Eric Pickles’ latest call for a ‘stamp on the camp’ style crackdown evades the issue of the lack of site provision and is just the latest discriminatory attack on those with no where to go.
Despite trumpeting the release of guidelines set to reiterate local authorities’ increased powers to evict groups from unauthorised campsites last week he failed to address the government’s not so progressive approaches towards creating more dedicated land despite a continuing national shortage.
The reality of site provision has led the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain to state that the move was just the most recent ‘anti traveller attack that was used as a cheap vote buyer ahead of the general elections.’
The document, which originally came with the hastily removed word ‘blight’ to describe Travellers’ homes (itself a tell-tale sign about the government’s attitude towards the minority group) outlined LAs’ ability to use Temporary Stop Notices, injunctions, fines and possession orders .
And when asked by press if the document highlighted a broader anti-Traveller stance Mr Pickles was quick to point out the availability of £60m funding to provide new sites across the country.
Yet what he failed to mention was that this funding co-exists with several more decisive measures taken since his government came into power in 2010 which have made it harder to build sites and protect Travelling communities from unfair council tactics.
It began in 2010 when the Department for Communities abolished the regional spatial strategy in 2010, introduced by Labour in 200 to try tackle the problem of a lack of Traveller site provision and enable governmental sanctions if not enough was being done. Dropped before it had had chance to make a difference it was replaced with the Localism Bill, which has relaxed the pressure placed on LAs.
Under the revamped Local Plans they can now make their own mind up about how many Travellers they want to accommodate with only planning ‘guidance’ to encourage them to create more sites and create long-term targets to deal with a widespread shortage of at least that were defined as being needed in England and Wales according to the European Human Rights Commission in 2010.
And it will be dependent on the attitude and attention given by the individual planning inspectorate who oversees the implementation of the new plans as to if LA recommendations are enough.
Like many other LAs Chorley’s Local Plan stated that after an assessment there was “no proven need for sites in Chorley. Accordingly, the Core Strategy does not set pitch targets for gypsies and travellers, or plot targets for travelling show people in Chorley, and no sites (have been) allocated.”
Due to the nomadic lifestyle of Travellers and the most consistent number of groups being located in the South where more provision is in place the Localism Bill has made it a lot easier for many councils elsewhere to argue that they do not need to cater for more transient groups and to adopt a ‘if I can’t see a problem it doesn’t affect me’ mantra.
And indeed since the new government decided not to continue to compel LAs to do as Labour had tentatively tried to do more take up in funding, of which incidently a sizeable £30 million was scrapped in 2010 , has stalled.
In 2012 only ‘330 housing associations, LAs and other providers pledged to deliver 600 pitches’ according to the Homes and Communities Agency’s website, way under EHRC recommendations.
The sad figures even go beyond a 2011 study by the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain which predicted that targets would fall by 50% as a result of the abolition of the RSS.
And according to an ITMB report later that year out of those only Camden, Coventry, Solihull, Walsall, Barnsley, Doncaster & Leeds received funding to build new pitches.
The news of the renovation and building of this small number of pitches also fails take into account the planning battles many LAs will face in trying to secure sometimes as yet-undefined land for developments amidst often hostile attitudes of residents.
The report also said that take up was poor within two tier authorities due to a confusion over splits in power and ‘lack of ownership’ for Travellers’ housing provision.
Mr Pickles has misled the public about the reality of increased site provision in the UK. His most recent call to clamp down on sites and reminder of LAs greater ability to impose orders such as temporary stop notices simply risks further discriminating against already marginalised groups and will work to achieve nothing more than be a cheap and misleadin attempt to buy votes.