Human rights claim rejected on traveller site injunction

Continuation of an injunction seeking to prevent occupation of a site in Surrey by a group of travellers would be in the public interest, the High Court has found.

The travellers had placed 33 caravans on land in the green belt close to heritage assets. In support of their request to defer a trial on their unauthorised occupation, they claimed that Covid-19 restrictions had made it impossible for them to attend their lawyer’s offices to cross-examine a witness statement provided by a council planning officer. On that basis, they argued that the court’s decision earlier this year to confirm the injunction had been made without the benefit of their evidence and so breached their human rights.

Mr Justice Freedman saw no change in circumstances since the original injunction and found that the defendants’ inability to attend their lawyer’s offices at the first hearing had not been fully explained. A serious breach of planning control had occurred and the defendants continued to occupy the site contrary to the terms of the existing injunction and without planning permission, he found.

He observed that the defendants had not addressed the council’s claim that they had access to other housing. While Gypsies might have a cultural aversion to bricks-and-mortar accommodation, he reasoned, this had been found to be an acceptable alternative in emergencies, in accordance with Sheridan v Basildon Borough Council [2012].

The judge concluded that the defendants would not be rendered homeless if were obliged to vacate the land and no cogent evidence had been provided to show that their children’s needs would be harmed. They had adequate financial means to secure alternative accommodation, he found. He concluded that it would be just and convenient to grant a continuation of the injunction preventing their ongoing occupation of the site.

Surrey Heath Borough Council v Robb

Date: 6 July 2020

Ref: [2020] 7 WLUK 60

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