Wednesday, 05 August 2015

Clampdown on Travellers 'against human rights'

The government’s plans to clamp down on unauthorised Traveller sites will breach the European Convention of Human Rights, the House of Lords has heard.

Peers yesterday evening discussed the government’s plans to toughen the laws regarding Traveller sites which breach planning rules. Currently a council can only serve a ‘temporary stop notice‘, preventing the continued use of site, where it considers that the risk of harm to the public interest outweighs the benefit to the occupier. Legislation currently going through parliament would remove this restriction.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Eric Avebury cited solicitors firm the Community Law Partnership saying the ‘untrammelled’ use of temporary stop notices would lead to breaches of articles 6, 8 and 11 of the ECHR, which govern the right to a fair hearing, respect for private and family life and the prohibition of discrimination respectively.

Lord Avebury said he found that ‘not a single local authority’ has met its legal duties to identify and provide sites for Travellers. The planning policy for Traveller sites gave councils until 31 March this year to identify a five-year supply of ‘deliverable’ sites, and set pitch targets over their local plan period based on assessments. Inside Housing last week revealed details of a report by campaign group the Traveller Law Reform Project showing just 4 out of 115 councils have complied.

Lord Avebury said: ‘If councils provide a five-year rolling supply of land with planning permission for Traveller sites…and if they refrain from using these powers until those sites are provided, a great deal of unnecessary human suffering would be avoided.

‘Not a single local authority has implemented the planning policy for travellers sites, three months after the government’s deadline.’

Lord Avebury also criticised the government for its refusal to collect central data on councils’ progress. A government spokesperson last week said it does not do this because it is ‘for town halls to lead, rather than Whitehall to micromanage’.

Labour peer Baroness Janet Whitaker, referring to the changes to temporary stop notice rules, said: ‘His [Eric Pickles] precipitous move means that there will now be a complete absence of any need to consider, let alone provide, an alternative legal site if a family, even in great need, perhaps with an oxygen machine or with a heavily pregnant mother, is evicted from an unlawful site.’

Another Labour peer, Lord Jeremy Beecham, accused Mr Pickles of having ‘selective indignation’, by not collecting data on councils’ provision of sites. He said: ‘There will be mirth in every town hall in the country at the suggestion that this government’s policy on local government is not one that can be described as being top down.

‘When the Secretary of State tells councils that they ought to be collecting refuse weekly rather than fortnightly, not to mention pronouncing a range of other instructions and wishes which are then backed by the government’s financial distribution, it is a little much for the government to rely on their so-called localism as a defence for orders of this kind.’

Conservative Lord Tariq Ahmad, speaking for the government, defended the clampdown on unauthorised sites. He said: ‘Intentional abuse of the planning system by a small minority of Travellers who set up unauthorised developments leads to tension, undermines community cohesion and damages the integrity of the planning system.’

He said the government has made £60 million available through Traveller pitch funding and the new homes bonus for authorised sites. He said this will deliver more than 1,000 new or refurbished pitches by 2015.

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