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District council secures continuing High Court injunctions over development of land in Green Belt

The High Court has allowed Basildon District Council to continue with two injunctions against both named and unnamed defendants and has added a power of arrest.

These apply to 11 named people and 12 persons unknown concerning development at the Hovefields Drive site in Wickford. Basildon’s two injunctions were initially granted in November.

The first is a prohibitory injunction to prevent development or use of the land in Wickford in breach of planning control.

In the second injunction the first to twelfth defendants were told to remove any static caravans, mobile homes and touring caravans and refrain from causing them to be placed there.

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The defendants applied to vary the second order to allow them to continue to reside on the site pending the final determination of their planning applications.

In Basildon District Council v Anderson & Ors [2020] EWHC 3382 (QB) Mr Justice Foxton said the site is in Green Belt and has no planning consents though there was ”a long history of attempts to develop the land (or major parts of it) for use as a gypsy/traveller caravan site”, which Basildon restrained by injunctions and enforcement notices.

He said that on 28 November 2020 the council was contacted by Essex Police following reports of extensive work on the land.

Two police officers saw up to 100 people at work with diggers and several large trucks and a substantial quantity of hardcore had been deposited. The council entered the land and served stop notices.

The judge said: “I think it likely that all of the defendants were aware that land was in the Green Belt, and that this presented a very substantial legal obstacle to the lawful development and occupation of the land.

“The rapid and co-ordinated nature of the work begun on a Saturday is suggestive of an attempt to achieve a fait accompli before anticipated legal countermeasures might be deployed.”

Foxton J said he was concerned by the defendants' evidence as to the number of children living on the land, the health issues of those present and that continuing both injunctions might force them into a 'roadside existence’.

But he said it was “far from clear that the land is capable of providing the stable base which the defendants say they want for their children” and that utilities and amenities were poor and the site’s occupation was “highly legally precarious”,

Evidence that the defendants would be forced into a ‘roadside’ existence was “not wholly compelling”.

The judge said: “I cannot ignore the fact that the current occupation of the land appears to have formed part of a particularly flagrant breach of planning controls, and an attempt to flout the planning control system through the large scale operations which began over the weekend, and continued in breach of court orders the following week.”

He said the threats and aggressive behaviour that had occurred made him “satisfied that there is a significant risk of harm to the officers of the council or the police service” and he included therefore a power of arrest within the orders.

Mark Smulian

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