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

Written evidence from Traveller Law Reform Project and Friends, Families and Travellers (ARSS 44)


Proposed RSS changes will mean

A marked reduction of pitches planned and delivered for Gypsies and Travellers.

Serious delay in provision.

Lack of monitoring, review of evidence base and oversight.

Reduction of community involvement in planning.

Increased unauthorised camping and costs to the public purse.

Continued poor life outcomes for Gypsy and Traveller families and children.


The difficulties which Gypsies and Travellers have had in finding suitable accommodation to place their caravans, the large public cost of enforcement measures and the recognition of very poor health and educational outcomes led the last Government to make a start to address the problems. The initial approach was one of increased enforcement but the Government was persuaded that mainstreaming provision was the only sensible route. The Housing Act (2004) and subsequent planning circular (Circular 1/2006)[55] laid a requirement for local planning authorities (LPA) to carry out a needs assessment (Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessments (GTAA)) and make planning provision in their Local Development Framework. The role of the RSS process was to set the levels of accommodation requirement (in terms of the number of pitches that each LPA should plan for) as it does for conventional housing. The view of FFT and TLRP is that this system is the best available currently, though we believe that there should be a restoration of a public duty on each local authority to make public provision. These arrangements were accompanied by a government grant totalling 100 million for new public sites and also for refurbishment of existing sites (the remaining 30 million was taken away in totality earlier this year).

Several regions have completed the process of RSS Review for Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation (SW, East and E Midlands). The Panel Report of the EiPs for the South East (conducted in February) and the North West (conducted in March) were released recently by the Planning Inspectorate as the result of a Freedom of Information request by ourselves.

There is a very uneven distribution of Gypsy and Traveller sites in the country. Some local authorities have been more responsive to the needs of Gypsies and Travellers than others. Some have no or very little provision despite the presence of Gypsies and Travellers. Some have been very active in discouraging sites through rigorous enforcement action, essentially creating "no-go" areas for this community. There is a considerable state of denial about needs of this community evident in many local authorities. Over all there has been a lack of provision which has meant that many Gypsies and Travellers have had to move into housing because of a lack of an alternative in an increasingly hostile enforcement regime. The ill effects of what is effectively forced movement into housing have been documented and the needs of this section of the community have been recognised in a few of the more recent GTAAs (eg London and Manchester). The official CLG Caravan Count shows that 20% of caravans counted have no legal place to stay, rendering their inhabitants homeless. This proportion has remained unchanged since 1997. The reality is larger due to overcrowding and poor quality statistics.

The regional planning process has allowed a start to be made on addressing the huge backlog of need but also to help widen the choice of places to live for Gypsies and Travellers. The response of local planning authorities to this process has in our experience been very mixed. Some have challenged the evidence base and attempted to minimise provision. The attempt by regional planners to widen choice by ensuring that every district makes some modest provision has been opposed by some local authorities affected, though some recognised the principle of equity involved.

The SE Panel report[56] was severely critical of the approach of some of the local authorities and local authority groupings:

1.8  We have found many shortcomings in the evidence base due to the different methodologies in the GTAAs and TSAAs but this is not surprising considering much of the work was undertaken in 2006 and 2007 and the methodology was not tried and tested as, for instance, in assessing other housing needs. What was more surprising is the lack of regard by some authorities of the evidence base they did have in their GTAAs. Although attempts were made to reach the communities there were some major shortcomings, particularly concerning those gypsy and travellers in housing and the New Travellers.  

2.2.……  Even taking into account these caveats, we found the overall standard of the GTAAs as a sound and credible evidence base for gypsy and traveller pitch accommodation needs to be very disappointing. .

2.59  Much of the other evidence we had was anecdotal, but Friends Families and Travellers (FFT) ……. provided us with a considerable amount of evidence …….it paints a consistent and convincing counter-balance to the findings, assumptions and conclusions of the GTAAs. .

2.63  …Lessons will have been learned from the first round and our criticisms of many of the GTAAs in this Report should be seen as guidance in formulating a methodology and analysis which provides a more focussed, robust and consistent evidence base on which to identify the need for gypsy and traveller pitches across the region. In our view the three guiding principles should be transparency, simplicity and the close involvement of both the gypsy and traveller and settled communities so that the process is seen as legitimate and the assessment seen as credible. To a large extent the failure to put these principles at the heart of the process in this first round of GTAAs has been the root cause of much of the dispute over the legitimacy and credibility of the figures and has diverted attention and resources away from the crucial issue of pitch delivery.

The benchmarking exercise[57] undertaken for the East RSS Partial review found that only one GTAA was robust, one acceptable, three underestimated needs and one overestimated need. Clearly there is some way to go until local GTAAs can be relied upon without independent evaluation.

The RSS process has allowed a regional perspective to be taken and allowed shortcomings to be identified and recommendations made. Failure to do this in the future will jeopardise the progress made so far and will not help ensure that the evidence base is more credible and more uniformly robust.

