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GORDON HENDERSON MP

FOR SITTINGBOURNE & SHEPPEY

MP raises Gypsy/traveller planning concerns

18th March 2013
MP raises Gypsy/traveller planning concerns

Gordon Henderson MP has written to Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, for a reassurance that action will be taken for Gypsies and travellers and the settled community to be treated equally under planning law.

Mr Henderson said,

“Under the previous Labour Government’s planning policies preferential treatment was given to Gypsies and travellers and this caused immense resentment amongst the settled community. We were promised that the Localism Act would ensure that both the travellers and the settled community would receive equal treatment, however, disappointingly this has not yet happened.

“I am becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress in delivering fairness in the planning system. Ministers have now made it clear that they are unable to take the steps that were promised because of the Equalities Act. Many people in my constituency feel let down as travellers are continuously allowed to develop on land, for which development would not be allowed for members of the settled community.

“I have written to the Secretary of State to express my frustration, and that of many of my constituents, who simply do not understand how ensuring that all communities are treated the same in the planning process can be considered as contravening the Equalities Act.”

ENDS

The full letter sent to the Secretary of State is as follows:

Rt. Hon Eric Pickles MP
Secretary of State
Dept. of Communities & Local Government
Eland House, Bressenden Place
London, SW1E 5DU

Re. Localism Act 2011

In Opposition we Conservatives continually criticised the previous Labour government for presiding over a planning system in which Gypsies and travellers were given preferential treatment with regards to planning laws. That preferential treatment caused tremendous resentment within the settled community and was harmful to social cohesion.

Since becoming an MP in 2010 I have raised this matter on a number of occasions, as have a large number of my colleagues. We were promised that the Localism Act would ensure that local authorities dealt in an even handed way with planning matters, removing the bias which provided for different planning considerations for the travelling community.

Sadly, it has become apparent that the Localism Act does no such thing and many people within the settled community in my constituency feel let down as they continue to see travellers allowed to develop on land for which development would not be allowed for them.

I have now received confirmation from Brandon Lewis that Gypsies and travellers continue to receive special consideration in respect of planning regulations (please see the second half of the second paragraph of the attached letter). This special consideration was set out in “Planning Policy for Traveller Sites”, which was published last year and sets out policy and guidance for local authorities. As my own local authority, Swale Borough Council, point out in a recent email to a constituent, the policy document does not apply to the settled community (copy of email attached also).

Is it therefore slightly dishonest for ministers to say, and here I quote from Brandon’s letter: “We want to see fair play in planning, with everyone treated equally and even-handedly and decisions on development taken at the local level” when it is patently obvious that the Government is failing to achieve such fairness.

Wouldn’t it be more honest to say that we cannot deliver fairness for the settled community because of the Human Rights Act, Equalities legislation and the reluctance of our Liberal Democrat Coalition partners to take firmer action to equalise planning rules?

I am sorry to write to you in such terms, but this is a big issue in my constituency and I am becoming increasingly frustrated at the continued disparity in treatment between travellers and the settled community.

I would very much welcome your comments, although I suspect you will be unable to offer me much in the way of a reassurance that we will deliver on our pre election promise to take action.

GORDON HENDERSON MP

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