Friday, 06 March 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.

Readers' comments (29)

  • Seems the stable and indigenous population is discriminated against at all levels. Might as well become a traveller!

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  • The main reason for illegal sites is the failure of local authorities to set up legal sites to meet identified needs. Gypsy and Traveller sites enjoy the same status under legislation as land for building homes for the settled community - yet local authorities drag their heels on traveller sites, go through lengthy and expensive legal processes and most ultimately are granted permission - the main reason being failure to provide legal sites.

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  • Exasperated Me - local sentiments such as yours cause a lot of problems - and yet the authorities are quite liberal not only regards planning applications but also huge financial subsidies for bricks and mortar homes for the settled community.

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  • Peter Fish

    Astonishing - Venk is spot on in this matter.

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  • There needs to be a national level debate about whether there should be any specific provision/protection for travellers. There was a time, long ago now, when they were a vital part of the labour force, travelling the country following the seasons and crops, be it potato picking in Scotland, hop pickig in Kent etc. As a vital part of the labour force there was a clear pragmatic justification for providing them with sites as they traveleld the country. My understanding is that due to mechanisation and cheap labour from elsewhere the traditional traveller no longer participates in these industries anymore. The need to provide them with sites has gone. They have no reason to travel other than the fact they feel it is their right to live that way. In a modern industrilaised society we can no longer afford to spend the time and money accommodating this lifestyle choice.

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  • Daniel Sweeney

    Sorry Hugh. Theres a difference between 'lifestyle Choice' and way of life. Read your comment above and see if this sums it up. 'We shouldnt have to give a damn about the culture of minority groups in England' ( Im deliberately using England as the Govt thinks this is a synonym for the United Kingdom) Judging by your name, your anticeedants are probably from this side of the ditch, or (even worse!) from North of Hadrians wall. You my friend are part of an ethnic minority in Englandshire as well. Travellers and Gypsies seem to have replaced the Outlaws and Hells Angels at the top of the list for folk devils these days. I dont see what the big issue is with a council putting some land aside and running a water supply, sewage disposal and power to it as a halting site. Even where the Travellers buy their own land, the little englanders block attempts to develop or improve their sites (see dale farm). A lot of the objection is plain and simple rooted in racism, and now that its no longer seen as 'acceptable' (if it ever was) to have a go at the 'coloured chappies', the same mindsets are looking for an alternative. Travellers and Gypsies will do as they tend to be less well organbisaed and have that 'folk devil' status. I'm not having a personal go at you Hugh, but this sort of thing makes my blood boil when you see our strategic Housing Authority (NIHE) identifying sites, only to have access to thenm blocked by Councils or the old favourite, not issuiing a license under the Caravans Act. There are sections of the community (travelling community) who do themselves no favours but that cuts both ways with some fairly reprehensible members of the settled community as well.

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  • Gavin Rider

    I fail to see why a Council should be obliged to allocate land for travellers to pitch up on, given that the use of the land for the designated purpose is not equally binding on travellers (they are free to go wherever they want).

    And contrary to what Lord Avebury's solicitors say, I don't see why enforcing planning restrictions that are flaunted by gypsies amounts to "discrimination". The planning restrictions apply to everyone equally.

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  • Chris

    Good points Daniel - although Gypsies have not just recently hit the heights in the hate list. Don't forget they were the only race automatically exterminated during the second world war (no opportunity to slowly starve to death in a Labour Camp, or avoid death by feeding others into the furnace for Gypsy folk.)

    As for the current demonisers' list of hate, who is at the top of it depends on which department of government has sent out the most recent press release, and which government Minister has been supported by Mr Shapps in 'briefing' the press about how to present the matter.

    Meanwhile - Hugh, if travellers are not participating in agriculture anymore, who the hell are all those people standing around in fields across England harvesting Asparagus, for instance, just so that the good English can enjoy cheaper food?

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  • Ian Miles

    "Hate lists", Nazi extermination camps and "demonisers". Eh?

    Chris, what has that got to do with people objecting to the cost of councils being required to provide pitches for travellers? And your sarcastic comment about the "good English"...

    Let's have a reasoned debate and leave the virtiollic finger pointing behind - with the loathsome Nazis.

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  • Exasperated Me obviously does not know much UK history, otherwise he would know that Irish Travellers have for more right to describe themselves as ' indigenous' to these islands than any other sector of the population. Breath-taking ignorance!

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