Leeds GATE

Working to improve the quality of life for Gypsies and Travellers

0113 240 2444

Crown Point House,
167-169 Cross Green Lane,
Leeds LS9 0BD

Consultation on new definition of Travellers in Planning - A smokescreen?

Helen Jones's picture
By Helen Jones |  December 9, 2014 |

Leeds GATE has now submitted its formal response to the Department for Communities and Local Government planning consultation for Gypsies and Travellers.

You can read our submissions here and here

Aside from a significant change to the planning definition of the community itself, to ‘those who have a nomadic habit of life’, there are a number of technical changes, largely relating to obtaining permission within the greenbelt, that are being consulted on. The broad thrust is the Government feel, against all the available evidence, that applications for Gypsy and Traveller sites have favourable treatment over other applications. They conclude that changes are required to ‘ensure fairness’ and better protect the greenbelt largely through suggesting changes to the balance between accommodation need and harm. Examples include changing Planning Policy to explicitly state ‘very strictly limit new traveller sites in the open countryside’ and that ‘intentional unauthorised occupation’, however defined, should be weighed against granting permission.

This response was put together with the kind support of Ruston Planning and critical input from many of our members. Much of our position was informed by a meeting held at Leeds GATE a few weeks ago at which DCLG representatives set out their position and members provided a clear response. I would like to thank all those members who attended that meeting and those who have provided useful comments throughout; it was very helpful and ensured our response was representative of the views of the community.

One big issue to bring out regards arguably the most headline grabbing suggestion, to change the very definition of Traveller. Essentially, the Government were suggesting changing this so that those currently unable or not wishing to travel would no longer be classed as Travellers, at least in planning terms. Aside from the legal and practical implications of this, there is a moral and political point which stands out, about effectively trying to tell someone who or what they are. Most worryingly, there is a fear that someone powerful is trying to take away the identity of a whole group of people and the individuals held within.

It was therefore particularly pleasing that at Leeds GATE’s consultation meeting, I think it is fair to say the DCLG representatives were left in no doubt that this suggestion was viewed to be as offensive as it was unworkable. Members all spoke passionately about how such a challenge to their identity was totally unacceptable and would be strongly resisted if pursued further. It appears that the Government received a similarly strong message when carrying out a similar consultation event at the recent Traveller Movement conference. To hear that there is such a clear, unified and consistent voice against such a questionable policy is heartening.

One concern I do have is that this particular suggestion regarding definitions is actually just smokescreen; an unworkable policy they realistically did not expect to pursue but rather focus attention and then drop. It is important to remember that the Government proposals consist of much more and indeed there are some technical changes which if enacted would make it even more difficult for Gypsies and Travellers to obtain planning permission. My fear is that the Government will make great noise about conceding to one particularly contentious suggestion whilst quietly pushing through many other harmful changes.

We will therefore all need to keep a close eye to see what the Government does with these proposals over the coming months. Fingers crossed that the consultation has been worthy of the name and that we are properly listened to on this occasion! Thanks again to all of those that contributed to the report.

Previous article: "London Assembly says "Follow Leeds example on Gypsies" to Mayor Boris"

Next article: "Political apathy – How to break the cycle?"