Written evidence from the Gypsy Council
The invitation from the Communities and Local Government
Committee to submit evidence on the abolition of RSS identifies
the implications of RSS abolition for waste, minerals, and flooding
but not that abolition also deleted regional and district targets
for site provision for Gypsies and Travellers (and indeed targets
for plots for Travelling Showpeople.) This submission aims to
fill that gap.
Gypsies and Travellers are an extremely disadvantaged
ethnic minority across a wide range of measures.
The critical shortage of adequate, culturally appropriate
residential accommodation is at the heart of many of the other
disadvantages from which Travellers suffer.
We are the victims of very high levels of prejudice
and overt and institutional racism. Of particular importance for
this inquiry is the institutional racism we suffer in the way
the planning system works against us to refuse and restrict planning
permissions for residential provision.
We are not just facing the abolition of RSS, but
of Circular 1/06, Planning for Gypsy and Traveller Caravan Sites,
and of Gypsy and Traveller grant for new and additional pitches
via the Homes and Communities Agency.
The system put in place through ODPM Circular 1/06
with regional and district targets for additional pitches defined
through RSS had not delivered significant additional pitches,
but it was beginning to work. With time and support
from Ministers and planning inspectors Circular 1/06 had the potential
to substantially address the crisis in residential provision for
We have deep concerns about some aspects of localism,
which carries the risk of pandering to lowest common denominator
anti Gypsy racism. We are also deeply concerned at anti Traveller
messages coming out of Communities and Local Government Ministers,
particularly the Secretary of State, through informal, political
channels which threaten an intensified open season on Gypsies
and Travellers with policy based around enforcement, criminalisation
Finally, we put forward principles for how a post
RSS system can be made to work to provide adequate residential
provision and begin to treat Gypsies and Travellers as equal and
culturally distinct members of the Big Society. We particularly
recommend that our communities are given a central role in planning
for and providing for our own needs.
The Inequalities Experienced by the Gypsy and
For our people oppression and prejudice by the non
Gypsy majority are so familiar and so much a part of every day
life as to be not worth commenting on. A comprehensive summary
of the disadvantage suffered by Gypsies and Travellers is provided
in Inequalities experienced by Gypsy and Traveller Communities,
Cemlyn, Greenfields, Burnett, Matthews and Whitwell for the
Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2009. The following examples
are taken from that report. They paint a picture of multi dimensional
disadvantage and confirm the Commission's conclusion that Gypsies
and Travellers are the most disadvantaged ethnic group in Britain:
Life expectancy is shorter, infant mortality is particularly
highthree times higher in one survey, maternal mortality
much higher, yet access to health care, particularly primary health
care, is much worse;
Travellers are hugely disadvantaged in education.
Only 75% of children are regularly in education, the worst of
any ethnic group. In 2007 only 16% of Irish Traveller children
and 14% of Gypsy children got five GCSE A-Cs compared with 59%
The Central Importance of Inadequate Residential
A central dimension of the inequality from which
we suffer is the huge difficulty we have in getting culturally
appropriate accommodation. Based on the January 2010 Caravan Count
around 21% of Gypsies and Travellers are legally homeless in that
they are living on unauthorised sites (land which they own but
for which they do not have planning permission) or are on unauthorised
encampments (land which they do not own, including the road side).
Even this figure is a major underestimate of homelessness and
There is a systemic tendency to undercount Gypsies
and Travellers because of the interest of many areas in avoiding
provision (Southend Council always gives a nil return on its Caravan
count, despite a significant Traveller presence).
Non Traveller officials do not know where all the
The counts are much more accurate about authorised
sitesfamilies at the road side are easy to miss.
To avoid racism and enforcement action by councils
many families do not announce themselves as Travellers.
Significant and uncounted numbers have been forced
to live in bricks and mortar housing.
Many, particularly public sites do not represent
acceptable provision in that they are in very poor condition or
in locations that should be unacceptableunder motorway
flyovers, next to sewage works and waste tips, vulnerable to flood,
on left over highway land.
By culturally appropriate accommodation we mean sites
which allow people to live in the open air, in mobile homes or
caravans with proper services and adequate space for visiting
relations to stay, for children's play, and with land nearby for
There is substantial evidence that an enclosed life
in bricks and mortar housing is unsuitable for Gypsies and Travellers
and causes psychological stress, illness, and in some cases contributes
to early death. This may be odd to the settled community but should
be respected. A helpful analogy is not forcing Jewish people and
Muslims to eat pork. It may be odd but it is their tradition and
as a civilised society we accept that it should be respected.
