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Winners and losers in the English Planning system

Ben Chastney's picture
By Ben Chastney |  August 25, 2015 |

Visiting a potential site location in Hunslet
The planning inspector visits a site application location in hunslet, Leeds. The application was refused.

Our colleagues at Traveller Movement have just released some figures, gleaned from the Department of Communities and Local Government, about the success or otherwise of planning applications for Gypsy and Traveller sites.

The figures make for interesting, if disappointing, reading. The data confirms what many of us had already suspected; that Gypsy and Traveller applications face a disproportionately tougher time in the planning process. The complete data set from DCLG can be found here; and the report from Traveller Movement here

The headline here is that larger scale applications to develop Gypsy and Traveller sites are 11.6 percent less likely to be approved than for other major ‘dwelling’ developments. The disparity in approvals for small scale developments is closer to 17.8 per cent. These stats are not a surprise to us, there has been much anecdotal experience of unfair and unequal treatment in the planning system across many years and several different ‘flavours’ of Government. Although the data does not present a positive picture, it is useful to have our suspicions of inequity irrefutably confirmed, particularly because understanding of this unequal treatment is evidently limited and arguably dangerously misguided amongst many politicians.

Major Traveller site versus major dwellingIt is impossible to ignore the many local and national politicians stating that the planning system is not a fair playing field in regards to Gypsy and Traveller people.  The problem is that too often, including in very recent Parliamentary debates, they suggest that our planning system is biased in favour of Gypsies and Travellers.  Whilst of course those views of some MPs cannot be assumed to represent the whole political system, it is distressing that elected representatives so consistently misunderstand, or wilfully misrepresent, the reality.

These statistics will provide a useful antidote to such misinformation. At the very least it should be more to argue that Gypsy and Traveller applications get favourable treatment over other applications, at least where there is someone with the correct information prepared to speak up.  This new data evidence clearly indicates that the only unfavourable treatment is in the other direction, and that this is happening at both larger and smaller scales of the planning system. [Minor Traveller site v minor dwelling]

Minor Traveller Site versus Minor dwellingSadly, just as many a politician has read the uneven playing field incorrectly, the Government are likely to propose the exact opposite measures required to address this inequality. I suppose if you misdiagnose the problem you will not surprisingly propose the wrong cure. By toughening up on Gypsy and Traveller applications, as indeed the Government have attempted to do earlier this year and may try to do again, the inequality gaps seen in these figures will only wider still further.

For those not interested in equal treatment or arguing that Gypsy and Traveller Planning law needs toughening because these needs can be outweighed by other factors, fine, be open about your reasons and we can debate. What should no longer be accepted is repetition of a line that the current system is weighted in favour of Gypsies and Travellers and that this injustice needs to be corrected in some way. We hope our readers will spread the word, as it is likely that things will sadly likely only get tougher, despite evidence like this indicating that effort in the opposite direction is needed.

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