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

Memorandum by Ian Baseley Associates (TF 40)


   1.1  Ian Baseley Associates are Chartered Town Planners and professional practitioners in the fields of planning and development consultancy; environmental and landscape design and advisers to all sectors of the development industry.

  1.2  We have extensive experience spanning over 14 years of proposals for Showmen's permanent quarters on sites of varying characteristics across the country. My practice acts on a regular basis as advisers and planning consultants to individual Showmen and groups and the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain. In this capacity, together with its General Secretary we represented the Guild in close liaison with the Department of the Environment to assist in the formulation and preparation of Circular 22/91, Travelling Showpeople. We have therefore been involved in this very specialist field since well before the Circular's publication. We have also worked for the Guild in the preparation of general advice to its Members including the formulation of the input material towards the preparation of model standards for Showpeople's quarters.


  2.1  The scope of our submission to the Environment Sub-committee deals particularly with the planning aspects of Showmen's accommodation sites and therefore only relates to two of the five topic areas identified as part of the brief to this exercise; these being: the effectiveness of the existing planning guidance on the provision of quarters for Travelling Showpeople and whether any action is necessary to ensure that appropriate regard is had to the needs of Travelling Showpeople within the planning system.

  2.2  I feel it is important at this early stage to stress that in making this submission, we are not seeking funding, charity or favouritism on the Showmen's behalf, but a level playing field from which they are able to help themselves. This proud, fiercely independent and distinguished group of society only request a fair deal from the planning system in the same "Best Value" way as other customers of the system have come to expect.


  3.1 The Travelling Showpeople's way of life is unique—it combines a traditional lifestyle of a peripatetic nature, travelling from fair to fair predominantly through the summer months, with one that is more settled, where a permanent site "a home" is required, primarily during the winter months.

  3.2 For the Showpeople their business is their life. Their job is the fairground from the cradle to the grave and they will know no other occupation. There can be few other ways of earning a living where the divide between work and leisure is so conspicuously absent. It is one of the very few remaining occupations where entry, with rare exception, is determined by birth and most Showpeople can claim a family history in the business which goes back several generations, some even several centuries. Few would exchange their life for another, although it is far from easy. Despite the vagaries of the weather and opposition from the ill-informed and prejudiced, there is the security of the family unit, the support of the closely knit travelling community and the relative freedom, but also the responsibility of being self-employed as compensation.

  3.3  Showpeople's education is essentially practical and all of the family is involved from an early age in the running of the business. Showpeople are of necessity, characteristically self-sufficient—they are their own engineer, carpenter, painter, business manager, transport manager and accountant. Nevertheless the opportunity of more formal education is crucially important. Traditionally when the travelling season is over and they are back at their living quarters, Showpeople's children attend local schools. An increasing number of Showpeople's children attend school all year round by remaining on sites, being cared for by grandparents. Similarly, most Showpeople play an active part in their local communities, many are members of voluntary organisations and several have served as Councillors. There is in fact a strong tradition of local authority work a month Showpeople and several have become Mayors of their home towns. One notable achievement was that of the late Patrick Collins, who served the Midland town of Walsall, both as Mayor and Member of Parliament. Indeed, there is a strong sense of awareness among Showpeople of the need to help those less fortunate than themselves. During the season many handicapped and disadvantaged children throughout the country are treated to an afternoon of free entertainment at their local fair and many hospitals have gained from the generosity of Showpeople including the endorsement of beds and donations towards the purchase of advanced medical equipment.

  3.4  The greatest problem facing Travelling Showpeople generally has been the loss of traditional winter quarters. This has become a major concern to the Showpeople's community and the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain. Showpeople need permanent bases where they can spend the winter months, within reach of schools and other community facilities but large enough to carry out the vital maintenance work on equipment which is required by the Guild as a strongly disciplined, self-regulating body and by law via the Health and Safety legislation. The need for secure storage of fairground equipment has been recognised by an Inspector in a recent appeal who referred very accurately to the "umbilical cord" which exists between a Showman and his equipment.

  3.5 The needs of Showpeople have been recognised by some local authorities who have shown considerable understanding in the matter. Parliament, and Government too, have been sympathetic in granting the Guild exemption from the licensing provisions of the Caravan Sites Act and subsequently in the issue of Circular 22/91: Travelling Showpeople, which urges local authorities to recognise the special needs of Showpeople and assist in meeting them.

  3.6  Nevertheless, many old established winter and permanent quarters have been lost in recent years to redevelopment schemes. In far too few instances have adequate or indeed any plans been made for their replacement. In many cases, unfortunately, displaced Showpeople have been treated with indifference and insensitivity. A home is of vital importance to everyone—including Showpeople. However, they seek neither charity nor favouritism—they ask only to be affordable recognition and the same consideration as any other member of the community.


