Against the backdrop of proposed evictions at Dale Farm, Essex, the largest gipsy site in the UK, critics have suggested that new planning reforms will make it easier for such communities to legitimise their illegal occupation of land.
Significant changes to planning rules are proposed in the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).Current planning law is made up of over 1,000 pages of legislation, while the NPPF proposes to take this down to a mere 52. Environmental campaigner Andy Boddington, former leader of the Campaign to Protect Rural England says that the new rules “open a legal route for gipsy and traveller sites in the green belt.” He argues that “it will be possible for a community to buy a brownfield site, apply for permission and move in.” Whilst he admitted that large scale communities such as Dale Farm are likely to be refused due to crowding, smaller “low density and well screened” developments could potentially be accepted. Mr Boddington went on to suggest that previously developed sites excluded from protected local development plans would be particularly at risk.
The changes are designed to encompass a shift towards a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ and have already been met with some controversy. In particular the National Trust have been concerned that the new regime will not sufficiently protect the character of the countryside. In addition the UK Environmental Law Association has warned that the framework is so vague that it will lead to a flood of legal challenges. Property barrister Anne Harrison said “we don’t think the way it’s phrased at the moment is going to speed up or simplify anything. It will just provide more fodder for argument.”