Mr Justice Gilbart, in a judgment handed down on 21 January 2015, found that Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government breached the Equality Act 2010 and of Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The case involved two Romani Gypsies applying for planning permission for single pitch sites for themselves and their families in the Green Belt. The local planning authorities ( Bromley and Dartford ) refused them planning permission. They appealed to a Planning Inspector but the Secretary of State decided to make the decisions himself because the appeals involved “a traveller site in the Green Belt.”
The judgement said, “These are not to be dismissed as technical breaches. Although the issue of unlawful discrimination was put before the Minister by his officials, no attempt was made by the Minister to follow the steps required of him by statute, nor was the regard required of him by Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 had to the matters set out there.”
The Article 6 challenge succeeded because substantial delays have occurred in dealing with the appeals. In the context of delay, Article 6 of the ECHR does no more than encapsulate the long standing principle of the common law that justice should not be unreasonably delayed, as it was and has been here.
The implications of this judgment are enormous. The vast majority of all Gypsy and Traveller planning appeals that were recovered since the July 2013, when the change of policy was announced may now be challengeable due to the fact that the practice of the policy was unlawful and discriminates against Gypsies and Travellers, fails to have regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty and has caused unreasonable delays in terms of Article 6 of the ECHR. In future the Secretary of State will not be able to intervene in this way.
“We have a duty to protect everyone from discrimination and ensure that the law is applied fairly, consistently and equally for all.
“We understand the need to be sensitive about green belt development but this should not be used to single out individuals for unlawful discrimination.
“Planning decisions should be taken on the merits of an application, not the characteristics of the applicant.”