Day of reckoning for Dale Farm Travellers?

 

11 March 2011

Earlier this week Prime Minister David Cameron signalled his sympathy for an eviction of 400 Irish Travellers from their home at Dale Farm, Essex. Basildon council leaders plan to meet on Monday to decide the fate of the site. The costs of the operation are now estimated to be a staggering £18 million.

“It will be an operation of unprecedented scale, risk and complexity and is beyond the normal business of any council,” admits the agenda for next Monday’s council meeting.

The report lays bare, for the first time, the detailed planning Basildon Council, Essex Police, Essex County Council, the fire service, lawyers and health bosses have done to evict 400 people from 54 unauthorised plots from the Crays Hill site

Basildon Council has also admitted that as soon as the operation is complete, someone will then have to foot the bill for new homes, schools and health services for those that are evicted.

The report to the council meeting, prepared by Basildon Tory council leader Tony Ball also says: “The direct operation is likely to take at least six to eight weeks. The subsequent impact on resources is likely to be significant, but is impossible to quantify with precision.”

It continues: “Extensive work has been carried out on planning. The costs identified, however, can still only be treated as indicative due to the complex nature of the operation.”

Basildon Council will also have to rehouse many of the Travellers affected and is setting aside £1million for this.

Apart from the residents, the council expects large numbers of protesters and campaigners to descend on the camp. The report says: “Indications are there will be a significant presence of other protesters, some of whom have no connection with the site or indeed the travellers.”

Essex Police has estimated its costs of about £12million to police the operation. The force can afford £3million, but wants the remaining £9.2million from the Government. If it is not approved, the council is refusing to chip in.

Yesterday, as I visited the site, residents were anxious but defiant, busying themselves by cleaning up the road ways. The tidy gravelled plot at 14 Swallow Court means the world to Catherine Flynn and she’s prepared to die for it if necessary. Born in a horse-drawn wagon in Ireland, she travelled countless roads before reaching Basildon in Essex.

Now living in a pre-fab chalet surrounded by friends and family, she’s at that time in life when she should be remembering her hardest years, not preparing for them.Catherine will be 70 on Sunday. On Monday, her local council will meet to decide her fate. After 10 years of arguing, with every legal avenue now exhausted, Basildon District Council will debate whether to finally evict Catherine and 400 other Irish Travellers from the 52 properties they occupy without planning permission at Dale Farm. If they do, they will trigger the biggest ever eviction in British peacetime. The costs to the council are estimated to be £8 million, Essex police have applied for another £10 million. But the human cost may prove to be much higher.

“They will not get through that gate,” Catherine tells me with a steely eye. Her 58 year old neighbour Nora is more forthcoming: “We’ve things up our sleeves. It will be like Belfast if they come in here, they haven’t a clue what they are up against. We’re not rats, we have to go somewhere.” They contemplate the fork in the road an eviction will present them with. Neither a council flat away from each other nor a life at the side of the road is something they will consider for themselves or their grandchildren. “Whatever few years we have left in our life, we simply want to live in peace.” says Catherine.

But simply living in peace does not appear to be an option for Basildon council leader Tony Ball. “We have worked with the families concerned to find a peaceful resolution,” he says “but after ten years of continued illegal development, we must take action.”

He believes Basildon already has its fair share of Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers, yet has set no quotas for any other ethnic groups. The £18 million Basildon District Council wants to spend can’t remove the other half of the plots at Dale Farm that are perfectly legal, so at best an eviction will be an expensive non-solution.

The government’s Homes and Communities Agency has offered acres of land it owns in Basildon which the Irish Travellers are happy to move to, but this possible solution to the conflict requires Basildon District Council to approve planning permission for a new site.

For the sake of the public purse, settled communities across Britain and the residents of Dale Farm, it is a solution none of us can afford to ignore.

 

Dale Farm residents and supporters are holding a meeting at 3pm on Monday, followed by a protestdemonstration outside the Basildon Centre (see map below) starting at 7pm.
 
 
  
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