Does planning policy discriminate against Gypsy/Roma/Traveller people who have stopped travelling due to age and disability?

Case name: R (Lisa Smith) v SSH, CLG and (2) NWLDC and Amos Willshore (Interested Party) and four interveners

We intervened in this case to seek to protect the rights of Gypsies and Travellers who have ceased to travel, because of age or disability, not to be discriminated against.

Full case name:

R (Lisa Smith) v (1) Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and (2) North West Leicestershire District Council and Amos Willshore (Interested Party) and four interveners:

  1. Equality and Human Rights Commission
  2. National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups
  3. Friends Families and Travellers London Gypsies and Southark Travellers Action Group
  4. Liberty

Legal issue

Does the Government’s Planning Policy for Traveller Sites discriminate against Gypsies and Travellers who have permanently ceased to travel?

Background

Lisa Smith and her family are Romani Gypsies. She has lived with her family, in their caravans, at a site at Coalville in Leicestershire since 2011.  She rents the site from her landlord Amos Willshore.

Two of Lisa Smith’s grown up sons are severely disabled and she has had to permanently stop travelling to care for them.

In 2013 temporary planning permission was granted for the site subject to a condition that it could only be occupied by people who were Gypsies or Travellers. At this time the family met the definition of Gypsy for planning purposes, which included people who had temporarily or permanently ceased to travel due to health, education, or age. 

In 2015 the UK Government updated its Planning Policy for Traveller Sites (the policy) which applies in England only. The policy changed the definition of ‘Gypsy or Traveller’ so that people who, like the Smith family, had permanently ceased to travel were no longer classed as Gypsies or Travellers.

In 2016 Mr Willshore applied for permanent planning permission for the site. The council refused the application. Mr Willshore appealed this decision. On appeal, the Planning inspector decided that the Smith family did not fall within the definition of Gypsies and Travellers in the policy and so the application did not benefit from the more permissive planning regime contained in the policy. The application for planning permission was refused.

Lisa Smith brought a claim against the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government that the policy discriminated against Gypsies and Travellers who had permanently ceased to travel on the grounds of age and disability, and against the council because of its decision to refuse planning permission.  

Why we were involved

In 2019 we raised concerns about the revised definition of Gypsies and Travellers in the policy.

Our research found that when local planning authorities assessed how many pitches they would need to meet the needs of Gypsies and Travellers following the change in definition, the requirement fell by almost 75%. This suggests that the needs of a significant number of people in the Gypsy and Traveller community, who still require culturally appropriate accommodation but no longer follow a nomadic lifestyle, are not being considered.

In light of our concerns, we intervened in this case to assist the court by sharing our expert knowledge on Equality Law and research on the impact of the updated planning policy on Gypsy/Roma/Traveller communities.

What we did

We intervened in the case and provided assistance to the court using our power under section 30 of the Equality Act 2006.

What happened

Lisa Smith lost her case.

The judge found that the policy was not unlawfully discriminatory because the different treatment of Gypsies and Travellers who had stopped travelling to those who continued to do so was justified.

He held that so long as the planning system as a whole takes into account the needs of Gypsies who have retired from travelling, the Government was entitled to deal with the needs of nomadic Gypsies and Travellers and those who had permanently settled in separate policies.

The judge held that Gypsies and Travellers who do not fall within the policy should have their accommodation needs addressed under the National Planning Policy Framework, which requires planning authorities to address their needs irrespective of whether they meet the definition in the policy.

In this case, the Planning Inspector had considered the human rights of the family in reaching her decision.

It is essential, in light of this judgment, that the needs of Gypsies and Travellers who can no longer travel due to their circumstances are fully considered and taken into account in the wider planning process.

Date of hearing

Date of outcome