  4.1  Prior to 1992, Travelling Showpeople were an all-but excluded group of society within the planning system, with only four paragraphs within the general Circular 23/83 concerned with the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 to represent them. This advice was limited to "Winter Quarters" which, due to the changing nature of fairground operations and the requirement for more permanent year-round Showmen's sites, rendered such "seasonal sites" all but redundant. The need for fresh advice, particularly pertinent to Travelling Showpeople was long overdue.

  4.2 The issue of Circular 22/91 in December 1991 was an important milestone in recognition within the planning system the extreme difficulty being faced by Showpeople in finding permanent accommodation insofar as it made the public authority decision-makers, for the first time, aware of the problems and gave some guidance for the consideration of planning applications. It also demonstrated to local authorities that they had a responsibility, particularly in relation to their plan making function, to take account of and make provision for the needs to Travelling Showpeople.

  4.3 Unfortunately, over the eight years since the introduction of Circular 22/91, it is my practice's experience that local authorities are not having regard to the needs of Showpeople either in formulating their Development Plans and, particularly as a direct result of that failure are not giving sufficient weight to the advice of Circular 22/91 in reaching decisions on individual planning applications or to the very special circumstances which usually surround them. The Inspectorate have, on occasion, seemed to excuse a local planning authority's failure to take account of this guidance even though the Circular advises differently.

  4.4 The decline of the Circular's impact, importance and resultant effectiveness since the `heady' days of the early to mid 1990's when its issue was still relatively recent, has been exacerbated by the fact that the problems of overcrowding and lack of sites have throughout this time in fact become even greater.


5.1 Ignorance

  5.1.1 In my opinion this is one of the greatest problems that still continues to face Showpeople. It manifests itself in two forms, one of who they are and secondly of their need, like everyone else, to have a home base from which to continue their unique and historical trade. They are constantly mistakenly associated with gypsies and other (new age) travellers and not recognised as fiercely independent and self-sufficient, self employed business people. Unfortunately this ignorance prevails not only amongst the general public, who as a result display bias and resistance to them being located in their communities but all too often by local planning authorities. It is not unusual when discussing proposals for accommodation sites to have to explain to local planning authorities the characteristics of the Showpeople's way of life and their need for permanent sites, but, of greater concern, we have had to point out the very existence of Circular 22/91 to some authorities.

  5.1.2 There is still widespread ignorance of the unique lifestyle of Travelling Showpeople. Notwithstanding the "Background" section to Circular 22/91 which provides a general insight into the characteristics of their lifestyle, we believe that both local planning authorities and the Inspectorate alike continue to experience great difficulty in grasping an understanding of the very particular needs of this quite distinct group of Society within the planning system.

5.2  Lack of Recognition of Accommodation Needs

  5.2.1 This is effectively the second manifestation of ignorance of the problem insofar as very many local authorities welcome with open arms, often onto public land, the annual fair with all the pleasure that it brings and then expect the Showpeople and their equipment to "disappear into thin air" or at least into the next Borough, District or County when the event is over, so that it is no longer their problem. All too often this attitude also influences the approach adopted towards the consideration of planning applications for permanent accommodation.

  5.2.2  In evidence of this I can confirm that my practice is handling a proposal for a permanent Showpeople's site within the administrative area of a London Borough. As a result I can confirm that the Development Control Manager of the authority did, at a Public Inquiry in 1998, admit eventually under cross-examination, that there was a need for a site for the group who are resident on the land at present and that he "did not know" of any further efforts that they could make to find one. Furthermore, despite their strong local connections, he did not accept that there was any responsibility (despite Circular advice very much to the contrary) for his authority to assist in identifying a site or agree to the establishment of one within the Borough. Moreover, this attitude is doubly ironic in that instance because the Local Planning Authority had inherited by a quirk of the dissolution of the GLC tenants (part of the current applicant group) and disposed of the land to the Millennium Dome project!

  5.2.3  We also recognise, and acknowledge the difficulties that local planning authorities and the Inspectorate alike experience in coming to terms with the particular and unusual land use requirements of Travelling Showpeople. Circular 22/91 defines the locational and land use requirements for Showmen's sites which, by their very nature, do not fit easily into any one contemporary land use category defined by the Use Classes Order 1987. The primary difficulty which arises is that because the need is for a mixture of living and working areas, such sites do not fit easily into residential or industrial parts of urban areas as one of those elements will not normally co-exist happily with surrounding development and they are not readily acceptable outside of urban areas because both elements of the activity are usually seen as inappropriate.

  5.2.4  One specific area which local planning authorities and the Inspectorate have apparent difficulty with, is that Showmen's permanent quarters are not particularly things of great beauty and this creates an immediate hurdle to overcome. As things have progressed with the modernisation of equipment, rides, caravan etc, which have replaced the older, rusty caravans, storage buses etc, it should however be possible, through design and conditional control, to create sites/parks without are both attractive and acceptable in the types of locations envisaged by the Circular.

