Planning definition ruled discriminatory

November 1, 2022

The Court of Appeal has rejected the Government’s use of the planning definition of ‘Travellers’ in a significant victory for Gypsies and Travellers. The landmark judgment was published on 31st October and can be read here.

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 on their own land and will not have their accommodation needs assessed and met through this policy.

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

London Gypsies and Travellers, together with Friends, Families and Travellers, Southwark Travellers Action Group and Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group have formally intervened in the legal challenge, putting forward evidence that the definition has had negative impacts on wider Gypsy and Traveller communities across the country. The organisations were represented by barristers David Wolfe KC, Owen Greenhall and Tim Jones. Their solicitor was Chris Johnson of Community Law Partnership.

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’.

Following 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.

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 planning definition, and the Government will be seeking permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

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.

Though I understand that the Government will seek to take the matter to the Supreme Court, it leaves them with a major headache as to how to deal with the use of the definition in planning cases in the meantime.”

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”

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.”



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