House of Commons Library

Gypsies and travellers: planning provisions

Published Thursday, March 28, 2019

Gypsies and travellers have their own specific section of Government planning policy for England. Changes made by the coalition Government were designed to strengthen enforcement powers, to change the definition of a traveller for planning purposes, and to give greater protection to green belt areas. This note sets out these issues in more detail.

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This note sets out the planning policies relating to gypsy and traveller site provision, along with changes made by the former coalition Government.

The Government’s planning policies and requirements for gypsy and traveller sites is set out in Planning policy for traveller sites, which must be taken into consideration in preparing local plans and taking planning decisions. It encourages local authorities to formulate their own evidence base for gypsy and traveller needs and to provide their own targets relating to pitches required. If planning authorities are unable to demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable traveller sites, this in turn may make it more difficult for them to justify reasons for refusing planning applications for temporary pitches at appeal.

In a January 2014 Written Ministerial Statement the Government sought to reemphasise existing policy that  “unmet need, whether for traveller sites or for conventional housing, is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt and other harm to constitute the “very special circumstances” justifying inappropriate development in the green belt.” The statement also confirmed that the Secretary of State would continue with his pledge to recover more planning appeals relating to traveller sites in green belt land for his own determination. Following a legal challenge which found that certain aspects of this policy were contrary to provisions in the Equality Act 2010 and the European Convention of Human Rights, the Government decided to “de-recover” a number of outstanding appeals. In August 2015 the Government has since said that it will “consider the recovery of a proportion of relevant appeals in the Green Belt for the Secretary of State’s decision”.

In September 2014 the coalition Government published, Consultation: planning and travellers, which proposes to change the definition of “traveller” for planning related purposes so that it would exclude those who have permanently ceased from travelling. This change came into force from August 2015 following a revised version of Planning policy for traveller sites being issued. Another change now makes intentional occupation of land without planning permission a material consideration in any retrospective planning application for that site.

A summary of all available powers which can be used by police and local authorities to deal with unauthorised encampments, along with references to all the legislation is set out in the Government guidance Dealing with illegal and unauthorised encampments: A summary of available powers, March 2015 and is not reproduced in this note.

STOP PRESS:  Review of enforcement powers in April 2018

In the debate on gypsies, travellers and local communities on 9 October 2017, several Members drew attention to perceived problems in dealing with unauthorised encampments. The then housing minister, Alok Sharma, said that the Government expected local authorities and the police to act, to deal with problems; he announced a review of the effectiveness of enforcement against unauthorised encampments, but said this was not a reason for local authorities and the police not to use their existing powers.  In the Westminster Hall debate on unauthorised encampments on 12 October 2017, the then junior housing minister, Marcus Jones, reiterated that the law must apply to everyone and agencies should work together to deal with wrongdoing.

In April 2018, the Government therefore launched its consultation on powers to deal with unauthorised encampments.  The consultation observed that there was considerable variation in how enforcement powers were used and invited views on what additional powers might be needed. The consultation closed on 15 June 2018.

The Government response to the consultation was published in February 2019. In it, the Government set out its intentions for further action on unauthorised development and encampments, including (it said):

  • Stronger powers for the police to respond to unauthorised encampments by amending legislation to permit the police to direct trespassers to suitable authorised sites located in neighbouring local authority areas; increase the period of time in which trespassers directed from land would be unable to return; to lower the number of vehicles needing to be involved in an unauthorised encampment before police powers can be exercised; to enable the police to remove trespassers from land that forms part of the highway.
  • Practical and financial support for local authorities including new good practice guidance and funding for planning enforcement to support local authorities to deal with unauthorised encampments more effectively.
  • Supporting traveller site provision through planning policy and the Affordable Homes Programme.
  • Support for the travelling community to improve life chances through seeking to address barriers and continue to improve outcomes in terms of education and healthcare

More information about planning enforcement in general is set out in the Commons Library briefing, Enforcement of Planning Law.

This briefing applies to England only.

Commons Briefing papers SN07005

Author: Gabrielle Garton Grimwood

Topics: Ethnic groups, Planning

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