News and Other Busyness
European Court Blow For Travellers
Squall 14, Autumn 1996, pg. 07.
JUNE BUCKLEY, a 32-year old Gypsy and single mother, has lost the case she brought to the European Court, over her rights to live in a caravan on her own land.
Mrs Buckley acquired a piece of land at Willingham in Cambridgeshire in 1988 and sited three caravans on the plot. One for herself, one for her children and one for her mother. Willingham District Council refused to grant her planning permission saying the caravans were an eyesore, visually intrusive and detracted from the rural quality of the area.
Solicitor Luke Clements took her case to Europe, citing Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention on the right to respect for private and family life and home.
The European Court of Human Rights met on September 25th in Strasbourg and passed a verdict saying the District Council were justified in their planning refusal in the interests of “public safety, the economic well-being of the country, the protection of health and the protection of the rights of others”.
They also said: “By reason of their direct and continuous contact with the vital forces of their countries, the national authorities are in principle better placed than an international court to evaluate local needs and conditions.” The court considered that the investigations made by planning inspectors in assessing Mrs Buckley’s application were adequate.
Willingham District Council claim that Mrs Buckley refused to apply for a plot on an authorised council Gypsy site and therefore was being choosy about where she wanted to live. Mrs Buckley argued that she did not want to bring up her children on an official site because of trouble there. The court ruled that “Article 8 does not necessarily go so far as to allow individuals’ preferences as to their place of residence to override the general interest”.
Mrs Buckley had already been refused by the Secretary of State for the Environment when she appealed against the planning refusal in 1995.
During the run-up to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, the Department of Environment recommended that favourable planning consideration be given to Gypsies settling on their own land in the light of the abolition of the Caravan Sites Act (statutory provision for Travellers) contained within the CJA.
Groups representing Travellers say this has now proven to be empty rhetoric, designed to placate welfare concerns at the time. The Secretary of State has continually refused to grant appeals against planning refusals on Travellers.
Eli Frankham from the Romani Rights Association estimates that between 300-400 families are in a similar position to Mrs Buckley.
“This is a very big blow for us,” said Mr Frankham. “I feel very sorry for the Buckley family. I am particularly concerned for the children.
“We were very much hoping that the court would find in our favour. A lot of councils have been treading water waiting for this decision. Now I think they will move all over the place. I foresee some awful evictions.”
Kathleen Crandall, South Cambridgeshire District Council’s legal director, described the European Court’s decision as “wonderful”.