Campaigners are celebrating after gypsies lost their fight to retain an illegal camp on green belt land in Meriden.
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, upheld a planning inspector’s decision that the camp must go.
Protesters hailed the decision “a victory” but urged Solihull Council not to let Meriden become the next Dale Farm.
They called on them to restore the site to green belt quickly.
Solihull council was unable to say how long the legal process would take. Leader Ken Meeson asked the public to show ‘‘patience and understanding as we now move forward.”
Campaigners celebrated the victory with a toast of tea as the 24-hour-vigil passed through day 542.
Some of the 200 people who have taken part in the vigil on a rota basis converged on the protest camp in Eaves Green Lane.
There were hugs, cheers and even flag waving as news filtered through.
A public inquiry was held earlier this year after the gypsies appealed against Solihull Council’s decision to refuse planning permission for eight pitches, eight mobile homes and eight touring caravans.
Planning Inspector Philip Ware recommended that their appeal be dismissed and planning permission be refused, Mr Pickles yesterday upheld that decision.
He also refused permission for the gypsies to stay at the site temporarily, saying “he considers that the harm is too great”.
In his report he said that “as a result of the development already carried out, there has been a serious loss of openness in the Green Belt which would be exacerbated if other elements of the proposal were undertaken”.
He added: “Highway safety is a significant factor, as is the harm to protected trees and to the potential habitat of a protected species.
“The accessibility of the site is a further factor which carries some weight against the appeal, as is the limited likelihood of peaceful and integrated co-existence.”
The report said the Secretary of State gave “some weight” to the immediate need for traveller sites in the district, the lack of a suitable alternative site, general health needs and continuity of education for the gypsies.’’
But it added: “He is not satisfied that the considerations which he has weighed in the scheme’s favour outweigh the harm he has identified.
"He does not consider that very special circumstances to justify the inappropriate development in the Green Belt exist.”
Chairman of Meriden Residents Against Inappropriate Development (RAID) David McGrath said: “The job isn’t finished yet, we are determined this will not be the next Dale Farm and drag on for months and years.
“The protest camp will stay until we see some enforcement action.
“The public inquiry showed this was never about hardship and the group must do the right thing and work with the council.
“It simply cannot go on and this victory by local residents should send a very clear message that everybody must play by the rules.”
Coun Meeson said that ‘‘clearly this has been an emotive issue’’ but at the heart of the planning decision was ‘‘the need to protect the Green Belt from inappropriate development.”
The council was unable to say how long the legal process would take – but Basildon Council faced a ten-year legal battle with gypsies over Dale Farm.
Meriden gypsies have also been told of the circumstances in which the Secretary of State’s decision can be challenged by making an application to the High Court within six weeks. Nobody would comment for the gypsies at the camp.
Coun Meeson added: “We recognise that traveller families need to have somewhere to go, and both the Planning Inspector and the Secretary of State have outlined the need for further traveller pitches within the borough.
"We have recently carried out an exercise inviting the public to suggest possible sites. These will be looked at and assessed for suitability and consulted on, before any decisions are made.”
• The long stand-off between villagers and travellers began when caravans moved on to land off Eaves Green Lane in Meriden the day before the May Day Bank Holiday weekend last year.
It sparked what became a 24-hour-a-day protest by Meriden Residents Against Inappropriate Development (RAID).
A planning application to establish a gypsy camp on the land was refused by Solihull Council’s planning committee in July 2010 but an appeal against the decision by the gypsies led to a ten-day public inquiry which finished in July of this year.
RAID vowed never to accept the “inappropriate” camp, accusing the group of using “stealth tactics”. The group claimed they saw supplies going to the travellers’ site, including 90 lorry loads of hardcore, scrap metal dealing, wire burning to release copper and cars being sold. They also claimed there was an increase in crime and a surge in road accidents.
The land was bought by traveller Noah Burton “as an investment” for £100,000 in 2009.
The group denied metal dealing and burning tyres and claimed they suffered abuse from protesters. They told the inquiry the site had made “a real difference” to the lives, improving their health and children’s education.
* Secretary of State Eric Pickles refuses Meriden gypsies permanent and temporary permission to stay at Eaves Green Lane.
* Solihull Council unable to say how long the legal process for further enforcement action will take.
* Gypsies have six weeks to challenge the Secretary of State’s decision.
* Basildon Council faced 10-year battle over Dale Farm site.
* Villagers who have spent more than 500 days protesting called the decision “a victory”