UK: Traveller people have to "prove" their ethnicity under new planning rules
Dan Allen, a lecturer in Social Work at the University of Salford, reported for The Conversation last month that recent actions by the UK Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) might make the lives of Traveller communities worse. The department has introduced new planning rules that Allen says will adversely affect the health of these people.
Minister of State for Housing and Planning Brandon Lewis has said the rules are needed to address the "blight" of unauthorized halting sites. Allen reports that Traveller Movement, a human rights group, believes the new rules create new opportunities for exclusion of Travellers.
The group asserts that by making it harder to obtain planning permission for halting sites, the Government is failing to meaningfully acknowledge Travellers' ethnic minority status. The guidance issued could even be used to redefine who is considered a Traveller.
Institute of Race Relations: New government measures on a "collision course" with human rights
Chris Johnson and Andrew Ryder have reported on this policy for the Institute of Race Relations (IRR). The rules were issued on the August Bank Holiday Monday with immediate effect.
"One of the most controversial new parts of this policy is that if a Gypsy or Traveller stops travelling permanently for health reasons or reasons of old age, they will no longer be within the planning definition of Gypsy and Traveller," Johnson and Ryder report. This change represents the successful implementation of a proposal that was previously rejected by the Liberal Democrats as unfair.
Members of these communities feel the Government is trying to curb their traditional way of life. There has long been a shortage of officially-sanctioned halting sites for them in the UK due to Government failure to enforce existing legislation.
Some families have been forced into conventional housing against their will in order to end the cycle of eviction from unauthorized sites. This sometimes has very detrimental consequences for them, Johnson and Ryder report.
The communities are said to be anxious that there may now be a repeat of the discriminatory practices of former Secretary of State Eric Pickles, who insisted on personally rendering decisions on all planning appeals involving Gypsies and Travellers in "Green Belt" zones (rural countryside areas). Pickles' approach was found to be discriminatory and unlawful in a High Court case this year.
That case, according to TheLawyer.com, was "Moore & Coates versus Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & London Borough of Bromley and Dartford Borough Council and Equality and Human Rights Commission". The Planning Court found, among other matters, that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government had discriminated against two Romani Gypsy women.
The Secretary took the power to render a decision in the women’s planning appeals away from local planning inspectors, ostensibly to decide it himself, and then failed over a long period of time to render any decision at all. As a result of the court order, the matter then went back to the local planning inspectors.
The decision continued to be delayed even after that. The women may appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
The new rules from the government’s Chief Planning Officer have now cancelled the 2006 guidance regarding unauthorized encampments emphasizing the need for local authorities to investigate the welfare of those concerned before taking decisions. These communities are now said to be deeply concerned that the absence of this guidance will increase their hardships by increasing evictions, and critics believe the new measures may amount to discrimination and a violation of the right to respect for private life.
Johnson and Ryder also report that the new measure was never mentioned in the most recent consultation process and "has not been subject to proper scrutiny, in particular an Equality Impact Assessment". The Travellers Advice Team at the Community Law Partnership (CLP) called the move "an outrageous back door policy change by the Government" in their newsletter.
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