Negotiated Stopping vs Transit Sites – What is the difference?
Imagine you need somewhere safe and authorised to temporarily park your caravan. This might be because you have nowhere where you are officially able to stay permanently in your caravan due to gross under provision of such places. Or it may be that you are ‘travelling’ as part of your inherited cultural traditions despite having an ‘authorised’ site, or even a house, elsewhere. You pull up your vehicle(s) on a location that you deem suitable. You may well be part of a group of people all travelling together. Very soon you are visited by either a police officer or a representative from the local authority. Your visitor offers you a place on its ‘Transit Site’, where you will have access to your own utility block with hot and cold running water, washing facilities and your very own toilet. Do you:-
A) Move there immediately saying ‘Thank you very much’
B) Move there unwillingly saying nothing
C) Move out of the county altogether and don’t return for three months at least
Seems like a trick question? Surely the answer is A) and thank you kindly? Let’s start by defining our terms.
Negotiated Stopping describes an agreement reached between a local authority and members of the Gypsy and Traveller communities who are in the situation described in the first paragraph. The agreement may apply to a location that Gypsies and Travellers have chosen themselves to pull onto, or it may be applied to another piece of ground that the local authority itself suggests. The agreement is a temporary ‘social contract’ which outlines the terms under which families may stay on a particular piece of ground, without being evicted by the authority, for a defined limited period. Gypsies and Travellers agree simple terms (such as not lighting large fires, not dumping commercial waste). The authority would usually agree to provide household rubbish disposal and sanitation of some sort (skips and portaloos). Gypsies and Travellers often offer to contribute to the cost of facilities offered although it can be difficult for local authorities to process payments outside of the council tax system (which also means that there is no way to distinguish who would otherwise be eligible for comparable council tax benefit).
A transit site is a specifically built site, much like a permanent site, with hard standing, electric hook up and a bathroom. On the transit site residents have a clearly marked ‘pitch’ which will usually have a fence around to mark it as separate from neighbouring pitches (sometimes also referred to as a ‘slab’ or a ‘plot’). Indeed, a transit site is indistinguishable from a permanent site in most respects, the only significant difference being that you are not allowed to stay on a transit site beyond a defined period (usually somewhere between 28 days and three months). Residents of transit pitches will need to pay a returnable deposit and rent, as well as electricity and water charges. Sometimes several transit pitches are built to form part of an existing permanent site.
There are some problems inherent in transit sites. Some clues as to why are contained within this article from the West Sussex County Times.
Where an area has insufficient ‘permanent’ pitches (ie on which families can stay for an unlimited period), transit pitches rapidly become used to meet the unmet need for permanent pitches. Transit pitches should not be used to meet ongoing unmet need. Typically they do not have the facilities of permanent pitches (such as a ‘day room’ and kitchen area), or are located in unsuitable areas for permanent homes, away from local services.
Transit pitches, which would naturally feature a regular turnover of temporary residents, can be problematic for their nearby neighbours. Residents of transit pitches are not able to make links to local communities in the way that residents of permanent pitches can and may have considerably less motivation to care for their environment or have regard to their neighbours as they will be in contact with them for a limited period only. Transit pitches are significantly more likely to be vandalised, particularly if they are unoccupied for any length of time, which is likely given their role in meeting ‘temporary’ needs only. These issues affects neighbouring permanent Gypsy and Traveller pitch residents where transit pitches are provided adjacent to a permanent site.
Applications for planning permission for temporarily occupied transit use would, understandably, be likely to raise far more objections from any nearby residential or commercial properties (including permanent Gypsy/Traveller site residents). Neighbours to built transit sites can experience much greater community cohesion issues than neighbours of permanent site developments due to the temporary nature of their occupation but, unlike a negotiated temporary stopping site, the transit site remains permanently on their doorstep.
As indicated in the above article, the stated benefit to local statutory authorities, especially the police, of having a ‘transit’ site is that, where a pitch on the transit site is available, it enables the police power (Section 62 PJPOA 1994) to ‘direct’ unauthorised campers to move to the transit site (although this power can apply to a location for negotiated stopping also) or leave the area. By their nature transit sites are usually planned to be provided in isolated areas (ie where there are likely to be fewer objectors). Unfortunately this can mean that the location is unpalatable to potential residents being away from local services and facilities. Therefore those families directed to the transit site may be resentful of being obliged to live in that location, particularly where the alternative is to leave the county (which may well be their habitual home). Resentment doesn’t often bode well for local relations.
Negotiated Stopping, on the other hand, rests on a mutual, negotiated agreement. Residents of negotiated camps do have a reason to ‘get on with’ their neighbours if they wish to be offered a negotiated agreement with that local authority in the future. Particularly where unauthorised encampment is a result of insufficient provision of permanent pitches, families are going to wish to continue to remain roughly in the same local authority area and will be inclined to seek further agreements in the future. Therefore they are motivated to behave in such a way as to make the offer of further agreements with the local authority likely. Negotiated stopping is a process for management of unauthorised encampments. It seeks to treat people are individuals, responsible for their own behaviour and relations with their neighbours. It enables enforcement against individual infringements rather than the traditional ‘whole group’ eviction methodology which does nothing to address individual behaviours, or indeed individual needs such as healthcare or education. It builds an ongoing dialogue and relationship which can be increasingly based on personal knowledge and regards between individuals, rather than the ‘multi agency enforcement protocol’ described here by Sussex Police.
Negotiated temporary stopping places do not require a planning application. The local authority has the power to ‘tolerate’ encampments for limited periods of time provided the location is not deemed to be in a sensitive location. As stopping places are not permanent, neighbours to the negotiated camp are not required to ‘tolerate’ an ever present, ongoing, succession of short term neighbours which are a feature of ‘transit’ provision.
Facilities provided to negotiated stopping camps are not permanent. The local authority can lease necessary skips and portaloos when required and is not obliged to pay for, or maintain, them when they are not required.
So let’s put up another option for our camp residents
D) Via dialogue with local officials you either stay where you are under the terms of a negotiated agreement, or you move to a different suitable mutually agreed location, knowing that you will be removed from that location if you breach the terms of your agreement.
Leeds GATE, with our partner Central Conferencing Consultants, is pleased to facilitate expert learning days for stakeholders wishing to adopt negotiated stopping practice. We can also provide in-house training to your organisation or local stakeholder group if required. See our events page for more details or contact Leeds GATE email@example.com or 0113 240 2444.