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Traveller faces court action for ‘trespassing’ on land he has lived on for decades

PUBLISHED: 06:37 24 August 2018 | UPDATED: 16:24 24 August 2018

William Brazil at the Swanton Road Travellers' site in Mile Cross, Norwich. He has lived on the site since the 1970s but is in a legal dispute with the council about who owns the land. Photo: Archant

William Brazil at the Swanton Road Travellers' site in Mile Cross, Norwich. He has lived on the site since the 1970s but is in a legal dispute with the council about who owns the land. Photo: Archant

Archant

In a case that is likely to cost thousands, a council has taken a Traveller leader to court for trespassing on land he has lived on for years.

William Brazil at the Swanton Road Travellers' site in Mile Cross, Norwich. He has lived on the site since the 1970s but is in a legal dispute with the council about who owns the land. Photo: Archant William Brazil at the Swanton Road Travellers' site in Mile Cross, Norwich. He has lived on the site since the 1970s but is in a legal dispute with the council about who owns the land. Photo: Archant

It has been the scene of births, marriages and deaths for William Brazil’s family for more than 40 years.

But the 56-year-old Traveller has now been taken to court by Norfolk County Council accused of trespassing on land his family has occupied since the mid 1970s.

He has managed the permanent Gypsy plots on Swanton Road by the Mile Cross Recycling Centre since his father died in 1989.

Mr Brazil was paid by Norfolk County Council to look after the site and has always viewed the land, which was formed from waste dumped at a tip, as belonging to his family.

The field at the Swanton Road Travellers' site which was formed from waste dumped at the tip. The ownership of the field is at the centre of a legal dispute between the city council and traveller William Brazil. Photo: ArchantThe field at the Swanton Road Travellers' site which was formed from waste dumped at the tip. The ownership of the field is at the centre of a legal dispute between the city council and traveller William Brazil. Photo: Archant

But now the council says he is trespassing on his pitch.

The site is leased to Norfolk County Council from Norwich City Council but he has never paid rent and has never been asked to.

Mr Brazil is in a legal dispute with the councils over two bits of land - the pitch where he lives in his caravan as well as a field at the back of the site.

He claims he owns the land his pitch is on as well as the field as he has occupied it for decades. Both legal cases are still ongoing and are set to cost taxpayers thousands of pounds.

In the trespass case, due to be heard in Great Yarmouth Court in September, Norfolk County Council argues Mr Brazil’s right to occupy the pitch is from a tenancy agreement as well as an employment agreement with the council, to look after the site, which ended in 2017.

But Mr Brazil said he has never had a contract of employment nor a tenancy agreement with the council at any point.

“I have been in possession of the pitch since 1989. It is my home,” Mr Brazil said.

“I have always looked after the site. The council were giving me money to look after it but I have never had a contract and never had a tenancy agreement.

The field at the Swanton Road Travellers' site which was formed from waste dumped at the tip. The ownership of the field is at the centre of a legal dispute between the city council and traveller William Brazil. Photo: ArchantThe field at the Swanton Road Travellers' site which was formed from waste dumped at the tip. The ownership of the field is at the centre of a legal dispute between the city council and traveller William Brazil. Photo: Archant

“This is not just part of me but my family. It is disgusting. I have asked to speak to them to see if we can resolve it without court but got no response.”

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said: “The County Council has a pending claim for possession of one of the pitches at Mile Cross Travellers’ Site, which is subject to a hearing scheduled in the County Court.”

Meanwhile, the dispute over who owns the field has stopped 13 new traveller’s pitches being built on the wasteland and will be heard by the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber), sometime next year.

Norwich City Council gave planning permission in January 2017 to put new pitches there.

The field at the Swanton Road Travellers' site which was formed from waste dumped at the tip. The ownership of the field is at the centre of a legal dispute between the city council and traveller William Brazil. Photo: ArchantThe field at the Swanton Road Travellers' site which was formed from waste dumped at the tip. The ownership of the field is at the centre of a legal dispute between the city council and traveller William Brazil. Photo: Archant

But Mr Brazil argues it is his land and they can not build without his permission.

He applied to the Land Registry Office in 2017 to get the land registered to him - but the city council had beaten him to it.

In 2006 they also wrote to the Land Registry to get the whole of the Swanton Road site, which has 20 pitches on, registered to them.

But activist Stuart Carruthers, who has helped Mr Brazil with his legal case, argues the registration was “flawed”.

TheTravellers' site next to the Mile Cross Recycling Centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYTheTravellers' site next to the Mile Cross Recycling Centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The council has produced no title deeds for the site and he argues it did not check first, as it was meant to, whether anyone else had a claim on the land.

If someone has occupied land for more than 12 years they can claim ownership through something called “adverse possession”.

Mr Brazil and his family had occupied by the land by that point for 30 years.

“In 2006 they should have identified people in adverse possession,” Mr Carruthers said. “The council just drew a red line around the land and said we own it.”

Historic photos from the Mile Cross traveller site. Picture: William BrazilHistoric photos from the Mile Cross traveller site. Picture: William Brazil

He said the flawed registration meant it should be registered to Mr Brazil instead.

A Norwich City Council spokesman said: “The city council has taken legal advice concerning the land at Mile Cross and are waiting for a case date to be fixed next year to resolve the dispute.”

The people of Norwich have been using the Mile Cross site to dump their waste since the 1940s.

And it was from this waste that the land which is at the centre of the dispute was formed.

Historic photos from the Mile Cross traveller site. Picture: William BrazilHistoric photos from the Mile Cross traveller site. Picture: William Brazil

In 1977 there were 16 Travellers’ pitches on the land, according to a Norwich City Council planning application.

The tip was then moved to its current site nearby in 1996.

In 2002 the city council began leasing the land to the county council.

Historic photos from the Mile Cross traveller site. Picture: William BrazilHistoric photos from the Mile Cross traveller site. Picture: William Brazil

•Traveller sites

Councils spend millions of pounds a year providing permanent sites for Travellers.

But around Norwich they have not provided enough and more sites are needed.

Fifty-one Traveller pitches need to be found in the Greater Norwich Area by 2021, according to the 2012 Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment.

William Brazil (l) and Stuart Carruthers (r) on the land being disputed off Swanton Lane. Photo: ArchantWilliam Brazil (l) and Stuart Carruthers (r) on the land being disputed off Swanton Lane. Photo: Archant

Norwich City Council tried to chip away at that figure with 13 new pitches at Swanton Road which have never been delivered.

In January, there were 29 Gypsy, Roma and Traveller caravans in Norwich, an increase of 61pc since 2015.

All but two of these were on authorised encampments.

Jim Davies, from the Traveller Movement, said: “The government should focus on supporting local authorities to build more authorised sites and stopping places, and to allow Gypsies and Travellers who want sites on their own land equitable access to the planning system.”

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