High Court extends injunction on 'substantial' unlawful gypsy site in Surrey countryside

The High Court has extended an injunction on a gypsy encampment in an area of woodland in Surrey, ruling that the camp was a "substantial and unlawful development in open countryside".

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

Surrey Heath Borough Council obtained an emergency injunction in October after officers reported trees being cut down and foliage cleared in an area known as "the knoll," off Guildford Road, Lightwater.

The site, close to the M3 motorway and the Lightwater Bypass, is adjacent to the Lightwater Country Park and part of it is within the 400-metre buffer zone of the Thames Basin Heath Special Protection Area.

And, in extending the pre-trial injunction late last week, Judge Sarah Richardson underlined the "strong public interest in protecting the environment".

Residents denied felling trees on the site, which they claimed had been used for stationing a caravan for more than 10 years.

They argued that residential use of the site had, for that reason, become immune from enforcement action and "lawful".

The judge, however, ruled that the council had a good arguable case that the encampment was a "substantial and unlawful development in open countryside".

There was evidence that "trees have been removed" and that a dog on the site posed a potential threat to ground-nesting birds in the Special Protection Area.

And she ruled: "There is considerable evidence in the present case of environmental harm."

The judge took into account the interests of children living at the site, the residents' human rights and the need to "respect their travelling way of life".

But she added: "There has always been a strong public interest in upholding respect for court orders, the authority of the court and the rule of law."

The failure to leave the site, and the arrival of more residents since the order was made, showed a "complete disregard" of the law.

Although only one woman was seen on the site before the injunction was granted, the judge said the council was entitled to take pre-emptive action.

"There cannot be a more deliberate way of 'cocking a snub at the court than moving onto a site in knowing breach of an extant injunction," she added.

Damages would, she ruled, not be "an adequate remedy" for the council were the residential use of the site to continue.

"The council is the custodian of the public interest and there is no financial compensation capable of repairing the damage to that interest," she said.

"In addition, the alleged damage to the environment, whether in relation to the felling of trees or the impact on the Special Protection Area, is not going to be assisted by anyone paying compensation."

Continuing the injunction until a full trial of the action was, she concluded, "proportionate" and properly balanced the interests of those living on the site against the wider public interest.

A Planning feature on councils' use of Injunctions banning unlawful traveller encampments can be found here.

Surrey Heath Borough Council v Shir & Others. Case Number: QBD-2019-00350

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