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

Memorandum by Mrs J Montgomery, Brimble, Lea & Partners (TF 23)


  I am a Partner in the firm of Brimble, Lea & Partners, where a major part of my time is spent in dealing with planning matters. I have acted for a large number of individual travelling showpeople over the last 10 years, particularly in connection with the provision of quarters. I have been an adviser to The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain over the last eight years and I assisted The Guild in the preparation of their publication "Travelling Showpeople's Sites—A Planning Focus—Model Standard Package". I have been involved in a number of planning applications and appeals on behalf of travelling showpeople and have given evidence at many Public Inquiries.

  This submission will deal briefly with the provision of sites for travelling fairs and more substantially with the provision of quarters for travelling showpeople.


  On behalf of The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain I have made representations in the past to the DETR about the continuing loss of fairground sites within town centres. The main cause of these losses is through redevelopment, or indeed pedestrianisation/enhancement schemes which thereafter preclude the setting up of fairs. Even where an alternative site may be offered the location is often not as suitable. The loss of fairground sites within the heart of towns not only damages the viability of the showpeople's businesses but also has a detrimental effect on the vitality of the town centre.

2.2  Possible Solutions

  A Government Direction could be issued protecting town centre fairground sites (cf The Town and Country Planning (Playing Fields) (England) Direction 1998 which protects playing fields). Alternatively, in any revision of Planning Policy Guidance Notes (for example, PPG 6, PPG 17, PPG 21) reference could be made to the importance of fairgrounds to town centres, to recreation and tourist facilities. Whilst an earlier response from the DETR stated that it would not be appropriate for national planning guidance to give detailed guidance on issues such as fairgrounds, I believe that without such reference Local Authorities are not likely to give sufficient weight to the importance of fairgrounds within town centres in considering other development options.

3.  PROVISION OF SITES FOR TRAVELLING SHOWPEOPLE'S QUARTERS3.1  Need for More Travelling Showpeople's Quarters

  There is a considerable need for more travelling showpeople's quarters sites. The need results from a number of circumstances, including:

    (1)  The diminishing number of showpeople's sites in the country as a whole, largely through redevelopment.

    (2)  The size of sites involved cannot cater for any additional family units created, for example, through marriage. For each successive generation this problem compounds.

    (3)  The amount of equipment now owned and operated by each showman is much greater than in the past, thereby exacerbating the pressure of space on sites.

    (4)  The demand for sites greatly outweighs the supply, as evidenced by a large number of showpeople who do not have an authorised site.

3.2  Magnitude of the Problem

  Besides the problems demonstrated by the large number of showpeople who are currently looking for sites and are in occupation of unauthorised sites, a summary of those that I have knowledge of in the South-East of England include:

    (1)  Land at Normandy within Guildford Borough Council. A planning appeal is currently being heard in respect of a temporary three year planning permission to allow 10 families to continue to occupy a site whilst they search for an alternative location.

    (2)  Site at Keston within Bromley District. I believe that this site accommodates 28 families. A planning appeal was dismissed and all of the showpeople have been desperately searching for an alternative site. The site is subject to enforcement action. The showpeople at Keston have, through their agent, carried out a search for an alternative site over the last 12 months but no suitable alternative site has been found. This indicates the general difficulty that showpeople have in finding a site that could be available for showpeople's use.

    (3)  Land at South Ockendon within Thurrock District. There is already at South Ockendon a large and well-established showmen's site, however, recently a further site has been established where the estimated number of families involved is 41. This is subject to enforcement action.

    (4)  Land at Shedfield within Winchester District. Here travelling showpeople applied for planning permission, which was refused, and appeals lodged in respect of the planning application and Enforcement Notices were dismissed in December 1993. The showpeople have been constantly searching for an alternative site, however, the Council is issuing court proceedings against the showpeople.

    (5)  Land at Hambrook in Chichester District. There are approximately 10 families involved here and the site is subject to enforcement action. On an appeal against the refusal of planning permission the Inspector granted a longer period for compliance with the Enforcement Notice. The Council has ultimately decided to assist these showpeople in finding an alternative site. Initially the Planning Officers sought to allocate a site within the Local Plan process, however, I am informed that the Officers have been trying to find a site outside of this process.

    (6)  Land at Wickford within Basildon District. Here five families are involved on a site within the Green Belt. The showpeople have been looking for an alternative site for some years and the site is subject to enforcement action.

    (7)  Land at Headley Down within East Hampshire District. There are 13 family plots involved where families are residing with the benefit of a temporary planning consent on the basis that they and the Council are searching for an alternative site.

    (8)  Land near Romsey within Test Valley Borough. Planning permission has recently been refused for a site occupied by seven showmen's families. Enforcement action is under investigation.

  The evidence above demonstrates that there are at least 139 showpeople's families desperately searching for an alternative site within the South-East of England.

