Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies: a planning vacuum? - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

Written evidence from the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain (ARSS 136)


The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain (The Guild) is the national representative body of over 90% of Travelling Showpeople (Showpeople).

For the past four years the Guild has been actively involved years in the drawing up of policies for Showpeople within the Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs) for each of the English regions.

The accommodation assessments (GTAAs) carried out in the preparation of the RSSs were the first time any census of Showpeople has been conducted. Furthermore, the assessment process established positive working relationships between the Guild, Showmen, regional bodies and involved groups of local authorities to meet the identified needs. Examples are included within this document.

The Guild's experience of the RSS process was wholly positive. All stages, from survey to Examination in Public, were carried out in exemplary fashion by regional officials and the Planning Inspectorate with full participation by LPAs.

The revocation of the RSSs without any replacement system has been detrimental to the continuing process of partnership working to tackle the high level of overcrowding and homelessness amongst Showpeople. The GTAAs showed that over 36% have no permanent settled home.

The "intention to revoke" planning guidance 04/2007 on Planning for Showpeople announced by the Secretary of State on 29 August as part of the revocation of RSSs and replacement by "light touch regulation" will exacerbate the situation.

At no stage has there been any consultation on these changes with the community of Showpeople who feel disenfranchised and disillusioned given the importance of permanent accommodation.

The Guild would welcome the opportunity to make their presentation at a hearing into these important affairs.


1.  The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain (The Guild) is a long established organisation, founded in 1889, representing over 90% of Showpeople, the community who organise fairgrounds and circuses. Showpeople are independent business people who pay large sums to local authorities for use of grounds, few of whom seek any council or government assistance for living accommodation.

2.  All regional branches of the Guild were involved in making representations within reviews of RSSs and welcomed the opportunity to speak on behalf of members.

3.  Many Showpeople live on overcrowded and unsatisfactory sites whilst others have no home at all. Some have temporary planning consents or live on sites awaiting the outcome of planning applications. The changing patterns of working and living have had a significant impact on the residential needs of our members which is why the Guild supported use of RSSs to tackle the problem of under provision of permanent plots.

4.  Traditionally livelihood involved attending large multi-day fairs in our own or adjoining regions. Now Showpeople also work at smaller fairs or provide rides, stalls and shows at events such as school or village fetes. Fixed-price equipment hire, where attractions are hired at parties, weddings, corporate hospitality and promotional work, now form a significant part of our income. These events are usually one or two days long. As a result showmen tend to return to their yards after a short time away and it is no longer appropriate to refer to them as "winter quarters". This brings clear advantages for uninterrupted access to education for our young and continuity of health care for all.

5.  It is rare for planning applications to be passed by Local Planning Authorities and over 70% of successful applications only ultimately succeed at Appeal. The RSS process, by quantifying need and seeking to establish ways of meeting this, was welcomed as an attempt to correct this historic imbalance.

6.  The abrupt revocation of all RSSs by the Secretary of State could have the effect of throwing onto the scrap heap all of the hard work put into the development of regional planning policies for Showpeople by the regional assemblies, local authorities and the Guild.


7.  The RSS's adoption of policies for the accommodation needs of Showpeople grew out of the Gypsy and Travellers Accommodation Assessments (GTAAs) carried out by all local authorities. The Government decision to include Showpeople in the process came part way through the exercise. However, the Guild immediately recognised that it was an important project and enthusiastically gave assistance.

8.  Some GTAAs were handled on a regional basis with one study for an area; others were county wide and some on a joint borough basis. Where these were done well there were Steering groups including the Guild and other Travelling Communities with local authorities scrutinising information and testing findings. The results of GTAAs were submitted to each local authority who would make their own comments, sometimes challenging the outcome, and then reported to Regional Assemblies.

9.  There would then follow a major public consultation on these figures including exhibitions and public meetings with feedback encouraged from local people including from travelling and settled communities.

10.  Regional Assemblies would then come up with proposals for meeting these needs which showed, without exception, high levels of requirement for plots due to the homelessness exposed. Nationally these GTAAs showed over 36% of Showpeople have no permanent home. There is no simple answer to meeting such needs and discussions reflected that.

11.  The process ended at Examinations in Public, run by PINS, where all local authorities, residents, parish councils, individuals and travelling communities had the opportunity to test the evidence, following which the Inspectors would make recommendations. Local Authorities would then build this into Local Development Frameworks.

12.  This was the first time that such debates on planning issues had been held in anything other than the adversarial background of planning applications as all factors, environmental constraints, sustainability, political practicality, and of course the desperate need of the communities concerned, were balanced. There was a clear need for a changed balance between local authorities who, for political expediency only, routinely refuse planning applications and Showpeople who have a crisis of homelessness causing stress, poor health and lack of educational opportunities for young people.


