“One law for Gypsies, one law for settled people,” claims Tory MP

April 22, 2009 at 8:26 am Leave a comment

by Kate Appleby

The use of retrospective planning permission on sites occupied by travelling people was raised in the Commons yesterday.

At Communities and Local Government questions yesterday Conservative MP James Gray asked what estimate has been made of the number of Gypsy caravans which are illegally parked on land owned by caravan owners and other land.

Iain Wright, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government replied:

“The count of Gypsy and Traveller caravans in England undertaken in July 2008 showed that there were 2,240 caravans on land owned by Gypsies without planning permission and 1,750 caravans on land not owned by Gypsies. This demonstrates the need to provide more authorised sites for Gypsies and Travellers.”

Mr Gray responded:

“Last Saturday, a large group of Travellers moved on to a site at Hullavington in my constituency, which they own but for which they have no planning permission, and immediately lodged an application for retrospective planning permission.

“If the recent experience at Minety, also in my constituency, is anything to go by, they will be allowed to stay on that site, either permanently or at least temporarily, for the very reason that they are Gypsies.

“How can that be justified alongside the experience of my constituent, Miss Tina Johnston, in neighbouring Box, who is not a Gypsy but lives in a caravan on her farm?

“She has recently been thrown off the farm because she does not have planning permission; meanwhile, down the road, the Gypsies are being allowed to stay on the site because they are Gypsies.

“Surely there should be one law for Gypsies and for settled people.”

Mr. Wright disagreed with this suggestion.

“There is one law for this country, and it is applied equally to Gypsies and Travellers and to the settled community.

“On the specific example that he gives, he will realise that, because of the Secretary of State’s role in the planning process, I cannot possibly comment.

“However, I can say in general terms that retrospective planning applications are a respected part of our planning process that is used for Gypsies and Travellers and for the settled community.”

Mr Wright went on to stress the importance of working closely with their local authorities “whether they are Gypsies, Travellers or members of the settled community.

“There is not an automatic assumption that when there is development on land, planning permission will be granted. A comprehensive and co-ordinated accommodation needs assessment for Gypsies and Travellers will provide local authorities with much greater tools.”

Conservative MP for Aylesbury, David Lidington, challenged the Minister’s claim that the UK has a planning system which treats everyone equally.

“This is at odds with the recent experience of my constituents in Prince’s Risborough. Over the Easter weekend, Travellers moved on to land that they own that is both green belt and part of the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty.

“They are now using retrospective planning applications to try to defeat efforts by the district council to enforce stop orders and see the land restored.

“It is this business whereby people who pre-empt the planning system seem to gain an advantage that arouses such indignation and resentment from people who play by the rules.”

Mr. Wright responded that retrospective planning applications apply equally to all people.

“The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) knows that I cannot comment on specific matters, but he mentions green belt, and there is an automatic presumption against inappropriate development on green belt land.

“Gypsy and Traveller accommodation sites are classed firmly as inappropriate development in the planning guidance, and I imagine that the hon. Gentleman’s local planning authority will take that into account.”

These comments were met with some scorn by Mr Lidington, who after several interruptions was silenced by the Speaker.

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