The Government are currently trying to push through the Housing and Planning Bill. We are extremely concerned about the aspects of this Bill that affect Gypsies and Travellers as the Bill proposes to remove the statutory requirement on local authorities to assess the specific accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers.
The proposed amendment plans to subsume this into the main housing needs assessment and will cover ‘consideration of the needs of people residing in, or resorting to the district for, caravan sites and houseboat mooring sites’. This considerably weakens the provisions that are in place to ensure local authorities assess the specific accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers.
The Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessments were introduced as previously the accommodation needs of these minority groups were not properly assessed. History has shown that ‘mainstreaming’ Gypsy and Traveller accommodation needs assessments doesn't work.
This amendment will have a terrible effect on the Gypsy and Traveller communities as it will mean even fewer local authority sites are built and fewer permissions granted as local authorities will not have done any meaningful assessment on the accommodation needs of these communities and so will not have identified any need for pitches in their area.
In August 2015 there were also drastic changes made to the key guidance document used to determine Gypsy and Traveller site applications - Planning Policy for Traveller Sites. This has made it much harder for Gypsies and Travellers to obtain planning permission to live on their own land.
If you are Gypsy or Traveller, or a supporter of Gypsy and Traveller issues, we urge you to write to your MP to express your concerns about this aspect of the Housing and Planning Bill relating to Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessments. Even if your MP is not a sympathiser to Gypsy and Traveller issues he or she will be able to see the logic in not encouraging more unauthorised encampments by implementing policies which reduce the number of authorised pitches. Your MP could oppose the amendment when it comes to the third reading in Parliament which will happen soon (date not yet known).
We have written a draft letter (below) which you could use to send to your MP and we would be grateful if you could let us know if you are sending it and if you get a response by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We thank you for your support.
Friends, Families and Travellers
Dear (Insert the name of your MP here)
Re: Housing and Planning Bill 2015.
I am writing to you as I am concerned to hear about the proposals in the Housing and Planning Bill 2015 to remove the requirement on local authorities to carry out Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessments. These are currently a requirement under Section 225 of the Housing Act 2004.
The Bill had its second reading on Monday 2 Nov 2015.
I feel this will have the consequence of producing even fewer authorised sites for Gypsies and Travellers than are currently delivered, which will increase unauthorised encampments, surely a lose-lose situation for the settled and the Traveller communities.
As the Communities and Local Government Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessments Guidance of 2007 states, under the title Why assess Gypsy and Traveller accommodation needs?, ‘In the past, the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers (especially those who live in caravans or mobile homes) have not routinely formed part of the process by which local authorities assess people’s housing needs. The consequences of this have been that the current and projected accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers have often not been well understood.’
Due to the historic reluctance of local authorities to provide authorised Gypsy and Traveller sites statutory requirements such as that mentioned above are essential.
In August 2015 there were also drastic changes made to the key guidance document used to determine Traveller site applications - Planning Policy for Traveller Sites. This has made it much harder for Gypsies and Travellers to obtain planning permission to live on their own land. The result of this, along with the proposal to scrap the Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessments will lead to more unauthorised encampments. This will not only have a disastrous effect on the Gypsy and Traveller communities in terms of accessing accommodation, healthcare and education, but will also increase community tensions.
If you share these concerns we would request that you submit them to the scrutiny committee on this issue and support an amendment to the Bill regarding this issue at the 3rd reading in Parliament.
To learn more about why the GTAAs were introduced see - Communities and Local Government Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessments Guidance of 2007, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/gypsy-and-traveller-accommodation-needs-assessments
I would be grateful if you could get back to me on this issue to let me know your thoughts and what you can do about this proposal.
(Insert your name and address here)