Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain (HPB 85)

Housing and Planning Bill

1. Introduction

1.1 The Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain is the main representative body for Travelling Showpeople in the United Kingdom. The Guild has worked with Government and Local Authorities for over 130 years to improve the lives of those working in this important sector of the British Leisure Industry. One function of the Guild is to work on behalf of members on their difficulties in obtaining planning consent and therefore we have considerable experience in this area.

1.2 We are extremely concerned about the Government’s proposals in the Housing and Planning Bill to remove Sections 225 and 226 of the Housing Act 2004. Those sections require Local Authorities to undertake Assessment of Housing Needs of Travelling Showpeople and are a valuable and essential mechanism by which Local Authorities are able to plan efficiently and effectively for the Gypsy and Traveller Communities, including Travelling Showpeople.

1.3 The proposals to remove the sections did not form part of a consultation on "Planning Policy for Traveller Sites" launched in October 2014 by the previous Government. There is no rationale for this move and no prior discussion on this suggested action.

1.4 We believe that the removal of these Clauses by the Bill currently before Parliament will not only result in confusion amongst Local Authorities as well as the Gypsy, Traveller and Travelling Showpeople Communities but will also prevent the Government from delivering more legal sites which is its stated aim.

1.5 Having initially met with officers from DCLG to discuss the concerns below we find that the fears we have expressed are founded as the changes we now understand are based on perception by the public that the current system is unfair and that a level playing field is required. Given that between 20 and 25% of our members are homeless and living in circumstances unacceptable in the 21 st Century we believe that such a perception should be challenged by a study of and a publication of the facts and not by pandering to such ill-founded views. We are therefore taking this to Members of Parliament to raise at the Committee Stage of the Bill’s passage through Parliament.

1.6 We are deeply concerned by the potential exclusion of our community and others and are aware that concerns similar to ours have been raised with the Committee by other organisations. We wish our views to be published and considered.

2. Background

2.1 The programme for undertaking Accommodation Needs Assessments for Travelling Showpeople commenced after the passing of the Housing Act in 2004 which included the requirement for there to be specific Assessments for Travelling Showpeople as well as for Gypsies and Travellers.

2.2 This requirement enables local authorities to have information that assists in their formulation of Local Development Frameworks and encourages accurate planning.

2.3 Plots, as they are called, for Travelling Showpeople are defined in Planning Policy for Travellers as enabling mixed use as they include living accommodation and space for storage and light maintenance of the vehicles used in pursuing the Showman’s trade That is why separate statistics are invaluable to a Local Authority so that they can assess land space need for such Plots compared to Pitches (as they are described) for Gypsies and Traveller communities.

2.4 Alongside the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) the Planning Policy for Traveller Sites was published. This replaced separate guidelines for Gypsies and Travellers from 2005 and for Showpeople from 2007. The stated aim was that at some time this document may be incorporated in the NPPF.

2.5 In October 2014 a draft revision of Planning Policy for Traveller Sites was published and DCLG called for feedback. The revised policy was published in August 2015 along with a summary of the consultation answers.

2.6 The Government's intention to repeal sections 225 and 226 of the Housing Act 2004 was not suggested in and did not develop from that consultation. Instead what was clear was that respondents wanted more clarity in the Guidance for Needs Assessments (para 1.8 of the response document) and certainly not a repeal of all guidance. This can be seen from paras 3.8 and 3.9 of the consultation document.

2.7 The Government stated that they would issue new guidance for such assessments, but did not indicate in any way that they would repeal the requirement as implied by the changes in the Housing and Planning Bill. The act of repealing these clauses and replacing them with a general reference to Caravan Parks and Houseboats appears contrary to the revised Planning for Traveller Sites Policy published in August 2015.

2.8 Indeed in paras 3.8 and 3.9 of the consultation responses document, the Government says it would provide clarity in definition of gypsies, travellers and travelling showpeople across Housing and Planning Policy, which is welcome, and went further in saying that revised guidelines for such assessments will be issued.

2.10 .Far from providing clarity, the proposals in the Housing and Planning Act as written will cause confusion and concern.

2.11 .The stated aim of Planning Policy for Traveller Sites is fairness in planning, and the Secretary of State reiterated that on Monday 2 nd November in the House of Commons when he announced that "every Parliament that is elected has a responsibility to the future" and that "nowhere is that more important in ensuring that the next generation have the homes they need". However fairness and good planning requires proper information. This would, in our submission, be gravely impaired by the removal of the clauses from the Housing Act 2004.

2.12 .Since the revoking of the Guidance for Travelling Showpeople 04/2007 by the Secretary of State in August 2010, because few new homes have been created there has been a significant increase in the number of Showpeople forced to spend much of the year doubling up in existing Showmen’s yards and fairground equipment being parked on the roadside leading to severe and dangerous overcrowding.