13.  At the commencement of the RSS process, the Guild believed the outcome would be that for the first time there would be figures of need that could be used in planning applications but could not easily be dismissed by local authorities. It was our view this would be a positive outcome.

14.  However the actual process was beneficial in itself. The Guild has always wished to see fairness in planning. It is the view of the Guild that showmen should have the right to live anywhere land is appropriate. We have always argued that there should be no "ghettos" of Showpeople or policies that state that Showpeople shall only live in areas where Showpeople already reside. Such an approach would not be considered acceptable for any other section of society and therefore should not be for Showpeople. The former planning guidance (22/91) was very good in describing appropriate land but had a requirement for local links to be established. This was too restrictive and effectively kept all new homes within boroughs where Showpeople already lived. 04/2007 removed this as an absolute requirement.

15.  The system of joint working established by boroughs and the involvement of the Guild in Steering Groups was most positive. Local Authorities gained an awareness of the reality of the homelessness; the Guild and Showpeople an understanding of political difficulties faced by Councillors. In local areas this joint structure was having a positive impact. Therefore in some boroughs where there were no existing communities of Showpeople, officers and councillors began to recognise the justice of having positive policies that would enable Showpeople applying for sites to be fairly considered.

16.  Joint working is recommended in 04/2007 and meetings around RSSs encouraged this. Since the hearings there have been very positive results with local authorities directly approving planning applications, for instance in East Cambridge, South Gloucestershire and Bromley. There have been LPAs working with the Guild and local Showpeople to meet needs highlighted. For instance Mole Valley, Runneymede, Chiltern, Broxbourne, Norwich, Berkshire Unitary Authorities, and County Councils such as Buckinghamshire, Surrey and Kent have been seeking to establish joint working arrangements. There are more around the country.


17.  The planning issues relating to Showpeople in North-West England are similar to those in other regions. Many plots are overcrowded and accommodation is distributed unevenly.

18.  Of the 444 authorised plots in 2007 some 356 or 80% were in Greater Manchester. However, even these are distributed unevenly. Five of the 10 Manchester authorities do not have any Showpeople within them.

19.  The draft RSS proposed that the total number should increase by 285 in the period 2007-16 and from 2021 to 2016 proposed that the number should increase by 3% pa (compound). This totalled a further 122.

20.  Based on a Guild sponsored survey of needs and preferences the policies proposed that 46% of the 285 new plots up to 2016 should be outside Greater Manchester. The EiP panel reduced the compound growth to 2% and therefore the latter figure to 76, recommending that LPAs should identify sites in their LDFs.

21.  As with other RSSs the Guild's regional branch was fully involved in policy development and supportive at the March EiP, only suggesting minor amendments.

22.  As in other regions the Guild's North West branch was very satisfied at the way that the policies had been developed. Its members felt that their views had been properly taken into account. Consequently the Guild is disappointed that RSS system was abolished before the draft policies could be adopted. However, as in other regions, the Guild is keen to salvage what it can from the EIP panel report in trying to secure similar increase in and distribution of new plots through the LDF process. Without an RSS system this could become increasingly difficult.


23.  The Secretary of State's revocation of the RSSs has put all this progress in jeopardy. His view that the RSSs forced the local authorities into actions against their wishes is unjustified . RSSs did not prejudice the local planning authorities' duty to consider all planning applications on their merits. They did not identify sites for Travelling Show people and did not force local authorities to spend money on sites. Indeed the majority of Showpeople aspire to own their own plots and few seek Council or Government built and funded sites. All they wish to have is a fair chance at obtaining planning permission on sites that they, with expensive and expert advice, have found and purchased.

24.  Since the revocation of Spatial Strategies the Secretary of State has given advice to local authorities on planning needs of Showpeople. He has said that local authorities should meet genuine local needs and historical demand and that they can, if they wish, use existing GTAAs for this or they can undertake new ones.

25.  However this assumes that local authorities will be reasonable and fair. For instance, the GTAA for Surrey Heath recognised a need in their area for 10 plots, the EiP said 13. The Council have, with no new GTAA and no evidence to support their decision, decided for political expediency to put in their draft LDF a figure of 0. Selby participated in a regional GTAA which identified a figure of 10 for their borough, and again for political expediency their Policy Committee has decided that a figure of 0 is what they will use. Neither of these boroughs are taking the Secretary of State's suggestion of undertaking a new GTAA, they have just decided on a figure of zero in their plans. This will not meet "genuine local needs".

26.  The Mayor of London reduced the figure of need for Showpeople in his proposals for the London Plan by 27% with no logical justification other than this was the sort of figure the boroughs might accept. This is not a reflection of need but of political convenience. He has now issued a new proposal which takes them out of the plan altogether and puts the onus back to individual local authorities. It could be considered that this is because he does not want to be publicly seen as providing for Travellers in any way and wants to wash his hands of the matter.

