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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 01/03/2005
Consultation Paper : Draft Circular on Planning for Gypsy and Traveller Sites



Summary & Purpose
During the passage of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 through the parliamentary process, the Government gave a commitment to review the guidance contained in the current Circular 1/94 “Gypsy Sites and Planning”. On 21st December the Government published a Consultation Paper on a revised Circular “Planning for Gypsy and Traveller Sites”. Views are sought on the draft Circular by 18th March 2005.

A copy of the Draft Circular is available in the Members’ Room.

Over the last twenty years or so the Council has worked with the Gypsy and Traveller communities in Waverley to establish sufficient sites for their needs. It has also taken appropriate action when unauthorised encampments have taken place. In many respects this draft Circular changes fundamentally the principles within which this Council has operated.

This report sets out the views of the Planning Policy Special Interest Group held on 17th January 2005.

Quality of Life Implications
Natural Resource Use
Pollution Prevention and Control
Biodiversity and Nature
Local Environment
Social Inclusion
Safe Communities
Local Economy
Natural
Resource Use
Pollution
Prevention and Control
Biodiversity
and Nature
Local
Environment
Social
Inclusion
Safe, Healthy
and Active
Communities
Local
Economy
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive


APPENDIX I
WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

EXECUTIVE – 1ST MARCH 2005

___________________________________________________________________

Title:

CONSULTATION PAPER: DRAFT CIRCULAR ON PLANNING FOR GYPSY AND TRAVELLER SITES

[Wards Affected: All]
___________________________________________________________________

Summary and purpose:

During the passage of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 through the parliamentary process, the Government gave a commitment to review the guidance contained in the current Circular 1/94 “Gypsy Sites and Planning”. On 21st December the Government published a Consultation Paper on a revised Circular “Planning for Gypsy and Traveller Sites”. Views are sought on the draft Circular by 18th March 2005.

A copy of the Draft Circular is available in the Members’ Room.

Over the last twenty years or so the Council has worked with the Gypsy and Traveller communities in Waverley to establish sufficient sites for their needs. It has also taken appropriate action when unauthorised encampments have taken place. In many respects this draft Circular changes fundamentally the principles within which this Council has operated.

This report sets out the views of the Planning Policy Special Interest Group held on 17th January 2005.

___________________________________________________________________

Quality of life implications – social, environmental & economic (sustainable development):

E-Government implications:

There are no direct e-government implications.

Resource and legal implications:

The resource and legal implications are set out in the report.

__________________________________________________________________

Introduction and Background

1. Over the last twenty years or so the Council has worked with the Gypsy and Traveller communities in Waverley to establish sufficient sites for their needs. There are now 9 sites within the Borough which are home to some 90 families. In addition, there are 2 sites for Travelling Showmen providing pitches for 6 families. 2. The Waverley Borough Local Plan 2002 identifies the 9 Gypsy sites and Policy H11 specifically aims to ensure that provision is made within the Borough for the accommodation of Gypsies consistent with their needs and lifestyle having regard to the policies of the Surrey Structure Plan, other Local Plan policies, relevant legislation and Government advice. The sites are identified on the proposals Map and the Policy specifically states that these sites will be safeguarded for Gypsies. The policy goes on to identify criteria against which proposals for new sites or for additional development on existing sites will be considered. Whilst no new sites have been permitted since the Local Plan was adopted, a number of permissions have been granted for additional caravans on existing sites.

3. At the time the Local Plan was being prepared it was not considered necessary for the Local Plan to include specific policies for Travelling Showmen as there had been no proposals for additional development on the existing sites nor had there been any demand for additional sites. Since that time, however, there was a major unauthorised incursion of showmen on some 40 acres of land at Horsham Road, Alfold. The Council was successful in defending a planning appeal and in securing an Injunction in the High Court requiring the Showmen to leave. The Council was, however, not successful in its subsequent Compulsory Purchase action.

4. The Local Development Scheme [LDS] (in its revised form) indicates that Waverley will carry out a review of Gypsy and Traveller policies under the Housing Development Plan Document. In view of the fact that the County and Districts are combining forces to look at the strategic needs of gypsies and travellers, the LDS indicates that it is the Council’s intention to carry out an interim study of Waverley's gypsies and travellers in the first instance. This study will examine each of the authorised sites and assess:

the current planning permissions (i.e. what can be accommodated on each of the sites within the terms of the permissions and the site licences);
the current levels of occupancy;
the numbers of vacant pitches;
the current and anticipated needs of the families in occupation;
the capacity of the existing sites for intensification.

5. The interim study will also examine the situation at the two unauthorised sites at Pollingfold and Runfold.

Summary of main points in the draft Circular

6. The main points in the Circular are:

Comment

7. The Special Interest Group was particularly concerned that this important consultation had been published only a few days before the Christmas and New Year Break which effectively meant that the consultation period was reduced from three months to two-and-a-half months. Members felt that this was bad practice and put Local Authorities and other consultees under unnecessary pressure.

