Ms Moore and Ms Coates are Romani Gypsies who were seeking planning permission for single pitch sites for themselves and their families in the Green Belt. The local planning authorities ( London Borough of Bromley in Ms Moore’s case and Dartford Borough Council in Ms Coates’ case) refused them planning permission. They appealed to a Planning Inspector. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (SSCLG), Mr Pickles, decided to recover their appeal cases to make the decisions himself because of certain Ministerial Statements that had been issued. The reason given for these decisions to recover the cases were that the appeals involved “a traveller site in the Green Belt”.
The previous policy for recovering appeals was amended, with regard to Gypsy and Traveller planning appeals to a Planning Inspector, by a Written Ministerial Statement of 1 July 2013 which stated that, in the case of “Traveller Sites”, the SSCLG was “revising the recovery criteria issued on 30th June 2008 and will consider for recovery appeals involving traveller sites in the Green Belt”.
A further Written Ministerial statement was issued on 17 January 2014 and this stated that:- The Secretary of State remains concerned about the extent to which planning appeal decisions are meeting the Government’s clear policy intentions, particularly as to whether sufficient weight is being given to the importance of green belt protection. Therefore, he intends to continue to consider for recovery appeals involving traveller sites in the green belt.
Ms Moore and Ms Coates lodged judicial review challenges of Mr Pickles’ decision to recover their appeals and their cases were heard together in December 2014. In a judgment handed down on 21 January 2015 Mr Justice Gilbart stated: While I am satisfied that the challenges mounted on issues of bias, irrationality and abuse of power have failed, I have found that the challenges based on breaches of the Equality Act 2010 and of Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights have succeeded. Both are part of the law of England and Wales. These are not to be dismissed as technical breaches. Although the issue of unlawful discrimination was put before the Minister by his officials, no attempt was made by the Minister to follow the steps required of him by statute, nor was the regard required of him by Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 had to the matters set out there.
The Article 6 challenge has succeeded because substantial delays have occurred in dealing with the appeals of Mrs Moore and Ms Coates, and with many other cases. In the context of delay, Article 6 of the ECHR does no more than encapsulate the long standing principle of the common law that justice should not be unreasonably delayed, as it was and has been here. The Claimants were and are entitled to have their appeals determined within a reasonable time. The delays they have experienced have also affected those who oppose their appeals.
The decisions to recover these appeals were quashed.
In a more recent case taken by CLP, following a pre-action letter, the SSCLG conceded that when making the decision to recover the planning appeal, he did not have due regard to his Public Sector Equality Duty and he has withdrawn the decision to recover that appeal. That appeal related to a Traveller Site in a National Park.
The implications of this judgment are enormous. It seems to us that the vast majority of all Gypsy and Traveller planning appeals that were recovered since the first Written Ministerial Statement was published may now be challengeable due to the fact that the practice of the policy was unlawful and discriminates against Gypsies and Travellers, fails to have regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty and has caused unreasonable delays in terms of Article 6 of the ECHR. We would urge all Gypsies and Travellers who have had their appeals recovered since this Statement was published to seek urgent legal advice. The Travellers Advice Team National Helpline is, of course, available if people want to take advice from us on this issue or if people know of Gypsies and Travellers who have been affected. Our National Helpline is 0121 685 8677, Monday to Friday 9.00 am to 5.00 pm.
Well done to Parminder Sanghera of the Travellers Advice Team who ran both the cases, to the barristers involved for the two Gypsies concerned, namely Tim Jones of No 5 Chambers and Stephen Cottle of Garden Court Chambers, and to the Planning Consultant for both appeals, Dr Angus Murdoch. Well done also to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for intervening in the case and to their solicitor, Rosemary Lloyd, and their barrister, Chris Buttler, for their excellent work on the case.
See attachment: Approved Judgment