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Planning is a devolved matter. This briefing focuses on England.

Planning for Gypsy and Traveller sites

The government’s planning policies for Gypsy and Traveller sites (areas where Gypsies and Travellers can station caravans and mobile homes), are set out in its planning policy for Traveller sites (first published in 2012 and updated in 2015 and December 2023). Local planning authorities must prepare their local plans (in which they set out their policies for the development and land use in their area) in line with the policy. The policy is also a ‘material consideration’ in planning decisions.

The policy states that each local planning authority should assess the need for sites to accommodate Gypsies and Travellers in its area. If it identifies a local need, a local planning authority should set targets for the number of Gypsy and Traveller sites and identify land suitable for these sites.

If local planning authorities are unable to demonstrate a five-year supply of specific, deliverable sites, the government states that they should grant planning permission to sites that come forward unless the land is protected.

What permissions are needed for Gypsy and Traveller sites?

Stationing of caravans or mobile homes on land may require planning permission from the local planning authority. A local planning authority will generally decide planning applications in line with their local plan and the government’s planning policy for Traveller sites.

If a caravan site is run by a private company or organisation rather than the local authority, it may also require a site licence from the local authority.

A local authority can attach conditions to planning permission or a caravan site licence, for example, to limit the number of caravans allowed on a site or to limit number of days caravans can be stationed on a site.

Sites on green belt land

The government says that temporary and permanent Gypsy and Traveller sites are considered “inappropriate development” on the green belt. It says that only “very special circumstances” justify development on the green belt.

Number of caravan sites

Local authorities count the number of caravans on Gypsy and Traveller sites in their area twice a year (in July and January). At the time of the most recent count in July 2023, local authorities counted 25,220 caravans on Gypsy and Traveller sites in England. This is a 21% increase compared with July 2013.

In July 2023, 26% of all caravans on Gypsy and Traveller sites were on public sites, 60% were on authorised private sites and 14% were on unauthorised sites. Of the caravans on unauthorised sites, most (83%) were on land owned by Gypsies or Travellers, and 17% were unauthorised encampments on land belonging to private landowners or public authorities.

How can local authorities deal with unauthorised sites?

Failure to obtain planning permission where it is required is considered a ‘planning breach’. A local planning authority can take enforcement action against unauthorised development at its discretion.

The government advises local planning authorities to “act proportionately” in responding to planning breaches. However, it also advises them to “aim to reduce the number of unauthorised developments”.

Separate to the powers of local authorities to deal with unauthorised development, the police also have powers to deal with ‘unauthorised encampments’. They can take action if people enter and occupy land belonging to private landowners or local authorities without their permission.

Further reading

This briefing is part of the Library series on Gypsies and Travellers. It brings together briefings on policy areas that relate to their experiences, including inequalities and discrimination, accommodation, planning laws, the legality of encampments, education and statistics on the characteristics of different groups of Gypsies and Travellers.

Documents to download

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