Traveller families win court battle over living on land they own

Traveller families win court battle over living on land they own

Six Traveller families have won a High Court appeal against a decision which would stop them living on land they own in Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire.

Charlotte Smith and her five neighbours were told by the local council to move off the land because they didn’t have planning permission to live there.

The families initially appealed to the Planning Inspectorate – which sided with the local authority.

But that decision was quashed by the High Court earlier this month.

The families’ fight is not over and they still don’t have planning permission to live on the land but say they feel they “can relax a little bit now”.

“My first initial reaction at the result was I did have a little tear,” mum-of-four Charlotte tells me. “Even though we’ve still got a fight, it feels like a weight has been lifted.”

The families say they bought the land to give them “a place to call home” after previously living on the roadside.

But Newark and Sherwood District Council says the site isn’t suitable to live on because it’s at risk of flooding.

Local authorities in England are expected to have a five-year plan which sets out how they will deliver enough sites in the area for their Gypsy and Traveller communities.

Newark and Sherwood council doesn’t have one.

The families’ lawyers argued the Planning Inspectorate’s decision was flawed because it failed to treat the lack of plan as “a significant material consideration”.

The High Court agreed and quashed the original ruling at a hearing on 16 October.

Charlotte says the weeks leading up to the High Court hearing have been “emotional” for all of the families – as they didn’t know which way the decision would go.

She tells me how her daughter surprised her with a letter to read in the car as she travelled down to London for the hearing.

Addressed to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, it read: “I am a 10-year-old girl in year five and I am a traveller. Can we live at Old Winthorpe Road Stable Yard? The council won’t let us live there and I live in Newark.”

She says her kids were “jumping for joy” when she returned home to tell them they’d won their appeal.

“I did tell my daughter it was because of her letter,” Charlotte laughs. “Obviously she doesn’t know the legal side of things and I just thought it would build her spirits.

“Everyone is just ecstatic. I can’t put into words how it actually makes me feel.”

Since I wrote about the families’ fight back in September I’ve had quite a few emails about it – and there’s been a mix of opinions.

“I admire their desire to give the children the stability they now have to enable them to receive full-time education without losing their cultural identity,” one reader said.

“We would all love to buy a field and build a home for our family on it, but for those of us that actually abide by the law, it’s not an option,” another wrote.

“Are they really integrating into the community? They sound just like our local site here in Kent,” one email read.

“Reality is they do what they like, don’t care about anybody else, steal what they like and generally are horrible people.”

I ask Charlotte how she feels about this.

“Just because you’ve had a bad experience with a couple of families that live locally, that doesn’t mean everybody’s the same,” she says.

“I’m happy to welcome anybody down and make them a cup of tea. You’ll find we’re actually lovely people, we’re working class people, we pay our taxes, we’re not sponging off the government.

“We didn’t break into a local park or anything like that, we bought our land. Yes we put in our planning application retrospectively but we’re trying our best, otherwise we’d still be on the roadside now. We want to be part of the community.”

The land is separated from the village of Winthorpe by the A1 road and Charlotte says the families have the backing of the Winthorpe Estate Residents’ Group – which has been posting messages of support on Twitter.

The Planning Inspectorate now has 28 days from the High Court ruling to appeal against the decision. If it doesn’t, the families’ original appeal will need to be reheard by the inspectorate again.

A spokesman said: “The quality and accuracy of our decisions is very important to the Planning Inspectorate. We have been informed of the judgement and are awaiting a copy of the court order before deciding whether to seek leave to appeal.”

Newark and Sherwood District Council has found it needs to deliver 77 sites for the Gypsy and Traveller community by 2024 – and 118 sites by 2033.

It says maintaining a deliverable five-year supply of Gypsy and Traveller sites is “challenging for many local authorities across England”.

“The council is working proactively to allocate land for future development, so these needs can be met,” it added.

It says local landowners are being asked to put their land forward for consideration as potential sites and it will continue to consider individual planning applications from all sections of the community.

Cherry Wilson is a proud northerner who lives in Stockport, Greater Manchester, where she grew up.

She studied journalism in Sheffield and was the first in her family to go to university. Her passion is telling the stories of the people and communities behind the headlines, exploring issues that matter to them. She has a great love for cups of tea, jerk chicken, chips and gravy and Coronation Street.

Follow Cherry on Twitter

Photos by Brandon Brown

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