3.3  Reasons for the Problems Currently Being Experienced

  1.  Local Planning Authorities do not, on the whole, take the advice set out in Circular 22/91 seriously, with often little assistance being given to the showpeople. At planning appeals Inspectors quite often recognise the deficiencies of the Local Planning Authorities, as exemplified by the three following recent appeal decisions:

    (a)  Planning appeal against Bromsgrove District Council (DoE Reference No APP/P1805/A/99/1024933/P7). In response to a canvass to 18 Local Authorities searching for an alternative site the Inspector concludes "this paints a very pessimistic picture showing a general lack of suitable or identified sites in the Midlands area with very few Councils adopting a proactive approach".

    (b)  Planning appeal against Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council (DoE Reference No APP/V4250/A/98/300786). This appeal decision highlights the lack of assistance given, with the Inspector stating "the Council believe the provisions of the UDP are sufficiently flexible and robust to cater for development such as that currently proposed. Whilst that may be the case, and whilst I can also see that there may be difficulties in obtaining details about the numbers and needs of showpeople, I consider it could have assisted the appellants in this case in their search for a suitable site if the needs of showpeople had been more clearly addressed in the UDP as indicated in Circular 22/91 Paragraph 6".

    (c)  Planning appeal against Warrington Borough Council (DoE Reference No APP/M0655/A/99/1022065/P5). The Inspector confirms "the Council has so far felt unable to identify one [site] through its local planning activities, despite the advice to do so in Circular 22/91."

  2.  Despite Circular 22/91, relatively few Local Plans contain policies considering the needs of and sites for travelling showpeople. It would appear that Local Planning Authorities only address the issue if a problem arises (ie they do not plan for such a land use). This is exemplified in a recent search of 153 County and District Councils in the South-East of England, where details of existing and potential showpeople's sites were sought. Whilst existing showpeople's sites were, on the whole, identified by Local Planning Authorities, very few offered any suggestions in respect of locations for a new site.

  3.  Due to the composite land use, travelling showpeople's sites do not fit easily within any one particular land use category. New sites tend to be located away from established residential or commercial areas. Even if a commercial area was considered appropriate, as some Local Authorities have suggested, there is a great reluctance for owners to sell to travelling showpeople for fear of jeopardising values on the remainder of the estate. With the particular characteristics of showpeople's sites a new site is unlikely to be found in established residential or commercial areas, with new sites tending to be located outside of urban areas.

  4.  Where there are showpeople policies within Local Plans, and they have been prepared without consultation with The Showmen's Guild or others, these policies normally allow for sites to be located within urban areas. With the land use conflict inevitably arising, as set out in paragraph (3) above, this is an unrealistic assessment to satisfy this particular land use requirement.

  5.  Brownfield sites or sites with planning permission for alternative forms of development usually command such high land values that it makes them out of reach of the travelling showpeople. For land to be available it needs to be affordable.

  6.  Sites need to be located within and ideally at the centre of the circuit of fairs operated by the showpeople. Where circuits of fairs include large tracts of land within the Green Belts, a Green Belt location for a new quarters is almost inevitable. Within Green Belts in particular Local Planning Authorities are very reluctant to allow development of travelling showpeople's sites, preferring to defer the responsibility to the Planning Inspectorate or Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

  7.  Many Local Authorities inform us that through the change in legislation, the respective Council no longer keeps a register of publicly owned unused or underused land.

3.4  Possible Solutions

  1.  Circular 22/91 should be revised to achieve the following:

    (a)  To update Government advice. The date of the existing Circular is often seen by Local Authorities to reduce the importance of the advice.

    (b)  Stronger advice must be given to Local Authorities in the revised Circular. For example, in paragraph 6 of Circular 22/91 Local Authorities should be required to make specific proposals for sites which would be suitable locations for showpeople's quarters where there has either been a tradition of sites occupied by showpeople and/or a local need for sites has been demonstrated.

    (c)  Local Authorities should be directed (rather than urged) to give every assistance to showpeople in finding a site (see paragraph 15). Through my experience, it is only after a particular problem has been identified, has been in existence for a number of years and where a Planning Inspector has given clear direct advice to Local Authorities to assist the showpeople that any positive assistance is given.

    (d)  The use of Compulsory Purchase powers should be examined and emphasised to encourage these powers to be used to assist showpeople relocating to an acceptable site in planning terms. I know of no case where Compulsory Purchase powers have yet been used to assist showpeople in finding a site.

    (e)  The Circular should give clear examples of very special circumstances (for example, the need for a site and lack of alternative sites). This is particularly relevant where sites are being considered within the Green Belt (paragraph 8).

    (f)  In some PPG's showpeople's sites should be referred to where appropriate. For example, in PPG 2 where exceptional circumstances are referred to, an example of showpeople's sites should be given.

    (g)  Government advice should be more positive about the possibility that suitable locations for quarters are likely to be outside of existing development boundaries.

    (h)  In any revision of Government advice consideration should be given to the issuing of a Planning Policy Guidance Note. PPG's are increasingly seen as the main source of policy guidance, whereas Circulars concentrate more on advice on legislation and procedural matters.

  2.  The importance and relevance of Circular 22/91 should be reinforced to Planning Inspectors.


  Government advice needs to be issued in respect of fairground sites within town centres and updated in respect of quarters sites in order that showpeople are recognised as a separate land use within the Plan-led development control system.

February 2000

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