Adequate housing is not only one of the most basic
human rights, lack of it lies behind many of the other inequalities
from which Traveller communities suffer. Children have no fixed
address so cannot settle into education, are moved from school
to school, and are vulnerable to bullying. People cannot register
with doctors and dentists, so only go to hospital when someone
is seriously ill, women do not get proper prenatal care etc.
Why the Planning System is so important for Gypsies
and Travellers and how it is used in institutionally racist ways
The planning system and the way it has been used
in racist ways against us is central to the accommodation crisis
and to the huge inequalities from which Travellers suffer.
Employment in agriculture allowing families to move
from job to job has fallen hugely since the war and traditional
road side stopping places have been stopped up. In recognition
that the old way of life was coming to an end and that Travellers
needed somewhere to live the 1968 Caravan Sites Act gave a duty
to local authorities to provide sites supported by grants. Most
public sites date from this period.
The 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act made
unauthorised encampment a civil offence, abolished the duty on
local authorities to provide sites, and made unauthorised encampment
a criminal offence. The intention was that local authorities should
make land available and that Travellers should provide housing
But no land was made available and in the large majority
of cases when families acquired land for their needs planning
permission was refused. Instead they were evicted by violent bailiffs
from their own land and moved on from the roadside by the police.
As we write Basildon Council and its bailiffs are
moving families from Hovefields Drive and planning for the eviction
from Dale Farm, the country's largest traveller encampment, a
site which is owned and has been developed by the families themselves
on the spurious grounds that it is green belt. It isn't exactly
the North Downs, it's an old scrap yard on the fringes of Basildon
which has been converted into somewhere to live by the families
This is the dark side of localism. Whenever proposals
come up local residents and parish councils object vociferously.
The levels of abuse and objection to development for our people
are hard to understand but almost universal. Language and attitudes
that have been unacceptable since the 1970s to black people, Jews
and gays are commonplace in regard to Travellers, particularly
when it is proposed that they should live within a community.
This is why the planning system is at the heart of the inequalities
from which Travellers suffer. Councillors are put under huge local
political pressures. Typically basic planning applications take
nine or 10 months. The planners demand very high levels of informationwildlife
surveys, traffic surveys, flood risk assessments etc that would
not be imposed on other applicants. Having taken the applicants
through a maze the ultimate answer is nearly always refusal, often
for inadequate planning reasons with the planning officers told
by councillors to come up with reasons. any of our people have
limited literacy and do not have the skills to find their way
through bureaucracy so they are easy victims of the arcane complexities
of the planning system. Where permissions are given they are temporary
or personal or dependent on the expense of having to go to appeal.
It is this dilemma that forces families to bypass
planning. They are desperate for somewhere secure to live. There
are no spaces on public sites. They cannot live by the side of
the road and are in perpetual fear of being moved on, so they
can be tempted to buy sites and move on to them and hope to avoid
detection through the planning enforcement system. Such action
is not criminal activity, but a logical response to a no win situation.
Families are providing for themselves rather than being dependent
on the state.
It is no exaggeration that many Travellers are tortured
by the planning system. Long delays, uncertainty, fear of eviction
and having to live on the road side hangs over many, many families
who are waiting for planning decisions from the local authority
or quietly living their lives in fear of enforcement. The stress
on families and the pressures leading to marriage breakdown, alcohol
misuse, stress related illness and depression from the way that
the planning system impacts on Travellers should not be underestimated.
How the provisions in Circular 1/06 were beginning
to work and why abolition of RSS together with other measures
risks a new dark age
In the years after the 1994 Criminal Justice and
Public Order Act with no additional public sites and families
unable to get planning permission the crisis was getting worse.
It led to an increase in unlawful development from families desperate
with nowhere to go. John Prescott set out to defuse the crisis
and Circular 1/06 was the result.
It is worth remembering that John Prescott originally
saw the problem as one of strengthened enforcement powers. He
only gradually understood the basic principle that must underlie
any revised policy framework.
No enforcement solution will work without adequate
We would observe that the present Secretary of State
risks repeating the same mistake.
Circular 1/06 recognised the urgent need for additional
accommodation. It put in place a framework for planning additional
residential provision based on three elements: Gypsy and Traveller
Accommodation Assessments to establish the level of need; Regional
Planning Authorities defining targets for regional and district
provision through RSS; and local authorities identifying the sites
through their development plans. It was recognised that this system
would take time but the aim was to significantly increase sites
to address under-provision within three-five years, paragraph
In practice it took the planning authorities longer
than Circular 1/06 anticipated to increase the supply. The first
region wide reviews have been put in place in the South West,
the East of England and the South East. Many local authorities
were hanging back until their RSS was confirmed. They were seeing
more Inspectors allowing appeals in the light of the Circular.
