The High Court has ruled that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles “unlawfully discriminated” against Romany Gypsies who wanted to pitch up on greenbelt land.
A Judge has said that the cabinet minister had breached human rights by exercising his powers to call-in decisions which would normally have been made by planning inspectors.
The court heard that Mr Pickles’ department had adopted a policy of calling in all, and then a majority, of plans to build a traveller camp on greenbelt land. In most cases the applicants were either Romany Gypsies or Irish Travellers.
Having weighed up the evidence, Mr Justice Gilbart ruled that Mr Pickles had failed to follow the requirements of the 2010 Equality Act, which were introduced to avoid indirect indiscrimination.
There was also criticism that called-in cases delayed the travellers’ right to justice, infringing Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. While a planning inspector would normally reach a decision in six to eight weeks, a case that has been passed to the Secretary of State may not be resolved for six months.
The test-case ruling was a victory for two Romany Gypsies – Charmaine Moore and Sarah Coates – who had battled to live temporarily on greenbelt land at Sutton-at-Hone, in Kent. The decision to throw out the applications was quashed by the Judge, opening the door for a flood of fresh claims against the Government.
Following the ruling, a spokesman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which supported the legal challenge, said: “We have a duty to protect everyone from discrimination and ensure that the law is applied fairly, consistently and equally for all.”
Despite the rebuke, the Government has said that the judgment had not questioned the principle that temporary and permanent traveller sites constituted inappropriate development in the greenbelt.
Planning Minister Brandon Lewis said: “This Government makes no apologies for seeking to safeguard greenbelt protection.”