Sunday, February 06, 2011
The major event of last week was the hearing on Thursday and Friday of evidence in relation to an inquiry organised by the Travellers Aid Trust into the effect of the 'localism' agenda and other policies of the department of Communities and Local Government on the lives of Gypsies and Travellers. To summarise, the witnesses considered that since the election and the purported rescinding by Secretary of State Eric Pickles of Circular 1/2006, very few if any planning permissions had been given by local authorities for permanent sites. Where the long process of accommodation needs assessments, public inquiries, and adjustments to ensure that local authorities which had avoided their obligations in the past took on their fair share of the numbers that are needed to eliminate unauthorised encampments had been completed, as in the East of England, some authorities said they would retain the numbers, but others adopted much lower targets, or decided they didn't need any at all. In London, where the calculated need was for 811 new pitches, the target was whittled down in stages until finally, the mayor announced that not a single pitch would be provided throughout Greater London, with the effect that 811 extra pitches would have to be accommodated in the home counties if unauthorised encampments are to be eliminated. Yet everybody agrees that unless the extra sites to satisfy the need are authorised by planning authorities, huge problems will continue, such as tensions between Travellers and settled communities, and health and education disadvantage among homeless Travellers.