Gypsy and Traveller Sites (HC 633-I)
ODPM Committee 22 Jun 2004
Evidence given by Dr Donald Kenrick and Dr Rob Home; The Traveller Law Reform Coalition including; Siobhan Spencer - Co-ordinator Derbyshire Gypsy Traveller Liaison Group, Kay Beard - Chair National Association of Gypsy Women, Tom Sweeney - Co Chair Irish Traveller Movement Britain, Cliff Codona - Chair National Travellers Action Group and Charles Smith - Chair of the Gypsy Council; Hughie Smith, President Tom Lingard, Assistant Secretary, The Gypsy Council.
Q3 Mr. David Clelland: In the 1968 Caravan Act gypsies are defined as "persons of nomadic habit of life, whatever their race or origin". How many gypsies and travellers still operate a "nomadic habit of life"?
Dr Kenrick: If we are talking about travelling from place to place all around the country on a weekly basis, monthly basis, knocking on doors, I would say about 700 families all the year round.
Q4 Mr. David Clelland: Out of a total of?
Dr Kenrick: I would say about 10,000 families.
Q5 Mr. David Clelland: Out of 10,000 there is a very small number who might genuinely be described as gypsies in the sense of the Act.
Dr Kenrick: In that sense, but the courts have decided six weeks in a year is enough, and you can spend the winter not travelling, so it has been modified by the court since then.
Dr Home: My view would be slightly different. You have the count with 13,000 caravans on all kinds of sites, and they attempted to calculate occupancy rates - how many that would be per caravan. You have a large number of authorised sites, where people would be far more resident than not, but they still travel away at certain periods, particularly between April and October. There is the additional test imposed in the courts that they are travelling for an economic purpose, and there is a variety of activities that might go on - dealing and so on. How far you would count horse trading at gypsy fairs as being sufficient economic activity, would depend on the facts of the case. There is a large number of gypsies who are either in a transitional phase towards being settled or who are combining aspects of both ways of life. The figure of 700 that Dr Kenrick has come up with is a new one to me.
Q6 Mr Cummings: How would you define gypsies?
Dr Home: There is a statutory definition and there has been a great deal of case law.
Q11 Mr. David Clelland: Given the restriction on the number of sites and the number of pitches and given what you just said about people finding themselves in a position where they no longer travel because of illness or inability or perhaps because they do not want to, would it not be reasonable to expect people who are no longer travelling as much as the small genuine minority to move into permanent conditions, so that there are more sites for the people who are genuinely travellers?
Dr Kenrick: A lot of Romanies and gypsies have never lived in a house and they do not like the idea of the four walls.
Q12 Mr. David Clelland: Yes, but that is a small number of the total.
Dr Kenrick: We do not really know.
Q13 Mr. David Clelland: I thought you told me before it was a small number.
Dr Kenrick: I said there were 700 families moving all the time: 700 nomadic families who need transit sites. The other families are living on their own land or private sites or council sites in the winter and they travel in the summer for a certain number of weeks. Many of those families would not live in a house. They like a mobile home rather than a caravan, perhaps because they get a bit more luxury for the women, with running water and things like that. Men as well benefit from running water. Then there is a decision in the Clark v Tunbridge Wells case which says that if a gypsy has an aversion to housing he cannot be forced to go into housing. It is not a suitable accommodation. That is a quite well-known court case.
Q49 Mr. David Clelland: If someone is living in council provided accommodation, they have to look after it. They have to clean it themselves and look after the environment themselves.
Ms Beard: Yes.
Q50 Mr. David Clelland: Why is it different on a site? Why should somebody else be cleaning the toilets and cleaning the site?
Ms Beard: Because if you have a block of toilets, say half a dozen toilets, and there are all those people on that site using them, the people who own the site - there are a lot of blocks on the private site, they just put blocks up - they should have someone to go in there and clean them. They are getting paid for that.
Q51 Mr. David Clelland: But if you have individual toilets ...?
Ms Beard: If you have individual, everybody cleans their own, they look after their own. We want nice amenity blocks for them, where they could put a washing machine in, have their own washing machine, have their own toilet. They are done out then every day, or they do them out two or three times a day. People like to clean their own, but you cannot expect women to go in and clean a toilet block when everybody else has been using it.
Mr Smith: I think to some extent we are missing the point really, because we are asking for the same facilities as people have in houses.
Ms Beard: Exactly.
Mr Smith: We need running water; we need electric; we need sewerage. It might vary a little bit depending on the site. If it is a transit site, I would say it may be slightly different. If you are going to be there permanently, then you want permanent connections. So there are some variations but talking about who is going to clean the toilets is missing the point really.
Q98 Mr. David Clelland: We have heard from previous witnesses that one of the desires is for each pitch to have its own toilet block and washbasin etc. Surely today's modern mobile homes have in-built showers, washbasins and toilets. Providing the pitch has the drainage and water connections there would not be any need, would there, for individual toilet blocks?
