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High Court Finds That PPTS Definition of “Gypsies and Travellers” is Not Unlawful

Sarah Sackman
Merrow Golden

Mr Justice Pepperall has today handed down judgment in Lisa Smith v The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and others [2021] EWHC 1650 (Admin) – a case raising questions of significant public interest concerning discrimination against Gypsies and Travellers.

Ground 1 of the claim concerned whether the definition of “Gypsies and Travellers” contained in Annex 1 of the Planning Policy for Traveller Sites 2015 is unlawfully discriminatory.  That definition excludes, from the PPTS’ ambit, any Gypsy or Traveller who has ceased to travel “permanently”, thereby excluding, for example, those Gypsies or Travellers who have permanently ceased to travel due to old age, disability or due to caring responsibilities.

Whilst Mr Justice Pepperall expressed “disquiet as to the poor outcomes achieved by so many Gypsies and the disproportionate difficulty faced by many Gypsies and Travellers in obtaining planning permission” (para 47), he dismissed the claim and found the PPTS definition to be lawful.

The High Court concluded that the PPTS retains, at its core, a functional test of nomadism, with a focus on the specific land-use needs of those leading a nomadic lifestyle (para 79).  The Court accepted that the Secretary of State was justified in drawing a distinction between the specific land-use needs of those seeking to lead a nomadic lifestyle and those seeking a more settled existence (para 80) and emphasised that the PPTS does not “stand alone” but forms part of a “patchwork of provisions”, including the NPPF – which, in the Court’s view, requires planning authorities to address the needs of Gypsies and Travellers irrespective of whether they met the PPTS definition (citing to paragraphs 59 and 61 of the NPPF) (para 80).

The Court also emphasised that the specific accommodation needs of permanently settled Gypsies and Travellers who seek planning permission in order to maintain their cultural identity as gypsies are “material considerations” which “must” be taken into account under section 70 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, along with any particular personal circumstances of Gypsy applicants (paras 80).

Sarah Sackman and Merrow Golden acted pro bono for Liberty, one of the intervenors in the case.