Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Bad news for gypsies and travellers

One of the consequences of the proposed scrapping of RSS (and Eric Pickles’ stated intention that this should become a material consideration immediately) is that, as well as relieving LPAs of the requirement to find a larger number of housing sites than they would prefer if left to their own devices, it will also relieve them of the obligation to achieve specified targets for the provision of sites for gypsies and travellers.

Several authorities have seized on this as an easy excuse to surrender to NIMBY pressures, and have already announced their intention to reduce the number of gypsy and traveller sites they will seek to provide in their areas through their local development plans.

This is an extremely short-sighted and ill-advised change of policy. There is a considerable unmet need for gypsy and traveller sites in this country. This has led to groups taking matters into their own hands and establishing their own sites, often resulting in long drawn out and hard fought planning battles. Quite a few of these cases have ended up in the High Court.

The result of this change of policy on the part of the government will undoubtedly be an increase in the number of planning battles over gypsy and traveller sites, and more cases can be expected to reach the High Court, whether as challenges to appeal decisions or as fights over injunctions or other legal proceedings. One or more references to the ECHR can also be expected.

The new government is going to learn the hard way that ‘quick and dirty’ policy changes of the sort they have been announcing in the past few weeks will have serious practical consequences and will lead them into all sorts of political and legal difficulties. ‘Uncle Eric’ and his friends still seem to be in a gung-ho mood at the moment, but reality will impose itself on them sooner or later – it always does.


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