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12/08/2013

Dog whistles

The DCLG has trumpeted a new Guide on Council and Police powers on ‘Dealing with illegal and unauthorised encampments’.

A new guide will give more power and a stronger voice to local residents and councillors to challenge council officers if they claim ‘nothing can be done’ about this problem. It follows on from the recently scrapped diversity and equality guidance which discouraged councils from taking enforcement action.

So says the DCLG press release, which also trumpets that ‘New Temporary Stop Notices now give councils powers to tackle unauthorised caravans, backed up with potentially unlimited fines.’

However, the ‘Summary of Available Powers‘ makes clear that the only ‘new’ power is the revocation, on 4 May 2013, of The Town and Country Planning (Temporary Stop Notice) (England) Regulations 2005, removing some restrictions on the use of temporary stop notices against caravans.

The tenor and approach of the DCLG release and the stated purpose of the guidance, have unsurprisingly attracted criticism. Travellers groups have highlighted the lack of duty to provide adequate legal sites, but also highlighted that the DCLG’s original press release included the word ‘blight’ in regard to ‘illegal encampments’, a word that vanished between the release of the embargoed version and the final release.

The purpose of this release is presumably summarised in the paragraph quoted above. It is to place pressure on Councils, or more accurately, to put the perceived blame for the ‘problem’ (the ‘blight’) on councils. But the nature of the language, in a situation where the lack of legal sites is acknowledged to be a large-scale problem, in a now familiar manner, is to largely blame the victim for their situation.

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

2 Comments

  1. LHA

    But shouldn’t the blame or onus be on the Councils to make provision, as after all thats their job, and not something Central government should be blamed for? Their responsibility is to set broad policy and if the LG is too timid to implement it for fear of the practical burdens of an outbreak of nimbyism and the votes lost for the Councillors, then it is their problem, isn’t it?

    Reply
  2. Chris J

    Here is the Travellers Advice Team take on the DCLG “guidance” (we are not having a go at squatters and protestors by the way – just pointing out the difference):
    The Travellers Advice Team believe that this guidance is just showboating to the tabloid press (and , indeed, is becoming a bit of an annual event). More importantly it is irresponsible, misleading and potentially challengeable:
    a) It merges Gypsies and Travellers in with protestors and squatters in buildings – these are totally different issues;
    b) Therefore some of the guidance is entirely irrelevant to Gypsy and Traveller issues e.g. interim possession orders which just apply to ‘premises’, all the references to ‘tents’ etc
    c) It is essential that many of these powers are read in conjunction with other government guidance concerning both unauthorised developments and unauthorised encampments – in fact, if local authorities come to decisions without referring to the other guidance, then those decisions may well be unlawful;
    d) Many of these powers have been subject to important case law developments e.g. Porter v South Bucks in the House of Lords re planning injunctions – there is no reference to the important considerations, as explained in the Porter case, that must be taken into account before taking injunction action;
    e) In any consideration of a case involving enforcement action, it is vital to take account of how the local authority in question has dealt with their own duties, powers and obligations e.g. (to name but a few) the power to provide sites under Caravan Sites & Control of Development Act 1960; the duty under Planning policy for traveller sites to provide a five year deliverable supply of sites; the homelessness duty under Housing Act 1996 Part VII; the duty to assess the need for sites under Housing Act 2004. There is NO mention of any of this in the purported guidance.
    This Guidance is fundamentally flawed, involves placing the cart before the horse and should be challenged.
    The Travellers Advice Team are beginning to think that any dialogue (outside of court action) with this Government is like spitting in sawdust – all thoughts on this gratefully accepted.

    Reply

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