Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Thirteenth Report


1  INTRODUCTION

1. Estimates of the size of the Gypsy and Traveller population in the United Kingdom range between 90 000 and 120 000.[1] Provision of suitable accommodation is critical to improving health and educational attainment within the Gypsy and Traveller[2] community and ensuring access to services. From 1968 to 1994 local authorities had a legal requirement to provide places for Gypsies and Travellers to site their caravans. In 1994 the requirement was withdrawn. The current situation is that there are too few sites where Gypsies and Travellers can legally camp. Many camp where they can, sometimes on unsuitable sites such as playing fields, supermarket car parks, or green belt land.

2. Stopping without permission in areas causes inconvenience and anger within the settled community[3] who do not understand why Gypsies and Travellers are not immediately evicted. Local authorities and the police have extensive powers to move unauthorised campers but to use these powers they must first have identified a legal place to which to move the campers. There are only 320 local authority Gypsy and Traveller sites in England, providing 5000 pitches. Eight out of ten sites have waiting lists for pitches, making it difficult for the police to fulfil their duty.[4]

3. Under the Housing Act 1996, a person is homeless if they have accommodation but "it consists of a moveable structure, vehicle or vessel designed or adapted for human habitation and there is no legal place where he is entitled or permitted both to place it and to reside in it".[5] The Traveller Law Reform Coalition estimates that there are 3500 Gypsy and Traveller caravans on unauthorised encampments, meaning that in the eyes of the law 20% of the Gypsy and Traveller community are homeless.

4. During this inquiry we have been told by local politicians that it is difficult to provide Gypsy and Traveller sites because the local electorate will not support provision of sites. In a recent report Pat Niner suggests that the planning system discriminates against Gypsies and Travellers with 80% of applications refused, as opposed to 10% of applications from the settled community. Until more sites are provided, local authorities and the police will continue to find it difficult to balance the needs of the travelling and settled communities.

5. This inquiry has revealed the difficulties of addressing the needs of Gypsies and Travellers, who as a group are not homogeneous or easy to define. A range of groups with different histories, cultures and beliefs may be encompassed within the description "Gypsies and Travellers" including:

  • Gypsy-Travellers, encompassing Irish Travellers, Scottish Gypsies/Travellers, English Gypsies, Romanies and Welsh Gypsies
  • New (Age) Travellers
  • Some argue that occupational travellers, such as showmen, waterway travellers and steel erectors should also be included, although legislation relating to these groups tends to differ from the first two groups.

This inquiry has focussed on the issues common to all Gypsy and Traveller groups identified in the first section, and makes no distinction between the differing groups within this section unless specified. During the course of the inquiry the Committee have become aware of many strains and divisions within the Gypsy and Traveller community.

6. Our terms of reference, published on 28 April 2004, invited submissions relating to the first two groups:

    "The Committee has resolved to carry out an inquiry into the provision and management of Gypsy and Traveller sites within England, with particular reference to the following issues:
  • Current provision and location of sites
  • Demand for and use of sites
  • Existing funding arrangements
  • The Gypsy Site Refurbishment Grant scheme
  • Site characteristics and the facilities provided
  • Management of unauthorised camping
  • ODPM statistical information on caravans, sites and families."[6]

The Committee resolved not to deal with individual cases as part of the inquiry.

7. We received 53 submissions of evidence, most of which focussed on Gypsy-Travellers. The inquiry received little evidence relating to the specific needs of New (Age) Travellers. The Committee received a large number of very useful background papers; and some correspondence relating to individual cases, which were not considered as part of the inquiry. Members of the Committee participated in a number of visits as part of the inquiry including to Appleby Horsefair in Cumbria; Penny Hill and Star Hill Gypsy and Traveller sites in Hampshire; Peak Copse, a site in Dummer closed due to vandalism; a number of unauthorised encampments; and several accommodation schemes in South Dublin County, Republic of Ireland.[7]

