Update on the Traveller Site at the land off Culhams Mill
We had hoped that this report would provide a definitive conclusion to the current court proceedings that Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council are taking against the unlawful development taking place on the land off Culhams Mill. Typically, however, it’s not that simple.
Earlier this week Simon Mahaffey and Steve Spillane, along with a number of other residents from Silchester, spent three days at the Royal Courts of Justice in London hearing the case. It was gratifying to see a good turn out from the village and on each day of the case around ten villagers occupied the public gallery. We believe this is important to demonstrate to the Judge that the action is not just that of a faceless Borough Council against a group of travellers but that real residents are affected by this action and they would like their voices to be heard.
The presiding judge was His Honour Judge Bidder QC who, at the beginning of the proceedings, stated that he believed his pronouncement at the end of the case would be an important one, affecting other such cases in the future.
The opening day of the case characterised by some confusion over what the Travellers were actually requesting. The original High Court injunction issued back in February named four individuals (as well as “persons unknown”) and prohibited the further development of the site or the bringing on of further hardcore or caravans. Silchester residents will have their own view of whether or not this has been complied with but it is certainly our view that several breaches of the injunction have taken place. Our understanding was that the Travellers were applying for a variation of this injunction to allow them to remain on the site until the planning application is concluded. It appears, however, that no formal application was made to the court and the evidence pack now presented by their barrister requested residency for fourteen individuals. The application was further complicated by three of the original four individuals now apparently having left the site permanently or never having tried to occupy the site in the first place.
Confused? So was the judge!
The second day saw the first evidence given. The Travellers Barrister called their planning consultant who presented an interesting picture of Silchester that residents of the village might not recognise. He concluded that the chances of planning permission being granted were extremely good. Whilst we can’t be certain what the outcome of the planning determination will be, it is certainly the view of the Calleva Society and the Parish Council that there are multiple material planning reasons why permission should not be granted. A second expert witness was called who gave evidence that that the interests of the children are best served by them living on the site as opposed to living on the roadside. Finally, two travellers were called to the stand who both stated that they had been resident and living on the site since before the injunction was served, despite the fact that they acknowledged that the site was empty for much of the summer. At this point, time ran out and the judge adjourned the case to reconvene on 30th November.
When the court re-convenes it is likely that Simon Mahaffey will be called to provide evidence from the perspective of the residents of Silchester. We feel that this is an important step forward in proceedings as the Calleva Society and the Parish Council are now in direct communication with the Borough’s legal team so we can be confident that that they are fully briefed about current activity as well as the history of the site.
Our understanding is that the three principle factors for the judge to consider on the variation application are (1) a consideration of planning issues (including whether the prospects of success are sufficiently strong to provide a factor of real weight weighing the balance in favour of granting a variation of the injunction pending the outcome of the appeal) (2) personal circumstances (including the implications of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights and the best interests of the children), and (3) the overarching public interest in ensuring that court orders are respected and obeyed. It is impossible to say how the Judge will evaluate these three key issues but the Borough Council certainly believe that they have a strong case to maintain the injunction in its current form and the three days ended with both the Borough’s legal team and the Silchester residents in good spirits and hopeful for a successful outcome.
If the Borough is successful in maintaining the injunction in its current form then both the Calleva Society and the Parish Council will be keeping up pressure on the Council to enforce the injunction and also to make a speedy determination on the planning application.
We will endeavour to keep residents updated on any developments but it is unlikely that there will be any significant changes until the court case is concluded at the end of this month. In the meantime, we would like to encourage residents to attend the next hearing if you are able to. It is greatly appreciated and we do believe that it goes a long way towards demonstrating the solidarity of the village against this unlawful development.
The next hearing will take place in the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London WC2A 2LL, commencing 30th November. The precise court and timing of the case will not be published until 24 hours prior to the case being heard so we encourage residents to stay in touch at either www.callevasociety.org or firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Spillane – Chair, The Calleva Society
Simon Mahaffey – Chair, Silchester Parish Council