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Eric Pickles unlawfully discriminated against Romany gypsies seeking pitches in the Green Belt, the High Court has ruled.
The judge said both human rights and equality laws were breached by the Communities Secretary and his department “calling in” cases which would normally be considered by his planning inspectors.
It is a ruling likely to affect many other travellers groups.
Mr Justice Gilbart, sitting in London, said Mr Pickles’ department “coined and developed” a policy of calling in all Green Belt traveller cases in 2013-2014, operating a legally flawed appeal policy.
The gypsies claimed there were circumstances that are considered exceptional for allowing them to use the sites.
The judge said decisions by inspectors were normally made within two months but with called-in cases that was seen to extend on occasions to beyond six months.
As a result it was found that Mr Pickles’ department did not follow the requirements of the 2010 Equality Act to avoid indirect discrimination.
“Substantial delays” that were in breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights were also noted.
The ruling was a victory for two Romany gypsy mothers, Charmaine Moore and Sarah Coates, living in Bromley and Dartford.
Planning Minister Brandon Lewis said: “This Government makes no apologies for seeking to safeguard Green Belt protection and trying to bring a sense of fair play to the planning system.
“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.”
Leaders of traveller and gypsy groups condemned the policy and say local councils failed to offer potential sites for development, leading them to buy land to develop themselves.