Control expansion of Gypsy and Traveller sites

Kent has a long tradition of welcoming travellers and they are a valued part of our community. However in some areas, particularly around the villages of Headcorn, Ulcombe and Staplehurst, there has been such quick and uncontrolled growth of traveller sites that the permanent residents feel there is one rule for them and another for Travellers.

My Aims

  • Control the expansion of unauthorised Traveller sites
  • Make sure permanent residents are treated fairly
  • Ensure that Government planning policy is properly implemented
  • Improve transparency for Traveller site policy and planning applications

 

Progress

12 October 2016: Called for equal treatment of the travelling and settled population in a House of Commons debate. Read more here

27 August 2016: Received a letter from the Department of Communities and Local Government explaining the Government's position on accommodation assessments for gypsies and travellers. Read more here

3 August 2016: Wrote to the Department of Communities and Local Government asking explaining that Maidstone Borough Council does not have a five-year supply of land to accommodate its traveller population and asking what can be done to help

4 April 2016: Received a letter from Baroness Williams of Trafford, who is responsible for Government policy relating to Travellers, clarifying planning guidelines

23 March 2016: Submitted my response to the Local Plan for Maidstone, which included concerns about the allocation on Traveller pitches. Read more here

8 March 2016: Received a letter from Brandon Lewis confirming that if the police raise issues that are "material to the determination of a planning application", these must be taken into account by the local authority

7 March 2016: Meeting with Housing and Planning Minster Brandon Lewis to discuss application and enforcement of planning policy

26 February 2016: Meeting with Rob Jarman, Head of Development at MBC 

22 February 2016: Wrote to Alison Broom, Chief Executive of MBC, to raise concerns that a shortfall of Traveller pitches allocated in the Local Plan compared to the projected need would lead to further retrospective applications being granted

8 January 2016: Received a response from MBC confirming that the Local Plan projects a need for 187 Traveller pitches. Permissions have been granted for 81 pitches since October 2011 and the Plan allocates land for 41 more

18 December 2015: Wrote to Alison Broom asking if MBC had been able to revise down its assessment of the number of pitches needed

14 December 2015: Received a response from Swale Borough Council confirming that the new definition of a Traveller for planning purposes had allowed the Council to revise down it's assessment of the number of pitches needed

11 December 2015: Wrote to the Department of Communities and Local Government suggesting that the likelihood of an increase in anti-social behaviour should be taken into account in planning decisions

11 November 2015: Wrote to Abdool Kara, Chief Executive of Swale Borough Council, and to Alison Broom, Chief Executive of Maidstone Borough Council, clarifying that, under the new guidelines, the absence of a five-year supply of deliverable sites is no longer necessarily a factor in favour of an application. It is up to the planning authority to decide what weight it gives to land supply when making its decision. I also asked them to advise how they intend to put the guidelines into practice, including the impact on the number of sites needed to achieve a 5-year land supply and how they would make sure Travellers in the constituency are genuinely living a travelling lifestyle.

11 November 2015: Wrote to Brandon Lewis MP, Minister for Housing, inviting him to visit The Meadows

9 November 2015: Met Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark for guidance on how local councils should implement the latest Government planning guidelines

12 October 2015: Wrote to Greg Clark for clarification on how local councils will determine whether a person is a genuine Traveller

6 October 2015: Wrote to Alison Broom, Chief Executive of Maidstone Borough Council to ask for an update on the situation at The Meadows and how the council plans to apply the new planning rules

18 September 2015: Heard from constituent about The Meadows encampment and concerns about its illegal expansion at my surgery

August 2015: Wrote to Maidston Borough Council about the expansion of the Traveller sites 

August 2015: Visited Traveller Sites with the Kent Police Gypsy and Traveller Liaison team

30 June 2015: Met representatives of Maidstone Borough Council to discuss policy towards Travellers

10 June 2015: Spoke in a Westminster Hall debate about resident’s frustrations at the growth of Traveller sites. Read more here

April 2015: Visited Traveller Sites around Headcorn and Ulcombe with Cllr Martin Round

 

Background

Kent has a long tradition of welcoming travellers and they are a valued part of our community. However in some areas, particularly around the villages of Headcorn, Ulcombe and Staplehurst, there has been such quick and uncontrolled growth of traveller sites that the permanent residents feel there is one rule for them and another for Travellers.

Some of you have told me that Traveller sites have been granted retrospective planning permission after having been occupied illegally, and you feel this is not fair. In a couple of places, a few caravans in a field have turned into sprawling sites with twenty or more mobile homes, largely through the granting of retrospective planning. Their speedy development is a stark contrast to the hoops most people have to jump through to make changes to a single property like building an extension or an outbuilding. The fact that proximity to a Traveller site can reduce the value of your house and make it difficult to sell, problems of litter and anti-social behaviour and the ugliness of some sites in areas of lovely countryside  further increases tensions.

However in August 2015, the Government made changes to planning guidelines to make the system fairer and strengthen protection for the countryside. Under the new rules, people can only get permission for a Traveller pitch if they genuinely travel.

The provision of land for sites is another problem. Planning authorities do their own assessment of the number of pitches and plots needed to accommodate their local Traveller population for the next five years, and must take this into account when they draw up their local plans. Maidstone and Swale borough councils both had difficulties delivering enough sites to meet their own targets, and this meant it was difficult for them to refuse planning permission. Particularly in Maidstone Borough, the shortfall in the number of sites compared to the assessed need had often been cited by the council as the reason for granting retrospective planning permission.

Now the absence of a five-year supply of sites is no longer necessarily a significant factor in favour of a planning application. Planning authorities should decide for themselves what weight they give to land supply when assessing an application.

This Government has also changed the rules to make it harder to get retrospective planning permission if a site has been intentionally occupied without authorisation.

I want to see Travellers and the settled population on a more equal footing, and these recent Government guidelines mean that the local council can now address the imbalance. Over the coming months, I’m going to be putting pressure on the Borough Councils to make sure this happens in practice.

 

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Accommodation assessments for Gypsies and travellers 82.94 KB