3. Implications of the Proposed Approach

3.1 The Showmen’s Guild is concerned that the aims clearly stated in the Planning Policy for Traveller Sites document will be frustrated by the changes proposed within the Housing and Planning Bill.

3.2 Section 4, para a, of the Introduction to the Planning Policy for Travellers Document states that Local Authorities have the duty to assess need. The Policy presented in August 2015 states quite clearly that such assessments are required.

3.3 Section 4 para b of the Introduction also requires co operation between boroughs. In this way appropriate land in one borough can meet the needs found in a neighbouring borough. By taking away the specific need to assess Travelling Showpeople there will be no conformity between boroughs and therefore no chance of such co-operation.

3.4 Para e commends the development of private sites, something to which the Guild and Guild members aspire, and yet ignoring needs will have an adverse impact on this.

3.5 Within the body of the Policy, Section A is very clear that local authorities need evidence to prepare Local Plans. Furthermore, this section requires such evidence to be robust. Again the inevitable outcome of this move would be to undermine the evidence base.

3.6 Section B of the policy refers to the need to set Plot targets but without robust evidence this cannot occur. In decision taking, Policy Section H, para 24 a again refers to the need to properly assess need and Annex 1, Glossary, of Planning for Travellers describes the definitions of the community and, most importantly, of the space requirements where it reports that showmen's Plots (as they are defined) include mixed use. If local authorities have a simple caravan count including all forms of Caravan dwellers then their understanding of land requirements will be weak and their allocation of space inadequate and potentially misleading.

3.7 The consultation responses from October 2014 demand clarity in guidelines for assessments. This is because Local Authorities want information to be consistent across borough boundaries to enable joint action in identification of sites. These changes will confuse matters as they are leaving a vacuum. If neighbouring authorities assess accommodation needs in different ways, informed planning recommendations cannot occur.

3.8 The Government want evidence based planning, as do the Guild. The Government encourage privately-owned and run sites, as do the Guild. Therefore it would be regressive for vague concepts to replace clarity, especially when the Government’s own Consultation and the newly published Policy both call for clarity to be restored.

3.9 Local authorities have information banks dating back almost 9 years with assessments previously undertaken. They know what to do and how to do it. Changing the rules may simply hide the reality of the position and will not achieve the stated aim of delivering more legal sites. There was no previous indication of this move. There was no demand for this in the recently published consultation. It is not necessary and not helpful.

3.10 As reported in 2.12 above, there is significant overcrowding in existing yards with planning consent and fairground equipment is therefore parked on the streets outside. There is a danger that entire families will soon be forced to live by the roadside too with the consequential danger of this. The Government apparently believe that the reduction in unauthorised settlements that they believe has occurred is a success for existing policies but it is hiding the reality of the present position. There has been no significant increase in the number of lawful sites in the past 5 years, indeed a slowing down of new build since prior to 2010, and of course homelessness does not vanish unless homes are created. The abolition of the requirement to carry out accommodation Assessments will make matters much worse whereas what is required is clear, accurate, consistent data to enable new plots to be created so that homelessness is reduced properly and fairly.

4 Proposals

4.1 The Guild would request that Part 5 Para 84 (2) be removed from the Bill as it appears incongruous and most certainly would lead to unintended negative consequences.

4.2 If however the Government cannot undertake this change, then we would propose an amendment to PART 5, Para 84, (1) with the following

Insert new subsection (3)(c) to read Gypsies, Travellers and Travelling Showpeople.

4.3 Then in subsection (4) add the words "Gypsies, Travellers and Travelling Showpeople are members of communities as defined in Planning Policy for Travellers"

4.4 The Government are requested to confirm their intention to produce revised Guidelines for Accommodation Needs Assessments as stated in Planning Policy for Travellers and to confirm that the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain will be amongst the consultees for such Guidelines. We commend the approach of the Welsh Government who actively requires local authorities to create a 5 year supply of new sites in their areas.

4.5 Amending the Housing and Planning Bill 2015 to ensure that Accommodation Needs Assessments for Travelling Showpeople will continue to be undertaken with clearer guidelines would ensure that the Government’s aspirations in Planning Policy for Travellers may still be fulfilled and prevent further confusion for Local Authorities and the Communities affected.

4.6 We request that the Members of the Bill Committee discuss these issues with the Showmen’s Guild and with others so that our proposals can be pursued at Committee. We ask Members of the Bill Committee to raise these issues at Committee on behalf of all those Travelling Showpeople who operate popular public leisure activities within their constituencies; create local employment and economic activity; and who pay large fees to Local Authorities whilst delivering this popular public leisure service.

November 2015

Prepared 26th November 2015