By Chris Willmott 29/03 Updated: 29/03 10:49
ONE YEAR to pack up, clear out and clear up - that is the verdict handed to the Meriden travellers who have been living illegally on Green Belt land in the village for nearly 700 days.
The gypsies, who moved onto the Eaves Green Lane site without permission in 2010, have agreed to leave their camp by March 31, 2012 and restore it back to its original state by the end of the following month.
The order was approved at Birmingham High Court on Tuesday by Judge Robert Owen who called it a 'pragmatic and not unreasonable solution.'
It also stipulates that nobody else will be allowed to move onto the site and further developments are not permitted for the next year.
The one-year deadline was decided by Solihull Council after it considered schooling and health issues relating to the move for the travellers.
The High Court order came just hours after the travellers, led by Noah Burton, lost their appeal against Secretary of State for Communities Eric Pickles' decision to refuse them planning permission for the Green Belt site.
Ever since the travellers moved onto the site by stealth on a Bank Holiday weekend so no planning enforcements could be made, the people of Meriden and surrounding villages have been holding a 24-hour vigil at a makeshift camp next to the site to ensure no further building materials were delivered.
The campaigners formed the group RAID - Residents Against Inappropriate Development - and have been ardently fighting the illegal occupation through the courts and raising awareness of similar cases across the country.
Campaign group leader David McGrath welcomed the decision, but vowed the protesters would maintain their vigil until there was clear evidence the council and courts would enforce the decision.
"We are relieved that Solihull Council, the Government Planning Inspector and the Secretary of State all agree with us that this unlawful site is totally inappropriate and causing daily harm to our Green Belt.
"The focus should now be on how we urgently ease people from an unlawful and unsustainable site to one where their needs can be met and to re-instate the land.
"We are determined that this episode will not taint the good relations between the settled community and the wider travelling population which has played a valued part in our community life for generations."
A spokeswoman from Solihull Borough Council added: “Both parties came to an agreement that calls to a close what has been a long period of uncertainty.
“Today’s agreement not only gives a firm date for the families living on the land to make an ordered vacation of the site by March 31, 2013, but also assures a speedy restoration of the land to its previous condition.”
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