The government’s recent planning policy developments are set to ‘make things worse for the poorest Gypsies and Travellers’.
A number of Gypsy and Traveller groups have recently announced their concern over the latest planning proposals from the Coalition government. The Irish Traveller Movement in Britain (ITMB), Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) and JUST West Yorkshire have all voiced strong criticism of what is seen as the latest attack on the ‘the most vulnerable Gypsies and Travellers’.
Last year, Eric Pickles of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) announced plans to ‘stop caravans in their tracks’. Between 21 December 2012 and 13 February 2013, the DCLG hosted a consultation on changes to Temporary Stop Notices (TSNs). (TSNs are tools that local authorities can use to stop unauthorised developments immediately, with a fine of up to £20,000 in case of their breach.)
When introduced in 2004, the Labour government proscribed the use of TSNs against caravans, arguing that the shortfall of official sites meant that it would be unreasonable to use such enforcement measures against Gypsies and Travellers. Now the Coalition, under the guise of ‘cutting unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy’, is considering revoking this ban, thereby empowering local authorities by granting them further powers of enforcement against Gypsies and Travellers. There would be no right of appeal, and those served with a TSN could only take recourse through judicial review, a legal remedy that the Coalition has already sought to curb. (Read an IRR News story: ‘Dismantling racial justice‘.)
The Coalition consultation document outlining the proposals is, on the surface, concerned about the ‘balancing act … between the rights of individuals and the wider impacts on communities’. However, the measures proposed pay consideration only to the rights of the majority community to take enforcement action against Gypsies and Travellers. It is suggested that the answer to reducing unauthorised developments lies in ‘making enforcement more effective’ rather than attempting to deal with the shortfall of authorised sites.
The shortfall in sites itself is barely acknowledged. The document suggests that under the Coalition, Gypsy and Traveller accommodation has increased. In 2007, 13,070 caravans were on authorised sites. By 2012, this had increased to 15,900 caravans. This of course says nothing of an increase in sites per se.
According to Michael Hargreaves of ITMB, ‘some families, and it tends to be the poor, vulnerable and poorly educated, have often no alternative to move onto land without planning permission because of the lack of anywhere to go’. The Coalition’s consultation refuses to recognise that 20 per cent of the UK’s Gypsy and Traveller population has nowhere to live under existing planning regulations. Instead of considering this, the DCLG’s impact and risk assessments reveal that the worry that local authorities may be too timid to use TSNs ‘for fear of breaching requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998 and/or Equalities Act’.
This development occurs in tandem with the Department for Education’s consultation on proposals to prosecute Traveller parents for a child’s non-attendance at school (they were previously exempt). The proposals have been criticised for ignoring factors such as racist bullying or the difficulties of attending school without a permanent address. Some commentators have speculated that the raft of reforms is being pushed forward ‘to reassure core voters the Coalition is tough on Travellers’. (Read an IRR News story: ‘Consultation on the education of Traveller children raises concerns‘.)
Read an IRR News story: ‘Localism, populism and the fight against sites‘
Read an IRR News story: ‘Consultation on the education of Traveller children raises concerns‘