Gypsies and Irish Travellers and Local Planning Obstacles
The aim of our presentation is to provide an overview of some of the problems faced by Irish travellers and Gypsies when they are applying for planning permission within the United Kingdom. We will examine some of the reasons local councils give when rejecting the applications of this group of people. There will also be an examination of a report done by Sir John Cripps in 1977 as a response to The Caravans Act 1968. There will be a comparison between Sir Cripps findings and the experience of Gypsies and Irish Travellers in contemporary Britain.The term traveller is an increasingly meaningless word.
It describes a nomadic lifestyle, although in contemporary society this can describe everyone from a student who is travelling around the world on a gap year, to a business man living out of a suitcase for work reasons (Bowers, 2009). The term ‘travelling people’ is one often used in both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. According to the homeless charity Shelter (2007), this can include many different groups of people including Gypsies who may be of English, Welsh or Scottish descent, and who have Romany ancestry. Gypsies have a specific meaning for the purposes of planning and local authority law, which will be investigated below.The second group identified by Shelter is Irish Travellers.
Irish Travellers are a nomadic Irish ethnic group with a separate identity, culture, language and history. There are many Irish Travellers resident in Britain for all or part of the year. The third group according to Shelter are ‘Scottish Travellers’ who like Irish Travellers have musical traditions, language and other histories that date back at least to the twelfth century. The Roma, are a people who moved to Britain from Central and Eastern Europe (of which Britain’s Romany Gypsies are members). Shelter also includes second and third generation travellers, who after a long period of settlement, return to a nomadic lifestyle and travelling showmen who work with fairgrounds and circuses.
But for the purposes of our presentation we will look at Gypsies and Irish travellers.There are typically two views of Gypsy or Traveller imagined by people in contemporary Britain. The first view is quite romantic, where they imagine the family to live in a wooden, horse drawn caravan that is brightly painted. This view was portrayed in some older, black and white films, usually in a good light where the hero ends up getting the beautiful Gypsy girl as a wife or lover by the end. In fact, in the UK today you can have this type of gypsy experience by hiring this type of caravan for a short break or holiday although you should expect to pay around ï¿½240 for a two night stay.
Conversely the other view sometimes has very negative thoughts in the mind of most of the settled community. It is assumed, incorrectly, that most of the travelling community live in caravans, park up on any available green land, and leave a trail of rubbish and destroyed grasslands.They are usually assumed to be the cause of any crimes in the local area once they arrive. In the view of the homeless charity, Shelter, racism towards Gypsies and Travellers is still regarded as socially acceptable thus fuelling further discrimination. Gypsies and Travellers are often very well integrated into the communities in which live, whether on a temporary or permanent basis.
Bower (2007) points out that most people walk past Gypsies and Travellers every day without knowing it. However, the media continues to call Gypsies and Travellers strange, exotic and deviant characters that blight British Society. Travellers Times online quoted several news headlines from British newspapers including “Winning the war against travellers”, “Police Warn Landowners over Travellers, “Travellers Breach Caravan Defences” and finally “Travellers Need To Clear Off” (travellers Times, 2007). Travellers are expected by most communities to keep moving on and local planning laws may have helped them to become Britain’s internal refugees (Belton 2010)After a wide ranging campaign of resistance to evictions, a new Caravan Sites Act was passed in 1968, ordering local authorities to provide sites for all Gypsies residing in their areas. For the first time in 500 years, the British state had recognised its responsibility to provide secure, legal stopping places for British Gypsies (Bowers, 2007).
Reporting in 1977 on the workings of the Caravan Sites Act 1968, Sir John Cripps Found that Progress under the act had been unsatisfactory and that Gypsy families were living in ‘…hole and corner sites . . .
No non-gypsy family would be expected to live in such places . . .’ (Cripps 1977:11). He also noted that under British planning laws, the Local Authority (LA) has to allow time for local people to be informed about any planning applications, including the official change of use of a piece of land, to voice any concerns before they decide whether to accept or refuse any proposals. In his report, Cripps found that the reasons for the failure of The Caravans Act included but not limited to the following points:? Pressure from the public, stating that “it must be accepted that almost any proposal for a site will arouse strong local opposition during the period leading up to a decision” (Cripps, 1977: 12).
? Secondly he found that Gypsy habits, ‘the behaviour of most gypsies does nothing to commend them to house-dwellers as neighbours’ provided a further obstacle.? Vandalism of the temporary sites that Gypsies have used before.? A national responsibility- ‘it has been suggested that provision for a mobile minority living largely apart from the rest of society is a national responsibility not a local one as the Act states (Cripps 1977:13).In 1994 The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, under Eric Pickles MP, removed the legal requirement for LA’s to provide these sites and some authorities closed their sites to travellers almost immediately. Current government policy is that Gypsies should re-home themselves. As a result, more and more travellers are buying land and trying to create a permanent home for themselves such as Dale Farm in Essex.
Some of the reasons Cripps noted were still being used in contemporary Britain, and a postal survey completed by the government in 2002 found that 89% of local residents would oppose any land near their homes being used as a dedicated traveller’s site (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, 2003). Research by ACERT (Advisory Committee for the Education of Romanies and Travellers) (Bowers, 2007), shows that over 80% of planning applications, for the settled community, are accepted. However, over 90% of planning applications by the travelling community are rejected. The majority of these are rejected on public opposition grounds.There are several reasons the settled community cite when opposing planning permission for travellers. Many people believe that all Gypsies are criminals.
However, Bowers notes that just as in any other ethnic minority, some Gypsies are involved in crime. But Gypsies and Travellers say they have been criminalized by laws created to curtail their traditional lifestyle. In 1989, Romany Gypsies and in 2000 Irish Travellers, were recognised as ethnic minorities. In March 2010, the government published guidance on anti-social behaviour relating to Gypsies and Travellers. No other ethnic group has ever had any such guidance published solely for them.
Gypsies and Travellers are considered workshy, which fuels the fear of crime. Gypsy labour formed the bedrock of agricultural economy and tens of thousands died fighting for Britain during the first and second world wars.Gypsy culture has a long history in the United Kingdom with some surprising and well known people having their roots in this nomadic community including, Wayne Rooney, Kelly Brook, Shane Ward and Bill Clinton (former President of the United States) who has roots in Scottish Gypsy nobility (Pritchard 2006).In conclusion, the evidence would suggest that Gypsies and Irish Travellers are discriminated against by and fall foul of, UK planning laws. The local settled community in the UK has some long standing, deep seated and misinformed views of the travelling community.
It would therefore be a fair assumption that they would be fundamentally opposed to any applications in their local area from the travelling community, yet they have a lot of power relating to planning, especially as it is elected officials who make the final decision on planning application. As both of these communities are recognised ethnic minorities, they are protected under United Nations law against any form of discrimination, yet the media are able to publish stories with some frightening headlines that will only fuel any fears the settled community may have. Either a comprehensive education or a fundamental change to how planning laws are processed would be needed in order to give the travelling communities of Britain the same planning opportunities as the settled communities.