Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by Leeds GATE (HPB 103)

Leeds GATE is a members organisation for Gypsy and Traveller people in West Yorkshire. Our aim is to improve quality of life for our communities. We work in partnership to address the issues which affect our homes, our health, our education and employment, and our circumstances within UK society.

We write to express concern about some crucial proposed changes to legislation as contained in the Housing and Planning Bill 2015-16. We note that a number of individuals and groups, including Planners, Solicitors and Gypsy and Traveller organisations have made some critical points, most notably pointing out various serious human rights law concerns. We firmly support these arguments and strongly urge that these various well informed and experienced viewpoints are taken into careful consideration as and when the Bill is discussed.

We would like to stress a couple of key issues of concern. As recognised by the National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups, as well as a number of other organisations, the Bill appears to be incompatible with the Human Rights Act. In particular, both Article 8, relating to a right to respect for a private family life, and Article 14, relating to non-discrimination in the application of rights, are both severely undermined by the proposed changes. We find this totally unacceptable and serious thought must be given to not progressing this Bill until such concerns about possible breaches to the HRA are carefully addressed.

We also have deep concerns regarding the loss of requirement on Local Authorities to undertake Accommodation Needs Assessments. In particular, Section 84 of the Housing and Planning Bill 2015 proposes deleting Sections 225 and 226 of the 2004 Housing Act. This section crucially required councils to assess the accommodation needs of Travellers and Gypsies when assessing housing needs. Councils have historically often been very poor at undertaking and fulfilling assessments of Gypsy and Traveller accommodation need. Indeed, specific accommodation assessments of Gypsy and Traveller need were brought in precisely because Councils were consistently so poor at identifying or meeting this demand within the standard housing system.

We stress again that Bill operates within a reality of a serious and chronic unmet need nationwide and this requirement was one of the few tools to aid slow progress in addressing accommodation needs. Its proposed removal would be problematic for all, not least the Councils themselves who will be left with greater uncertainty over their obligations and a less clear model as to how to meet accommodation need. Any proposal to further reduce or remove the obligations to undertake such assessments and to remove any specific Gypsy and Traveller focus can therefore only be a retrograde step.

These are but two particularly concerning aspects of the Bill. There are also broader fundamental concerns of principle over the very deletion of specific references to Gypsies and Travellers. However, this is not simply insulting to the community and morally unacceptable but will in practice create confusion and challenges for Local Authorities, Planning Inspectors, planners and members of the community themselves seeking permission to develop private sites or attempting to make consistent decisions about such applications. Furthermore, we can identify no reasonable argument or explanation for these deletions, with the suggestions of a need to address perceived unfairness or for reasons of simplification are manifestly unproven and unjustifiable.

Overall, we see great problems, both in principle and in practice, with the proposed changes contained within this Bill. We reiterate our request that you carefully look at these issues, taking careful note of the serious points raised by various groups and individuals, most notably in relation to human rights issues and accommodation assessment requirements.

Many thanks for your attention and we look forward to seeing some urgent progress on this Bill.

December 2015

Prepared 3rd December 2015