Lord Avebury, Patron of the Traveller Movement, speaking at the Travellers Movement Annual Conference at 10.30 on November 20, 2014 at Resource for London, 356 Holloway Road, London N7 6PA
Andrew George, Chair of the All-Party Group on Gypsies and Travellers, said when the Government’s proposals on planning and Travellers were published in September that the Government couldn’t ‘redefine Travellers out of existence’. That’s exactly what they’re doing.
They want Travellers to prove that they are nomadic even though legal stopping places don’t exist.
Gypsies are to be redefined, losing their identity unless they currently travel. This means that people on tolerated or authorised sites will disappear from view.
Travellers have tried to establish permanent bases for themselves by purchasing land and applying for planning permission. Very few succeed, because they are vehemently opposed by local councillors and residents.
But now, appeals against refusal of permission in the Green Belt are being ‘recovered’, which means they are taken out of the hands of inspectors and decided personally by the hostile Eric Pickles, who has been sitting on them for up to two years
Local authorities haven’t properly assessed the need for sites, let alone designated the land for them. And now, land will only have to be found for people who can prove they’re currently travelling.
The Government also propose that where Travellers buy land and then apply for planning permission, that will count against them, knowing that in recent years doing it that way round and appealing is the only way of settling down.
What they’re aiming to do by making nomadism impossible and then saying that Travellers have to be currently nomadic is to force them into bricks and mortar housing, as the communist regimes of Russia and eastern Europe did after the war.
The long-term objective is to eliminate caravan sites for Travellers altogether, a racist policy that doesn’t apply to mobile home parks for Gorgios.
The policy is also racist because Mr Pickles doesn’t treat appeals against refusal of planning permissions for Gorgio housing in the Green Belt in the same way as appeals against refusal of permission for Gypsy caravans.
In the two years to July 2013 89 Gypsy appeals were lodged for caravans in the Green Belt and 76 were recovered by Mr Pickles. Over the same period 6 ordinary house appeals were recovered out of 1,162.
Chris Johnson of the Community Law Partnership says that planning permissions are often allowed for housing in the Green Belt or the Green Belt boundary is re-drawn to allow development to occur; and he quotes as one example the recent approval of 100 new houses at Bucknalls Lane, Watford.
Contrary to the assertion by Tories that the planning system is slanted in favour of Travellers, the exact opposite is the case, and even larger breaches are in the offing. The Government has approved plans for a 15,000 home new town at Ebbsfleet as the first of a new generation of ‘garden cities’ to solve the housing crisis, particularly in London and the Southeast.
Ebbsfleet is brownfield land but inevitably these new towns, or the alternative proposed by the award-winning urban designer David Rudlin which is to expand some 40 existing towns, would mean encroaching on open land and the Green Belt on a grand scale. Will Ebbsfleet Development Corporation find space for Traveller sites when it is established early next year, considering that Travellers have inhabited the area since time immemorial.
More generally if there is to be a new town strategy for the hundreds of thousands of dwellings required to solve the housing emergency, its unthinkable that it shouldn’t incorporate provisions for the tiny fraction of that number, of pitches needed to eliminate the shortfall in accommodation for Traveller sites.
Putting the obligation on the development corporations could have the advantage of being immune from the interference by Mr Pickles and the organised opposition that affects every planning application under the present regime.
The money could be provided via the Homes and Communities Agency, whose current programme for the three years 2012-15 will cover £62 million for around 600 new pitches. But that deals with only half the growth of the Traveller population.
We need to know what the Government’s intentions are for the years 2015-18. If the HCA funding isn’t renewed, or if it is cut, that will be confirmation of the Government’s backdoor intention to deny Gypsies and Travellers their historic cultural identity.
The recovery of all appeals for Traveller developments in the Green Belt is to be tested in the courts in two weeks’ time, when they hear two judicial review applications against the Secretary of State. Unusually, the Equality and Human Rights Commission have requested and been given permission by the court to intervene in these cases.
