Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by Michael Hargreaves Planning (HPB 78)

Section 84 of the 2015 Housing and Planning Bill

· I write as a sole practitioner planning consultant. Much of my work is for Gypsy and Traveller clients.

· Section 84 of the Housing and Planning Bill 2015 proposes deleting Sections 225 and 226 of the 2004 Housing Act, which required councils to assess the accommodation needs of Travellers and Gypsies when assessing housing needs (as required by Section 8 of the Housing Act 1985).

· The Bill will delete reference to Gypsies and Travellers and require assessment of the needs for accommodation in caravan sites and houseboat moorings.

Background

 

· Gypsies and Travellers the longest established ethnic minority in most of rural England. There is a critical shortage of accommodation. 

· Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers the most disadvantaged communities in this country, as the figures on health, life expectancy, death of young children, and literacy show.  That disadvantage and the costs to the wider community, including the NHS, will not be addressed without adequate accommodation.

· Gypsies and Travellers routinely subject to prejudice. Bullying by other children one reason for poor school attendance, particularly at secondary level.

· Many local planning authorities have evaded the requirements to allocate sites for over 20 years. When Travellers apply for planning permission huge pressure on Councillors to refuse, and MPs are lobbied for support.

· This is counter-productive. Living by the road-side is no longer safe or possible. The police move people on, traditional stopping places closed. People need a secure base to earn a living, and access health care and education.

Legislative Background

 

· Three different definitions.

· Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers are ethnic groups, recognised by the Race Relations Act 1976, and subsequent equalities legislation.

· Under the Planning Acts Gypsies and Travellers were (until recently) defined as:

‘Persons of nomadic habit of life whatever their race or origin, including such persons who on grounds only of their own or their family’s or dependant’s educational or health needs or old age have ceased to travel temporarily or permanently …’

· The Planning Definition requires Gypsies and Travellers to have a nomadic habit of life, which the courts have clarified means travelling at least part of the year for an economic purpose. It traps Gypsies and Travellers in traditional economic roles, such as tree cutting and trading at fairs.

· The changes introduced through the August 2015 update of DCLG Planning Policy for Traveller Sites further amended the planning definition by removing the words ‘or permanently’. As admitted in the Equalities Appraisal of the changes that will make it harder to get accommodation for the elderly, long term sick, and single women. It is contrary to Equality and Human Rights legislation, and risks challenge in the Courts.

· S.225 of the Housing Act included both nomadic habit, and cultural tradition of caravan dwelling, defining Gypsies and Travellers as:

‘Persons with a cultural tradition of nomadism or living in a caravan; and all other persons of nomadic habit of life, whatever their race or origin, including such persons who, on grounds only of their own or their family’s or dependant’s educational or health needs or old age have ceased to travel temporarily or permanently…’.

Implications of deleting Sections 225 and 226

· Requirement on local authorities to plan separately for Gypsies and Travellers who come within the revised planning definition and those needing caravan accommodation – many of whom will be ethnic Gypsies and Travellers.

· Confusion and uncertainty for local authorities about whether they have to assess the needs of Gypsies and Travellers within and outside the planning definition. How will they tell the difference? In practice some families will move in and out of the definition.

· Even harder to get planning permission for Gypsy and Traveller residential sites, particularly for the elderly, long term sick, and single women, which will impact on children.

· A more complex, confusing system – the beneficiaries lawyers and planning consultants.

· It will leave Gypsies and Travellers who fall outside the planning definition in an uncertain position – will they be expected to be live in housing, to which many have an aversion, or on non-Gypsy caravan sites? But what provision will be made for such sites?

· Anger and frustration among Travellers – with the risk they will take the law into their own hands and acquire and occupy sites without permission – exactly what Ministers claim not to want.

Conclusion

· Accept Gypsies and Travellers as part of the community, stop blaming them.

· Reject Section 84, and retain Sections 225 and 226 of the 2004 Housing Act.

· Support widening, not narrowing, the Planning definition so it does not make life even harder for the elderly, long term sick and women with children.

November 2015

Prepared 24th November 2015