Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Monday, March 29, 2010
March 25, 2010
I attach a response to the Conservative Green Paper on Gypsies and Travellers.
The Conservatives evidently failed to seek advice from established experts or members of the Gypsy and Traveller community, contrary to good practice in policy formation generally, and on ethnic minorities in particular.
There is no acknowledgement of the exclusion suffered by Gypsies and Travellers, which as the EHRC and others have demonstrated is primarily caused by a national shortage of sites - made worse by the last Conservative Government’s repeal of the duty to provide sites contained in the Caravan Sites Act 1968. The issue of Gypsy and Traveller site provision is a sensitive one which arouses the worst prejudices, but consensus has been laboriously established on a framework for site delivery. Your Green Paper would destroy this achievement at a stroke.
If this document is used by Conservatives in local or national election campaigns, it will provoke community tensions, as occurred at the last general election when negative Conservative policies, less extreme than the present Green Paper, aroused great concern among Gypsies and Travellers and an increase in racism in schools and the wider community. The attached note shows that your Green Paper is based on false assumptions and little if any research. I respectfully urge you to meet Gypsy and Traveller representatives and established experts in planning and race relations including the EHRC, and that in the meanwhile you put this flawed policy on ice.
Ms Caroline Spelman MP,
House of Commons,
cc David Cameron MP, John Denham MP, Dan Rogerson MP, Julie Morgan MP, Trevor Phillips EHRC
CONSERVATIVE “OPEN SOURCE PLANNING GREEN PAPER”
POLICY GREEN PAPER NUMBER 14 – TRAVELLERS (PAGE 18)
A RESPONSE by Lord Avebury, Chris Johnson (Community Law Partnership), Marc Willers, barrister, David Joyce BL and Andrew Ryder
Extracts from the paper are in bold and our comments on them are in italics.
Planning rules should ensure fairness between the settled and the Traveller communities. Local authorities have a role to ensure the provision of suitable authorised sites to tackle genuine local need for their area in consultation with local communities. In addition, recent
Since the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, central and local government have accepted that adequate site provision, both permanent and transit, is the answer to the problem of unauthorised encampments. Until the Caravan Sites Act 1968 was repealed in 1994, it ensured that 350 or so local authority Gypsy and Traveller sites were provided in England and Wales., But there is still a shortfall, caused by the failure of successive central governments and local authorities to ensure adequate provision. This has led to the endemic situation of unauthorised encampments and unauthorised developments, and it is essential that agreement is maintained on the existing framework, based on the policy of ensuring adequate site provision.
Where, therefore, councils have made appropriate provision for authorised sites in their area, which reflect local need and historic demand, we will provide them with stronger enforcement powers to tackle unauthorised development and illegal trespass. In addition we will introduce a new criminal offence of intentional trespass.
If there was adequate site provision, unauthorised encampments would be eliminated. However, local authorities may need to provide more or fewer that the apparent need as measured solely by the local situation, because some redistribution of the burden is necessary as illustrated by the example of
There is simply no need for further enforcement powers. There are already sufficient enforcement powers in place. However there is a need for central government to enforce against those local authorities which are avoiding their duty to provide for adequate land under the planning system for the provision of sites.
At the same time, it is important that settled council taxpayers do not foot the bill for the construction of new authorised sites. We will also therefore reform the situation of Traveller site funding to Councils so that Councils are properly compensated for new sites and require Travellers to make a contribution to the appropriate cost of services on authorised sites.
If this paragraph means that 100% funding will continue to be provided for new sites then we are sure that that would be welcomed by local authorities. Gypsies and Travellers already pay rent for such sites and it is difficult to see what further contribution could be expected
The Human Rights Act affects all the planning, eviction and enforcement decisions made by all public authorities, including Councils and the Police. It has made it more difficult and expensive to evict trespassers from private and public property, and has overridden planning law by allowing travellers to go ahead with unauthorised developments. We will replace Labour’s Human Rights Act with a new British Bill of Rights, which will help address these problems.
It is not clear how the Conservative Party proposes to repeal the Human Rights Act when the enforcement of the European Convention on Human Rights in domestic law is an obligation of the
The Labour Government has used the regional planning system and top-down targets to force local planning authorities to build new traveller camps often on Green Belt land and, if necessary, using their compulsory purchase powers to obtain land for these new Traveller sites. Conservatives disagree with top-down building targets, be it for traveller camps or new houses.
