The new Traveller site policy includes a stated aim to increase the number of Traveller sites in appropriate locations with planning permission, to address under-provision—the main concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury—and maintain an appropriate level of supply. The new planning policy requires local authorities to set pitch targets based on robust evidence and to identify and update annually, with the local authority monitoring its own work, a supply of specific sites to provide five years’ worth of deliverable sites
against their own targets. The policy also requires sites to be identified, based on broad locations, at least for years six to 10 and, where possible, years 11 to 15. This, as a result, aligns planning policies for Traveller sites more generally with those for standard housing. Any failure to be able to identify an up-to-date five-year supply of sites should, after a one-year transitional period, be a significant material consideration in any subsequent planning decision. I hope that that addresses the point about the monitoring as well.
I turn briefly to the clauses in the noble Lord’s Bill. It would be fair to say that we think that the provisions in the new policy framework and in local plans are sufficient, which would mean that the Bill was not necessary. However, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will make his own views known on that.
“grant planning permission for Gypsy and Traveller caravan sites”.
This is unnecessary. Law and policy already impose a duty on local authorities to assess housing need, including that of Travellers, and make appropriate provision and land allocations in the local plan. It would also take us back to before 1964, when it was a requirement for all local authorities to have provision for caravans and Traveller sites, which caused a great deal of resentment and confusion against Travellers. What we are all trying to ensure now is that that does not happen.
Local authorities already have a statutory requirement under the Housing Act 2004 to assess the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers, as they do for the rest of the community. That remains in place.
This is also unnecessary. National planning policy, as set out in the national planning policy framework and the planning policy for Traveller sites, already requires local authorities to allocate land to accommodate housing need in their local plans, using evidence compiled from their housing need assessment. Subsections (3), (4) and (5) are effectively covered by those statements. We do not believe that there need to be further legislative demands on local authorities specifically aimed at accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers. We are, as I have said, fully committed to seeing that provision is made. There is sufficient legislation already to ensure that this happens.
The noble Lord’s Bill is, I am afraid, at odds with the Government’s priorities to decentralise power, reduce bureaucracy and provide greater freedom and flexibilities, not only to local government but to local people, about what happens in their areas. I contend that the Government’s package of measures, via changes in the law on the planning system and through the provision of incentives that I have outlined, will address the developing need and the accommodation required for Gypsies, Travellers and the settled community in the years ahead.
I thank the noble Lord for the trouble that he has taken to introduce this Private Member’s Bill. I wait with interest to see whether he carries it on into Committee but, if he does so, he will note the reluctance
of the Government to see any further provisions for something for which they believe there are already sufficient.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, first, I am grateful to my noble friend for reaffirming the commitment that the Government have undertaken to provide adequate planning permissions for Gypsy and Traveller sites throughout the whole of England. However, she did not address the point that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about the gaps between what paper policy says and what happens in practice. This has always been the bedevilment of any policy on Gypsy and Traveller sites: Governments profess their intentions of doing the right thing but, when you come to the delivery at the grass roots, it does not happen. Nor did she address the point, which I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, reinforced, about the capacity of Travellers to engage with local authorities on local development plans. One can foresee that under the system that my noble friend outlined, the PPTS will result in Traveller site plans being produced locally, but the inquiries that will subsequently take place will not be on a level playing field but instead will be severely biased in favour of those who do not want to see any development of Gypsy and Traveller sites, against the pitifully small resources of the Gypsy and Traveller community. The Bill is predicated on the assumption that the Government’s policy is not going to deliver the required sites. That is the whole point of it. We should allow the Bill to go into Committee so that we can engage more carefully than we have at Second Reading on the details of these arguments.
My noble friend did not respond to the two points that I asked her about specifically, which were that we should have a quarterly report on progress towards implementation of the £60 million Traveller sites grant, and that we should know what plans the local authorities have under the proposed system. As far as I am concerned, not a single local authority in the country has come up with the figures that were suggested in March this year. We have another eight months to go before they have to produce that arithmetic. All the 350 local inquiries are being condensed into a very short time, which, as I say, will add to the pressures on Gypsy and Traveller communities in being able to contest the plans, if they think them inadequate.
I am grateful to both the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and to my noble friend for their agreement in principle that the task that the Government face is to provide proper accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers and to eliminate unauthorised encampments, which are to the detriment of both the settled communities and the Gypsy population.
Enhanced Terrorism Prevention and Investigations Measures Bill presented to both Houses on 1 September 2011 and that they have made the following orders: