Court of Appeal rejects hidden 'policy within policy' claim over traveller site refusals

The Court of Appeal has dismissed a claim that the government is operating a hidden 'policy within a policy' designed to defeat planning applications by Gypsies and travellers.

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

Three Court of Appeal judges have rejected judicial review challenges brought by six members of the travelling community.

The first case, concerning four travellers, involved Reigate and Banstead, Tonbridge and Malling and Windsor and Maidenhead Councils.

Each council had refused, or failed to determine, planning applications to station caravans or mobile homes in the green belt.

All the cases were called in by the secretary of state for communities and local government, who dismissed the travellers' appeals in four decisions between October 2013 and March 2014.

Alan Master, for the travellers, argued that the secretary of state had been operating a "policy within a policy", contrary to the Equality Act 2010.

The travellers were subjected to "adverse differential treatment" when compared to the population in general, and their human rights to a fair hearing and to respect for their family lives had been violated, he argued.

It was submitted that the secretary of state, in recovering appeals made by travellers for his own determination, had applied a more restrictive policy in which unmet demand for traveller sites was, by itself, unlikely to qualify as a very special circumstance justifying inappropriate development in the green belt.

The travellers' arguments were rejected by the High Court in December 2015, but the travellers - Edward Connors, Miley Connors, Bridget Doran and Fred Sines - appealed.

The issues raised were considered of wide importance and the Equality and Human Rights Commission intervened in the case.

In dismissing their challenge, however, the Court of Appeal rejected their complaints as misconceived.

There had been public inquiries in all the cases, at which the travellers were given a full opportunity to present evidence and make arguments, and claims that they had been denied a fair hearing were without merit.

The secretary of state had, in each case, considered the impact of his decision on the travellers' family lives. He had also treated the unmet demand for traveller sites, and the absence of five-year supplies of deliverable sites, as a material factor in favour of the travellers' proposals.

Any interference with the travellers' rights also had a legitimate aim, in promoting the broader public interest in the protection of the environment and the green belt in particular, the court ruled.

Another appeal by two travellers, who were denied planning consent by the the secretary of state after their applications were called in following a refusal of permission by Hyndburn Council, was also rejected.

The court concluded that all six travellers involved in the cases had had their statutory appeals dealt with lawfully, on their planning merits, by the secretary of state, whose decisions had been properly and lawfully made.

Connors & Ors v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Ors. Case Number: C1/2014/2651

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