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GYPSY FAMILY OF TEN FIGHT TO STAY ON OWN LAND

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court ref no: CO/1450/96 ...
court ref no: CO/1450/96

A gypsy couple with eight children who say they will have nowhere to lawfully go if forced to leave their campsite near Bodmin have gone to the high court for the right to stay.

Jack and Julie Orchard, both in their early 30s and whose children are aged between five months and 14 years, are challenging an enforcement notice issued by Restormel BC requiring them to take their caravan and leave the one- acre plot of land they own.

The couple's barrister David Watkinson, in court on Friday, claimed the council had failed to take proper account of the disruption to the children's schooling if the family is forced to move on.

But the council insists it fully considered the case's 'human factor' and had every right to enforce tough planning controls after the family settled on the land without consent for residential use.

The family arrived with their caravan on the land, which they had earlier purchased, on Christmas day last year, but the council issued an enforcement notice in February.

Steve Staines, of the Travellers Advice and Information Unit which is supporting the case, said outside court that if eventually forced to leave the site the family would have nowhere else they could lawfully go.

Although the borough council has said it is willing to re-house the family, who are of Romany origin, the court heard the Orchards have already failed in one attempt to live in a house because of their nomadic way of life.

'There isn't anywhere specifically for gypsies to go, so they will end up on the side of the road being moved on by the police and local authority, which is what has happened before,' said Mr Staines. 'Mr Orchard's options are extremely limited.'

'He had to decamp with his family, so he went and did the only possible thing he could, which was to move on to this bit of land which he had bought some time ago. It was his only option.

'The next thing they knew they had a visit from the enforcement officer and they had an enforcement notice slapped on them.' Mr Staines said the family had done everything to make the site 'beautiful', and it was now well screened from the road and 'absolutely spick and span'.

Mr Orchard was adamant that his children should have stability in their education, particularly as he cannot read or write himself, said Mr Staines.

Mr Watkinson earlier told the court that the council had failed to take proper account of its duties under the Housing and Children Acts.

Government guidelines required local authorities to pay particular attention to the needs of children before evicting gypsy families.

He said the guidelines highlighted 'the human misery as well as the considerable waste of time and financial resources and the increased pressures on neighbouring authorities caused by the indiscriminate eviction of gypsies where there is no space available for them on an authorised site'.

The council had concentrated on the planning aspects of the case, giving scant regard to 'considerations of common humanity,' he claimed.

Mr Justice McCullough observed that the council might end up having to house the family against their will and at public expense.

'If the individual councillor stops to think about it he may think 'good heavens I wish we had not issued the enforcement notice; it would have been better all around to have left them where they were'.

But the borough council's barrister, Katie Astaniotis, said planning considerations had to be treated as paramount.

'The local authority cannot be seen to sit back and tolerate an otherwise unacceptable development that would undermine the integrity of the development control process,' she told the court.

After a day of legal argument Mr Justice McCullough reserved his decision in the case, saying he would give his ruling as soon as possible.

Mr Orchard's solicitor, Jean Gould, said later: 'The whole argument we have been trying to develop through this and other cases is that planning legislation cannot sensibly be viewed in isolation from the other duties of the local authority to support the welfare of the residents in their area.'

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