Contaminated ruins are all that remain of the former Dale Farm Traveller site in Basildon, Essex. Basildon council forcibly evicted around 86 families from Dale Farm on 19 October 2011. Two years later many are still stuck on a nearby roadside and have nowhere else to go.
Travellers’ rights campaigner Grattan Puxon said, “It looks like people will have to go through their third winter on that road. There’s no water, no proper sanitation. People are just on the side of the road, and traffic has to squeeze up and down. It’s hazardous for the children.”
The council claimed it had to force the Travellers from Dale Farm—land that they own—in order to “restore” it to greenbelt. Yet the land was a scrapyard when Travellers bought it. And it certainly isn’t green now.
“Bulldozers came in and dug great big pits that left huge banks of earth everywhere,” said Grattan. “The council said topsoil should be put on and seeds planted. They’ve not come in with any topsoil or any effort to plant seed. Instead they’ve left this huge toxic wasteland.”
Basildon council had repeatedly denied that there was asbestos at the site. Yet the Environment Agency found asbestos there last year. It said that the asbestos it found didn’t pose a “significant risk” to health.
Yet the agency also warned that it remains unclear how much asbestos is on other parts of the site. Many Travellers have suffered illnesses since the eviction. “There’s been a lot of sickness,” said Grattan. “Lots of people have been going to their GPs with stomach upsets.”
The Red Cross visited the site in December 2011. It said Travellers were concerned about their children’s health “due to raw sewage seeping from the illegal part of the site and the limitations of one temporary toilet block serving 30 caravans”.
A parliamentary report last year said Travellers had been left living in “squalor” since the eviction. “Many of the residents are highly vulnerable and have serious conditions,” it added. To add insult to injury, Basildon Council is demanding £4.3 million from Travellers to pay for their own eviction.
“They know they would never get that amount,” said Grattan. “But they hope that they can force the Travellers to sell their land and get them out of the district. Basildon council will soon have to report on the need for Traveller sites in the area. If they can push the Travellers out first they can bring that need down as low as possible.”
Sick with nowhere to go
Judge Edwards-Stuart ruled in October 2011 that the council could not remove everything from Dale Farm. He ruled that buildings could remain on three out of 54 plots at the site, and residential use could continue at a further three.
But Grattan said, “All the access roads were ploughed up. People cannot get onto what are legal plots of land.” One of those people is Mary Flynn. She has Chronic Pulmonary Disease and lung damage. Mary has to use a nebulizer and inhalers to help her breathe.
Before the eviction Mary told Socialist Worker she had “nowhere to go”. She is among the Travellers forced onto Oak Lane, the road next to the Dale Farm site.
The council has served enforcement notices on Travellers there to try and force them to move yet again. Mary is appealing against this and a court hearing is set for 22 November.
Councils get refusal powers
Clause 21 of the Tories’ Deregulation Bill will remove ministers’ power to force local authorities in England to prepare local housing plans which could grant planning permission to Travellers. Matthew Brindley from the Traveller Movement described this as “the thin end of the wedge” that could make the crisis in Traveller accommodation worse.
The bill is currently in its draft stage. Grattan said, “It’s getting more difficult for Travellers to get planning permission. It used to be easier to appeal to the secretary of state to override a local refusal of permission. Now it’s being put in the hands of the local authority.
“The situation in England now is very similar to that in France. A lot of people are being moved and evicted. The only difference is that in France they have managed to get people to leave the country. What happens here is that Travellers turn into refugees in their own country. They’re constantly moved on.”
Raids target Travellers
Police raided Traveller sites and the homes of Traveller supporters last month as part of Operation Elven. The Gypsy Council was rung on the day of the raids and told that they would take place.
Grattan said, “To me this is significant. It’s a way of labelling it as an anti-Traveller raid. The whole thing seems to be aimed at Travellers.”
A green belt in hypocrisy
Right wing rags rant about Travellers living illegally on greenbelt land. But just 14 percent of the Gypsy and Traveller caravans in England in January this year were on unauthorised land.
Meanwhile 150,000 homes are planned for greenbelt sites.
Obstacles to living legally
Travellers are more likely to be turned down for planning permission than people who are settled. Authorities granted just 69 percent of major applications for Traveller pitches in the year to March, compared to 82 percent of major residential applications.
Some 61 percent of minor applications for Traveller pitches were granted—and 74 percent of minor residential applications.