Our strong perception is that more and more local authorities
were reticently beginning to accept that they needed to begin
to make provision. The tragedy for our people is that RSS and
Circular 1/06 are being abolished just at the time they were beginning
The messages coming out of the coalition Government
are at best ambivalent. Local authorities are hearing that the
level of provision is for local determination and about stronger
enforcement but not messages about the need for adequate provision.
The message that Circular 1/06 is to be replaced by "light
touch guidance2 is extremely unhelpful and local authorities are
telling us that they no longer need to maintain GTAAs, plan for
provision or approve proposals, if the local area doesn't want
So while many local authorities were slow to do what
Circular 1/06 required,in the light of the messages now coming
from the Secretary of State many have rushed to abandon the planning
work they were doing.
How a post RSS system can be made to work
Although there are honourable exceptions, many local
authorities are incapable of taking fair decisions not based on
anti Traveller prejudice and racism. Our experience is that our
communities will never receive a fair deal through most of them.
Our first preference would therefore be to take planning
decisions on development for Gypsies and Travellers out of local
authorities' hands and place them with an independent agency,
such as the Infrastructure Planning Commission or Planning Inspectorate.
In a sense this often happens already. We come across
many cases where the planning officers make clear that they (and
indeed their planning portfolio holder) want to grant permission,
but are unable to because of intense negative local political
pressures. They privately welcome and support applicants appealing
and the decision being going to the Inspectorate to approve (and
be blamed for).
If taking Traveller decisions away from local authorities
is not acceptable, we need a robust policy framework which recognises
the crisis in residential provision. Key elements would include:
A very strong emphasis on making adequate provision
as a matter of urgency.
A continued emphasis on provision on sites owned
by Travellers themselves. Like the settled community the large
majority of Travellers aspire to own their own sites and provide
for their own housing needs at no cost to the public purse. Many
only live on public sites because they cannot get permission on
land they have bought.
A requirement to have in place development plans
making site provision based on evidence of need, say by 2011,
but clear guidance on not waiting until then to granting approval.
Where RSS targets have been agreed, they should be
used as interim guidance pending the adoption of new local plans.
Emphasising that it is totally unacceptable to treat
applications for Gypsies and Travellers differently than for other
parts of society, to take longer to determine them, or to require
Approvals should normally be full ones and personal
or temporary permissions should only be used where there are valid
and exceptional circumstances, rather than as a matter of course.
This needs to be backed up by a very strong guidance
to Inspectors that costs should be awarded against Local Authorities
if they refuse permission or impose conditions they would not
impose on other members of society.
All this suggests that we need very strong, not light
touch policy and that with amendments Circular 1/06 can form the
basis of a strengthened policy.
There is one dimension of 1/06, the emphasis on sustainable
locations at paragraphs 64-65, which has proved an unhelpful additional
burden. It has led many local authorities to focus strongly on
sites on the edge of settlements, which are often those most at
risk from anti Traveller prejudice and orchestrated opposition,
while rejecting the slightly more rural sites, which are favoured
by many Travellers and for which the land may more easily available.
So the well intentioned sustainability advice needs to be tempered
by an emphasis on the urgency of making provision in locations
which reflect both the cultural needs of Travellers and those
locations which are more acceptable for the settled community.
(Of course for many in the settled community there is nowhere
that is acceptable!)
There needs to be an emphasis on good evidence. Local
authorities must be required to keep Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation
Assessments up to date perhaps every three years. We also welcome
the 2011 Census including Gypsy and Irish Traveller as separate
ethnic groupings for the first time.
There needs to be funding support. We share the anger
that many of the improvement and new provision projects funded
in recent years through Gypsy and Traveller Grant represent very
poor value for money.
We would want to see the establishment of a small
implementation unit to oversee grants, provide advice to local
authorities, housing associations and Travellers on good practice
and ensure value for money in site development and management.
We want to see (and to be involved in) the establishment of housing
associations run by Travellers themselves.
An underlying theme in the above points is that services
are provided to and for Gypsies by non Gypsies. The GTAA's and
census count need to involve Traveller groups to ensure accuracy
and engagement by the community. Travellers are entrepreneurial
with strong construction skills. As a matter of course procurement
processes for new sites should seek quotes from Traveller businesses.
Some of the best run sites are those managed by Travellers ourselves.
This is how addressing the crisis in residential
provision for Gypsies and Travellers links to the Big Society.
Travellers have a strong sense of family and community. By carrying
out the surveys, building the sites and managing them ourselves
we can build up the skills our community needs to survive and
engage fully in the modern world. By drawing on our entrepreneurial
skills we can help make sure the limited public funding that is
available is used effectively.