Getting planning permission for a residential Gypsy/Traveller site is never easy, no matter where you live, and will usually require a good few years of applications and appeals before any final decision is reached. Even if you are successful at appeal, you may only get temporary permission (usually between 3 and 5 years). So the first thing to bear in mind is that nothing will happen quickly and you must be prepared to commit considerable time, effort and money, with the possibility that you will fail, despite all your efforts.
However, it is not impossible and there are a lot of very dedicated professionals working with Travellers to help them secure planning permission. You will first have to locate a piece of land on which you want to live. When looking for land, these are some things to bear in mind:
- Try to find a place that is not, for example, in the Green Belt, in an Area of Special Scientific Interest or in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.The best type of land is a ‘brown field’ site (that means a piece of land that has already had buildings or development on it), but open Countryside is also alright. You can find out how land is classified by going to the local authority and asking to see the Local and Structure Plans. These should set out all the land classifications in the area. You then need to find the area where the piece of land you want to have a site on is, and see where it falls in the plans. Please note that the planning system is constantly under review and the names of the plans you need to look at may change. If you are not clear what to ask for, simply request any plans that set out how land is classified in the area you are interested in.
- Ideally, the site should be well screened. This means any caravans or mobile homes should not be visible from any direction – either from the road, other houses, roads or locations that might overlook the site from a nearby hill, etc.. If it is visible, this can often be reduced by landscaping (although it is a good idea to use trees and bushes that grow naturally in the area already, rather than planting conifer hedges for instance), where you put the caravans/mobile homes and by painting them or their roofs green or some other colour that makes them blend in more.
- The site should be close to local amenities. This means reasonably close (usually within 3 to 5 miles) to shops, public transport, schools, etc.
- It is very important that the site has a safe entrance and exit. There are very strict Highway regulations about visibility at the entrance/exit to sites to ensure there is no danger of accidents and this is very important.
- The land should be in an area where you have a local connection. For example, you have lived there for a long time, you have close family there, your children attend the local school or you are registered with local doctors.
- The site should either already have services provided to it or be able to have them installed. This means mainly water and sewage. If the site doesn’t already have these, then you will need to look into if it is possible to provide them and how much it will cost.
- You need to check if the site is in an area that has a history of flooding.
- Noise can also be something to consider. For example, if it is located near an airport or motorway.
- Do you carry out any business that is likely to increase the amount of traffic on an off the site beyond what a family would create and will any work create noise or nuisance?
- Before you buy a piece of land you should get a solicitor to do a check on it, to make sure there are no restrictions such as previous injunctions on it, which would make it impossible to get planning permission.
To check the suitability of a piece of land before you buy it you can approach the local planning authority and ask them to conduct a pre-planning application assessment. This is free and will help in the decision about whether a piece of land has any chance of getting planning permission or whether there are major issues which would mean an application is refused, such as a dangerous access point. However, many Gypsies and Travellers are concerned about doing this as there is the fear that the local planning authority could put a Stop Notice on the land before its even been bought so to stop anyone pulling on or starting any development work on the land.
Once you find a piece of land that you think you could live on, you will need to put in a planning application. With regards to costs, the initial fee of applying for planning permission is around £350.
It is advisable to employ a planner who has experience of working on planning permissions for Gypsy and Traveller sites, a list of specialist planners is available here.
Author: Susan Alexander, Travellers Aid Trust, 2003 (amended 2014)