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Planning Definition of ‘Traveller’ ruled discriminatory

PLEASE NOTE: As of 19 December 2023, it has been confirmed the Government will revert to a more inclusive 2012 planning policy definition of ‘Traveller’.

Today, the Court of Appeal has rejected the Government’s use of the planning definition of ‘Traveller’ in a significant victory for Gypsies and Travellers.

The case was taken to the Court of Appeal by Lisa Smith (the Appellant), who since 2011 has rented pitches on a private site owned by a Mr Willshore, with temporary planning permission. Two of Ms Smith’s adult sons are severely disabled and cannot travel for work.

Mr Willshore later applied for permanent planning permission but was refused.

On appeal, a Planning Inspector decided that the family fell outside the new definition of ‘Traveller’ for planning purposes, which was introduced in the Government’s Planning policy for Traveller sites (PPTS) in 2015.

The 2015 planning definition states that Gypsies and Travellers who have permanently stopped travelling for work due to a disability, long-term health condition or age will not get planning permission to stop on their own land and will not have their accommodation needs assessed and met through this policy.

Ms Smith previously attempted to challenge the use of the discriminatory planning definition in the High Court but was unsuccessful.

The case was then taken to the Court of Appeal, where the planning definition was declared ‘discriminatory’.

In a hearing on 29th-30th June 2022, the Court of Appeal ruled that, “the nature of the discrimination…was the negative impact on those Gypsies and Travellers who had permanently ceased to travel due to old age or illness, but who lived or wanted to live in a caravan. This discrimination was inextricably linked to their ethnic identity.”

The Court of Appeal concluded that the Government had failed to justify the discrimination involved in the new definition.

As it stands, the definition excludes large numbers of Gypsies and Travellers living in caravans who need a place to live, regardless of ethnic status. It has often been used by local authorities to argue that there is no need for additional sites in their local area.

In support of the case, Friends, Families and Travellers along with London Gypsies and Travellers, Southwark Travellers Action Group and the Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group joined the initial challenge together as ‘Interveners’, presenting vital evidence of the discriminatory effects of the Government’s definition on the wider Gypsy and Traveller community.

The joint Interveners continued to support the challenge in the Court of Appeal and were represented by the barristers David Wolfe KC, Owen Greenhall and Tim Jones. Their solicitor was Chris Johnson of CLP.

The evidence submitted by the Interveners led to the Court of Appeal to state that, “these witness statements explain many of the cultural traditions of ethnic Gypsies and Travellers, and spell out the adverse consequences of the relevant exclusion to those who are ethnic Gypsies and Travellers.”

The Court of Appeal’s decision does not automatically get rid of the PPTS definition, and the Government will be seeking permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. The full judgment can be seen here.

Speaking about the Court of Appeal decision, Chris Johnson, Partner at Community Law Partnership:

“This is a landmark judgment. Congratulations to Lisa Smith and to her counsel, Marc Willers KC and Tessa Buchanan and her solicitor, Keith Coughtrie of Deighton Pierce Glynn, and to the Interveners in this case.

Speaking about what this decision means for Gypsy and Traveller people, Abbie Kirkby, Public Affairs and Policy Manager at Friends, Families and Travellers:

“The Court of Appeal’s decision today sets in stone what Gypsy and Traveller people have known all this time – that no matter which way you twist it, discrimination is never justified.

The judgement recognises that protected characteristics are protected for a reason, and sheds light on policies and legislation that have attacked and stripped back the cultural traditions of Gypsy and Traveller people like Ms Smith.”

Chief Executive Officer of London Gypsies and Travellers, Debby Kennett said:

“We are proud to be involved in such a significant victory, not only for Lisa Smith and her family, but for Gypsies and Travellers who have been campaigning against this discriminatory policy since 2014.

This case both exposes and recognises the discrimination Gypsies and Travellers face in the planning system.”



About Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT)

Friends, Families and Travellers is a leading national charity that works to end racism and discrimination against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and to protect the right to pursue a nomadic way of life.

Media Contact

Sami McLaren, Communications and Campaigns Lead

Tel: 07436 228910 Email: [email protected]

Relevant Resources

‘The definition of Gypsy and Traveller’. Community Law Partnership. June 2022. View here.

‘Government in court over planning rules for Travellers’. Friends, Families and Travellers. December 2020. View here.

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