HL Deb 21 March 1991 vol 527 cc723-4

3.14 p.m.

Lord Tordoff asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are the reasons for the delay in announcing the Secretary of State for the Environment's decision on the proposed gypsy site at Middlezoy.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, this is a very difficult and controversial case which has aroused strong local opposition. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is close to issuing a decision as promised in the written reply to the noble Lord on 12th March.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer and for the fact that progress has been made. Is she aware that planning policy guidance document PPGI dated January 1988 states that the Secretary of State and local planning authorities have a clear responsibility to minimise delay and that planning applications should normally be decided within eight weeks? It is almost two years since the Secretary of State called in this application.

Is the Minister aware that the Secretary of State's delay is preventing designation in Somerset and as a result gypsies are buying up small plots of land, putting mobile homes on them and acting completely outside the bounds of normal planning permission; and that causes extreme difficulties for local people, who are not allowed to erect buildings on the sites? That is entirely due to the fact that the Minister has not yet given an answer to the planning inquiry.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I agree that this is not the best example of trying to prove that my department is improving its record on dealing with planning appeals. Gypsies who are negotiating with landowners and purchasing sites are doing so in order to provide permanent accommodation. However, the site in question is a transit site.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, is there not a contradiction in the description? The idea one has of gypsies is that they move on and if they need fixed homes they can hardly be classed as such.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am prepared to accept that there is confusion about the matter. We are talking about travellers —I understand that to be the new term for gypsies—who are more often seeking permanent accommodation.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, are the Zoys, like the Wallops, divided into an upper, middle and nether component, and can the Minister tell us where they are?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am entirely incompetent to answer that question.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, perhaps I may assist the Minister. Is she aware that Middlezoy, among other places, is near the site of the battle of Sedgemoor? Is she further aware that such homes are being put on sites that would not be available to other people under the planning permission regulations? In one case, where a caravan was ordered to be removed from the site by the local planning authority, the owners of the site said, "In that case I shall sell it to gypsies ". Indeed, he has done so and there is a gypsy caravan there.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I share the noble Lord's concern for the difficulty to which he refers. Until a decision on the site is made it is difficult for Somerset to deal with the problems surrounding travellers or gypsies, whatever one wishes to call them. I accept the significance of the decision and hope that it will be made soon.

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