There is no evidence that compulsory purchase powers have been used albeit that they could be used. The sensible accommodation assessment process of identifying suitable locations for sites will be thwarted by this complete change of direction, which will have disastrous consequences for the systematic provision of adequate land for Gypsy sites.
As part of the abolition of regional planning and Regional Spatial Strategies, targets for the provision of traveller camps will be scrapped. In addition we will also scrap John Prescott’s controversial guidance on travellers.
Scrapping of targets and guidance will reverse the process of ensuring adequate site provision. This section of the Green Paper does recognise the need for adequate site provision, but is silent on how this can be achieved without targets or guidance. A great deal of work has been done not only in putting together the targets and guidance, but also in getting them generally accepted through consultation. In a recent briefing note for the Institute for Race Relations (Avebury, Acton , Ryder and Willers, IRR, 2010) it is argued that scrapping the Regional Spatial Strategy will cause huge confusion and derail the timetable to deliver new sites, leading to a continuation of unauthorised encampments and developments and increased community tensions.
The abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies will also wreck the mechanisms created whereby the site targets for some areas with large Gypsy and Traveller communities such as Basildon have been reduced by redistribution of pitch targets through the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS). The end of such policies of redistribution are implied in the line already quoted in Conservative policy which states councils should make appropriate provision which ‘reflect local need and historic demand’. Redistribution via RSS has proven popular with a number of Conservative councils who have seen their pitch targets greatly reduced and neighbouring authorities compelled to develop sites, who it has been argued with some justification managed to avoid their obligations to Gypsies and Travellers in the past. This begs the question of how widely the Green Paper has been discussed within the Conservative Party itself.
In addition, our promise to limit the concept of retrospective planning permission will also ensure that another route by which the planning system has been abused by those seeking to use unauthorised sites will be curtailed.
The Government Task Force on Enforcement and Site Provision concluded that, especially since retrospective planning permission applied across the whole spectrum of planning cases, that this right should not be withdrawn. We fully support the Task Force conclusion and the reasons given by them for their conclusions. A large number of very eminent experts on planning were represented in the Task Force and it is most alarming that their conclusions should be dismissed in this way.
As a result we will have introduced a legal framework, similar to that which exists in the
In Ireland, S 19 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 as amended by S 24 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2002, the 'Trespass law' allows for the removal of objects including a caravan placed on private or public land without the consent of the owner. It does not apply to temporary dwellings placed on land owned by a Traveller, roadside land, or land to which little or no public amenity is attached.
S 10 of the 1992 Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act as amended by S 32 of the Housing Traveller Accommodation Act 1998, the most commonly used method of evicting Travellers, allows a local authority to get the owner of a caravan on an unauthorised encampment on public land within a five mile radius of a site managed or controlled by a local authority to move that caravan to a vacant place on that council site, or on any other council site within the council’s functional area. The local authority also has power to serve a notice on a Traveller whose caravan is stationed without authorisation on public land, requiring the owner to move it to a vacant pitch on any council-owned site that is within one mile. Such provisions would hardly ever work in
Suppose it is conceded, however, that proportionately more evictions do occur in
“The number of evictions recorded – whether official or unofficial - is extremely high considering that the Department of Environment estimates that 700 Traveller families currently live by the roadside, while another 350 are sharing accommodation with relatives to avoid eviction from the roadside. Evictions are severely disruptive to children’s education and have a severe impact on the mental and physical welfare of the Traveller families. Sustainable access to services such as health and social welfare is made exceedingly difficult’.
Five years later, it was reported that in the year 2000, about 500 families were served with eviction notices without being offered alternative accommodation. The effect of making it easier to evict Travellers was not to reduce unauthorised encampments, but to disrupt the lives of Traveller families still further and make it even more impossible for them to play a useful role in society. This would be the experience in
Sunday, March 28, 2010
25 March 2010
Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
Government of the Peoples’
Prime Minister’s Office
Subject: Unilateral declaration of land survey in the CHT as well as unilateral call for applications by the Land Commission
The CHT Commission has consistently appreciated the desire of your government to implement the CHT Accord of 1997 and resolve the land disputes of the region in a fair and just manner, in accordance with the provisions of the peace treaty.