Mr Smith: When we talk about individual toilet blocks we talk about individual toilets to each family.
Q99 Mr. David Clelland: Does not the modern mobile home contain that anyway?
Mr Smith: The modern mobile home is quite different from Gypsy caravan sites. It would be a different type of people who used them. The mobile home parks are quite different. The majority of those mobile homes are plumbed into facilities anyway, but the Gypsy caravan sites are not.
Q100 Mr. David Clelland: You are saying that the caravans your members are using do not have the inbuilt facilities?
Mr Smith: No, they do not have the inbuilt facilities, not in the caravans; they are Gypsy caravans, travelling caravans. The only caravans which do have that facility are mobile homes, the static units that may be on mobile home parks.
Q101 Mr. David Clelland: Many of the people of the thousands we are talking about, rather than the 700 which was referred to earlier, will be in more modern mobile home facilities. Could they not use different kinds of sites?
Mr Smith: It depends on the types of families. If Gypsy families want Gypsy caravans they have Gypsy caravans. In all the sites we manage we do not have any static units, except for the manager. We manage some 21 sites in this country. Each one of those caravans is occupied by Gypsies.
Q114 Mr. David Clelland: What about the management of sites? How should sites be managed, and who do you think is best placed to manage them?
Mr Smith: That is a matter for the local authority. We manage 21 at the present time and they are all successful. They are all being managed successfully. We have a waiting list on all our sites. All our sites are full. We say "our sites" - they are local authority sites but they are either leased to us or under licence.
Q115 Mr. David Clelland: If we were to have a national model for the management of these sites, what would you say that would be?
Mr Smith: Again, I would think private sites are the best managed sites. I think that is well recognised. On the other hand, in some instances where local authorities do not want to manage the sites once built, you can contact anyone to manage the sites; there are plenty of contractors out there who are willing to take that on.
Q116 Mr. David Clelland: What is your view about the best way of managing sites?
Mr Smith: We think ours is. Ours is what we call a "firm but fair management policy". In our submission we actually sent a copy of the licence agreement we have with the tenants. They have to abide by certain rules. I think there are a lot of people talking here about tenancy agreements - that Gypsies should perhaps have tenancy agreements. I think in the main if you ask the run-of-the-mill Gypsy he is not too bothered about a tenancy agreement. All he is bothered about is being able to live on a caravan site, get his children a good state school education and, at the same time, be able to live in peace and harmony with his neighbours.
Q121 Mr. David Clelland: We heard about the problems and difficulties at Cottenham. How do you think incursion groups should be managed?
Mr Smith: Cottenham is not the only place, of course; there are other places in Bulkington. I think in some respects the Cottenham situation has been allowed to develop when it should not have been. Again, I think a lot of untruths have been told regarding the true situation, where they say, first of all, the mad Irish have driven the poor English Romanies out. That is not true.
Q122 Mr. David Clelland: It was an example of incursion groups.
Mr Smith: We should get to the truth of the matter first, should we not? As far as the people down there are concerned, we bought a couple of plots off of some of the English Gypsies, because the English Gypsies said, "There's a better piece of land down there maybe we could get developed". Those people are members of this organisation. Those Irish travellers down there are members of this organisation. I have seen adverse publicity through the Daily Mail saying, "Look at this palatial house this chap owns". It is not in Cottenham; it is Germany. He goes from Ireland over to Germany. That is not his house.
Q123 Mr. David Clelland: In general, forgetting about Cottenham, what about the incursion groups?
Mr Smith: We have already told them there are too many families there. There are too many families in Billericay. There are too many families in Bulkington. There are too many families in Ryton-on-Dunsmore. It is not just a matter of getting planning permission at the end of the day; it is a matter of being able to manage the site from the local authority side, through the legislation. When I say "manage the site" I mean to be able to license the caravan sites under the Caravan Sites Act of 1960. It is very, very important for families to be able to live in peace and harmony. Again, 30 to 40 families are far too many to be in an area. It is like I said earlier - it is the equivalent of a small village moving into an area and it does not work. It has been proved not to work in Rugby.
Q124 Mr. David Clelland: What are the costs involved in running a site?
Mr Smith: It depends who builds it. I know that some local authorities are spending £600,000 in building sites. It is a matter of economics.
Q125 Mr. David Clelland: What about the cost of running it?
Mr Smith: I can only go on our own experience. At the present time, as we look at the situation up in Chester, that caravan site was wrecked three times and we bought it from the local authority, and that was way back in 1978. Their costings at that time were about £75,000 to rebuild the site. When we took it onboard we rebuilt it for about £16,000. That was the difference - direct labour and not putting it out to tender.
This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.
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