Update: Skelsmergh 'shanty town' residents vow to stay put after judge rules eco-lodges must go (From The Westmorland Gazette)
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Update: Skelsmergh 'shanty town' residents vow to stay put after judge rules eco-lodges must go
RESIDENTS of a ‘shanty town’ near Kendal today declared ‘we’re staying put’ after a judge ordered that 15 illegally-built eco lodges must be removed.
Edward Steele, 65, who built the units on land he occupies at Holme House Farm, Skelsmergh, without planning permission, was told he must comply with an enforcement notice issued by South Lakeland District Council in June 2009.
He appealed the notice, ordering him and his tenants leave, remove the lodges and return the land to agricultural use, but a planning inspector backed SLDC at a public inquiry in 2010.
Mr Steele, a retired farmer, refused to budge but today’s ruling means 23 residents, who occupy six of the lodges, have to leave by November 28.
He was also told to take down the remaining nine unoccupied lodges by October 31 but has until next April to restore the land back to its original state and to pay court costs of £3,883.
After the hearing, clearly upset tenants told the Gazette they would be staying put as they had nowhere else to go.
Resident Steven Johnson said: “If they want to get in, they’re going to have to get past us; it’s as simple as that.”
Another, blacksmith William Dickinson, added: “It has been an opportunity to change my life, get a home and set up a business. What they’re going to do is throw us out on the streets.”
Mr Dickinson said about seven children lived on the land.
Judge Peter Hughes QC, sitting at South Lakeland Magistrates’ Court, told Mr Steele he acknowledged people would be ‘adversely affected’ by his ruling, but said the law must be obeyed.
And he stressed that SLDC would have a legal duty to find new homes for people.
“The order is not an order of eviction; it’s an order requiring you to do certain things,” said Judge Hughes.
“It is up to you whether you comply with the order or not but, if you don’t comply with it, there are certain consequences - you are in contempt of court.”
But a defiant Mr Steele insisted: “I won’t throw them out.
“These are people’s lives – people who have decided to stand up for their rights.
“I have created a wildlife area, because people like living in secluded areas. We are a different type of people.
“We don’t fit in with the housing estates. We have our own lives. We aren’t travellers or gypsies, we are just normal working people and society doesn’t like it.
“The council have no houses for them, but still they are pushing for this. They are ‘not in my back yard’ people.
“Let them (the residents) go into proper homes, in a rural living, not in a town centre; that’s the kind of people we are.”
Mr Steele said he would be prepared to clear the site if the council provided ‘acceptable, affordable rural homes’ for the residents.
“I can’t see why I should be blatantly chucking people out on the streets when the council don’t care two hoots,” he said.
Judge Hughes explained that planning matters over the case had been settled at prior hearings, and that his role was to rule solely on the issue of the enforcement notice.
“Anybody who is made homeless in this country has certain rights,” he said.
“The local authority has a duty either to rehouse them or assist them in the provision of housing.
“If the local authority doesn’t discharge its duty properly, it comes to this court.”
Judge Hughes described Mr Steele as a man of ‘clear and strong principle’ but warned him of the potential consequences of disobeying the court.
“Mr Steele has addressed me in a very reasonable, direct and, may I say, friendly way, making quite plain what his position is,” said Judge Hughes.
“The role of a judge at this stage is not to reach an independent view of the planning matters of the case.
“There are going to be people adversely affected by this enforcement notice being enforced.
“I have to be mindful of what I would do if Mr Steele were to obstruct the enforcement notice being enforced.
“I have no doubt at all that, if Mr Steele were to obstruct the process, unpleasant as it might be for both me and for him, I would feel obliged to deal with him by means of contempt of court and I would deal with him appropriately.
“He is right to be concerned for them (his tenants) but there are procedures.
“All those that might be adversely affected should be given as much advice as they need.
“I am clearly satisfied that I should grant the relief that’s being sought by the local authority.”
Mr Steele built properties next to his own home over a 25-year period.
He argues they provided affordable, rural housing unavailable elsewhere.
SLDC chief executive Lawrence Conway said: “South Lakeland District Council’s first concern is for the residents of the illegal accommodation at Holme House Farm and we will be contacting them to work with them to help find suitable accommodation.
“The authority had no choice in putting this case before the courts.
“This action came after many visits to Mr Steele to resolve the issue, all of which were ignored.
“This is not a case of 'not in my back yard' but one of lack of planning permission and consent and that of safety and environmental impact.
“There has never been permission given for the residential accommodation that Mr Steele has erected on the site.
“The situation the tenants of Holme House Farm find themselves in is not a result of the action taken by SLDC but the irresponsible and illegal actions of Mr Steele who should never have housed them there as he knew he did not have permission for residential dwellings on this land.
“SLDC hopes that Mr Steele now abides by the ruling from the court and this matter is brought to a swift conclusion for all concerned.”
An SLDC spokesman said the authority would continue monitoring the site, adding: "If Mr Steele fails to comply with the order, an application will be made for contempt of court."