Clause Gha-2 of the Accord states that: “After the signing the Agreement between the Government and the Jana Samhati Samiti and implementation thereof and rehabilitation of the tribal refugees and internally displaced tribals, the Government shall, as soon as possible, commence, in consultation with the Regional Council to the constituted under this Agreement, the Land Survey in Chittagong Hill Tracts and finally determine the land-ownership of the tribal people through settling the land-disputes on proper verification and shall record their lands and ensure their rights thereto.”
It is evident that the treaty requires the Land Survey to be held after the implementation of the agreement, particularly the rehabilitation of the Pahari refugees and internally displaced persons and in consultation with the Regional Council. However, without any of these preconditions being met, the Minister for Land has declared that a land survey will be held in the CHT to ‘solve the land disputes of the region’. A similar announcement had been made unilaterally by the incumbent chairman of Land Commission to which the CHT Commission expressed its reservations at an earlier date.
The CHT Commission is disturbed by this unilateral announcement because holding the land survey prior to settling the land disputes is likely to unduly favour the illegal occupiers of Pahari lands by putting their names in the records made by the survey, rather than those of the actual owners of land. Settling the land disputes first, as specified in the Peace Accord, would enable the proper owners to be identified, following which the survey could record their titles and thereby protect the rights of the indigenous peoples of the CHT – as indeed envisaged in the treaty.
Furthermore, in order to resolve land disputes in a fair and just manner, the Land Commission needs to function in the manner specified in the peace agreement (Clause Gha-4). However, the Land Commission Act of 2001 is seriously flawed and inconsistent with the provisions of the peace treaty. These incongruities need to be rectified legally and this may be done by implementing the recommendations of the Regional Council to that effect. Moreover, the Land Commission has not been functioning as a full commission, but has been run by its current Chairman on his own. As a result, many of the other Members of the Land Commission have not been involved in its declarations. The announcement on 17 March 2010 by the Land Commission inviting applications for settling of land disputes with a time limit of 60 days has not been done in consultation with the representatives of the indigenous peoples who are members of the Commission. However, as previous experience of the CHT shows, unilateral decisions without consensus-building, based on undue exercise of power, do not work.
The CHT Commission urges you to ensure that the land survey is held and the Land Commission functions in the manner specified by the peace treaty signed by your government. This also requires that the Land Commission resolves land disputes “in consonance with the law, custom and practice in force in the Chittagong Hill Tracts” as a prerequisite for holding of the land survey (Clause Gha-6-Kha). Without specifying criteria based on customary rights, the indigenous peoples are unlikely to be able to establish their authentic land rights even if the Land Commission functions properly.
We appeal to you to restrain this urge to rush into a land survey which is likely to be manifestly unfair to the indigenous peoples of the CHT while providing a means of legitimizing illegal occupation of Pahari lands. Such an outcome would be exactly the opposite of the objectives and sprit of the CHT Accord of 1997.
On behalf of the CHT Commission
Eric Avebury; Sultana Kamal; Ida Nicolaisen
Co-chairs of the CHT Commission
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Monday, March 22, 2010
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Alastair and Gill, and two of their friends, were at a party round the corner last night, and Alastair called just after we got home o ask if they could stay the night, which they did. They all crept up the stairs like mice when they got in at some unearthly hour, but I heard them, being a light sleeper/ This afternoon Alastair and Gill went off the Richmond, to see Alastair's cousin and possibly to have a walk in Richmond Park.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
In the evening, to Midsummer Night's Dream at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, arriving in the nick of time after circling the one-way system several times trying to find the theatre, in spite of the satnav. It was packed out, no doubt because Judy Dench was playing Titania, but Julian Wadham was an excellent Theseus.
Wednesday, took part in exchanges following John Sandwich's Question on Sudan, and in the evening spoke at the Orpington Circle's 3rd Annual Dinner, with Ming Campbell, David Steel, Ros Scott and David Chidgey We had to rush back to the House in the middle of the main course, to vote on an Order dealing with parking in Richmond, a source of great concern to the residents. The Tories abstained when we put a fatal motion to the vote.