Headlines: February 6th, 2006

Local authorities have been given new guidelines on planning and enforcement to deal with the shortage of authorised sites for Gypsies and travellers and to strengthen the action that can be taken against unauthorised sites. The move has been welcomed by the Local Government Association, which says the new measures are needed to achieve equality of treatment for both the settled and travelling communities.The new measures include the setting up of a Task Group on enforcement that will involve the police and local government. Planning Minister Yvette Cooper said three quarters of Gypsy and traveller caravans were on authorised sites but there were still too many unauthorised ones that could cause big problems for local residents and travellers, particularly in cases where there was anti-social behaviour. She said the new Task Group would bring together the Local Government Association, the Association of Chief Police Officers and other agencies and would look at the wide variations in the use of enforcement powers and champion best practice.

The group will monitor the operation of the Temporary Stop Notices that were introduced in March last year and which have been used successfully by some local authorities but not by others in areas with problem sites. The Government also intends to consult the group on proposals to strengthen the Notices where alternative sites are available. This might involve giving stronger and swifter planning enforcement powers to local authorities who have identified alternative provision.

There has been a growing shortage of authorised sites since the duty on local authorities to provide them ended in 1994. Under the Housing Act 2004, local authorities will have to assess the need for Gypsy and traveller accommodation in their area and guidance on carrying out those assessments has also been published. Where sites are needed councils will be expected to identify appropriate land, if necessary working with neighbouring authorities and Regional Assemblies.

Richard Bennett, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Task Group on Gypsies and Travellers, said the new guidelines would ensure that local councils would be able to make accommodation needs assessments and to provide sites where they are needed. “These local solutions for local problems will ultimately benefit the whole community,” he said.