By Chris Johnson of the Community Law Partnership and Marc Willers QC of Garden Court Chambers.
The Beatles sang ‘All you need is love’ whilst our refrain is ‘All we need are sites’. This has long been the song sung by Gypsies, Travellers and those that support them and campaign for their rights; and it was the reverberating theme of their responses to the recent Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) consultation on strengthening enforcement powers.
The MHCLG’s response to the consultation is awaited but our view is that existing enforcement powers are more than sufficient; indeed we would say they are too draconian - see the reasons underlining our view at Ministry of Housing, Communities and local government (MHCLG) consultation: powers for dealing with unauthorised development and encampments.
Some may have heard of the brave attempt by an Irish Traveller to challenge the consultation process itself. Unfortunately the challenge has had to be withdrawn as the claimant could not obtain legal aid. For the kinds of arguments that we developed in that case, see The law on consultations and the ministry of housing communities and local government consultation on powers regarding unauthorised development and encampments.
In the meantime, there has been yet another very negative debate in the House of Commons on unauthorised encampments.
The promoter of the debate, Tory MP Andrew Selous, wasn’t interested in site provision. Indeed he made it clear that he wasn’t interested in integration but rather in assimilation, stating:
Is it not possible for a local authority to plan for enough houses for everyone in an area so that there is one general housing needs assessment that provides enough accommodation for everyone? Some 76% of Travellers live in houses built from bricks and mortar anyway. There is nothing in their culture that prevents that from happening while respecting absolutely their history and culture, which we all want to celebrate. Does the Minister not think that there is something odd, outdated and failing about this continuing policy of separation and segregation, which has such terrible outcomes for everyone?
Worryingly, research by CLP has shown that 27 local authorities in England have obtained interim or final injunctions against unauthorised encampments in their area. If this trend continues then we ask where are Gypsies and Travellers without a site meant to go – into the sea?? For our article on this issue, see the Travellers Times website post Driving Gypsies and Travellers into the sea?
It is most unfortunate that the Westminster Parliament has not yet followed the progressive attitude towards site provision that has been taken by the Welsh Government – see, for example, Housing (Wales) Act 2014 s103 which introduced the duty on Welsh local authorities to meet the assessed need for sites. This positive attitude is also shown in the Welsh Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Strategy, Enabling Gypsies and Travellers (2018).
We can only hope that the MHCLG’s consultation will lead it to conclude that there is certainly no need for increased enforcement powers and that all we need are sites!
If you have any queries on any of the above issues, please phone the CLP Travellers Advice Team advice line on 0121 685 8677, Monday to Friday 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm. CLP are very grateful to Garden Court Chambers for their kind donation towards the funding of our advice line which is self-funded.
Marc Willers QC is a member of the Garden Court Chambers Romani Gypsy and Traveller Rights Team.