Councillors have welcomed with delight, news that the new Government intends to allow local people more control over local planning decisions.
In particular, councillors have interpreted this as a clear indication that the Government Direction on Traveller and Gypsy site provision will be lifted.
Local MP for Brentwood and Ongar, Eric Pickles is the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. In a letter sent to Epping Forest District Council on 27 May he said: I am writing to you today to highlight our commitment in the coalition agreements where we very clearly set out our intention to rapidly abolish Regional Strategies and return decision making-powers on housing and planning to local councils. Consequently, decisions on housing supply (including the provision for Traveller sites) will rest with Local Planning Authorities without the framework of regional numbers and plans.
This is great news, said Councillor Di Collins, Leader of Epping Forest District Council. This is the decision this council made right from the beginning of the process and we are delighted that the new Government is supporting us. It means the end for the deeply unpopular Government Directive that effectively forced the Council and our residents into one of the most prolonged, expensive and bureaucratic consultations our residents have ever had to endure. It was disliked by everyone, including our local Gypsy and Travelling community and it will be a great relief for everyone to know we will now see the back of it. I applaud Eric Pickles for his swift action.
Epping Forest District Council was one of a small number of Districts forced by Government Directive to carry out special consultations to identify potential sites for Gypsies and Travellers. The Council said that the time and resources it was forced to devote to the Directive hampered its ability to meet other responsibilities and that the process was an unnecessary concern to residents.
Councillor Collins added: Eric Pickles is lifting a huge shadow of worry and concern from the shoulders of our residents. I deeply regret that the previous Government could not take the same decision sooner. It has cost everyone huge amounts of time, money and stress when we need to focus more on the economic woes of the recession. However, today is a day for the whole district to celebrate.
Letter from Councillor Di Collins to the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP
Dated 4 June 2010
At the outset, may I extend our warmest congratulations on your appointment as Secretary of State. I know you are aware of the previous Government`s Direction which required the Council to amend its Local Development Scheme to include the preparation and adoption of a Gypsy and Traveller Development Plan Document to make further provision for gypsy and traveller sites within the area (“the Direction”). You may also be aware that we wrote to your predecessor on 25 January 2010 requesting he withdraw the Direction.
Whilst recognising the progress that the Council has made to increase site provision in recent years, the former Government was not prepared to consider removing the Direction until the 34 net additional permanent pitches identified as a requirement in the RSS Single Issue Review (SIR) have been provided. As we have demonstrated, this was an aim that the Council is on target to achieve.
We welcome your letter dated 27 May 2010 and note your intention to make a formal statement concerning housing supply (including the provision of traveller sites) soon. Without intending to appear impatient, we ask you to urgently consider withdrawing the Direction for the reasons explained in our letter to your predecessor (copy attached). We would still be happy to meet with you, provide updated information and share the Council’s recent experience relating to the preparation of a gypsy and traveller DPD. We believe our engagement with stakeholders is a valuable source of information that may assist the new Government in the formulation of planning policy in this area. In addition, it does seem the Direction was founded upon an unsound and inequitable approach. Indeed, we understand that a similar Direction to Brentwood Borough Council has subsequently been withdrawn, without the requirement to meet particular numbers in the RSS SIR. The Direction continues to consume a disproportionate amount of scarce resources, has caused significant delays to other planning priorities and is deeply unpopular with local residents, including the gypsy and traveller community. Only the withdrawal of the Direction can remove the uncertainty for those sites which have been identified during this process but, for sound planning reasons, are clearly not suitable. Additionally the Council would not then need to conduct further expensive and time consuming assessments of those sites.
We remain content to process prospective planning applications from those with a genuine local need, using our existing policies. We remain committed to include policies in our Core Strategy that deal with all housing needs, including the provision of gypsy and traveller sites. As such, there can be no doubt that Epping Forest District Council has met its responsibilities and is committed to doing so in a manner that positively reflects the new Government’s ‘localism’ agenda.
I look forward to receiving a positive response from you,
Councillor Diana Collins
Leader of the Council