Update Janary 2011 – gypsies and travellers

Gypsy and Traveller Policy
Draft Replacement London Plan
Examination in Public

An update

This note briefly describes the lead-up to the EiP, what happened there and the likely outcome.

The Mayor’s development of Gypsy and Traveller policy has ridden roughshod over the large scale participation of the community, its obvious needs and exclusion, the proper consideration of impartial data, the professional planning method of objectively balancing needs and constraints, and the normal writing and interpretation of strategic policy documents.

Recent history

The policy (3.9) on Gypsies and Travellers started off as a slightly confused and unenthusiastic statement of Borough targets for the provision of new pitches for Gypsies and Travellers following the (previous) Government’s requirements that this be given in RSSs and a Pan-London Gypsy and Traveller Needs Assessment.  This assessment showed that there was a need for about 80 new pitches a year across London up to 2017 – about 1½ ha pa.

Political change

The Assessment reported under the previous Mayor and Government. The new  Mayor and influential Borough politicians appeared not to realise what it was saying until a year later when the Mayor started negotiating borough targets. He then got it in the neck from the Boroughs and back-pedalled with three consecutive policy changes reducing the target as follows

768            draft Housing Strategy  (Sept 08)
528            initial Plan Draft (Oct 09)
238            first minor alteration (March 10)
no target            second minor alteration. (Sept 10)

This final change was as a result of the new Government’s revocation of RSSs and their targets for pitches[1].  The Mayor argued that the policy became the responsibility of the Boroughs.

Additionally, the supporting paragraphs became less inclusive, withdrawing the one or two helpful sentences, such as “protect existing sites” and “foster social inclusion”.

Planning evidence

The Needs Assessment was certified as robust and was clearly a useful survey (in particular in that it was pan-London).  But, in order to bolster the first minor alteration the Mayor suddenly started quibbling with the survey method.  This was after three years of intimate involvement with the survey and use of its results; and was clearly unprofessional, desperate sniping.

With the final change the Mayor disowned the survey completely.  He also refused to “take a view on the assessment – one way or the other”.  This rejection was doggedly repeated at the EiP.

The Boroughs, with one or two noble exceptions, show no intention of undertaking robust assessments of their own.


Equalities

In this policy the Mayor took a minimalist tick box approach to equalities duties.  He interpreted his duty very tightly as being no more than to show that he had had due regard to equalities by arranging for and writing responses to an Equalities Impact Assessment  (EqIA).

His unwillingness even to offer ‘warm words’ of encouragement to the Boroughs in the supporting paragraphs is notable.

Where the EqIA did any more than ‘going through the motions’ it was firmly slapped down by the Mayor.

Again, at the EiP the Mayor doggedly repeated his view that he had done enough to satisfy Equalities law.

The Community’s case

The main points of the case put by community members, LGTU, the London Gypsy and Traveller Forum, FFT, the Showmen’s Guild, the Just Space Network and others included:

  • The Pan-London survey of need should be owned by the GLA and incorporated in the Plan and the Housing Market Assessment.
  • The plan should show an understanding of the needs of London’s Gypsy and Traveller community: the exclusion, deprivation, discrimination and lack of suitable accommodation.
  • Existing pitches should be protected by Boroughs.
  • The London Plan should set Borough level targets.
  • If there are no targets the Assessment results should, at least, be recommended to the Boroughs.
  • The Boroughs should be required to acknowledge the urgency of the need.
  • There should be robust monitoring of the policy.

EiP

The Gypsy and Traveller community made some 50% of the representations to the London Plan.  There were also many more technical representations on their behalf. Throughout the EiP the Mayor made no changes suggested by JSN members (or the community or other support organisations) even where these appeared to be unthreatening to his general political line.

The community was well represented at the hearing.  The inspector gave the (non-) policy a good 7 hours of debate and appeared to listen attentively. This was, we believe, in large part due to the extent of involvement of the community. The Community and its support organisations spoke for some 6 hours giving a convincing account of themselves. The Mayor disregarded all contributions from the community, repeating the mantras of localism and legality.

End result.

Left to his own devices (and possibly, even if he isn’t) the Mayor is unlikely to accept any recommendations that the Inspector makes to him.

Bernard Bourdillon
January 2011


[1] although the Mayor argues that the simultaneity was chance, not cause and effect., so as to escape the net of the CALA ruling.

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