...and a reprieve for those who want to get back to the earth

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Members of a tent-dwelling "environmentally aware" community near Glastonbury, Somerset, won a temporary reprieve from eviction in the High Court yesterday.

Judge Michael Rich QC overturned a decision by John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment, that the experimental Kingshill Collective were not allowed to stay in a field they bought in Somerset more than two years ago.

Mr Gummer will now have to reconsider the matter, but the judge said there could be no guarantee that he wouldn't again decide against the group settling there.

The collective - made up of 20 adults and seven children - bought their four-acre home at Kingshill near Glastonbury, after arranging a mortgage with a local farmer.

They immediately set about building an alternative village, comprising 16 semi-permanent homes, made from largely organic materials, called "benders".

The Independent first highlighted the group's plight in October of last year, after Mendip District Council refused planning permission for the group to settle on the land, and issued an enforcement notice requiring them to move on.

The Collective's appeal was dismissed by Mr Gummer in March of this year on the recommendation of one of his planning inspectors after a public inquiry.

Judge Rich said that the group aimed to "pursue a sustainable lifestyle", seeking self-sufficiency and reduced consumption of raw materials: "They have adopted what some may regard as a romantic or even admirable way of life," he added. However, he rejected claims by the community's barrister, Mr Murray Hunt, that Mr Gummer had failed to take into account the"human factor" before opening up the way for an eviction.

He said that it was clear that both he and the inspector had considered the group's right to "private and family life" under the European Convention on Human Rights.

"I don't think it's for this court to interfere with the Secretary of State's decision as to the weight to be attached to the acknowledged interference in the private lives of the appellants who have elected to establish their homes without planning permission on a site which planning policy sought to keep undeveloped," he added.

But he overturned Mr Gummer's decision on the sole basis that he had wrongly declined to make any specific finding on whether or not there would be a violation of the Convention if the collective were moved on.

After the hearing the community's solicitor, Mr Ravi Low- Beer of the Public Law Project, said the ruling was a step forward as it bound the Secretary of State to make clear findings on Convention issues in future decisions.

Mike Hannis, a percussionist and member of Kingshill, said that although the collective would have "somewhere to live for a while", the result was far from conclusive.

"We are disappointed that some of what we thought were good grounds were given short shrift by the judge.

"But I think that the people of Kingshill will be agreeably surprised that we have actually got something out of this hearing.

"There are two children on the site who have just started school nearby and this is very good news for them because it means that they can continue their education there.

"If we were evicted, the chances of us being rehoused near the site would be practically nil."