Communities Secretary Eric Pickles today announced proposals for a more localist and fairer way of providing sites for travellers, building on earlier commitments to strengthen measures to tackle the abuse of the planning system.
In new proposed planning guidelines, the Green Belt and countryside will have more robust protection, local councils will have more discretion, and local planning authorities will have a stronger hand in supporting appropriate development. Central guidance to councils on compulsorily purchasing land for travellers sites will be removed, and top-down Whitehall planning rules, which Ministers believe were counterproductive, will be abolished.
Ministers believe planning regulations have seriously harmed community relations over the last few years, by imposing targets for traveller sites on local councils, increasing the number of unauthorised sites, and compelling councils to encroach onto the Green Belt. At the same time the old planning rules created a perception of special treatment for some groups, undermining the notion of ‘fair play’ in the planning system and further harming community cohesion.
Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said:
Top-down planning diktats led to the worst of both worlds - more unauthorised sites and worsening community relations. It’s time for fair play in the planning system - standing up for those who play by the rules, and tougher action for those who abuse and play the system.
We are giving councils the power and discretion to protect the environment and help rebuild community relations. Clearer planning guidelines will make the planning system easier for all to understand.
A small minority may still try to abuse the system. Councils should be particularly vigilant over the extended Royal Wedding and Easter weekends to take firm action against anyone who tries.
Outlining the support for authorised sites in the Government’s new approach, Communities Minister Andrew Stunell said:
The majority of travellers are law-abiding citizens and they should be given the same opportunities as everyone else to live in a safe place where they can bring up their children.
The New Homes Bonus and £60 million of site grants will support councils to build and plan new official sites. We will also give law-abiding travellers better protection against eviction and the same rights and responsibilities as residents on other mobile home sites.
We want to ensure a smooth transition to the new system - so the Government will also help provide training opportunities for councillors about their new role.
The new planning policy will give councils the freedom and responsibility to determine the right level of traveller site provision in their area, in consultation with local communities, while ensuring fairness in the planning system. It sits within a broader package of reforms to abolish the last Government’s Regional Strategies and return planning powers to councils and communities.
Ministers believe that local planning authorities are best placed to know the needs of their communities, not unelected regional bodies. In line with other reforms to streamline the planning system, the new Planning Policy Statement will be a much shorter and clearer document that will be easier for councils and also members of the public to use effectively.
Measures to improve the provision of traveller sites include:
Stronger enforcement powers for councils - strengthened enforcement powers will be made available to councils so they can tackle unauthorised development more effectively, helping to reduce community tensions. This will include action against speculative, unscrupulous private developers. A number of measures are already included in Localism Bill.
Stronger powers for councils to limit the opportunities for retrospective planning applications - strengthened powers will help councils tackle any form of unauthorised development. Mr Pickles is calling on councils to be vigilant over the upcoming bank holiday weekends - including the extended Royal Wedding and Easter weekends - so there is no abuse of the planning system and retrospective planning applications.
Dale Farm funding - Ministers have confirmed today that the department will provide up to £1.2m for Basildon Council to clear the unauthorised pitches on the Green Belt at the Dale Farm traveller site, given the exceptional nature of the case.
Stronger rights for residents of authorised council sites - travellers on official council sites will benefit from changes to legislation that will give them the same protection against eviction as residents on other mobile home sites and other rights and responsibilities. At the same time councils will be able to take swift action against any travellers who flout the terms of their pitch agreements and they will be able to obtain possessions orders with less risk of legal challenge.
New incentives to build authorised sites - councils will be given incentives through the New Homes Bonus scheme to deliver new housing. This will include authorised traveller site so that councils will get financial benefits for providing sites where they are needed.
Pitch Funding - the Government is providing £60 million of funding that councils and other registered providers can use to provide new authorised sites for travellers. Councils and other registered providers can apply to the Home and Communities Agency to use the funding.
Training for councillors - the Government will provide £50,000 to support training for councillors about their leadership role in relation to traveller site provision and planning applications for sites. The funding will support the work of the body, Local Government Improvement and Development.
Notes to editors
1. The consultation published today will consider the details of a proposed new, single Planning Policy Statement that will replace Circular 01/2006: Planning Gypsy and Traveller Caravan Sites and Circular 04/2007: Planning for Travelling Showpeople. The consultation will run until 6 July 2011. A copy can be found at: www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/travellersitesconsultation.
2. The circulars have become increasingly outdated in the context of broader reforms to the planning system, in particular the move towards more local decision making, shorter and fewer statements of national planning policy and the abolition of Regional Strategies through the Localism Bill.
3. Following an earlier consultation, on 30 April 2011 Section 318 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 will come into force. This will include traveller sites that are provided by local authorities in the Mobile Homes Act 1983. The responses to the consultation can be found at: www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/implementinghomesresponses.
4. The Government is providing £60 million of funding that councils and other registered providers can use to provide new authorised sites for travellers. Councils and other registered providers can apply to the Homes and Communities Agency for funding as part of the Affordable Homes Programme. Details of the Affordable Homes Programme can be found at: www.homesandcommunities.co.uk/affordable-homes (external link).
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