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UK Gets Tough on Gypsy and Traveller sites

New Powers To Halt Unauthorised Gypsy And Traveller Developments - As Councils Told To Identify More Appropriate Sites

Faster and more effective enforcement powers against the development of unauthorised Gypsy and Traveller sites are introduced today - as local authorities are told to identify more and appropriate land for authorised sites where needed within their area plans.

Temporary Stop Notice regulations, which come into force today, will allow councils to act immediately to stop unauthorised sites in problem locations being further developed. Local authorities will also receive advice from Government on providing round-the-clock services to tackle unauthorised sites.

The importance of an adequate provision of appropriate accommodation for Gypsy and Traveller communities by local authorities was highlighted by the Deputy Prime Minister. He is minded to direct Brentwood Borough Council to produce a Development Plan Document to allocate land for accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers. This follows the Council's failure to include sufficient proposals to address the issue in its draft Local Development Scheme, submitted to the ODPM on 23 February. This would be the first use of these powers under the new Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

There are wide variations in the level of provision by local authorities. In some areas all caravans are on authorised sites; in others only a minority have authorised sites to go to. In some areas local authorities provide all sites whereas in others, private sites form the majority.

Overall, there is currently a shortage of authorised sites for Gypsies and Travellers, leaving many Gypsy and Traveller families with nowhere to go. The lack of alternative sites can also make it more difficult for local authorities to take effective enforcement action against inappropriate sites.

The majority of Gypsy and Traveller families live on authorised sites without problems or tensions with neighbouring communities. However, the shortage of alternative authorised sites, alongside the rise of unauthorised developments, particularly on the Green Belt, has led to considerable frustrations and difficulties for both settled communities and Gypsies and Travellers.

Under the 2004 Housing Act and new draft planning guidance, local authorities will be obliged to assess the level of need for Gypsy and Traveller sites in their areas, and will be required to identify appropriate land where needed in their Development Plan documents. Funding will be provided through the Regional Housing Board for local authorities and Housing Associations to establish new sites.

The Government is also prepared to support Housing Associations to help develop appropriate sites in areas like Brentwood where more provision is needed.

Meanwhile a new Traveller and Gypsy Unit will be set up within the ODPM to support local authorities in meeting their responsibilities, providing advice on enforcement issues and the provision of round-the-clock services to tackle unauthorised sites. The new Unit will also support local authorities in addressing the shortage of sites, through the planning and housing system.

The ODPM is also looking at further ways to increase accommodation in appropriate locations and to improve and speed up enforcement against inappropriate sites, particularly in the Green Belt.

In addition the ODPM is today publishing revised guidance on the use of the stronger enforcement powers against unauthorised encampments. These were introduced by the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003.

Minister for Housing Yvette Cooper said:

"There are two major problems in the planning system concerning Gypsy and Traveller sites.

"First, local authorities are not identifying enough appropriate locations either for private or public sites. And secondly, they have not had enough powers to respond swiftly to development on inappropriate sites. The result is that developments on problem sites are causing tensions and difficulties for both the neighbouring communities and the Gypsy and Traveller community.

"We need more appropriate sites for Gypsies and Travellers alongside swifter enforcement on inappropriate sites. The two things have to go hand in hand. That is why we have introduced new powers from today for swift enforcement alongside new obligations in the planning system to identify appropriate locations for more sites where needed."

Notes for Editors

1. The shortage of sites was defined in the ODPM report 'Local Authority Gypsy/Traveller Sites in England' published by the office in 2002. The shortage is estimated at 4,500 pitches. The number of pitches to a site varies, but on average there can be around 15 pitches to a site.

2. The 'Guidance on Managing Unauthorised Camping' is a joint ODPM/Home Office publication and was originally published on the ODPM and Home Office websites in February 2004.

3. Today's update provides guidance on the new provisions introduced in the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 (amending the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994), which were consulted on during 2004. These enable the police to evict unauthorised encampments from land with greater speed; they can be used where the police and local authorities have identified a suitable, vacant pitch on a local authority site to which the unauthorised campers may be moved.

4. The Housing Act 2004 sets out a requirement for local authorities to include Gypsies and Travellers within their local housing needs assessments and their housing strategies. Guidance on carrying out housing needs assessment, including for Gypsies and Travellers, will be issued by ODPM later this year.

5. In 2005-06, funding for new site provision will be available from the Gypsy Site Refurbishment Grant fund. From the beginning of 2006-07 funding for all new sites will be routed through the Regional Housing Boards. They will allocate funding from their regional housing pots (which total around £2.5 billion a year) for site provision by both local authorities and housing associations.

6. Secondary legislation will be put in place later this year to enable housing associations to build and manage Gypsy and Traveller sites.

7. We are consulting on a revised circular 1/94 which is the planning guidance to local authorities on gypsy and traveller sites. The revised guidance will oblige local authorities to identify land appropriate for Gypsy and Traveller sites where needed and will not allow them simply to identify criteria.

8. Temporary Stop Notices were introduced as part of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

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