To receive a presentation from Arc4.
The Senior Planner (Policy) introduced Mr Michael Bullock from the consultants, Arc4, which had been commissioned to undertake an accommodation assessment in relation to gypsies, travellers and travelling showpeople (GTTS), and invited to present to the Group the study’s initial findings.
Mr Bullock advised that the definition of GTTS had changed in August 2015. Under the new definition, fewer people were classed as travellers than those who identified as such, for example, children and the elderly who did not travel due to school, ill health, etc. The assessors had looked at existing and potential sites which could be permanent, temporary or unauthorised. They had also looked at sub-dividing existing sites to accommodate more (or in some cases fewer) people. Interviews had been carried out with site residents, from which it was evident that the uptake amongst the community for such sites was high. Generally speaking, it was more commonplace for GTTS to move from sites to permanent dwellings than the other way around.
The assessment had identified that there was little unauthorised encampment in the Dover district, and currently no record of any travelling showpeople. There were 38 authorised pitches in the district and, in turn, a minimum requirement of 18 pitches over the Plan period had been identified. However, Members were advised that there were options for the Council to consider as part of the Local Plan review to meet this identified need. In particular, it was recommended that the need could potentially be addressed by considering the expansion of capacity at existing permitted sites and by reviewing unauthorised encampment activity as a potential source of supply. Several Members expressed concerns about the latter approach which would be very unpopular with the wider community. Mr Bullock advised that several appeals against the refusal of planning permission for such sites had been upheld by the Planning Inspectorate. Councillor F J W Scales commented that, given the shortfall in pitch provision, the Planning Committee would be obliged to give such applications careful consideration.
Mr Bullock clarified that the definition had been changed in 2015 so as to focus on those who were still travelling. The draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) recognised two groups, but failed to give clear guidance on how to deal with them. The PPM clarified that the report to Cabinet would make recommendations, but it was ultimately for Cabinet to decide which option it wished to pursue.
In response to Mr Richard Ralph, Mr Bullock advised that, whilst there was likely to be a steady flow of GTTS over the Local Plan period into the Dover district, a big influx was not expected. This was due to an ageing population which meant that 20/30% of the existing community were unlikely to be around by the end of the Plan period. It was also relevant that it was predominantly gypsies of English/Romany heritage living in the district who tended to have fewer children than those of Irish origin. He clarified that the NPPF set out a number of key groups that local authorities should take into account when developing their local plans. There were big populations of gypsies and travellers around Swale and Maidstone, with smaller groups elsewhere in Kent. Research had shown that, in general, communities were inclined to stick to particular localities rather than just settling anywhere that pitches were available. That said, a small number of people had indicated that they would be prepared to move around depending on the availability of pitches.
It was agreed that the presentation be noted.