Implications of abolition of regional housing targets for levels of housing development

We are of the opinion that the abolition of pitch targets for local authorities will inevitably mean a serious reduction in the number of pitches planned for. The SE RSS Draft Policy H7 recommended a regional residential pitch allocation of 1,064 but the panel report recommended a residential pitch allocation of 2,119. Clearly to leave it up to local authorities to decide for themselves how many pitches will be delivered would inevitably mean a shortfall of at least 1,000 pitches in the South East. This is a 50% shortfall. Hence abolition of regional housing targets will impact negatively and disproportionately on Gypsies and Travellers in their search for sites. A leaked letter from the Equalities Minister (9June 2010) to the Chancellor said that "I think we should take a collective view on the cumulative impact of cuts, and whether any action should be taken to spread the impact more equitably, to avoid widening inequality." We have grave concerns that the abolition of targets for Gypsy and Traveller sites will do just this and widen inequality.

We do note that the Liberal Democrats, during the election stated that " we are not intending to disturb the planning already in place for providing traveller sites".

The negative view held by many people of the Travelling Community has led to a widespread NIMBY approach to site development. Historically the lack of some form of duty to make provision (whether it be actual sites or merely planning provision) has meant that needs have not been met and the growth of a backlog of unmet need. Not meeting needs or even attempting to meet accommodation needs has severe consequences for the families in need but also to the public purse requiring conventional housing provision and increased costs related to enforcement activities (estimated at 18 million per year in 2000 by Cardiff Law School). It is inevitable that the trend of unauthorised camping, unauthorised developments and associated on costs to the public purse will increase in a climate of reduced planning provision, reduced opportunity for people providing for themselves and increased emphasis on enforcement.

Already local authorities are responding to the announcement of the abolition of RSSs.

In Huntingdonshire, where there was huge local opposition to a site put forward by the council as part of the LDF Site selection process in the village of Yaxley (1000 people are reported by the BBC as attending the meeting), the council recently said during a planning appeal Inquiry that it no longer accepted there is a need for additional provision following the scrapping of the Plan (the RSS). The RSS[58] indicated a need for 25 pitches to 2011 and a further 21 to 2021.

The Greater Norwich Joint Core Strategy alteration[59] recently put forward the contention that although the council would meet identified needs to 2011 beyond that date it would decide what local provision it would make without indicating either numbers or how it would decide on those numbers.

In Reigate and Banstead[60] the council has redrafted a policy to indicate that they will meet the needs of Gypsies and Travellers according to the latest GTAA assessment—this would mean a 15% reduction on recommended pitch requirements from the SE Panel report.

In Elmbridge[61] new proposals aim to identify land for 11 new pitches, the SE Panel report identified a need for 48.

In Epping Forest[62] work on a well advanced dedicated DPD has been abandoned and future provision will be dealt with on a case by case basis and provision for the next 15-10 years will be subject of a further study alongside general housing.

In London Policy 3.9[63] has been the subject of a number of alterations and one more is due shortly. The alterations have meant that the overall needs assessment of some 800 residential pitches (according to the GTAA) has been reduced to just over 200. We fear that the next and final alteration will mean there will be no targets at all for pitches for boroughs. The inevitable result will in our view be that few pitches will be built in London despite a large identified need and the resultant demand will spill over into adjoining regions. No allowance has been made for this.

In Peterborough[64] site allocation has been abandoned in favour a return to relying on individual planning applications. No pitch targets have been proposed though a need for a transit site was identified. The RSS indicated a need for 30 residential pitches to 2011.

The abolition of the RSS requirement will mean delay in delivering planning documents and ultimately pitches.

In Ipswich the Planning Inspector halted the Inquiry for five months and stated that the evidence base for Gypsies and Travellers would have to be reviewed (despite already being subject to a regional EiP)[65]; this implies yet further delay.

Most of the RSS reports make recommendations about regional review given evidence base problems. We fear that without some sort of regional structure coordinated reviews will not be undertaken and inevitably this will mean a disparity in approach.

Given the negative views of the Travelling Community held by part of the settled community, councils have relied on the argument that they have to make provision because of the regional planning structure. Without the requirement to make provision it will make it very difficult for councils to resist the often racially motivated local demands to reduce or even eliminate provision. This will impact negatively on provision exacerbating the problems which the Travelling Community faces in trying to access suitable accommodation.

The abolition of a regional planning structure and the formal examination which attends it will impact severely on representations by the Travelling Community about planning policy matters. FFT/TLRP employ a part time worker on planning policy development and we believe there is one other worker who responds to some planning consultations in the West Midlands. . The FFT/TLRP worker responds in writing to LDF policy documents in England and Wales and has attended and given evidence at four regional EiPs. The panel report for the SE EiP said:

2.59  Much of the other evidence we had was anecdotal, but Friends Families and Travellers (FFT) a national body representing the needs and interests of gypsy and traveller communities who had contributed to the Examinations of the Gypsy and Traveller RSS Reviews in the South West and East of England provided us with a considerable amount of evidence,[66] including statistical data from their own generally small scale surveys, and others. While this information had its limitations, which could be ascribed to the scarce resources with which FFT has to operate, and much of the evidence could be described as anecdotal, as a body of information from those most directly affected by the shortage of appropriate accommodation for gypsies and travellers, it paints a consistent and convincing counter-balance to the findings, assumptions and conclusions of the GTAAs. FFT also made a very valuable contribution to the EiP as the principal "representative" of the gypsy and traveller community, alongside that of the Showmen's Guild, representing travelling showpeople.

