Monday, August 14, 2006

Frequent Movers

From Lord Avebury P0612084

Tel 020-7274 4617

August 12, 2006

I have seen the report Moving On: Reconnecting Frequent Movers, [FM] which was published after Parliament rose for the summer recess, ( and I can well understand why the DCLG and government as a whole may have been pleased for it to have escaped attention. Did we need to be told, for instance, that in comparison to non movers, frequent movers feel less like part of the community, or that pupils who stay at the same school for all their secondary education were much more likely to achieve 5 GCSE passes than those who joined later?

I was expecting FM to say something about Gypsies and Travellers, but there is merely one short paragraph (3.9) which adds nothing to our knowledge of the problems. I gather that no further publication of material on Gypsies and Travellers arising from the project is intended, and would be grateful if you would let me know the estimated cost of the work done on FM including publication.

In paragraph 5.8 of FM, where reference is made to the government’s strategy for preventing homelessness, the opportunity of reminding local authorities of their responsibility under S 3 of the Homelessness Act 2002, to formulate a strategy for preventing homelessness, and to secure that sufficient accommodation is and will be available for people who are or may become homeless, has been missed. Of the 152 authorities where there were unauthorised Gypsy encampments in the previous January’s ODPM count whose strategies were checked in August 2003, 107 or 70.4% did not mention Travellers. Many of the authors of the Strategies appear to be unaware of S 175 of the Housing Act 1996, which specifically identifies Travellers on unauthorised sites as homeless, although it was referred to in the ODPM’s Code of Guidance para 11.40 ( Has anything been done to remind local authorities of that definition, and suggest that they update their homelessness strategies accordingly?
The final section of FM, Conclusion and next steps, does not contain any proposals for improving the situation of Gypsies and Travellers, who are often involuntary frequent movers because they get moved on from one unauthorised site to another. It is the shortage of sites, caused partly by the repeal of the Caravan Sites Act 1998 in the Criminal Justice and Public Order act 1994, which causes these movements, as we predicted at the time. The problem has been analysed frequently since then, for example by Pat Niner eight years ago (The provision and condition of local authority Gypsy/Traveller sites in England, ODPM, October 2002), but a comprehensive solution must await the completion by local housing authorities of the Gypsy and Traveller accommodation needs assessments required by S 225 of the Housing Act 2004, and the subsequent formulation of local development documents under the Planning Act 2004 specifying the areas which are to be used for the purpose of providing that accommodation. This process will take some years, and it would have been useful if FM had said that, and had recommended that in the meanwhile local authorities should exercise their powers of eviction from unauthorised sites sparingly, and with due regard to the health, welfare and educational needs of the residents, as required by law.

In the case of BATH & NORTH EAST SOMERSET COUNCIL, Claimant, and EILEEN CONNORS & Ors, Defendant, ([2006] EWHC 1595 (QB), Case No: TLQ/06/0321), decided in the High Court on July 5, 2006, the order for removal from the land in question of all caravans, sheds and portable toilets stationed thereon within three months, sought by the claimant was granted, but suspended for four months, and Mr Justice Tugendhat said that interference with the Article 8 rights of the Defendants and their families which would be involved in their being required to leave the site would not be proportionate unless and until this court were able to conclude that specific alternative provision had been made for their needs which the court considered to be sufficient to satisfy that condition, and that if this had not happened, the defendants could make a further application for the suspension of the order.

In this judgement, Mr Justice Tugendhat made detailed reference to Circular 1/06, which provides that where there is clear and immediate need, for instance evidenced through the presence of significant numbers of unauthorised encampments or developments, local planning authorities should bring forward DPDs containing site allocations in advance of regional consideration of pitch numbers, and completion of the new GTAAs. Why did FM not call attention to the requirements of Circular 1/06, and since Regional Planning Boards are likely to wait until all the GTAAs in their region have been completed before allocating pitch numbers to districts, is not this particular provision of the Circular of general importance?

The Planning Inspectorate’s decision to allow appeals by Gypsies in Basildon (APP/V1505/A/05?1183093 etc, June 26, 2006), is relevant to other decisions by authorities which had relied on existing Local Plan frameworks not informed by a needs assessment. The Planning Inspectorate letter to local authorities of July 24, 2006 (PINS 20/9/34) makes it clear that if a recent GTAA is not submitted with other documents, there will have to be an explanation for the omission. But are there other appeals in the pipeline where the local authority has not provided all the information required by this letter including the GTAA? In those cases, does the Inspectorate have power to adjourn the hearing, pending the provision of the information by the local authority, so that money isn’t wasted on legal fees?

In the particular case of Essex, where there were 442 caravans on unauthorised sites at the latest count, the GTAA which has been published since this appeal ( calculated that household formation by 2016 would mean an additional requirement of 59 pitches. Since the GTAAs in the Eastern Region were conducted using different methodologies, there needs to be some way of ensuring that the numbers in each of the separate GTAAs are in conformity with each other, and the same problem is likely to have occurred in other regions, where a variety of consultants may have been employed on different sub-regions. I would be grateful if you could let me know how this is to be done, and how it is intended to secure uniformity of the assessments between regions?

Ms Meg Munn MP,
Department of Communities & Local Government,
Eland House,
Bressenden Place,
London SW1E 6DH

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