A judge has urged a local authority to use ‘much more vigour’ in searching for suitable sites for gypsies after expressing sympathy for two Romany brothers who were banned from living with their horses on land that they own.
Travelling horse dealers, Jimmy and Christopher Searle, own Three Cornered Piece, Bohemia Hollow, East Harting, West Sussex, where - with the appropriate planning permission - they have built a new stable block for their animals.
But they do not have permission to live on the land which is set amidst the South Downs National Park and within an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
In December 2009, Chichester District Council served the brothers with an enforcement notice requiring removal of two mobile homes and a caravan from the site and banning them from using the stable block for residential purposes.
The brothers appealed to a government planning inspector who, whilst refusing to grant permanent planning consent, recommended that they be granted temporary permission to live on the land until an alternative site became available.
However, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, disagreed with his inspector, ruling that even the grant of temporary planning consent to the brothers would be unacceptable.
The brothers challenged that decision at the High Court on various grounds but had their appeal dismissed by Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart.
The judge rejected the brothers' pleas that the Secretary of State's ruling was ‘palpably irrational’, that he had taken into account an irrelevant factor and had wrongly departed from his inspector's assessment of harm to the natural beauty of the area without making a site visit.
The judge, however, went on: ‘One cannot but feel sympathy for the claimants in their predicament and I can well understand their wish to live on this particular parcel of land with some of their horses.
‘However, development of this sort always raises difficult issues - as the claimants must have appreciated when they bought the land.
‘It is clear that the council must pursue the problem of finding alternative and suitable sites for the claimants and other travellers with much more vigour than it has done to date. I trust that it will do so.’