Eric Pickles 'breached' Green Belt Gypsies' human rights

Eric Pickles
Image caption Mr Justice Gilbart said Eric Pickles was operating a legally flawed policy

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles "unlawfully discriminated" against Romany Gypsies wanting pitches in the Green Belt, the High Court has ruled.

A judge said human rights were breached by "calling in" cases normally considered by planning inspectors.

The ruling is likely to affect other members of the travelling community.

Planning minister Brandon Lewis said: "This government makes no apologies for seeking to safeguard Green Belt protection."

Mr Justice Gilbart said Mr Pickles was operating a legally flawed policy of "recovering" for his own consideration appeals by travellers who claim there are exceptional circumstances for allowing them Green Belt sites.

The judge said an inspectors' decision was normally received within eight weeks of the end of an inquiry - but it could take six months or more for a decision letter for a called-in case.

'Coined' a practice

No attempt had been made by Mr Pickles and his ministers to follow steps required by the 2010 Equality Act to avoid indirect discrimination, and "substantial delays" had occurred in dealing with the appeals in violation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, said the judge.

His test-case ruling was a victory for two Romany Gypsies - Charmaine Moore, a single mother with three children who is under threat of eviction from a site at North Cudham in Bromley, south east London, and Sarah Coates, a disabled woman also with three children fighting to live temporarily on Green Belt land at Sutton-at-Hone near Dartford, Kent.

The judge said Mr Pickles' department had "coined and developed" a practice in 2013-2014 of calling in all, and then a majority, of Green Belt traveller cases - most involving Romany Gypsies or Irish Travellers - "which discriminated unlawfully against a racial group".

He ruled that the Moore and Coates cases were two such "unlawful recoveries" and quashed them.

Mr Lewis said: "The government's planning policy is clear that both temporary and permanent traveller sites are inappropriate development in the Green Belt.

"Today's judgment does not question that principle."

But a spokesman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which supported the Gypsy challenge, said: "We have a duty to protect everyone from discrimination and ensure that the law is applied fairly, consistently and equally for all."

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