There can be no doubting that Robert Stephenson’s intentions were honourable; a Catholic who had experienced great hardship following the Reformation. He risked everything, including his own life, to provide shelter for Catholic priests.
He was, of course, acting against the law of the land at that time.
When he died in 1702 he left his worldly possessions in trust to provide for the needs of the poor, sick and aged, and specifically for the support of the Catholic priesthood. Today it is the Robert Stephenson’s Charities which owns, amongst other tracts of land, a farm known as Holme House Farm in Kendal.
Holme House Farm is now leased by the charity to Mr Edward Steele – you’re wondering where I am going with this, aren’t you?
Mr Steele’s grandfather originally leased the land and built a house there in 1912.
The present day Mr Steele applied for, and got, planning permission to house four residential caravans which provided low cost accommodation for local families on this farm adjoining the Lakeland National Park. It is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and is not serviced by decent roads, drainage systems or any of the infrastructures that might make it suitable for building.
The Charity was perfectly happy however, with the legitimate expansion of Mr Steele’s agricultural use. Indeed, Mr Steele hands over 30% of his turnover to the Church as a charitable contribution.
Fast forward to 2008 and the council were surprised to find that the four residential caravans had been joined by a total of 13 static residential caravans, surrounded by several storage sheds, smaller caravans used for storage, and several ‘storage’ dumps belonging to persons who did not live on the site.
The caravans were apparently donated to Mr Steele and would otherwise have ‘gone to form landfill’; they have been insulated and roofed with earth and turf, fitted with wood burners, and each caravan is allotted a vegetable patch and acquires its water from a local spring, wood for the wood burners is supplied free of charge.
It would be fair to say, I believe, that the inhabitants form what might be loosely known as an alternative ‘New Age’ community, rather than a ‘Travelling’ community that wishes to be static, as at Dale Farm. They describe themselves as an ‘eclectic’ community engaged in furniture making, alternative healing and ‘brewing’.
Neither Mr Steele nor the Charity that owns the land has planning permission for this residential development to be there. Planning permission would not be forthcoming regardless of whether these were the latest models of static homes, in Farrow and Ball colours; or tasteful ‘Poundbury’ homes for Catholic priests. The site is adjacent to the National Park, and on the banks of a river of special scientific interest.
By 2009 various planning applications had been refused, the Charity had served notice on Mr Steele for infringing the terms of his lease, and a Planning Inquiry had been set in motion. At one point in the Inquiry, the Council’s lawyer referred to the much loved homes of these 19 ‘eclectic’ individuals as a ‘ramshackle hamlet’. The Inquiry ruled against the ‘homes’ remaining.
Mr Steele is ‘disgusted’ at the attitude of the charity he once supported, for upholding the law. Ironic really that the charity was formed by a man who defied the law.
At no point did Channel 4 arrive to film ‘My Big Fat Alternative Lifestyle Wedding’, nor has Vanessa Redgrave, complete with grey cardigan been sighted in the vicinity. So far, not a single Human Rights Lawyer, much less a Rabbi from ‘Jewish Solidarity’, nor even a ‘Camp Constant’ with its resident anarchists set to speed dial the rest of the gang on the first sighting of a bailiff, appeared.
There is a school of thought which says that if you have bought and paid for a piece of land, you should be able to do what you like with it. I would counter that by saying that you might well buy and pay for a packet of cigarettes, but it doesn’t give you the right to do what you want with it. Try lighting one in your local pub and see where your cries of ‘ownership of cigarette’ get you.
I don’t agree with the restrictive planning laws, nor do I agree with the draconian anti-smoking legislation, as a Libertarian I would like to see most of our legislation swept away. However, I don’t advocate breaking the existing law as a means of disagreeing with it. It undermines what is left of our ‘democratic process’.
I am fascinated by the lack of attention being paid to this parallel case.
Sky News can be forgiven, there are no gas canisters carefully pointed out to the camera man which might explode at any moment, no chubby gypsy children wearing superman costumes, no hugely pregnant wives, or gasping nebulised pensioners. You can’t expect anarchists to travel that far from London.
Perhaps their only hope is that some celluloid celebrity with a second home in the National Park will speak out and explain how, although it is his constitutional right to have a million pound shepherd’s cottage with a magnificent view of Coniston Water at his disposal for the odd week-end when he isn’t filming, it really is an affront to Yuman Rites that this community shouldn’t be re-homed somewhere where he can’t see them….