Leeds GATE

Working to improve the quality of life for Gypsies and Travellers

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Housing and planning bill – This really does matter

Ben Chastney's picture
By Ben Chastney |  February 15, 2016 |

Buried amongst many other parts of the news, even for those who keep a relatively close eye on politics, is the importance of the Housing and Planning Bill currently working through Parliament.  Of particular concern is the proposed removal of obligations on Local Authorities to undertake specific Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessments.  Whilst on the surface a dry and technical point, the potential implications of this Bill for Gypsy and Travellers really must be spelt out.

We raise this issue now as in the coming weeks a further opportunity to make important amendments arises, as the Bill is discussed in the Lords.  Unfortunately in previous discussions in the Commons various proposed changes were largely rejected, overlooked or watered down.  Sadly because there are so many other legitimate concerns with this bill, whether over social housing, rent rules or wider planning, serious flaws relating to Gypsies and Travellers are easily overlooked. 

So what is the problem with removing GTNAAs? 



Councils have historically often been very poor at calculating or fulfilling need; one reason why specific accommodation assessments were introduced.  GTNAAs were one of the few things that got Local Authorities to think about need and, when this was unmet, represented a rare tool of accountability.  In its absence incentives, to grasp the nettle and provide sites, are reduced; within a context of serious and chronic under-provision nationwide.  

Let us not forget that the shortage of authorised sites is consistently proven to lead to an increase in unauthorised encampments, often resulting in increased tensions with settled communities.  The cost to Local Authorities in managing unauthorised encampments will also likely increase.  Crucial for us, Gypsies and Travellers without an authorised pitch also face barriers to essential services including access to water, sanitation, refuse collection or education; an unacceptable outcome.

Pleasingly we are not alone in making these arguments.  Not only have a number of fellow Gypsy and Traveller organisations been very active in exposing these flaws in the Bill, but some Lords have helpfully agreed.  The Equalities and Human Rights Commission have also added their voice and indeed are proposing an amendment.  We sincerely hope that agreement with our viewpoint and concerns about the Bill expressed by some Lords will translate into support for a meaningful change.

Leeds GATE will play our part in drawing attention to the issue in coming weeks.  We, alongside a number of other groups and individuals, will be contacting Lords to make them aware of our concerns and the importance of supporting a relevant amendment.  In a Bill with so many other issues to discuss, we do not want Gypsy and Traveller features to be missed.  We urge others to add their voice.  Please ask us how you can get involved and hopefully together we might stop this proposed change, bad for everyone concerned, from becoming an unfortunate reality. 

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