It is the beginning of a new year – over a year on from the eviction of the Irish Traveller families at Dale Farm – and it is clearer than ever that Basildon Council’s aggressive, multi-million pound approach to the situation was a waste of time and has only caused more problems for the Travellers and for the local settled residents in Crays Hill. I am not sure exactly what Tony Ball and his colleagues expected to happen. Did they expect that the Travellers would just disappear?
The residents of Dale Farm have always been very clear in their meetings with the Council. They filled out endless homeless applications, detailed forms about their personal circumstances and explained face-to-face that they have nowhere else to go and that life on the road is no longer tenable (and is particularly dangerous for the many children, elderly and disabled residents who have settled there). Basildon Council members claim to have reviewed their personal circumstances and have deemed the residents officially homeless by the Council’s standards. Therefore, Council members knew how many small children and elderly, ill and disabled people lived there. They knew that if evicted and forced onto the road (where they would most likely be moved on every 24 hours), it would be impossible for the Travellers to access reliable and consistent healthcare, education, and water/toilet facilities. By evicting the residents from their homes, what choice did Basildon Council give them but to stay (where they have established relationships to doctors, schools, some facilities) as long as possible?
So this is exactly what has happened. The Dale Farm Travellers are still there. They are either now living on the road leading up to their bulldozed properties or temporarily taking refuge on the neighbouring yards on the legal side of Oak Lane. No matter what Tony Ball wants you to believe, these are the same Travellers he forcibly evicted 15 months ago. In the 3 years leading up to the eviction, I personally visited the residents on every single yard on numerous occasions, and these are the same people I still visit today. Of course, Tony Ball doesn’t want to admit that these are the same people. The fact that they are still there, living in squalor with no reliable access to water, sewage, electricity, proves that the residents were telling the truth when they said they had nowhere else to go. Even more worrying to Mr Ball, their presence proves not only that his eviction campaign was a complete and utter failure but that it has left a brewing humanitarian and environmental crisis in its aftermath.
The Environment Agency has visited and examined the site and is due to report on the level of contamination any day (the most likely hazards are asbestos, leaking sewerage, and rat infestation). These environmental hazards are not only a threat to the former Dale Farm Travellers, but also residents on the adjacent legal yards and the settled Crays Hill residents on Oak Road, which backs up to the site. These local residents are entirely dissatisfied with the outcome of the Council’s “eviction”, so much so that their most outspoken, pro-eviction representative, Len Gridley, is now teaming up with the Dale Farm Travellers to sue Basildon Council.
It is no big surprise that the forced eviction at Dale Farm offered no solutions (long or short term) to anyone’s problems. Local councils cannot just forcibly evict people with no consideration for their welfare, with the hope at best to push their problems onto the next council. Surely, if councils won’t, the UK government needs to take a wider, longer term view on this issue. The obvious solution is to address the shortage of sites, which will address the needs of an ethnic minority group currently without adequate access to housing, healthcare, education or basic services and, in turn, decrease the number of illegal encampments that negatively impact on local settled residents.
The legacy of Dale Farm and this botched eviction may serve as a lesson to other councils and may pave the way for longer-term decision-making. Basildon Council, however, needs to learn from its own mistakes, stop threatening yet another eviction, and find a long-term solution for the Travellers and local residents. Planning permission has been granted for a small, 15 pitch site in Basildon near Dale Farm. This is certainly a step in the right direction and this site will hopefully become a permanent, stable home to some of the most vulnerable Travellers from Dale Farm and throughout the district. This does not come close to addressing the current need in the area. It is time now for Basildon Council to abandon strategies that are not working and to look to solutions that can actually benefit its constituents.
Posted By Susan Craig-Greene
Posted Jan 25th, 2013