Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the removal of provisions in planning regulations relating to Gypsies and Travellers.
It is a huge privilege for me to represent the people of the borough of Kettering in this place, and I would like to extend my thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) for showing my constituents the great courtesy of attending the Chamber today to listen to their concerns, which I will do my best to express. He has proved himself to be knowledgeable and sensitive when it comes to the enforcement of planning regulations in relation to Gypsies and Travellers.
The reason for my seeking to introduce the Bill today is that my constituents are undergoing a consultation on where in the borough up to 37 Gypsy and Traveller pitches should be sited by the year 2031. It is no exaggeration to say that many of my constituents have been brought to tears by some of the site proposals. I also have the privilege to be a member of Kettering borough council, which, as the local planning authority, is doing its best within the national planning guidelines to undertake the consultation in the most effective way possible. However, the council has to follow national planning regulations and, by law, it has to identify up to 37 pitches. It has no choice in the matter. It does have some choice about where in the borough they should be located, but it must find those sites, and some of the proposals have been completely outrageous.
The purpose of my Bill is to remove any special provision for Gypsies and Travellers from the national planning regulations. I wanted to call it the “Gypsies and Travellers (The Same Planning rules as Everyone Else) Bill”, because that is really what I am after, but I was told by the parliamentary authorities that that would not accord with parliamentary procedure. That is why the Bill has its present title, but the effect would be the same.
Why should one category of person be treated differently from anyone else under the planning regulations? If one of my constituents from the settled community wanted to establish a mobile home in the middle of a green field in the open countryside, they would not be allowed to do so. However, if a Gypsy, Traveller or travelling showperson—the other term used in the planning documentation—wanted to do so, that would be permissible under the current planning regulations. That is exactly what has happened in the borough of Kettering, causing huge distress to many thousands of my constituents.
Most of the relevant planning regulations are to be found in a document entitled “Planning policy for traveller sites”, which was revised in 2012—unfortunately by a Liberal Democrat member of Her Majesty’s Government. Had there been a Conservative Minister in charge of this aspect of policy at the time, I suspect that the guidance would have been far more robust. The document states:
“The Government’s overarching aim is to ensure fair and equal treatment for travellers”.
I agree with that, 100%. Everyone—regardless of their background, ethnicity, age or whatever—should be treated the same. That is fine. It then goes on to say, however,
“in a way that facilitates the traditional and nomadic way of life of travellers while respecting the interests of the settled community.”
I disagree with the last part of that sentence, because I do not see why one category of person should be treated differently from anyone else. The document that such policies
“reduce tensions between settled and traveller communities in plan-making and planning decisions”.
The Minister has kindly agreed to visit Kettering in the near future to listen to my constituents’ concerns about this issue. When he comes, he will be left in no doubt that the consultation exercise being conducted by Kettering borough council has hugely enhanced the tensions between settled and Traveller communities in planning decisions.
Local planning authorities, of which Kettering borough council is one, are obliged under the national guidance to
“set pitch targets for gypsies and travellers…and travelling showpeople which address the likely permanent and transit site accommodation needs of travellers in their area”.
Why should they be treated differently from everyone else? The document goes on to say:
“When assessing the suitability of sites in rural or semi-rural settings, local planning authorities should ensure that the scale of such sites does not dominate the nearest settled community.”
Tell that to my residents in the village of Braybrooke, one of 22 villages in the Kettering constituency where, by fair means and foul, Gypsies and Travellers have set up a very large number of pitches on sites near to the village—and this was allowed to build up under the previous Government in such a way that 100% of the children in Braybrooke primary school were Traveller children. Such was their dominance over the local community that the local settled community decided not to send their children to that school. How can the “ghettoisation” of our countryside have been allowed to take place under national planning regulations? There has to be a balance in this system. That situation has been allowed to develop because Gypsies and Travellers have effectively been given special provision. My belief, however, is that everyone should be treated the same.
Under the consultation exercise that Kettering borough council is undergoing, it has to identify 37 pitches by 2031. Some of the sites—they will be unfamiliar to Members of this House, but very familiar to my constituents—are completely inappropriate. One pitch could be sited in Crown street, Kettering, another in Beatrice road, while six or seven could be at the Scott road garages site in Scott road, and another six to seven in the old sewage works in Burton Latimer. Another two could be at the Springfields site, north west of the village of Braybrooke, with two more at the Harrington road in Rothwell.
Many of those sites are within highly built-up areas within my constituency, and some are in the heart of the town of Kettering itself, and residents are rightly concerned that their homes will be devalued by tens of thousands of pounds if permission is given for a Gypsy or Traveller site to be set up nearby. There are understandable concerns, too, about the behaviour of Gypsy and Traveller groups, and these include crime, rubbish and antisocial behaviour.
Members may not realise that local residents have told me, on the basis of police evidence, that many distraction burglaries are undertaken by members of the Gypsy and Traveller community. It is a speciality of theirs. Likewise, farmers and rural dwellers are, frankly, terrorised at the theft of, and damage to, farm equipment and rural properties. The idea that these sites could be set up near to long-established communities both within towns and villages is bringing a huge amount of distress to my local residents.
Kettering borough council goes out of its way to do its best to provide affordable homes for as many as possible and over the last nine or 10 years it has delivered a total of almost 1,300 social rent and intermediate homes. Kettering borough council cares about how its local community is housed. Having to put within its planning system, however, sites for Gypsies and Travellers above or at a higher priority than anyone else is asking the council to do too much.
I congratulate Her Majesty’s Government and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on rescinding 186 pages of the equality and diversity in planning guidance brought in by the last Government—186 pages of Whitehall guff that has done tremendous damage to local communities, including mine in the borough of Kettering.
Question put and agreed to.
That Mr Philip Hollobone, Priti Patel, Mr John Baron, Mr Peter Bone, Mr David Nuttall, Philip Davies, Mr Christopher Chope, Mark Pawsey, Robert Halfon, Mr Stewart Jackson and Andrew Bridgen present the Bill.
Mr Philip Hollobone accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 8 November, and to be printed (Bill 87).