Are Gypsies and Travellers likely to be more included in local communities following the introduction of new planning policy by the Government?

Gypsies and travellers book cover

‘Gypsies and travellers’, published this week

By Joanna Richardson, co-editor of Gypsies and Travellers and Principal Lecturer in housing at De Montfort University, Leicester.

Councils across England are looking at the impact of new planning policy introduced earlier this year by the Government. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and its accompanying document the new Planning Policy for Traveller Sites requires local authorities to have an up-to-date body of evidence on need for Gypsy and Traveller sites and also to have identified a rolling five-year supply of land that could help in the deliverability of sites.

A decision made by the Planning Inspectorate in Hull that, due to a lack of up-to-date evidence, the development strategy was ‘unsound’, as reported by Inside Housing, has already created some anxiety amongst those councils who have not updated their Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessments, or identified land to include in core strategies. There is nervousness that planning decisions will be appealed in the future unless updated evidence is included in strategies now.

It is right that local authorities should concern themselves with planning and deliverability of sites, as the NPPF does create this impetus to ensure evidence on accommodation need and land supply is included in strategies. However, the challenge does not stop here; there is a need for councils to be concerned about actually delivering sites; and not just private sites but also affordable sites too.  Deliverability of sites is a hugely contentious issue as I found in my Joseph Rowntree Foundation research back in 2007 and this has not eased much since then.   

However, there are many more issues facing Gypsy and Traveller communities which flow out of a lack of accommodation, not least the seeming hostility to Gypsies and Traveller in many communities. There are health problems, challenges in accessing education and employment and seeming tensions in the justice system played out to the world during the eviction at Dale Farm. The media and politicians have a role too and the discourse in our newspapers, television and online has not got any more responsible and balanced than examples demonstrated for some original research I carried out for my book The Gypsy Debate published in 2006. 

The recent research undertaken as part of writing Gypsies and Travellers: Empowerment and inclusion in British society,  a new book co-edited with Andrew Ryder and including a number of renowned experts including from the Gypsy and Traveller communities, demonstrates that objection to new sites is still strong in many local communities. One co-author, Maggie Smith-Bendell, has lived this experience for decades and provides a compelling first-hand account in the chapter on accommodation needs and planning issues. Another primary eye-witness account from the Gypsy community comes from Richard O’Neill who discusses the challenges he faced in trying to monitor press representation of travelling communities and hold them to account. Other chapters in the book include an examination of health, education, social work and employment issues written by academic experts in their fields. My co-editor and author Andrew Ryder writes with Iulius Rostas on the EU framework for national Roma integration strategies so that the wider view can be taken and reflections made on progress for Gypsies and Traveller empowerment and inclusion in British society.

Our book shows that whilst there have been many changes in the political and economic context for Britain, the challenges faced by Gypsies and Travellers in this country are still severe and action is needed, now.

Gypsies and Travellers: Empowerment and inclusion in British society, edited by Joanna Richardson and Andrew Ryder, is published on 12 September 2012 and can be ordered now at 20% discount from the Policy Press website.

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