Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Traveller Law Reform Project (L 97)

1. The Traveller Law Reform Project is a consortium of three organisations the London Gypsy and Traveller Unit, Friends, Families and Travellers and the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain. The aims of TLRP are to seek positive changes in the law in relation to the needs of Gypsies and Travellers and to monitor the implementation of legislation in how it impacts on Gypsies and Travellers. It funds a Policy Development Officer who services the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsies, Roma and Travellers and also a planning policy worker.

2. The Localism Bill contains a number of clauses which separately and together if enacted would in our view impact disproportionately and negatively on the accommodation status of Gypsies and Travellers.

2.1 The removal of Regional Spatial Strategies (Clause 89) without any strategic replacement will in our view, based on emerging evidence, result in lower pitch allocations through LDDs. Monitoring of Core Strategy and Site Allocations Documents consultations since last summer by TLRP have already revealed a potential loss of planned pitches/allocations not made of the order of 300+ pitches as against that assessed through the RSS Examination Process (excluding London).

2.2 Loss of the regional examination process will severely impact on the capability of the Gypsy and Traveller community to respond to planning for pitches through LDDs since instead of participating in one examination of the evidence base at regional level each local authority area will require separate representations on the validity or otherwise of the evidence base. It is unlikely that effective representation will occur.

2.3 The duty to cooperate (Clause 90) contains no indication as to how reluctant local authorities, public bodies and communities will be encouraged to co-operate, nor what sanctions will be taken, and by whom, if they fail to do so.

2.4 Local referenda proposals in the Bill (Clauses 39-52) will open the door to NIMBYism in relation to Traveller site proposals. Given the history of hysterical ‘monster meetings’ and coordinated negative responses to planning policy and individual application proposals it seems inevitable that referenda will enable councils to resist plans for Traveller sites, whether through the planning policy process or via individual planning applications.

2.5 In a similar way Neighbourhood Development Plans (Clause 96) could be used as a vehicle for excluding site provision from an area.

2.6 Changes to the oversight capabilities of the Planning Inspectorate (Clause 92) have potential for inordinate delay in the planning policy process .

2.7 The effective removal of retrospective planning permission (Clause 105) means that Gypsies and Travellers who try and provide for themselves will inevitably find themselves trying to pursue a planning application, and potentially a planning appeal, whilst being homeless. This clause surely must impact disproportionately on people in this situation who have to live at the side of the road or in insecure accommodation.

2.8 Clause 104 allows local planning authorities to take action against ‘concealed breaches of planning control’. It has the capability as drafted of bringing many Gypsies and Travellers who have lived on their own land for many years without the benefit of planning permission into danger of enforcement action simply because of their inaction. Local authorities have in the past ‘turned a blind eye’ to such situations. However as drafted this clause could expose such sites to enforcement action simply because the local authority ignored their presence in the past and because the inhabitants are ignorant of planning procedures. In our view this clause as drafted could impact disproportionately on Gypsies and Travellers.

2.9 Various judgements stemming from the ECHR are very clear about the vulnerable position of Gypsies and Travellers in UK Society. Because of this there is a positive obligation on local authorities to facilitate the gypsy way of life and this should affect regulatory framework and evolving policy. There is a possibility of the measures both separately and together engaging Article 8 and Article 1 of the ECHR so that they disproportionately affect Gypsies and Travellers in relation to their accommodation needs.

3. Changes

3.1 The only effective way to ensure that moves are made towards appropriate levels of provision for Gypsies and Travellers and to ensure that input from the Gypsy and Traveller community is effective is to treat the issue as a strategic planning matter. This will help remove the issue from the ‘cockpit’ of often heightened emotion which surrounds the issue. Given the purely voluntary role of LEPs the use of joint planning boards to prepare shared development plans for Gypsies and Travellers may be the only way to do this.

Alternatively Gypsy and Traveller site accommodation issues could be treated in the same way as minerals planning.

3.2 We cannot see how referenda proposals could be amended to give protection to Gypsies and Travellers if they are used to exclude sites generally or a particular site.

3.3 We are very concerned about the nature of neighbourhood forums. They must be subject to the duty on equality as any other public body, for example local planning authority or parish council.

3.4 In relation to the proposed powers enabling local authorities to decline to determine retrospective planning applications it would be helpful if ground (a) appeals be allowed if the result of enforcement action would be homelessness for the people affected by the enforcement action.

3.5 Since the ability to bring enforcement action against concealed breaches of planning control could impact disproportionately and unfairly on some Gypsies and Travellers this may be alleviated to some extent by removing ‘inaction’ as part of a person’s actions contributing to the concealment.

February 2011