Little Hadham travellers site: Judge rules against residents and East Herts Council over planning permission
Villagers' legal challenge to a travellers site at Little Hadham has been dismissed by a top judge.
The encampment was set up suddenly over Easter weekend in 2019, sparking a lengthy legal and planning tussle between the occupants, village residents and East Herts Council.
Residents and EHC took their fight to the High Court after a planning inspector ruled in favour of traveller Timothy Mahoney and granted retrospective planning permission for 10 mobile homes, 10 touring caravans and 10 utility buildings on the site off Chapel Lane.
While opponents regarded the development as a blot on the landscape, the inspector ruled the area's fields and hedgerows were not, in planning terms, "a valued landscape".
That prompted the council and objector Emma Nixon to take their fight to the High Court and challenge the inspector's decision on a "very large number" of grounds.
But their complaints were rejected by top planning judge Mrs Justice Lieven, who could find no legal flaw in the inspector's ruling.
In her decision, the inspector found that the encampment was "in a sustainable location" and did not cause "undue harm" to the area's character and appearance.
She said there would be no unacceptable impact on highway safety and that suitable access to the site could be achieved.
Given that the development complied with local planning policies, it was unnecessary to decide whether there was a "need" for it.
The inspector also found that there was no need to reach a conclusion on whether the site's occupiers had a nomadic way of life.
Although the site was "intentional unauthorised development", she ruled that "did not tip the balance against granting permission".
Mrs Justice Lieven said the occupiers had "moved onto the site without planning permission and carried out various works over a bank holiday weekend".
But because the development had already taken place, the inspector "had full knowledge of the appearance of the site and its surroundings".
The area surrounding the site consists of "open fields punctuated with hedgerows and woodland copses" but is not in the Green Belt or otherwise protected.
The judge said that the inspector was entitled to find that the area had no "particular quality that might differentiate it from other countryside".
It was therefore not a "valued landscape" as defined in the National Planning Policy Framework.
The judge concluded: "Ultimately, the question of whether or not the area is a valued landscape is a matter of planning judgment."
Arguments that the development breached local policy in that it was not on the edge of an existing settlement fell on fallow ground.
The inspector was entitled to take into account that land values generally limit the possibilities of traveller sites being developed on edge-of-settlement sites.
Given her conclusion that the site conformed to the local development plan, she was entitled to disregard issues regarding the need for it and its occupants' status.
Highway issues, the site's distance from essential facilities and the impact of the development on the local landscape had all been taken into account by the inspector.
Criticisms of the inspector's approach to a landscaping scheme, designed to soften the site's visual impact, were "completely hopeless", the judge ruled.
Mrs Justice Lieven concluded: "I reject all the grounds of challenge and refuse the application."