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Decision details

BREACHES OF PLANNING CONTROL – LAND AT DALE FARM, OAK LANE, CRAYS HILL, BILLERICAY - OPTIONS REPORT

Decision maker: Development Control and Traffic Management Committee

Decision status: Recommendations Approved

Is Key decision?: Yes

Is subject to call in?: No

Purpose:

To reconsider the options for enforcemetn having regard to updated information

Decisions:

The Committee considered a detailed report on the ongoing serious breaches of planning control in the Green Belt at Dale Farm, Oak Lane, Crays Hill, Billericay.

 

Officers explained that previously the Committee had considered the sites known as ‘Horseshoe’ and ‘Middle Plots’ separately and had resolved that direct action was necessary to secure compliance with extant enforcement notices.  These decisions, re-affirmed by the Development Control and Traffic Management Committee at its meeting held on 13 December 2007, had been the subject of Judicial Review proceedings and the Court of Appeal had found the decisions to be lawful. Since that time there had been a number of changes in planning policy, equality and human rights legislation, and the personal circumstances of residents at Dale Farm. It was necessary for the Committee to fully consider these changes prior to determining whether enforcement action continued to be expedient and in the public interest and, if so, which form of enforcement action should be pursued. It was emphasised that Members were required to consider the particular personal circumstances of each resident family so that the appropriate course of action could be determined in relation to each plot.

 

Officers guided Members through the agenda report, which outlined the relevant planning history; the court proceedings in relation to the Committee’s previous decisions; the latest planning legislation and policy guidance; and planning considerations.  With regard to planning considerations, a number of issues were highlighted, these being the Green Belt function, harm and other harm; personal circumstances, Gypsy status and the need for additional Gypsy sites; emerging development plans and policies; transitional arrangements and temporary permission; human rights considerations; the Council’s homelessness duties; prospects of success; and discrimination considerations.

 

The Council’s Solicitor informed the Committee that S6 of the Human Rights Act required public bodies to have regard to certain human rights in this case, namely the right to a home, private life and family; education; undisturbed enjoyment of property; and discrimination.  The Committee must be satisfied that to take enforcement action was in accordance with the law, in pursuit of a legitimate aim and was proportionate.  The European Court had said that upholding planning law and policy was a legitimate aim and that enforcement action was in accordance with the law.  The main issue was proportionality, weighing the interest of the community at large in upholding planning law and policy against the hardship this would cause to the occupiers of the site.  With regard to discrimination, the new Equality Act 2010 replaced the separate duties on public bodies relating to race, disability and sex equality with a new public sector Equality Duty which also covered age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity and gender reassignment more fully.  The requirement was to have due regard to these duties where there were protected characteristics present.  This duty was set out in full as an enclosure to the agenda report.  Members were also referred to a Service Impact Assessment attached to the report. 

 

The travellers’ representatives had raised the specific issue of alternative sites and Members were advised that it would only be lawful for the Committee to authorise enforcement action where it was proportionate to do so. The Committee would need to be satisfied that alternative sites were not likely to be available within a reasonable period. In this regard the Manager of Planning Services advised the Committee of two recently submitted planning applications. 

 

The Committee raised points of clarification on the matters discussed so far at the meeting and a Member questioned the need to pursue consideration of the matter at this time given that there remained issues that were unresolved.  They were  concerned that the Council might be criticised at a Judicial Review for making a hasty decision.  

 

Before the Committee moved on to consider the personal circumstances of the occupiers of Dale Farm, Parish Councillor McPherson-Davis left the meeting having not taken part in the discussion.

 

The Committee were directed to the schedules of personal information detailed in an enclosure to the agenda report. Members were advised that, despite being given a deadline for the receipt of this information, the travellers’ representatives had continued to send information to the Council up until the afternoon of the meeting with a request that it be placed before the Committee.  This latest information was circulated to Members and the Council’s Solicitor indicated that she would advise the Committee on the relevance and weighting to be given to each document.  Some Members expressed concern about the distribution of further information at the meeting.  The Council’s Solicitor guided Members through the additional information and highlighted relevant aspects for Members’ consideration.  Additional and updated information received on the travellers’ personal circumstances had been incorporated into supplementary schedules to be considered by Members alongside the schedules of personal information attached to the agenda report.  

 

A motion –

 

            “That a decision be deferred sine die to give Members of the Committee time to read the additional information”

 

upon being put to the meeting was declared lost.

 

(For voting see Appendix, Column 3.)

 

The Chairman adjourned the meeting at 21.15 hrs to enable Members to read the supplementary information and the meeting was reconvened at 21.55 hrs.

 

Officers then explained the enforcement options available to the Committee, these being take no action or tolerate the site; prosecution; injunction; compulsory purchase; and direct action.  The Chairman stated that it was his intention to put forward a proposed resolution that was similar to the decisions the Committee had re-affirmed in 2007 and that had been found to be lawful.  The Chairman asked that, prior to him proposing his resolution, the Committee consider the original and supplementary schedules of personal information in respect of the families on each plot at Dale farm. He asked Members to highlight any specific cases where they believed that an alternative course of action might be more appropriate than direct action.

 

The Chairman took Members through the schedules of personal information, identifying in which instances there was additional or updated information on the supplementary schedule, and invited comments on each from Members.  Clarification was sought, and given, on the information relating to several plots.  The Chairman then asked Members if they wished to propose a particular course of action, other than direct action, in respect of any of the plots, having regard to the personal information on the occupiers of the plots.

 

A motion –

 

            That, in view of

 

1.      the significant risk that direct action may result in illegal roadside camping in other areas of the Green Belt in the Borough;

2.      the potential cost of direct action in excess of £19.5m; and

3.      the impact of direct action on the physical and mental health of many of the inhabitants of Dale Farm,

 

the Committee resolves that direct action would not be in the public interest and therefore resolves to take no action.

 

upon being put to the meeting following full discussion was declared lost.

 

(For voting see Appendix, Column 4.)

 

RESOLVED:

That the Council, having regard to the updated information presented to the Committee, gives delegated authority to the Solicitor to the Council acting in consultation with the Head of Corporate Services, to take such action as is deemed necessary in order to allow the Council, pursuant to Section 178 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, to secure compliance with enforcement notices in respect of the unauthorised sites at Dale Farm, Crays Hill, Billericay.

 

(For voting see Appendix, Column 5.)

 

Consideration of this item concluded at 23.03 hrs.

Report author: Dawn French

Publication date: 27/05/2011

Date of decision: 17/05/2011

Decided at meeting: 17/05/2011 - Development Control and Traffic Management Committee

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