8. The Committee held three evidence sessions on the 22 and 29 June and 13 July 2004, and took oral evidence from 27 witnesses including; Dr Donald Kenrick; Dr Rob Home; the Traveller's Law Reform Coalition; the Gypsy Council (Romani Kris); the Commission for Racial Equality; Pat Niner; Cottenham Residents Association; the Traveller's Advice team at the Community Law Partnership; the National Association of Gypsy and Traveller Liaison Officers; the Association of Chief Police Officers; the Local Government Association; the National Association of Local Councils; Dawn Eastmead, Head of Housing Management Division, ODPM; John Stambollouian, Head of Planning Directorate Division, and the Rt. Hon Keith Hill MP, Minister of State for Housing and Planning. We appreciate the time spent and efforts made by all those who submitted evidence and acted as witnesses to the inquiry. We are particularly grateful to those who arranged and hosted our visits including George Summers, Gypsy and Traveller Service Manager for Hampshire County Council and Secretary of the National Association of Gypsy and Traveller Liaison Officers, and Mick Fagan of South Dublin County Council in Ireland. And of course, we are grateful to the Gypsies and Travellers who took time to speak to us on our site visits in England and Ireland; in particular Gordon Boswell, Paul Winters, Jimmy Coltman and Billy Brough who met us at Appleby Horsefair. We also wish to thank our specialist advisers, Frank Milne, David Smith and Vanessa Toulmin for their advice and assistance.

9. Many studies have been conducted and reports written which recommend ways to improve opportunities for Gypsies and Travellers. Few appear to have had any effect. A recent report from the Welsh Assembly Equality of Opportunity Committee recognises this: "We are aware of the depressing familiarity of much of what our report contains to anyone with an interest in their policy area. The issues are well known and understood, as are many of the solutions; the problem has always been delivering those solutions".[8] Pat Niner from the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of Birmingham voices similar sentiments in the Centre's report on "The Provision and Condition of Local Authority Gypsy/Traveller Sites in England" published in 2002:

    "Perhaps the most striking impression from the spectrum of research and reports from almost forty years is the similarity of the issues and concerns being discussed, and the resistance of the problems being identified to 'solution'. There are passages from the report on the 1965 census, from the Cripps or Wibberley reports which apply equally well today. There are particular continuities in terms of the basic demographic factors, poor health, prejudice and discrimination on the part of the settled community and very poor living conditions experienced by Gypsies and other Travellers not living on authorised sites. Resistance to site provision and objections from the settled community to proposals for development are recurring themes. One particular motif seen again and again is reference to the need to cater for nomadism through the provision of transit or transient sites or emergency stopping places."[9]

10. Concurrent with this inquiry, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has been conducting a review of accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers. This review was due to report to Ministers in summer 2004, but the findings have not been made public at the time of writing. We hope our recommendations will be of use to Ministers as they consider the future direction of Gypsy and Traveller accommodation policy.

11. We cannot emphasise enough the importance of ensuring change is implemented on the ground. Our report should not be viewed as another well intentioned document destined to be shelved by the Government. Ministers make the right noises - indeed the Prime Minister himself stressed the commitment of the Government to tackling unauthorised encampments in Prime Minister's Questions on 15 September 2004 - but what is needed is a courageous Minister prepared to make a stand and to see words put into action.   

12. We welcome the Government's review of accommodation policy, although we want to emphasise the need for swift progress in order to show both the Gypsy and Traveller community, and settled community, that the Government is willing to make difficult decisions and tackle these issues head on.



1   Centre for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of Birmingham, The Provision and Condition of Local Authority Gypsy/Traveller Sites in England, 2002 , pg 9 Back

2   In recognition of the distinct identities of these groups it is conventional to capitalise the initial letters of these words. We have done this apart from when quoting from text without capitalisation. The submission from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister argues that capitalisation should be used for an ethnic definition, but not for planning definitions [Ev1].  Back

3   This term is conventionally used to describe the non-Gypsy and Traveller community. Back

4   Centre for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of Birmingham, The Provision and Condition of Local Authority Gypsy/Traveller Sites in England, 2002 , pg 31 Back

5   Lord Avebury, Member of the House of Lords, Travellers and the Homelessness Act, 8 September 203 Back

6   Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Committee, PN27, 28 April 2004 Back

7   In South Dublin County we visited Whitechurch Way, Kiltipper/Marlfield, Daletree Road, Owendoher Haven, Kimmage Manor Way and Greenhills Grove. Back

8   National Assembly for Wales Equality of Opportunity Committee, Review of Service Provision for Gypsies and Travellers, May 2003, p 2.4 Back

9   Centre for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of Birmingham, The Provision and Condition of Local Authority Gypsy/Traveller Sites in England, 2002 , pg 10 Back


 
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