8. The Special Interest Group noted that much of the new circular is:

already Waverley practice [points (ii), (xi) and xii)];
something Waverley has advocated for some time [points (vi) & (vii)];
something that Waverley plans to do [points (iii) and (iv)]; or
something that Waverley is aware of [point (v)].

9. It does not appear that these aspects of the Circular will present any significant problems.

10. There are, however, serious concerns about points (i), (viii), (ix) and (x), viz: Point 1 (definition of Gypsy)

11. It is proposed that the definition of Gypsies be altered to include both Gypsies and all other Travellers as follows:

12. Members noted that this represents a major shift from the current definition, set out in Circular 18/94, which states that Gypsies are “persons who wandered or travelled for the purpose of making or seeking their livelihood, and did not include persons who moved place to place without any connection between their movement and their means of livelihood”. This definition evolved as a result of the Courts clarifying the previous definition set in the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, as amended by section 80 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

13. Members considered that the new definition not only erodes the distinction between Gypsies (who are an identifiable cultural and ethnic group and who, themselves, do not like to be confused with Travelling Showmen or other Travellers), but also now includes other groups such as New Agers and others who choose a more nomadic lifestyle. Members considered the concept of “a traditional cultural preference for living in caravans” vague, unclear and unhelpful. Members also felt that, by redefining “gypsies” to include those who have stopped travelling, either permanently or temporarily, would appear to be contrary to the judgement in Wrexham County BC v National Assembly for Wales and Mr and Mrs Berry (2004) which essentially states that if a gypsy stops travelling, and abandons “the nomadic habit of life” he or she will lose the benefit of the more relaxed regime of planning control applicable to gypsies. Whether or not “gypsies” are redefined, it is essential for land use planning that the effect of widening the groups of persons who may benefit from a more relaxed regime is properly assessed and understood in relation to planning policy generally. 14. The SIG has serious concerns about the changes in the definition because they lack precision and are not based on any clear justifiable evidence. As such they could lead to confusion until such time as the Courts clarify the matter. In the view of Members, this is clearly unsatisfactory for both Local Authorities and for the Gypsy community.

15. The SIG commented that there seems to be no need to prefer to live in caravans permanently and it is unclear, for those who have ceased travelling, for how long a nomadic habit of life needs to have been pursued previously. Furthermore, it appears that there is no obligation to resume travelling once children’s educational needs or caring responsibilities have expired. Members noted that certain groups, for example mothers, who have an opportunity to decline to resume travelling when the opportunity to cease travelling was not available in the first instance to certain other groups, for example unmarried fathers. The definition may, therefore, be contrary to this Council’s (and other Councils’) Equality of Service Provision Statement and inconsistent with the proposal that Waverley should adopt the Equality Standard for Local Government. 16. The definition in the draft Circular now includes Travelling Showmen who do not travel together as such. However, the Circular also refers to DoE Circular 22/91 which defines showpeople as “self-employed business people who travel the country holding fairs, chiefly during the summer months”. It would be helpful if the Circular clarified this inconsistency.

Point 8 (Green Belts)

17. The draft Circular states that “new Gypsy and Traveller sites in the Green Belt are likely to be inappropriate development” (Members’ emphasis). The draft Circular goes on to state that ”it may still be appropriate to grant planning permission if the applicant is able to demonstrate that very special circumstances exist that clearly outweigh the harm caused by reason of the proposed site being inappropriate development in the Green Belt, and any other harm”. The draft Circular continues “each case must be treated on its own merits”. This changes fundamentally the advice in paragraph 13 of Circular 1/94 which states “Gypsy sites are not regarded as being among those uses which are normally appropriate in Green Belts. Green Belt land should therefore not be allocated for gypsy sites in Development Plans”. 18. Members noted that, again, no justification or explanation is given for this very fundamental shift in policy. Members were concerned that the proposed Circular represents a dilution of established Green Belt policy as, although Green Belt designation will be a “relevant factor”, gypsy and traveller sites will no longer be “inappropriate” by definition. Members noted that other relevant factors which will have similar weight, will include whether or not there is an adequate provision of sites and health, welfare, social and economic needs. Although the policy is stated to apply to “new” sites, its effect would (in practice) extend to existing or unauthorised sites.

19. The SIG noted that whilst Waverley is fortunate in having a Local Plan policy which both identifies and protects Gypsy sites, many other authorities are not so fortunate. Members noted that the LDS sets out a course of action for assessing needs of Gypsies and Travellers and that until this is carried out, the Council should be able to rely on current policy until the LDF work is completed.

