Travellers at Dale Farm in Basildon, Essex, face a renewed threat of eviction. The council forced the Travellers from their land in October last year. Dozens are now living on a nearby road.
Meanwhile the site of their former homes has been turned into a mass of rubble, broken pipes, raw sewage, rats—and possibly asbestos waste.
Nora Sheridan is one of those forced to live on the road. Like many at the site she has serious health problems and has to use a nebuliser machine to help her breathe.
“It’s terrible,” she told Socialist Worker. “I’ve got a generator but it’s too expensive to run during the night so I can’t use the nebuliser.
“We’ve got no water and no toilets. But I’ve got nowhere to go and I’m on my own.” Nora had lived at Dale Farm for ten years. “I can’t go down there now,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to see it.”
The council claimed it wanted to force the Travellers to leave because the land, which they own, was greenbelt.
In fact it was a former scrapyard and landfill site. One planning inspector wrote in 1994 that part of the site was used for “skip storage and the tipping and storing of hardcore and metal waste”.
Travellers say the land is polluted with oil and petrol. And council contractors, who dug to depths of eight feet following last year’s eviction, may have exposed asbestos. The Environment Agency is investigating and plans to inspect the site next week.
John, another Traveller, says the site is now “infested with rats”. “There are millions of them,” he said. “We never had a problem before. When we lived here we had tarmac roads and it was clean and tidy. Now it’s a landfill site.”
Travellers have managed to keep their children in the local school despite the disruption. But if Basildon council leader Tony Ball gets his way, they’ll be forced to move and be constantly at risk of being moved on by police.
“If I go on the roadside and can’t send my children to school I can be prosecuted,” said John. “But it seems that Tony Ball can put kids out of school. Why doesn’t he get prosecuted?”
Judge Edwards-Stuart ruled that out of 54 plots at the site, buildings could remain on three and residential use could continue at a further three. He also ruled the council could not permanently remove walls, gates and fences in a hearing last October.
Yet very little remains. And council contractors have dug trenches throughout the site so that no caravans can return.
Travellers plan to appeal against the eviction notices. “If we had somewhere to go we would’ve gone,” said John. “Nobody wants to be on the roadside.”