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Judge quashes decision by Pickles refusing permission for gypsy site

A High Court judge has quashed a decision by the former Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to refuse planning permission for a site where a gypsy and his family have lived since 2008.

In Allen v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Anor [2015] EWHC 2463 (Admin) the claimant, his wife and three children live at a site just outside the village of Bletsoe.

In 2009 a planning inspector granted a temporary permission, with a condition whose effect was that it expired in June 2012. This was because there a reasonable prospect that sequentially preferable sites would be identified through the Development Plan.

Planning permission was applied for on 22 December 2011 and refused by Bedford Borough Council on 31 May 2012. An appeal was made to the then Communities Secretary. After a number of delays the inquiry was completed in February 2014.

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The Secretary of State had meanwhile decided to recover jurisdiction over the appeal.

On 23 April 2014 the inspector submitted his report to the minister. He recommended that permission be granted for a limited period of two years, subject to conditions.

However, on 1 October 2014 Pickles issued his decision letter, in which he disagreed with the inspector’s recommendation and dismissed the claimant’s appeal.

The claimant challenged that decision under s. 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Mr Justice Gilbart quashed Pickles’ decision. The High Court judge said the central issue was whether or not the Secretary of State had grappled with the findings of fact and conclusions of the inspector about the contribution of another site, Meadow Line, to the supply of pitches. That proposed development would provide 14 new pitches.

“With Meadow Lane included, the council had identified an adequate supply. Without it, the council had not done so,” he said.

The inspector had described the Meadow Lane site as “a very challenging site on which to create an acceptable residential environment”.

Mr Justice Gilbart said: “In my judgement, the SSCLG, had he wished to do so, was entirely entitled to say that, having considered all that the Inspector had found and concluded about conditions on the site, nonetheless he thought that the site was suitable.

“But it is a striking fact about the decision letter that he does not identify any finding of fact, or any planning judgement made by the Inspector on the environmental issues at Meadow Lane, or its suitability as a place to live, with which he disagrees. He chooses instead to conclude that they will be overcome by the council by February 2015.”

The judge said the Communities Secretary had relied on the council accepting its "responsibilities to provide acceptable living conditions".

However, Mr Justice Gilbart said it was “quite unclear” to him what the minister had had in mind.

“He has not said that he has reached a planning judgement that he considers that the site is suitable in its current state, or in that which would have obtained by February 2015 when the planning conditions and agreement would have been complied with. Had he done so, no complaint could be made,” the judge said.

“But if his point, as it appears to be, was that the adverse effects on suitability identified by the Inspector would be addressed, he had no evidence that the council would, or could, do so.”

The High Court judge concluded that the Secretary of State had failed to give adequate reasons for his decision. “He has failed to grapple with a principal issue adequately,” Mr Justice Gilbart said.

The judge said the question of the best interests of the children, and of the Article 8 rights of the claimant and other occupiers, took the case no further.

Mr Justice Gilbart did, however, reject wider allegations of bias, and complaint about the recovery of jurisdiction, as “quite misconceived”.

The current Communities Secretary, Greg Clark, will now have to consider the issue again.

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