The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has announced a new consultation on changes to regulations regarding the provision of sites for the traveller community and related guidance, with a deadline for responses of 23 November.
Proposed new measures to tackle travellers who flout planning rules and abuse the system will crack down on unauthorised sites, Housing Minister Brandon Lewis said today (14 September 2014). They will ensure fairness for all in the planning system and provide greater protection for our countryside and the green belt.
Between 2000 and 2009 there was a 4-fold increase in the numbers of unauthorised caravans – which, the minister argued, created tensions between travellers and the settled population.
Measures proposed today will ensure those who cause misery to their neighbours by setting up unauthorised sites do not benefit from the very planning rules they choose to ignore.
Brandon Lewis said: ‘We will not sit back and allow people who bypass the law to then benefit from the protection it can offer. We have already strengthened the powers that councils have to enforce planning rules and take action against breaches which fuel community tensions. This will not only tackle the abuse of the system but prevent long drawn-out cases like Dale Farm.’
Today’s proposed measures go even further, and would end the perverse incentive for councils not to act when travellers ignore planning rules and set up unauthorised sites.
Where travellers set up large-scale unauthorised sites, they can cause misery for neighbours as well as significant costs to the council.
Local authorities are then faced with the difficult choice of taking early enforcement action – meaning they are required to meet the needs of travellers being moved on – or simply leave them to continue living on sites without planning permission.
Under today’s proposals, there would be no assumption that councils facing this problem in their area would have to plan to meet that need, which has only arisen because of large-scale unauthorised sites.
Instead, councils in this situation would simply be required to plan to provide sites for the numbers of travellers they could reasonably expect.
On top of this, it proposes that the definition of travellers in planning law will be changed so that local authorities would only be asked to plan ahead to meet the needs of those who lead a genuine travelling lifestyle.
This would mean any application for a permanent site by someone who has stopped physically travelling would be considered in the same way as an application from the settled population – rather than be considered under policies relating to travellers.
The majority of travellers are law-abiding citizens who abide by planning rules: today’s proposed measures would ensure travellers who play by the rules are put on an equal footing, giving them the same chance of having a safe place to live and bring up their children as anyone else.
Ministers also want to strengthen the level of protection given to sensitive areas and the green belt against inappropriate traveller site development.
Proposals published today would include reducing the circumstances in which temporary permission may be granted, ensuring green belt policy applies to traveller sites in the same way it does for most bricks-and-mortar housing, and that councils should very strictly limit new traveller sites in open countryside.
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