27.  All of these actions contrast with the approach prior to the revocation of Spatial Strategies whereby partnerships were being developed and none of these will assist meet the identified need for new plots to settle the issue of homelessness. This is back to the days when Councils wanted to push Showmen out of their boroughs, despite the considerable payments made by Showpeople to them for use of parks for fairs. The Showpeople were wanted as providers of council funds at events, but not wanted as residents and neighbours.

28.  DCLG have indicated that funding will be available for local authorities to build new sites for travellers in their areas but this is of very limited value to Showpeople.

29.  Also DCLG have stated that joint planning between boroughs shall be encouraged, and whilst this is welcome the consultation on this and structures for implementation should have been completed prior to the revoking of the existing system. Joint working is essential for a fair resolution of the needs but Councils with no Showpeople will resist participating in such exercises.

30.  At best the decision to revoke existing systems prior to the establishment of new ones will cause delay, and at worst despair as many homeless Showpeople now see no prospect of finding permanent homes for themselves.

31.  The level of need identified in GTAAs reflects families who are in desperate need of permanent homes. This is an actual figure representing real people, not a theoretical abstract that will disappear with a vote at a Planning Committee.

32.  With proper guidance on the definition of "genuine local need" and "historic demand" and a system whereby local authorities will participate in joint planning exercises, perhaps through County structures, there is scope for discussion on a new strategy, but this should have happened prior to the RSSs being scrapped as at present local authorities are defining matters themselves in their own interests. Although the Secretary of State has made clear in public announcements his concern for the health of the travelling communities, current uncertainty is causing severe stress and distress.


33.  On 29 August 2010, Bank Holiday Sunday, the Secretary of State published a statement that it was, in his words "Time for a Fair Deal for the Travelling and Settled Communities". http://www.communities.gov.uk/news/corporate/1700758. This says that as part of the process of revoking the Regional Spatial Strategies he would be revoking the existing planning guidance on Showpeople, 04/2007, and replacing this with "light touch regulation" to remind Councils of their statutory responsibilities.

34.  He said that he would be rewarding lawful behaviour by Gypsies and Travellers in Council owned sites by giving them the same rights as residents of council properties. He also said that local authorities would be encouraged by payment of grants to build new local authority sites.

35.  There are very few showmen on Council owned Showmen's sites and limited desire from showmen for Council built sites and so limited benefit to our members from this approach which indicates a complete lack of knowledge of this community.

36.  There has been no consultation with the Showmen's Guild on this matter. Showpeople feel excluded from this process and therefore excluded from the concept of localism and that they are considered to have no value.

37.  However the quoted justification for the revocation of 04/2007 is questionable. The statement refers specifically to "some local councils" who have reported that 04/2007 has "compelled them to build on the countryside". The Guild have applied under FoI for evidence from any local council who has been compelled to build anywhere because of these guidelines which say completely the opposite. They require local authorities to identify potential sites within their boroughs and put these into local plans. Hopefully, local authorities who have been "compelled" by Regional Spatial Strategies and Circular by 04/2007 will supply evidence to this Committee, and if not then the Secretary of State will supply this when he attends.

38.  It is only lazy authorities who have seen Planning Appeals grant temporary permissions for Showpeople to live on, for example, greenbelt sites until, as 04/2007 states, the LDF process identifies appropriate land. 04/2007 states that councils can bring this work forwards if necessary. Therefore 04/2007 compels councils to be reasonable and nothing more.

39.  Furthermore the Secretary of State avers on 29 August that "unauthorised encampments cause tensions between the settled and travelling communities" and that it is the unfairness of the planning system, apparently in favour of the travelling communities that causes community tensions and if this is changed such tensions will disappear. This is just plain wrong. There have never been any community tensions between showmen and local people or reports of anti social behaviour anywhere in the country. Guild rules require that showmen follow strict codes of conduct on sites and these are upheld at all times.

40.  Where over 36% of Showpeople have been identified by the GTAA process to be homeless, it is hard to justify a claim that the system is biased in their favour.

41.  Unless there is actual evidence of major failings of the existing guidelines it is our submission that this "revocation" of 04/2007 should be halted until replacements are prepared and subject to consultation, including Showpeople themselves.


42.  It is reasonable for a government to review and change laws and processes which were inherited and with which they do not agree. However it is not reasonable to simply revoke existing practices without an analysis of the existing system, evidence of the issues involved and proposals on which to consult or any notion or idea as to what will replace them.

43.  The abolition of the RSS process and the announcement of revoking 04/2007 which is part of that process should not have been done until everyone, travelling communities and local authorities, knew what would be in their place.

44.  It is essential that the new structure includes:

Requirements that local authorities reflect the actual levels of need found in GTAAs within Local Development Frameworks;

Structures for joint working that involve all local authorities and partnership with the Guild;

The Travelling Showman's community being treated as equal partners in this process instead of being completely ignored.

So far there has been no discussion and no consideration. This should now be rectified.

September 2010

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 31 March 2011