Occupiers of the unauthorised traveller site at Shurlock Road, Waltham St Lawrence have left the land voluntarily.
At a cabinet prioritisation sub committee meeting on Wednesday 18 January the council agreed to serve notice of the council’s intention to take direct action on the occupiers. The sub committee agreed to allow a notice period of 14 days before entering the land.
The council’s decision to take action followed a lengthy legal process. The Supreme Court refused an application for a judicial review of the council’s decision to take direct action last August. This followed refusal by the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
The council carried out a compliance visit on Monday 6 February and found that the travellers had voluntarily vacated the land over the weekend of 4 and 5 February.
Cllr Derek Wilson, cabinet member for planning, said: “We are delighted that the occupiers have voluntarily removed themselves from this site.
“Residents of Waltham St Lawrence and the surrounding area have been waiting since December 2009 (more than seven years) for this day. Council officers have listened to and worked very hard with them and the occupiers during this time.
“The occupiers were in breach of planning control and we followed every procedure correctly to get to this point as swiftly as was legally possible.”
The council will now allow a further 28 days for the land to be restored to grassland as required by the enforcement notice.
Legal costs so far have totalled £160,000. As the occupiers voluntarily vacated the site, direct action to remove the caravans from the land was not required. This represents a substantial saving to the council. Final costs are still to be determined.
The travellers moved on to the site around 19 December 2009 and installed caravans, vehicles, hardstanding and machinery without planning permission.
The council served an injunction on 22 December 2009 limiting the number of caravans to the 10 already on the site and prohibiting further construction or development.
An enforcement notice – requiring the use of the land to stop and / or any buildings or structures without planning permission to be removed – was issued on 24 December 2009. Following an unsuccessful appeal, on 30 July 2010 the Planning Inspector extended the period for compliance with the notice to 11 February 2013.
When the owner and occupiers did not comply by that date, the council resolved to take direct action. The occupiers applied for a judicial review of the council’s decision and this was refused by the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
The occupiers complied with Part 5 subsections (1) (2) and (5) of the enforcement notice issued to the group and the use of land for residential purposes had now ceased.