  5.2.5  Their limited financial means also often dictates that sites beyond the fringe of urban areas are the only ones affordable because the Showmen cannot compete with other urban land uses in land value terms. This need to seek sites outside urban areas, particularly around major conurbations almost inevitably leads to conflict with policies restricting forms of development which are appropriate in the countryside and/or the Green Belt.

  5.2.6  It is evident therefore, that a purely conventional approach, as is ingrained in the planning system at all levels, will continue to fail to meet their accommodation needs and a rather more flexible approach is required if the planning agencies are to realistically "get to grips" with the problem and a long term solution eventually found.

5.3  Lack of Regard to Circular Advice

  5.3.1 It is the experience of my practice and other professionals operating in this specialist field that precious few local authorities have regard to the advice of Circular 22/91 advocating the quantification of the needs of Travelling Showpeople in preparing Local Plans and making provision for them. Despite this advice very few local authorities, including those where there is a strong tradition of Showpeople have included policies in their Local Plans. In this connection my practice has rather disturbingly encountered authorities who appear to be acting responsibly and making provision in their policies for Showpeople but are not actually doing so in dealing with subsequent planning applications.

  5.3.2  In this context, I refer to a site in the Home Counties whereby my practice secured on appeal, permission for two family groups living in overcrowded conditions to occupy a site identified in the Local Plan for Travelling Showpeople. The Inspector recognised this Authority as being "almost unique" in identifying a site. However, the position was far more complex and inequitable than it first seemed because, although the Local Planning Authority had included that site in the Local Plan as suitable for Showpeople, it considered that it was only suitable for one paticular group of Showpeople who lived nearby and who would be displaced if a planning application for a Golf Course, which the Council favoured, was implemented. As our clients although local were not part of that group, the council refused them permission, notwithstanding that the site was a general allocation for Travelling Showpeople. My partner, Robert Fletcher, successfully persuaded the Inspector that the Council's argument was wrong. However, both he and I are convinced that the appeal was won on the technical Development Plan argument alone, and not the misuse of unrelated planning objectives which the Inspector was clearly reluctant to comment upon.

  5.3.3  Going on from the above, our general concern is however that, despite the advice of Circular 22/91, very few local planning authorities incorporate a specific policy for Sites for Travelling Showpeople. More particularly, it is clear that even fewer have carried out any meaningful appraisal, liaised with the Guild or in any other way tried to assess need. In this connection, as part of the same appeal case referred to is paragraph 5.3.2, the Inspector noted that there was no likelihood of an early resolution of this problem through the Local Plan process, because notwithstanding the inclusion of a "Travelling Showpeople" policy within the existing Local Plan, the long history of Showmen's sites in the Borough and the clearly evident problem of overcrowding in that locality, these issues and the topic of accommodation sites for Travelling Showpeople were not identified in any form within the Borough Council's preliminary stage of formal review of their Development Plan.

5.4  Lack of Precision in the Advice

  5.4.1 In this context I refer to one particular point that is clearly being experienced on a widespread basis by all who are involved. This arises from the fact that the Circular is expressed in general terms and does not set out in detail the "very special circumstances" which normally need to be demonstrated in support of Showpeople's cases particularly in and around major conurbations as any land within their financial means is likely to be found within the Green Belt.

  5.4.2  The "very special circumstances" capable of out-weighing Green Belt policies as stated in PPG2: "Green Belts" also represent a major problem for Travelling Showpeople to demonstrate and for the decision-makers to acknowledge and accept. Most of these difficulties arise because there is no definitive guidance on what might constitute very special circumstances and therefore little established precedent. Through our extensive experience dealing with planning applications and appeals for Travelling Showpeople, we have formulated our own methodology and list of factors which we believe, when taken as a whole, can serve to demonstrate very special circumstances. This has been altered and refined over past years and has been accepted by some Inspectors (although not others) and very few local planning authorities!

  5.4.3  The principal factors which add most weight towards demonstrating very special circumstances are, in our opinion: identifying and establishing the need for new sites, ie the current level of accommodation is inadequate; and demonstrating that there is a complete lack of alternative sites. However, whilst various methods have been used as evidence to demonstrate and justify both of these factors, there has in practice been a disappointing level of consistency from local authorities and within the Inspectorate in determining what constitutes adequate evidence.

  5.4.4  Paragraph 8 of Circular 22/91 represents, in our opinion, the "Achilles heel" in the ultimate effectiveness of the guidance. It states that, "Nothing in this advice contradicts that contained in other Circulars and Planning Policy Guidance Notes . . ." Whilst we accept that the principle of this statement is warranted, it is our experience that it is often seized upon by Local Planning Authorities and the Inspectorate alike to provide an all too easy loop-hole or get out clause allowing justification for the refusal of an otherwise strong case for very special circumstances. We feel that it is essential that a re-wording of this sentence should be incorporated into any revision to Circular 22/91 in order to overcome this fundamental weakness in the guidance.