If in future the issue has to be argued out at local level through examinations of Local Development Frameworks of the 300 or so local authorities then there is no prospect of the Travelling Community being properly represented on matters of the level of provision at local examinations in public. The low level of engagement of the Travelling Community and the complexity of planning issues mitigates against local representation. With a few exceptions local authority engagement with the local Travelling community has been inadequate or tokenistic and cannot be relied upon to deliver adequately the views of the Travelling community on the likely level of need for pitches. One or two part time workers cannot provide the level of representation needed and the current economic climate means that expansion of this service is unlikely to take place. Hence the lack of regional planning will inevitably mean that community involvement will be inadequate at best. Local assessments of need will go unchallenged and targets will be inadequate, grossly so in some cases.

Likely effectiveness of incentives and the nature and level of incentives to ensure an adequate supply of housing

We are very sceptical about the effect of incentives (New Homes Bonus) when applied to the very small numbers of pitches when compared with overall housing needs (less than 1% of overall housing needs). Pressures brought whenever sites are proposed means councils are unlikely to find that incentives make it worth their while to plan for an adequate number of pitches no matter what the incentives on offer. The previous government provided 100 million for new sites and for refurbishment of existing sites. The response of housing providers has been very disappointing in the face of 100% funding. Most of the money spent has gone on refurbishment and few new pitches have been developed but more disconcerting is the poor uptake of the last tranche of funding in the East. The available money for 2009 was underbid despite efforts by the Homes and Community Agency to encourage housing providers to become involved.

Hence FFT/TLRP place little faith in incentives as a means of ensuring proper planning provision and delivery. The fact that 100% grants were unused suggest that the incentives route of encouragement of provision is bound to fail.

We see no alternative to compulsion as existed under the RSS system to ensure that reasonable planning provision is made.

Arrangements to ensure cooperation between local planning authorities on matters formerly covered by Regional Spatial Strategies

Whilst there are some existing examples of councils cooperating on producing a joint approach to planning provision (eg in Dorset), they are concerned deliver pitch numbers already decided upon at regional level. Cross border cooperation in deciding on numbers to be provided will we fear lead to endless to debate over who provides what and inevitable large delays; never mind the opportunity for manipulating target pitch numbers downwards.

Adequacy of proposals including duty to cooperate and that Local Enterprise Board will fulfil a planning function

Unless there are penalties for local authorities in relation to the effectiveness of cooperative arrangements we have little faith, given the evidence presented by various local authorities at the EiP, that cooperation will be positive or indeed possible over agreeing numbers of pitches to be provided and their location. Delay will ensue and it is likely that the efforts to increase the locational choice for the Travelling community will be undermined.

If the Local enterprise Board fulfils a planning function in relation to pitch provision it should have similar powers those in the regional planning system to set targets and mediate between competing councils to ensure that provision is adequate and appropriate to meet needs.

How will data formerly collected by Leaders Boards be made available to local authorities and what arrangements should be put in place to ensure effective updating of research and collection of further research on matters crossing local authority boundaries

There will be a need to ensure that arrangements can be out into place regarding reviews of the needs of Gypsies and Travellers and to ensure that future needs assessments are carried out uniformly across the country, progress towards provision monitored, delivery issues examined and that updated GTAAs are much more robust. Without some sort of oversight and monitoring arrangements we fear that the disparate range of approaches criticised in the EiPs will continue and that future provision will fall woefully short of what is needed.

September 2010

55   ODPM Circular 1-2006, Planning for Gypsy and Traveller Caravans  Back

56   South East Regional Spatial Strategy Gypsy and Traveller Panel report-released under FOI request by Planning Inspectorate August 2010. Back

57   Preparing Regional Spatial Strategy Reviews on Gypsies and Travellers by regional planning bodies, CLG in partnership with GOEAST and EERA/SWERA/SWRA, March 2007.  Back

58   Accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers and Travelling Showpeople in the East Of England July 2009. Back

59   Joint Core Strategy for Broadland, Norwich and South Norfolk: Statement of Focussed Changes Jul 2010. Back

60   Banstead and Reigate Core Strategy proposed Changes July 2010. Back

61   Elmbridge Borough Council Core Strategy: Post Submission Consultation August 2010. Back

62   decision by full council of Epping Forest District Council 27 July 2010. Back

63   Mayor of London : Minor Alteration to the Consultation Draft Replacement London Plan Draft Policy 3.9 Gypsies and Travellers March 2010. Back

64   Peterborough Core Strategy-Suggested Changes regarding provision for Gypsies and Travellers, August 2010. Back

65   Letter from Inspector to Ipswich BC, 30 July 2010. Back

66   FFT Representations to PINS on Draft Policy H7, August 2009, No.67a & b, and Statements to EiP on most Issues. Back

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Prepared 31 March 2011