Travellers may fight Gummer's refusal of `living village'

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A group of travellers may appeal to the High Court after the Secretary of State for the Environment turned down planning permission for them to build an "experimental sustainable living system" in a field they had bought in Somerset.

In what was seen as a test case, the 20 members of the Kingshill Collective were the subject of a planning inquiry likely to set a precedent for "alternative dwellers" across Britain.

Nearly two years ago they bought four acres of land near Glastonbury and applied for permission to set up home. Their alternative village, comprising 16 "benders" - semi-permanent homes made from largely organic materials - takes its power supply from solar panels, uses dead wood for heat and draws water from a bore hole at the top of the field.

But it was denied permission by Mendip District Council, which said it was seeking to protect the rural and visual character of the area. The refusal and appeal triggered several cases where John Gummer, the Secretary of State, "called in" theirs and similar judgements for reconsideration.

In a letter Mr Gummer, said: "The considerations favouring the grant of planning permission include continued security, savings to the public purse, sustainability and experimental value . . ."

But he added: "The view is taken that all of these considerations . . . are not of sufficient strength to outweigh the strong planning objections, including the highway objections."

The inspector's report accompanying the letter referred to the "applauded efforts of the collective to minimise their impact on the environment within the site . . . There was considerable public support for this project and no one doubted the sincerity of the group's aims and intentions."

But it said that local residents were concerned that the granting of planning permission would set a precedent that would encourage further travellers to settle.

"My view is that a favourable decision here would lead to similar applications and consents for temporary sites for benders or tents with a serious cumulative impact on the rural landscape and the provisions of public services," the inspector said. The collective has 12 months to find new homes.

Ravi Low Beer of the Public Law Project, who has represented the collective, said that the decision was "disappointing but not unexpected" and that they were considering ways to appeal. "We say that these people shouldn't be evicted, that once humanitarian issues have been raised the onus is on the public bodies concerned to show why people should be evicted," he said.