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

Memorandum by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Construction, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (TF 36)

  1.  The Government welcomes the opportunity to make an input to this inquiry and offers the following contribution for the sub-committee's consideration.  This covers the interests of a number of Government departments.


  2.  Many markets and fairs have been held for many years, operating either by virtue of a specific royal grant, usually enshrined in a charter, or as a right based on custom.  Early rights have been much affected by modifications to these ancient charters, by changes to old jurisdictions and by local government reorganisation and boundary changes. There is no simple register of persons now entitled to hold markets or fairs. The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain exists to protect the interests of its members, in particular to challenge any encroachment of ancient fair rights granted by charters.



  3.  For planning purposes fairs are treated as a temporary land use.  Temporary use of land for less than 28 days per year is regarded as "permitted development" under Part 4 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 and is thus deemed to have planning permission. However, a planning application would need to be submitted for more permanent use of land for fairs. Local authorities must determine applications in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.

  4.  Fairs require open sites upon which they can be held.  Although Planning Policy Guidance note 17 (PPG 17) on Sport and Recreation does not specifically mention fairs, it does require that policies and proposals in local plans cover "the protection of public and private open space and other land of recreational, conservation, wildlife, historical and amenity value". Open land that is so protected has the potential to be used temporarily for fairs. Also, where authorities are determining which sites should be protected, it will be open to them to take into account the historic use, or indeed the site's potential use, as a funfair as a reason for affording it protection.

  5.  PPG 17 also suggests that local planning authorities take into account the community's long term requirements for open space. Again, suitable sites for holding fairs could be regarded as one such requirement.


  6.  The Home Office has made available to local authorities a model set of byelaws for pleasure fairs.  This is attached at Annex A[1]. The making of such byelaws, under section 75 of the Public Health Act 1961, is a matter for local authority discretion. The byelaws cover technical matters such as the regulation of opening hours, fire prevention, safe access, sanitary conditions, cleanliness, order and public safety. They are currently being reviewed by the Home Office and the Health and Safety Executive. The revised version should be available later this year.

Environmental Considerations

  7.  To help reduce complaints about noise nuisance and litter local authorities should have a clear letting policy where local authority land is used, to limit the size of fairs, the number of visits each season and the duration of occupation.


  8.  A key consideration with regard to litter is whether the fair is to be held on local authority, common or private land.

  9.  If a travelling fair is to be set up on local authority land, such as a public park, it would, under section 89 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, be the responsibility of the local authority to clean the land unless the authority has secured the fair's agreement to clean up when they leave. Temporary litter bins may be provided by the authority but they are not under any obligation to do so. If bins are provided local authorities are required under the Litter Act 1983 to empty them on a regular basis. Under section 88 of the 1990 Act authorities may employ litter wardens who can issue a £25 fixed penalty to anyone who drops litter and refuses to dispose of it properly.

  10.  Where a fair is held on privately owned or common land it will be for the organisers, as part of the owners' permission, to clear the site.  Section 34 of the Public Health Act 1936 allows local authorities to remove rubbish from private land if it is seriously detrimental to the amenities of a neighbourhood.

  11.  The Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse, published by DETR, sets out standards of cleanliness for public open spaces and gives practical guidance to local authorities and other landowners and occupiers on keeping their land clear of litter and refuse.  The Code states that land attracting large numbers of people for specific events but otherwise not busy, such as land used for fairs or circuses, should be restored to Grade A land (ie free of litter) within 24 hours of the event.


  12.  Fairs are a regular cause of complaints to local authorities on noise grounds. Under Section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 local authorities can issue pre-emptive notices which set out "best practice" actions in respect of all the noise sources associated with the fair including hours of operation and, if necessary, noise limits. In addition, and as noted in paragraph 6 above, authorities may make byelaws under Section 75 of the Public Health Act 1961 to regulate the opening hours of fairs. They can also add specific conditions associated with the hire agreements, for example, to limit the number of generators or sound systems to be used.

Light Pollution

  13.  The Courts have ruled that light itself is not "development" as understood in planning legislation, so the creation or use of light in itself does not require planning permission.

  14.  In addition, as there is generally no requirement for a planning application to be made for a travelling fair (paragraph 3 above), the local planning authority is unable to impose planning conditions to control light pollution of the night sky or nuisance to nearby dwellings. Even in those cases where a planning application is required, conditions can only be imposed where the installation itself amounts to development. For example, a 1963 court case confirmed that the erection of a battery of fairground swing boats did not constitute development. Any conditions relating to lighting must be enforceable and local planning authorities need to consider the practicality of enforcement action bearing in mind the temporary nature of the use of the land.


Health and Safety

  15.  The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 applies to travelling fairs in the same way as it does to fixed amusement parks. For more than 20 years, the fairgrounds and amusement parks industry has been in close liaison with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) through the Fairgrounds and Amusement Parks Joint Advisory Committee (FJAC).

