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

Written evidence from the Community Law Partnership (ARSS 27)


Submission of Community Law Partnership to the Communities and Local Government Committee on the revocation of Regional Spatial Strategies and on "localism".


The revocation of RSSs is unlawful especially given the failure to implement any change as yet to the current planning circular, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Circular 01/2006 (hereafter Circular 01/06) Planning for Gypsy and Traveller Caravan Sites.

Attempts to place reliance on local authorities in ensuring that sufficient Gypsy and Traveller sites are produced has failed in the past.

There is a need for some central overseeing authority or else adequate site provision will not be achieved.


In terms of the answer to unauthorised encampments and unauthorised developments, it appears that all main political parties are in agreement that the answer lies in ensuring that there is adequate authorised site provision, both permanent and transit. In this context the first acts of the Coalition Government seem inclined to make it more unlikely that sites will be provided. The first step of the Coalition Government was to reduce to nil the Gypsy and Traveller Sites Grant. A grant of 100% had been available to local authorities for provision of new sites or new pitches. Obviously this provided a great incentive to local authorities and had resulted in a slow increase in pitch numbers. Equally obviously the removal of this grant is likely to result in a return to zero provision of new pitches.

Secondly, the Coalition Government has, as of 6 July 2010, revoked RSSs. RSSs were a fundamental part of Circular 01/06 and had ensured that pitch targets were set for each local authority. At the time of the General Election, though there had been the most unfortunate delays in the process, local authorities were beginning to move in a direction of identification of locations to achieve these pitch targets.

We understand that the house builder, Cala Homes have commenced legal action against Communities and Local Government (CLG) with regard to the revocation of RSSs and we join with Cala Homes in their arguments. Since this is an ongoing court case, we will not enter into any further details here. At the very least the revocation should not have taken place until a new planning policy was in place.

We accept that it was a Conservative Party manifesto pledge that Regional Assemblies would be abolished (and thus RSSs with them). However, it must be accepted that an enormous amount of work went into identifying the need for Gypsy and Traveller sites at local level via Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessments and it is absolutely ridiculous (as well as a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bath water) to now squander all that information and all that hard work. Caravan Sites Act (CSA) 1968.

The CSA 1968 introduced a duty on certain local authorities to provide sites for Gypsies and Travellers (bought into force in 1970). This duty was eventually repealed by a previous Conservative Government in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. On the one hand it is true to say that the some 350 local authority Gypsy and Traveller sites that currently exist, would probably not have been in place (in the vast majority of cases) without the existence of that duty. On the other hand it is also true to say that the failure of successive central governments to ensure that local authorities complied with this duty meant that insufficient sites were built during this period of time leading to the current situation where there is completely inadequate provision of sites.

In many ways this was a period of time when there was a certain amount of "localism" in that certain local authorities were meant to be providing the sites and, on the other hand, a potential for "central control" in that the Government could (albeit that they never did) have stepped in to ensure that recalcitrant local authorities complied with the duty.


The Department of the Environment Circular 01/94 (Welsh Office Circular 02/94) Gypsy Sites and Planning (in combination with the repeal of the duty to provide sites) put the emphasis on the provision of private sites. However it did not provide a system by which private individuals could realistically bring such sites into existence. In a sense this period of time is the perfect example of "localism" and also the perfect example of how, if local authorities are left to their own devices, then there will be complete stagnation in the provision of sites. Whatever the merits of "localism" in other areas, history shows that localism will not ensure the provision of sites.

The statistics completely back this up. Research has shown that, in this period of time, some 90% of planning applications to local authority planning committees by Gypsies and Travellers were unsuccessful (Confined, Constrained and Condemned, Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT), 1996). In a later study by FFT (Planning Appeals Gypsies and Travellers, January 1998) it was shown that only 34% of appeals to Planning Inspectors by Gypsies and Travellers against unsuccessful applications were successful.


In the 9th report Local Authority Gypsy/Traveller Sites in England (2003), it was estimated that between 1,000-2,000 permanent and 2,000-2,500 transit pitches were required by 2007 just to keep up with the current Gypsy and Traveller population.

The subsequent figures produced by RSSs showed that, in the short intervening period of time, those figures had greatly increased.


The introduction of some central control of the process in the form of Housing Act 2004 and ODPM Circular 01/06 led to a slow but sure increase in the provision of sites. Certain Conservative MPs have claimed that this Circular produced a bias in favour of Gypsies and Travellers but, if this had been the case, then presumably the problem of site provision would have been resolved by now. CLG has made indications that they may increase enforcement powers and even criminalise all trespass. This a classic case of putting the cart in front of the horse. The fault (stretching right back to 1960) lies with central government in failing to oversee the actions (or rather inactions) of local authorities and with local authorities in failing to ensure adequate site provision.

The slow improvement in the wake of Circular 01/06 is shown by research by Doctor Jo Richardson and Ros Lishman of the De Montfort University for Lord Avebury (Impact of Circular 01/06: Supply of New Gypsy/Traveller Sites, 29 March 2007). In this study a total of 129 appeal decisions were reviewed, 75 being before 1 February 2006 (the implementation date for the Circular) and 54 being after that date. Between the two periods the number of allowed appeals increased by 20% and the number of dismissed appeals decreased by 20%. Before 1 February 2006, the majority of temporary allowed appeals were for two years. In contrast, after 1 February 2006, all but two temporary appeal decisions were for three years.

CLG's own evidence (available from the CLG website) indicates that in the year ending December 2009, local authorities determined 217 applications for Gypsy and Traveller pitches, 50% of which were granted. This is a figure that is unprecedented in terms of the period prior to the introduction of ODPM Circular 01/06.


The history of the attempt to ensure adequate provision of Gypsy and Traveller sites (which can be dated from the introduction of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960) has shown that, without some form of central control and central oversight, site provision will not be achieved. Though central government failed to step in sufficiently in the period between 1970 and 1994 when there was a duty on certain local authorities to provide sites, it appears that the fact that there was a duty was sufficient to ensure the provision of the 350 or so sites that now are in place. Nevertheless, history also shows that the "problem" of site provision would have been resolved if there had been some central oversight.

In conclusion we would recommend:

1.  The return of the duty on local authorities to provide sites in similar terms to that contained in the Caravan Sites Act 1968 (this is not a denial of localism—it is local authorities who will be providing these sites);

2.  The introduction of strong central oversight of the site provision process—there is no reason why these powers could not be given directly to CLG rather than to any other body.

September 2010

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