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TRAVELLER FAMILIES COURT EVICTION REPRIEVE

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Irish travellers who say council attempts to evict them from their campsite near Bath amounts to a violation of the...
Irish travellers who say council attempts to evict them from their campsite near Bath amounts to a violation of their human rights have been reprieved from eviction - at least for a few more weeks.

Bath and North Somerset Council were today set to launch a High Court bid for an injunction forcing the travelling families - including a number of children - to move on from the site at Hartley Farm, Charmy Down, Upper Swainswick, which they have for two years called home.

But Mr Justice Silber adjourned the case after hearing that the Court of Appeal is shortly to give a landmark ruling in a test case which raises similar legal issues on gypsy rights.

Marc Willers, for the travellers, also told the court that a local plan inspector's report will imminently be published which could have a major impact on gypsy policy in the area.

The council's injunction bid will not now return to court until 21 days after the Court of Appeal gives its ruling in the test case and, in any event, not before 6 June.

In the interim, the 'status quo' will be kept, enabling the travellers to stay where they are.

The travellers moved onto the site in the spring of 2004 despite earlier having been refused planning permission. The council's decision was in June last year backed by the Office of the Deputy Prime MInister after a public inquiry - but still the travellers stayed put.

The council says it is now entitled to an injunction, requiring the travellers to quit the site once and for all, on pain of being found in contempt of court.

However, Mr Willers argued in his written submissions that the travellers should be allowed to stay on the site until a fresh application for temporary planning permission - put in on March 8 this year - is finally determined.

The barrister said his clients were seeking permission to stay put until the council had complied with its duties under a new government circular requiring it to assess the needs of gypsies and travellers in its area and to 'identify suitable land' to cater for them.

Describing gypsies and travellers as a 'forgotten minority', Mr Willers said there was a 'clear and urgent need' for more travellers' sites, particularly in the south west.

The new government circular had pinpointed the need for councils to 'respect' travellers and their way of life and to give them 'fair access to suitable accommodation, education, health and welfare provision'.

The circular also said that the number of travellers' sites should be 'increased significantly' and that making travellers homeless through eviction should be avoided wherever possible.

In the light of that new guidance to local authorities, Mr Willers said there was 'a realistic chance' that the travellers would be granted at least temporary planning permission.

At the hearing of the council's injunction application, the barrister said he would like to call expert evidence from highways expert, Mark Baker, who says the encampment's impact on traffic flowon the A46 is 'de minimis' and causes 'no harm to highway safety'.

He said he also planned to call planning expert, Michael Cox, who says the council has failed to comply with national planning policy on gypsy sites and draws attention to the lack of any alternative sites for the travellers and the 'hardship' they would suffer if forced to move on.

Mr Willers said the travellers would suffer 'considerable hardship' if evicted and would have no option but to turn to unauthorised roadside encampments without basic amenities and under threat of constant eviction.

Some of the children on the site have health problems or special educational needs and eviction would be 'bound to have an extremely detrimental effect on their access to education if the families are forced back onto the roadside'.

Arguing that travellers and gypsies continue to suffer 'high levels of discrimination within the United Kingdom', Mr Willers said it would be 'disproportionate' to force them to leave the site at this stage.

He also argued that, to evict them before a decision is reached on their latest planning application, would violate their right to respect for their private and family lives, enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Willers was today representing six of the travellers living on the site: Eileen Connors, Ann Connors, Anne Teresa Cash, Mary Cash, Josephine Berry and Ann Berry.

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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