Basildon Council’s action centres on 49 illegal pitches which it is believed were home to 400 travellers on the green belt site at Crays Hill, Basildon.
In the 1970’s Basildon Council granted planning permission to 40 English Romany Gypsy families to live beside what was then a scrap yard. After being denied permission to carry on his business the owner of the scrap yard sold Dale Farm to an Irish travelling family for £122,000 in 1996. Over the next nine years the number of families at the site grew considerable and various breaches of planning control took place. In 2005 Basildon Council resolved to take action by serving Planning Enforcement Notices as the Council was within the 10 year time limit to take action against the breaches.
After a Public Inquiry in 2006 upheld the Enforcement Notices Basildon Council subsequently resolved to evict 14 families on the illegal part of the site. In 2008 the travellers challenged the Council’s action in the High Court which ruled that the Council’s planned evictions were unlawful. However, that Judgment was overturned by the Court of Appeal.
In March this year the Basildon Council voted to once again go ahead with the eviction.
Since March 2011 the residents of Dale Farm, with the backing of the Gypsy Council and activists, have made numerous last ditch legal appeals in an attempt to save the site. On 19th September 2011 Basildon Council brought in bailiffs to clear the site but had to stop when the residents obtained a High Court Injunction.
However, on 12th October 2011 three applications for judicial review of Basildon Council’s decision to take action were refused. In was argued by the residents that the Council’s decision to take direct action to clear the site of the 400 residents, including 100 children, was in breach of their human rights, was unreasonable and that they had not been offered suitable alternative accommodation. Mr Justice Ouseley dismissed the arguments observing that the issues had been properly taken into account in many legal actions over the years.
In his ruling Mr Justice Ouseley found:
the residents had delayed too long in challenging Basildon Council’s decision to take action against them
the Council’s actions were not disproportionate
the travellers were breaking criminal law on a daily basis by remaining on site
The removal of the site was necessary to avoid the criminal law and planning system being brought into serious disrepute.
Although the residents were refused permission to appeal they vowed to ask the Court of Appeal to hear the case.
In what appeared to be the final nail in the coffin of the legal actions, on 17th October 2011 the residents of Dale Farm were refused permission to appeal against a High Court ruling giving Basildon Council the go-ahead to evict them.
Although Dale Farm is the most high profile case on unauthorised gypsy sites and is based on its own facts and issues, the general topic of unauthorised gypsy sites is certainly an emotive and topical issue.
As highlighted in Holmes & Hills' recent seminars on the Localism Act (organised by the firm's team of Planning Law solicitors), the Government’s proposed changes to the procedure for retrospective planning applications are said to be targeted at groups of travellers who move quickly on to a site and then apply for retrospective planning permission at the same time as appealing against an enforcement notice, thus buying more time by paralysing the planning system with multiple issues and appeals.
Our local authority clients will wait to see where the residents of Dale Farm go to in the hope that the problem doesn’t arrive on their patch. However, the underlying problem is that in many areas there is currently insufficient provision of authorised gypsy sites to meet the need. Until this issue is dealt with unauthorised gypsy sites will continue to appear, requiring ever quicker action to be taken by affected local authorities and land owners.