Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by Mrs Alison T Heine B.Sc, M.sc, MRTPI, Heine Planning Consultancy

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

Re: Housing and Planning Bill 2015

Gypsy and Traveller need assessments

As a Planning Consultant who has specialised in working on Gypsy-Traveller planning cases for the last 15 years I write to express my concerns with a proposal in the Housing and Planning Bill 2015 to remove the requirement on local authorities to carry out Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessments.

There is currently a requirement under Section 225 of the Housing Act 2004 for local authorities to assess housing needs in their area. The accommodation needs of Gypsy-Travellers is very specific which is why local authorities have been encouraged to carry out separate need assessments. It is far from clear what alternative provision is proposed. The amendment should not be agreed until it is known how else this need will be addressed and the consequences of this amendment.

In my opinion there are problems with many of the need assessments that have been produced. Published guidance has not been followed and the Government has failed to revise and amend that guidance as promised. Whilst there are a few examples of good reports all too often much time is wasted discussing inadequate and poorly drafted reports at Planning Appeals and Local Plan Examinations in Public. It could be very tempting to agree with this change. But Government guidance in Planning Policy for Traveller Sites (PPTS as updated August 2015) states very clearly that local planning authorities should use a robust evidence base to establish the accommodation needs, to inform the preparation of local plans and make planning decisions. It is far from clear how this will be done if the requirement for specific need assessments is removed.

Most local authorities will already have done their housing need assessments and they will not include the needs of Gypsy-Travellers. If the current requirement for specific, bespoke Traveller need assessments is removed it is not clear how or when many local authorities will update their housing need assessments to include Travellers. There could be resource implications if existing studies have to be amended or updated to include the needs of Travellers, especially as the assessment of Travellers is often done very differently to that for the settled population. This, in turn, could result in further delays in the delivery of Site Allocation local plans and meeting existing need which will most likely lead to further unauthorised sites as Travellers have to live somewhere whilst local authorities address this problem. I may be mistaken but I thought it was the aim of Government policy to reduce the number of unauthorised development-not encourage them.

If the duty to produce bespoke Traveller need assessments is removed and local authorities are mistakenly lulled into the belief they are not needed this could result in further delays to the preparation and update of this important evidence base. The position of local authorities will then be totally and utterly discredited and undermined at planning appeals. They will be unable to defend claims that need has been met or is being met. They will be left defenceless when it comes to justifying decisions to refuse permission or take enforcement action. The confidence of the settled population in the ability of local councils to deal with this planning issue will be further undermined. Many are already frustrated by the failure of local authorities to get to grips with this issue. I have no doubt the Government will then be blamed for weakening the position of those charged with addressing this planning issue. Planning Inspectors will have no choice but to attach substantial weight to policy failure, the absence of a robust evidence base and continued failure to deliver suitable sites in appropriate locations as part of the development plan system and this will all weigh strongly in favour of Travellers. Is that really what Government intends?

I urge those considering this proposed amendment to ask why this change is considered necessary, what the implications are and what safeguards will be put in place to ensure a robust evidence base for decision makers is retained and local planning authorities do not mistakenly believe they are being presented with a ‘do nothing’ scenario.

November 2015

Prepared 24th November 2015