Sir George has had a reply from the Minister for Housing and Planning, outlining the present state of the law on unauthorised encampments, following enquiries that Sir George made on behalf of constituents.
"I was pleased to see that the Minister recognises that the current enforcement process can be slow and open to abuse, and I am delighted they are consulting on regulations to see if enforcement action can be taken more quickly."
See letter below.
23 November 2004
Thank you for your letter dated 4 November to the Deputy Prime Minister about Travellers. I am responding on the Deputy Prime Minister's behalf as this is an issue that falls within my remit.
It is perfectly legal for anyone to purchase agricultural or other land on the open market. However, I fully agree that it is not acceptable for anyone to convert the land for residential use without being granted planning permission.
The issue of Gypsies and Travellers developing land and retrospectively seeking planning permission is known to us, and we have made our feelings quite clear in discussions with representative groups that this practice should not be encouraged.
When a local planning authority considers that enforcement action is necessary they can issue an enforcement notice or serve a breach of condition notice to terminate unauthorised development. It is an offence to ignore the provisions of either of these types of notice once they have come into effect. An individual can appeal against an enforcement notice on planning or legal grounds. Appeals have the effect of suspending an enforcement notice for the duration of the appeal process. There is no right of appeal against a breach of condition notice.
In circumstances where there has been an extremely serious breach of planning control a local planning authority can serve a stop notice. This enables the local planning authority immediately to prohibit any activity, which contravenes planning control guidelines. Failure to comply with a stop notice may result in immediate prosecution. There is no right -of appeal to the Secretary of State against a stop notice.
There is also a planning injunction which enables a Council to apply, in the High Court or County Court, to restrain an actual or apprehended breach of planning control. Once an injunction has been granted anyone who fails to comply with the terms risks imprisonment. A local authority must decide the most appropriate course of action in the light of local circumstances.
We recognise that the current enforcement process can be slow and open to abuse. We have taken steps to ensure that quicker enforcement action can be taken. We recently introduced a temporary stop notice, in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. The notice can be issued immediately a breach of planning law is detected. We shall shortly be consulting on regulations, setting out under what conditions and in what circumstances these temporary stop notices can be used.