Point 9 (AONBs etc)

20. The draft Circular state that “in areas with nationally recognised designations (Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Nature Reserves, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Heritage Coasts, Scheduled Monuments, Conservation Areas, Registered Historic Battlefields and Registered Parks and Gardens), as with any form of development, planning permission for Gypsy and Traveller sites should only be granted where it can be demonstrated that the objectives of the designation will not be compromised by the development. 21. PPS7, published in 2004, states that National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty etc have been confirmed by the Government as having the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and countryside and that the conservation of wildlife and cultural heritage are important considerations in all the above areas. The PPS goes on to state that “as well as reflecting these priorities, planning policies….should also support suitably located and designed development necessary to facilitate the economic and social well-being of these designated areas and their communities, including the provision of housing to meet identified local needs”. The PPS continues: “Major developments should not take place in these designated areas, except in exceptional circumstances. This policy includes major development proposals that raise issues of national significance. Because of the serious impact that major developments may have on these areas of natural beauty, and taking account of the recreational opportunities that they provide, applications for all such developments should be subject to the most rigorous examination. Major development proposals should be demonstrated to be in the public interest before being allowed to proceed”.

22. The SIG is of the view that the draft Circular introduces a new set of concepts that are not included in PPS7. Members felt that the Circular should use the same clear wording as in PPS7 and should make a full cross reference to the relevant paragraphs. PPS7.

Point 10 (encouragement of "mixed use sites")

23. The draft Circular encourages Local Authorities to, wherever possible, identify in their Development Plan Documents Gypsy and Traveller sites suitable for mixed residential and business uses and states that if mixed use sites are not practicable, authorities should consider the scope for identifying separate sites for residential and business purposes in close proximity to one another. 24. The majority of Waverley’s Gypsy and Showmen sites are located in rural areas beyond the Green Belt. A few lie within the Green Belt. These sites are all now well established and, as indicated in paragraph 1 above, the Council has worked with the Gypsy and Traveller community to establish these sites to ensure that they meet the needs of the Waverley Gypsy and Traveller communities. This has included tailoring planning permissions to meet the specific needs of particular families.

25. Whilst it is accepted that minimal levels of commercial activity take place on all the sites (much as many people living on residential estates work at home), the Council has consistently applied conditions to ensure that:

no part of the site shall be used for commercial or industrial activities; and
no part of the site shall be used for the dismantling of cars or other vehicles or equipment nor the storage and sale of scrap or the sale of cars or other vehicles 26. Members were of the view that whilst minimal levels of activity do not give cause for concern, the proposals in the draft Circular appear to give the green light to industrial and commercial sites in areas where permission would not normally be granted. Furthermore, it is not clear from the Circular why Gypsies and Travellers should not use industrial sites in the towns for their business activities. 27. The Draft Circular also includes, in the paragraph relating to Mixed Planning Uses the curious statement that “Mixed uses are not permitted on rural exception sites where development is only permitted for affordable housing in perpetuity.” This sentence appears to relate to rural exception affordable housing sites and not to Gypsy or Travellers who, the Circular identifies as having an aversion to living in permanent housing.

Other points

28. Members are pleased to see a reference to the fact that Regional Plans should cover strategic gypsy needs, something that this Council and others have already pointed out to SEERA.

29. There is no cross-reference to the Gypsy Sites Refurbishment Grant as a means of funding.

30. The draft Circular states the implications of the Circular will have no impact on Local Authority resources. Officers do not accept this view. It is clear from paragraph 6 of the Draft Circular that there is a significant amount of detailed additional work which will require significant resources.

Conclusion

31. The proposed definition:

contains vague and unclear concepts which conflict with recent judgements and with other Government Circular advice;
is not backed up by any clear justifiable evidence;
unacceptably erodes the distinction between Gypsies (who are a distinct cultural and ethnic group) and other Travellers, including Travelling Showmen, who have economic cohesion; and
appears to be indirectly discriminatory. 32. The draft Circular dilutes unacceptably Green Belt policy.

33. The draft Circular introduces a new set of concepts that are not included in PPS7.

34. The draft Circular appears to give the green light to industrial and commercial sites in areas where permission would not normally be granted.

35. The paragraph relating to “rural exception sites” is not relevant and should be omitted.

36. The draft Circular should cross-refer to the Gypsy Sites Refurbishment Grant as a means of funding.

37. The draft Circular will clearly have implications on Local Authority resources because of the significant amount of detailed additional work which will be required.

Recommendation That the above comments be forwarded to the ODPM as this Council’s response to the consultation on the draft Circular.

Background Papers (DoP&D)

Planning for Gypsy and Traveller Sites (Consultation Paper) 21st December 2004

CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Peter Hartley Telephone: 01483 523297

E-mail: phartley@waverley.gov.uk

Comms/Executive/2004-05/430