  It must be realised that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to state categorically that a Showman or group of Showmen must be on a particular site. It is the area of search as a whole that is important. The question of need therefore is necessarily area based and not site specific.

  6.4  I genuinely feel that Government advice on the issue of Showmen needs more teeth. Why not include a section on Showmen in the up and coming revision to PPG 3 on Housing? After all, we are talking about residential accommodation for a growing section of society. Local Plans allow for more land for houses factories, shops etc., why not Showmen's yards?

  6.5  There also needs to be a change in attitude from some in the political field. In an election pamphlet produced by a now elected Councillor in the Ely area, the individual stated, in relation to Showmen, that: "the community has played its part in this area and future applications must be strongly resisted".

  6.6  What hope do any Showmen have if that view prevails and applications are judged to be resisted even before they have been submitted?


  7.1  Having had many Showmen as clients over the last 11 years, I like to think that I have got to know at least some of their needs and aspirations.

  7.2  They are self employed people, with a strong traditional way of life. The seek help only when absolutely necessary because they are proud people. Furthermore, they have at their core, traditional family values, with the futures of their family being paramount. Education is now to the forefront, as for many is the need to have all year round security of tenure.

  7.3  After the last war, a number of "new" Showmen's yards became established. Now, two generations on, many of these yards are full, and the need for new sites, particularly around the large conurbations, is pressing. It seems with the Showmen to take more than one generation for the need to materialise, unlike people like you or me who move away from home as soon as we get a job! Bearing in mind that the job and the family are so intertwined for Showmen, it takes a lot to "up sticks" to find pastures new. It behoves the planning system to help.

  7.4  The way forward, I feel is this:

    (a)  Make clear that the best way to find sites for Showmen is through a development plan process which understands and acts upon the needs of Showmen.

    (b)  Try to ensure that Local Plans, and those that conduct Inquiries into objections to them, are understanding and have acted upon such needs.

    (c)  Identify sites, or areas for search for sites, or detailed parameters for site selection, which are reasonable.

    (d)  Accept that the countryside and by definition, the Green Belt, offer the chance of accommodating the need for Showmen's depots, again with guidance for the Showmen themselves. Showmen's sites could be "appropriate development" in the countryside and Green Belt.

    (e)  Do not impose the double test of "very special circumstances" for sites in the Green Belt. If a need is established, then this can be the very special circumstance in its own right.

    (f)  Utilise the forthcoming update to PPG 3 to enforce the changes.

    (g)  Ensure that Planning Inspectors will have regard to material considerations, until such time as the development Plan System adapts to the changes.

  7.5  Historically, in rural and urban areas, Showmen and non Showmen were able to live quite happily side by side. The planning system has, over the years not been reactive enough to the changing needs of showmen and the changing aspirations of non Showmen. Showmen have been an afterthought in the system. Often, the only sites either suggested or made available by Local Authorities, have been in derelict urban areas or on the fringes of industrial areas or worst still next to refuse tips, railways or motorways.

  7.6  The existing planning system is not effective in the provision of quarters for Showmen. Action is necessary. It is time, and this Committee can help, to re-emphasise to Local Planning Authorities the needs of Showmen, and what they could and should be doing to help.

February 2000

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