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

 

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.

 

Attachments

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Accommodation assessments for Gypsies and travellers 82.94 KB