Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Local Plan

Chapter 1 - Introduction

1.1 Ashford Borough Council are committed to meeting the accommodation needs of the Gypsy and Traveller community within the borough, in the same way as the housing needs of the settled community are planned for. In order to meet the site and pitch needs, we are preparing this plan specifically to address this accommodation need. This consultation document seeks the views of Gypsy and Traveller communities, the settled community and stakeholders on options for specific policies to be included in the final plan.

1.2 The topics explored within this document are designed to highlight the key issues and suggest options for addressing these, following on from the first 'Issues and Options' consultation in April 2018. The format of the document is to provide some background information and then pose a series of 'options' as questions. The views received will feed into the next stage, which will be a draft of the plan including site allocations, planned for early next year (2020).

1.3 As part of this consultation, we are not yet identifying specific sites/pitches, but are seeking views on the site assessment process and options we will looking at to meet the identified accommodation needs across the borough. There is the opportunity to raise further issues and options as part of this consultation and submit sites/pitches for consideration as potential options for allocation at the next stage.

Why is this plan needed?

National Planning Policy and Legal Requirements

1.4 The Council has a responsibility through the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and legal requirements to assess and plan for the housing needs of all residents, including the Gypsy and Traveller community.

1.5 Section 124 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 specifies that local housing authorities should consider the needs of people 'residing in or resorting to their district with respect to the provision of sites on which caravans can be stationed, or places on inland waterways where houseboats can be moored'.

1.6 The Equality Act of 2010 provides protection form discrimination based upon, amongst other things, race. The courts have established that because of their ethnic group, Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers are protected against race discrimination.

Planning Policy for Traveller Sites (PPTS)

1.7 The national Planning Policy for Traveller Sites (PPTS) 2015 directs the process that must be followed in order to effectively assess and plan for this specific Traveller housing requirement. The Governments overall aim set out in the PPTS is 'to ensure fair and equal treatment for traveller, in a way that facilitates the traditional and nomadic way of life of travellers while respecting the interests of the settled community'[1] .

1.8 The PPTS is an important document as it also amends the definition of who is considered to be a 'Gypsy or Traveller' for the purposes of planning (see Chapter 2). This definition change did not remove the obligation of the council to accommodate others who reside in caravans, however this obligation sits outside planning functions.

1.9 In order to meet the national planning requirements for this resident group, we are producing this plan for Gypsies and Travellers, which will identify suitable sites for them and will provide guidance that can be used when assessing planning applications for sites/pitches within the borough. This will promote community cohesion between all residents, reduce unauthorised and/or poorly located and designed traveller sites, and provide certainty for the traveller community in relation to permanent site and pitch availability.

1. Paragraph 3 of PPTS [back]

Addressing Equality Issues

1.10 The Council understands that extending and allocating new Gypsy and Traveller sites can be contentious. The settled community often considers that the travelling community has an 'unfair advantage' in planning terms, particularly with regards to unauthorised encampments. The travelling community often believes that inadequate provision is being made for their basic housing needs through the planning system, which leads to the unauthorised encampments coming forward. However, the PPTS is clear in its objective to 'promote peaceful and integrated co-existence between the [traveller] site and the local community'.

1.11 The Traveller Movement charity support this view and also report that Gypsies and Traveller have the lowest life expectancy of any ethnic group in the UK and experience low education attainment, economic exclusion and community isolation also have a negative impact on gypsies' and Traveller' physical and mental health[2] .

1.12 If sites can be identified through this plan it will prevent the need for illegal* encampments which often cause conflict with the settled community and provide sites in suitable and sustainable locations with good access to services for the Traveller community. It is better for all members of the community if sites/pitches can be identified by agreement in suitable locations and that clear criteria based policies are adopted for assessing new sites and also influence the layout and design of permitted sites and pitches.

1.13 Planning law requires that all applications for planning permission must be determined in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Once this Local Plan is adopted as part of the development plan, all applications for Gypsy and Traveller sites and pitches will be assessed against the policies set out within it, alongside the Ashford Local Plan 2030.

*Erratum Note 15/01/2020 - 'unauthorised or illegal'

Links to Ashford Local Plan 2030

1.14 The Ashford Local Plan 2030 (adopted in February 2019) sets out the land that needs to be provided in the borough to accommodate new homes and jobs up to 2030. It contains planning policies and guidance to ensure local development is built in accordance with the principles of sustainable development, and is the main document in the Development Plan.

1.15 It was initially intended that all Gypsy and Traveller site allocations, along with topic policies, would be included in the Ashford Local Plan 2030, but during the development it became evident that insufficient sites had been put forward to meet the expected need for new pitches. It was proposed that Gypsy and Traveller policies would be detached from the main Local Plan to allow further time to explore ways in which the required number of pitches could be delivered. This also allowed further time for a new Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA) to be produced.

1.16 The Ashford Local Plan 2030 still went some way to meeting the need and allocated three new pitches through Policies S43 at Biddenden and S44 at Westwell, which have all been delivered. In addition, Policy HOU16, allows for suitable 'windfall' (unidentified) pitches to come forward to further contribute to the supply, where they meet a set of criteria. This combined approach has already successfully delivered 10 new pitches across the borough since April 2018. However, this approach did not meet the full accommodation needs set out in the updated evidence base (2018 GTAA) and this is why we need this separate Local Plan.

1.17 Policy HOU17 was also adopted in the Local Plan 2030 and safeguards existing sites and pitches in the supply. More information on Policies HOU16 and HOU17 can be found later in this report.

1.18 Once adopted, this Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Local Plan will become part of the boroughs Development Plan. The policies included in this plan will be used alongside the Ashford Local Plan 2030 to guide development management decisions for Gypsy and Traveller sites through the planning process. As a Local Plan, this document can retain, amend or supersede existing policies relating to Traveller sites in the Ashford Local Plan 2030.

Plan Objectives

1.19 The Council identified draft objectives for this plan in the Issues and Options in 2018. Feedback from that consultation was very limited but suggestions were provided on the wording of the objectives which have been reviewed. Adoption of the Ashford Local Plan 2030 in February 2019 also changed the local context. The revisions to the objectives set out below ensures that the objectives are in accordance with the requirements of national and local policy, the PPTS and legal obligations.

Objectives

 

1.To establish the need for borough-wide Traveller pitches throughout the plan period to 2030.

2.To set out an approach to meeting the pitch need with a supply of ‘deliverable’ pitches over 5-years and ‘developable’ pitches for the plan period, which will in turn reduce unauthorised sites in the borough.

3.To identify sites/pitches in non-isolated locations with access to local services, whilst ensuring they do not dominate settled communities and local infrastructure is not placed under undue pressure.

4.To identify sites/pitches and include criteria based policies for windfall sites/pitches, which protect the local environment and landscape.

5.To create design policies for Traveller sites and pitches to ensure they provide acceptable internal layout and design which protects residential amenity for both the Traveller and settled communities.

6.To establish a monitoring framework to record delivery of new sites/pitches and maintain an annual assessment of pitch need and supply.