Catriona Riddell, the POS Strategic Planning Subject Specialist, told Planning magazine that the Government's proposals to change policy for gypsies and travelllers are largely a reiteration of existing policy "to make it sound like it's taking a harder line."
One implicatiuon of the new definition of travellers is that it would fall to the local authority to determine who should or should not be regarded as travellers. But how and when councils would decide whether travellers are no longer nomadic, how often people need to travel to be considered nomadic, how to prove whether travelling has ceased temporarily or permanently, or indeed what the definitions of "temporary" and "permanent" would be, are all unanswered questions, Riddell pointed out.
These practical difficulties could leave councils open to legal challenges to traveller-related planning decisions on the grounds that they have contravened the Equalities Act 2010, Ridell argues. "It's a risky position for local authorities" she said.
Riddell added that the emphasis on protecting the green belt will not help provision for travellers beacuse the sites needed will "inevitably" require some use of such land. As a case in point, she referred to Solihull MBC - the first local authority to adopt a Gypsy & Traveller Site Allocation Plan. with no land available elsewhere, all sites allocated by Solihull are in the green belt.
Another potential consequence of the consultation is delay, suggested Riddell. Inspectors ahve so far been firm about local authorities meeting need for traveller sites in local plans, but given the time that would be taken in changing the statutory definition of a traveller, the consultation "almost gives them a legitimate excuse to hold off", she said. "Any uncertainty is going to cause a hiatus in terms of moving forward with applications."