Whatever the court decides, the proposals represent a degree of central control which is incompatible with the Government’s professed belief in localism, the transfer of power wherever possible from Whitehall to local authorities.
Most if not all Travellers want a settled base so that they can access public services, particularly health and education. They are the most disadvantaged of any of our ethnic minorities.
Refusing to acknowledge that for the Travellers with a strong cultural tradition of living in small extended family groups on caravan sites, one of the reasons for their disadvantage is their precarious existence being hounded from pillar to post, the Government are perpetuating the problem.
When the coalition came into office they set up a ministerial working group on tackling inequalities experienced by Gypsies and Travellers. The Ministers produced what they called a ‘progress report’ in April 2012, implying that it wasn’t the end of the story; but in the two and a half years since that date there have been no further meetings, and none are planned.
There has been no attempt to review the trivial commitments they made on accommodation, neither of which could have had the slightest effect on relieving the shortage. The exercise was entirely cosmetic, designed purely to fend off criticism by the European Union of the UK’s refusal to adopt a National Roma Integration Strategy as approved unanimously by member states for reducing the disadvantage experienced by Roma, Gypsies and Travellers. This seems to be another EU policy which Mr Cameron thinks he can ignore
The Ministers acknowledged in 2012 that
“there are still around 3,000 caravans on unauthorised sites, either on sites developed without planning permission, or on encampments on land not owned by Travellers. Gypsies and Travellers living on unauthorised sites can face additional difficulties accessing health and education services and the precarious nature of their homes can further exacerbate inequalities and stifle life chances”
But now, the people on these unauthorised sites are not to be included in the definition of Travellers, so local authorities will be able to ignore them in their assessments of need for sites. There are no commitments to increase the supply of sites, and the connection between the dire shortage of culturally appropriate accommodation and the inequalities identified by ministers was not reflected anywhere in the document or in later statements.
The Ministerial Group should be reconvened and asked to assess the likely effects of the new definition on the 3,000 families, and whether they consider that local authorities should offer them bricks and mortar houses on a take it or leave it basis.
The Group should also be asked to consider the bizarre situation identified by the Equalities Statement that accompanies the Consultation, that a Traveller who settles down permanently for whatever reason including old age, ill health, disability or children’s educational needs ceases to be a Traveller. She and her family are still members of a recognised minority ethnic group for the purposes of the Equality Act.
This will be a factor in the court cases the week after next. Failure to exercise the DCLG’s power “in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage”, seems on the face of it to be a clear breach of the public sector duty prescribed by the Equality Act, as I believe the EHRC will argue.
The responses to the consultation on Mr Pickles’ scheme for Gypsies and Travellers which ends in three days time will need to be considered carefully, and when the final decisions emerge they will need to be debated in Parliament. It will be too late for the Government to introduce the primary legislation that would be required if as proposed, they decide to alter the definition of Gypsies. This means that at least there will be a reprieve, and we will have an opportunity of seeing whether the parties, and individual candidates, will go along with Mr Pickles’ illiberal ideas.
Friday November 20 Report to Orthopaedic Surgery from Cardiovascular Services:
He developed angina towards the end of 2013 precipitating an angiogram which was performed in April 2014, This showed patent grafts [including a patent LIMA graft to the LAD, patent RIMA to the marginal system, patent vein grafts to the diagonal and right coronary arteries].
Overall, this was a reassuring angiogram and means that no myocardial revascularisation was indicated.
From the point of view of elective orthopaedic surgery, [there is] significant co-morbidity and his operatve risk will be influenced by that. From the coronary point of view however he is very stable and already takes low dose beta-blockers. His condition is therefore optimal and nothing further can be done to reduce what will be a moderate peri-operative risk.
The question is whether to press for a right knee replacement, or should I put up with it for the 20 months I probably have left. The vascular surgeons will probably recommend against it.