  16.  In 1997 the FJAC agreed a fundamental revision of the previous health and safety guidance for fairgrounds and amusement parks. This was published by HSE as "Fairground & Amusement Parks—Guidance on Safe Practice" series number HSG 175. A copy of a free HSE Information Sheet which gives the main contents (Entertainment Sheet number 5: Fairgrounds and Amusement Parks) is at Annex B[2] The guidance sets out an agreed system of steps and checks which ensure the health and safety of fairground attractions from design to disposal, and addresses the responsibilities of the various dutyholders ranging from manufacturer through to controller, operator and attendants. The guidance helps all those involved in the industry to comply with their legal duties under Section 3 of the 1974 Act. Section 3 places duties on those whose work activities might affect others (for example, members of the public) to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, their safety.

  17.  Health and safety in the amusement industry has been strongly supported by the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain, the Society of Independent Roundabout Proprietors, the Amusement Catering Equipment Society and the Association of Independent Showmen.  These are the main societies which cover travelling Showmen.

  18.  The number of fairground and amusement park safety incidents remains very low despite the increased length of the travelling season, the increase in the number of rides and the large increase in the number of amusement parks.


  19.  Government policy is that the children of Showmen and other Travellers should be given the same opportunities as all other pupils to benefit from what schools can offer them. Local Education Authorities (LEAs) have a duty under section 13 of the Education Act 1996 to secure that efficient primary, secondary and further education is available to meet the needs of all the children in their area; Section 14 of the Act places LEAs under a duty to secure that education is available for all children in their area of compulsory school-age, appropriate to their age, abilities and aptitudes and any special educational needs they may have. This duty applies whether families are residing in the area permanently or temporarily and therefore includes Traveller children.

  20.  Special funding is available through the Standards Fund Grant for the Education of Travellers and of Displaced Persons under Section 488 of the Education Act 1996. In the current financial year, 1999-2000, this grant is supporting expenditure of around £13.7 million across about 3,400 schools in England through the Traveller Education Service network. This Grant will be merged from April 2000 with the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant to become the Ethnic Minority and Traveller Achievement Grant.

  21.  This Standards Fund grant programme aims to improve levels of school attendance, achievement and access to the curriculum among all Traveller children including their full integration alongside other children in mainstream education. Specialist peripatetic teaching staff, classroom support staff, educational welfare officers and additional classroom resources are examples of the types of support funded by the grant.

  22.  Traveller children are allowed dual registration in schools. The purpose of this is to protect the continuity of learning of Traveller children. This means that the school that Traveller children normally attend when not travelling will be regarded as their base school. They can register at other schools temporarily while away from their base school. Base schools must keep a place open for Traveller pupils who are travelling, and record their absence as authorised while away travelling.

  23.  A number of LEAs and individual educational institutions have developed distance learning materials suitable for use with many Travellers, as a means of maintaining continuity of learning during their travelling season. This has proved particularly effective among Fairground, Showmen and other Traveller families with a distinct winter-base but, with careful management, may also be appropriate for more mobile groups. Fax machines, mobile phones, the internet and the postal system have all been used to keep in touch; and Traveller Education Service Staff may also choose to make home visits, particularly for short-stay Travellers where parents have good reason for not regarding temporary enrolment in a local school as a practical possibility. It is however important that distance learning should be used as a support and not an alternative to regular school attendance.

Street Trading

  24.  Where a fair includes selling of goods from stalls situated on a street it may be subject to street trading control under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 or the London Local Authorities Act 1990. It is a matter for legal interpretation whether a fair is subject to street trading controls.

  25.  Where a fair includes the selling of goods it may count as a market, and therefore be subject to the Charter Market Restrictions which enable a local authority to prevent a rival market from being established within two to three miles of its own.


  26.  Vehicles transporting circus and fun fair equipment are specifically exempted from the EU drivers' hours and tachograph regulations (by virtue of the provisions of Article 4.9 of Council Regulation (EEC) No 3820/85). Any changes to these regulations (and none is planned in the foreseeable future) would require the agreement of a qualified majority of Member States.

Food Safety

Legal requirements

  27.  Retail and catering activities are likely to be the most common forms of commercial food activities undertaken at travelling fairs. The same food hygiene and safety laws apply to these activities as to other retail and catering food businesses, such as shops and restaurants. Food hygiene and safety in these types of activities are regulated by The Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1995 and The Food Safety (Temperature Control) Regulations 1995, both of which are enforced by local authority Environmental Health Services. The Food Safety Act 1990 also applies to any commercial food activities.

