I felt strangely calm as I approached the podium to give my speech. Unlike the first time I had spoken in front of the Development Control Committee of the Basildon District Council on behalf of the Travelers, my heart was not pounding out of control nor were butterflies fluttering around in my stomach. I hadn’t even prepared a single note card in case I lost my train of thought.
Was this reassurance a product of my ability to give amazing speeches? Yeah right…I wish. Every other time in my life when I had to give a speech, especially if it was in front of more than fifty people as was the case tonight, I felt as though I needed to place a puck bucket beside my feet.
Before the committee this evening was a proposal to provide alternative accommodation for six of the fourteen neediest families residing on the eleven properties facing eviction from Dale Farm on July 6th. The families selected for the alternative accommodation included two elderly couples unable to move outside of their chalet without help, two profoundly deaf children who attend a special needs school in the area and other members of the Dale Farm who suffer from severe ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis.
The accommodation site, located near a the town of Pitsea, is close enough to Dale Farm to allow the people who move there to stay in close proximity to members of their family who remain at Dale Farm. Unlike Dale Farm, the site at Pitsea is not located on Greenbelt but, rather, Brownfield, which would allow construction to take place or homes and caravans to be placed on the land.
Contrary to what a lot of people believe, members of Dale Farm will gladly go somewhere else; however, they must have somewhere to go where they can obtain planning permission to legally place their chalets and caravans. Otherwise, Travelers will end up on the roadside or illegally camped, causing another local council in another part of England to be embroiled in the same legal conundrum as the Basildon Council now finds itself with the Travelers at Dale Farm. This will cause more taxpayers’ money to be wasted, more children to have their education interrupted and more resentment to be harbored unnecessarily toward Travelers. The site at Pitsea offered the committee the opportunity to stop these negative trends and compromise with the Travelers.
After my speech and listening for ten minutes as various committee members drooled on about why planning permission should not be granted to the six families, I began to zone out. It annoyed me that each committee member began his or her comments by stating, “I have tremendous sympathy for the Travelers, but …,” or “I have been a friend of the Travelers all of my life, but…”
It was almost as if each committee member’s conscious forced him to give the appearance of partiality so that he could sleep better at night knowing that he had, however cursorily, examined all facets of the case before making a pre-determined decision.
What began as an annoyance quickly changed into disgust. It made me sick to my stomach to see the committee members justify their rational for not allocating land on which the Travelers could legally relocate, in spite of the fact that it was the committee itself who chose to evict the Travelers in the first place. Do they not understand that their failure to provide a housing alternative only perpetuates the cycle of eviction and subsequent unauthorized relocation that plagues Traveler communities all across England?
Reflecting upon the reasons for my relaxed state later on in the evening, I realized very quickly what had caused my emotions to differ so drastically from the first to the second time that I delivered a speech. The first time, I made the mistake of believing that the committee members were listening to me. The second time, I knew what I said would not alter their decision in the slightest. This conclusion allowed me to be more relaxed but, shamefully, didn’t help the Travelers save their homes.
Posted By Zach Scott
Posted Jun 21st, 2007