Under changes proposed in the Housing and Planning Bill, currently at the committee stage in the House of Commons, local authorities in England would no longer have to assess Gypsies’ and travellers’ housing needs in a separate category to other residents in their areas.
At the moment, councils are required to carry out Gypsy and traveller accommodation needs assessments to forecast the number of new pitches needed, under the Housing Act 2004. But the Housing and Planning Bill says that these clauses should be removed from the Act.
The bill’s explanatory note says that councils must "consider the needs of all people residing in or resorting to their district, without any references to Gypsies and travellers".
Housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis told a Housing and Planning Bill committee session yesterday: "I want to reinforce and make clear the fact that this clause does not remove the requirement to assess the specific accommodation needs of Gypsies and travellers.
"Local housing authorities will still need to consider their protected characteristics and cultural links to caravan dwelling. Local housing authorities will continue to decide how best to undertake their duties to assess the needs of all their residents and those who resort in their area."
Lewis’s comments came in response to an amendment, tabled by Teresa Pearce, the Labour MP for Erith and Thamesmead, which sought to retain the sections of the Housing Act 2004 which require local authorities to make an assessment of the accommodation needs of Gypsies and travellers when considering local housing need.
She warned: "As it stands, the clause would lead to many unintended consequences: a shortage of authorised sites for Gypsies and travellers; a rise in unauthorised sites; less safety for Gypsies and travellers; and greater pressures on local authorities and local communities."
But Lewis said that the bill would not remove the duty on councils to assess Gypsies and travellers’ housing needs. "It is right that planning authorities understand that the clause does not remove that duty.
"Rather, we seek to remove any possible perception that because Gypsies and travellers have specific mentions in legislation, they somehow receive more favourable treatment."
Lewis added that the government would be "happy to consider incorporating any necessary elements of the current 'Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessments Guidance' in wider planning guidance, to which local authorities must have regard".
Following Lewis’s reassurances, Pearce withdrew her amendment. She said: "I am still concerned about there not being a provision in the legislation to make local authorities do something. Not all local authorities act in the same way, but I am minded to accept the reassurances given."