  5.4.5  Within this same context, in order for Circular advice to be effective, it is essential in our opinion that cross-referencing with other Government guidance is necessary, in order to ensure a proper integration and greater inter-relation of advice. In particular, reference should be specifically made to sites for Travelling Showpeople within the next revision of PPG2: "Green Belts". Circular 22/91 advises local planning authorities that sites essentially need to be located close to conurbations but the inability of Showpeople to compete financially with other urban land users is recognised and this inevitably leads to Green Belt land having to be considered when need arises from within and around the major conurbations. Similar cross-references should also be sought within PPG3: "Housing" as an example of special needs housing; PPG4: "Industrial and Commercial Development and small firms" in recognising this group as small businessmen and PPG7: "The Countryside: Quality and Economic and Social Development" as it is of relevance to the often inevitable more rural locations of sites.


  6.1  The limited success to date would not have been possible without the existence of Circular 22/91. It would be helpful however, if local planning authorities could be encouraged more strongly to assist in either identifying suitable land which is likely to be affordable, or sympathetically considering credible proposals for properly laid out and landscaped permanent quarters when submitted by bona fide Showmen with genuine accommodation difficulties.

  6.2  It is unfortunately my firmly and sincerely held view that since the "heady days" immediately after its introduction, the impact and effectiveness of the important advice of Circular 22/91 has been allowed to fade, with local authority Planning Committees and Inspectors alike "preferring" local policy provisions and constraints to Government advice.

  6.3  There is, I believe therefore, an urgent need to formally review its effectiveness and to update and refine its advice to include some guidance on the approach to demonstrating the "very special circumstances" of Showpeople's cases. Such a review should take account of the experience of its operation with the needs of Showpeople being confirmed as the responsibility of local planning authorities in both plan making and the determination of individual proposals. Far too many of them seem content to rely on localised policy provisions or, as many applications relate to Green Belt sites of necessity, to simply single out the phrase in the Circular that nothing within it overrides existing advice on development control in the Green Belt.

  6.4  Cross reference to Showpeople's needs should be made in other Planning Policy guidance such as the current revision of PPG3 and in any future revision of PPG's 2, 4 and 7 the same approach is worthy of investigation.

  6.5  I do not believe the Circular carries enough weight with local planning authorities, as they generally do not appear to take account of its "forward planning" advice in paragraph 6 when preparing Local Plans. Few of them contain a relevant policy or evidence of a "realistic assessment" of accommodation needs having been undertaken. More particularly in development control terms when it comes to dealing with planning applications our experience is that all too many do not have such information available to aid their decisions and hence resort to sifting through the Circular and picking out only the negative aspects (usually the end of paragraph 8) in order to find reasons to resist such applications, ignoring on the way, all of the Circular's positive advice.

  6.6  Obviously the fundamental message behind paragraph 8 cannot be changed in relation to Green Belts but it could be very usefully amended in our view to place a greater emphasis on a common duty to resolve the problem and on the special circumstances which invariably surround Showmen's applications. It should be stressed however, within that paragraph, that the nature of the very special circumstances which need to apply deserve a greater significance and role in the decision making process.


  7.1  It is recommended that Circular 22/91 is urgently reviewed to improve upon the areas where local planning authorities have most difficulty in dealing positively and sensitively with proposals to resolve Showmen's bona fide accommodation problems.

  7.2  Local planning authorities should have an obligatory duty rather than merely the present encouragement resulting in "lip-service" being paid, to seriously attempt to make realistic provision for the needs of Travelling Showpeople within their Development Plans.

  7.3  Green Belt sites displaying exceptional suitability to accommodate Showmen's quarters with minimal harm to the countryside should be acknowledged as contributing importantly towards the very special circumstances required in justifying inappropriate development within the Green Belt, perhaps within a reworded Paragraph 8. Such advice should make it clear that in circumstances where need is proven, there is an evident lack of alternative sites and where the quality of a proposed site meets the revised criteria suggested above, together these factors can constitute the very special circumstance necessary to justify "allowing development for purposes not normally appropriate in the Green Belt" (Paragraph 8, Circular 22/91) or the countryside.

  7.4  A review of Circular 22/91 to take account of the above recommendations is necessary but need not fundamentally alter the existing format of the advice and would certainly not conflict with nor create an unfortunate precedent which would endanger the important and acknowledged principles relating to countryside and Green Belt protection. It would however, in my view, radically assist in overcoming the present intransigence which threatens the very future of this proud and distinguished group of society, that time and the planning system has inadvertently failed to accommodate.

  7.5  I trust that the above assists the Environment Sub-Committee in their consideration of this most important issue.

February 2000

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