  28.  The 1995 Regulations provide a risk-related framework to food safety enabling their requirements to be applied in a proportionate and flexible manner. This is particularly useful for the type of small businesses likely to be operating at travelling fairs, eg market stalls and mobile catering vans, in that they require controls to be put in place which are commensurate with the nature of the individual business and the risks involved. These Regulations would also cover the preparation at home of food intended for sale or supply at a travelling fair and the transportation of the food to the fair. The Temperature Control Regulations set specific chill and hot holding requirements for certain foods likely to support the growth of harmful bacteria.

Advice and Enforcement

  29.  The main source of food hygiene and safety advice to both traders and enforcers is contained in the Industry Guide to Good Hygiene Practice: Markets and Fairs Guide, published in 1998. This was developed in consultation with the industry including representatives from the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain, the National Market Traders' Federation and the Association of Private Market Operators.

  30.  Individual local authorities may have specific approaches for dealing with travelling fairs operating in their areas. In recent years, this has involved notifying managers or organisers of the fair of any local arrangements applying to fairs and issues or facilities that may be inspected when the fair is in the area. These issues are likely to include food safety and hygiene arrangements as well as noise, litter and animal welfare. Generally, dates of fairs are known well in advance, and planned arrangements are usually in place to pre-inspect facilities during set-up. Where a local authority is unfamiliar with a particular travelling fair, it may contact the fair's Home Authority for information on the measures taken by the fair operators to ensure the safety of food sold. The Home Authority is normally the authority in whose area the headquarters of the fair organisers are located.

Levels of food-borne illness

  31.  The Government is not aware of any epidemiological evidence directly implicating travelling fairs in the outbreak of food-borne illness due to poor food hygiene practices. Such information would be difficult to collect because of the peripatetic nature of travelling fairs and their wide catchment areas. However, food hygiene may be harder to maintain in this environment compared with fixed food premises, and some studies have shown that take-away food, including food from mobile vans, to be a risk factor for infection with food poisoning bacteria.


  32.  The Government has long recognised the special circumstances of travelling showpeople, ie self-employed business people who travel the country holding fairs, chiefly during the summer months. A copy of DoE Circular 22/91 is at Annex C[3]. It gives advice to local planning authorities about how travelling showpeople's special needs should be taken into account in planning matters associated with their "winter quarters".

  33.  The Circular stresses that local planning authorities should consider the needs of travelling showpeople when preparing their local plans and unitary development plans. They should identify existing sites in their area which have planning permission and make assessments of the amount of accommodation likely to be needed. Where there has been a tradition of sites occupied by travelling showpeople, they are encouraged to include specific proposals for sites in suitable locations.


  34.  Applications for sites for travelling showpeople are subject to the relevant local development plan policies as would a proposal for any other use. Proposals for sites in specially protected areas would not normally be acceptable.

  35.  Where Green Belt land is involved there would be a need to comply with the guidance in Planning Policy Guidance Note 2 (PPG 2) on Green Belts. The fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open. Most development (including making any change in the use of the land) is inappropriate unless it maintains the openness and does not conflict with the purposes of including land in the Green Belt.

  36.  Use of land in the Green Belt for travelling showmen's quarters is inappropriate and very special circumstances (which outweigh the harm to the Green Belt) would have to be shown for permission to be granted. These might include lack of alternative sites outside the Green Belt and personal circumstances. Each case must be considered on its individual merits.

  37.  Potential sites within Greater London and its neighbouring counties are inevitably scarce and those that do exist are likely to be the subject of legal constraints or demands from competing uses.

  38.  In areas which have been designated for their landscape value (such as National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty), conservation of the natural beauty of the landscape should be given priority. This is over and above the usual presumption against development (which would include travelling showmen's quarters) in the open countryside away from existing development or areas allocated for development in plans.

  39.  Circular 22/91 stresses in paragraph 14 that in all cases it is essential for the local planning authority to discuss the showpeople's needs with them at an early stage. This includes when the local plans are being prepared and before any planning application is submitted. Local authorities are also advised to contact the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain. This should allow showpeople to secure the kind of sites they require and help to avoid the use of sites in breach of planning control.

  40.  If there is a breach of planning control, local authorities are encouraged to treat showpeople in the same manner as other small businesses and self-employed people when they consider taking possible enforcement action. Planning Policy Guidance Note 18 (PPG 18) on Enforcing Planning Control offers guidance in paragraphs 14 to 17. The same considerations apply to discontinuance action under sections 102 and 103 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

  41.  As an alternative to refusing planning permission, local authorities are asked to consider whether attaching conditions to planning permission would provide sufficient control over showpeople's sites. When conditions may not be adequate it is open to local authorities to enter into an agreement under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act to limit the future occupation and use of the site.

  42.  Where sites have been provided for showpeople, and a continuing need for them can be demonstrated, local planning authorities are advised to take full account of this when considering planning applications for alternative forms of development which would deprive showpeople of accommodation.


February 2000

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