Basildon District Council’s (BDC) has voted for the third time to carry out a ‘direct action’ (eviction) at Dale Farm. This time, the decision was made by BDC’s Development Control Committee and, according to committee chairman, Stephen Hillier, “follows the members’ careful review of each individual case and the updated personal circumstances…” (See BBC article on the decision.)
It is not possible that the Committee members have carefully reviewed the personal circumstances of the Dale Farm residents who they voted again to evict.
With no help from the council, the Travellers (most of whom cannot read or write) were unreasonably given two weeks during the Easter holiday to complete lengthy forms detailing their personal circumstances, and to submit letters to doctors and schools requesting more information be sent to BDC. Hoping that this updated information would be reviewed properly, advocates for the Travellers spent days collecting the information from residents who happened not to be travelling during the Easter period. The completed forms were submitted by the deadline agreed with BDC, but it has been confirmed by a Council representative that the Committee, understandably, have not yet received many of the professional opinions they requested from doctors and schools. And with the information they did have, the Committee adjourned for 40 minutes for members to review the meeting documents; an Options Report and 6 enclosures, one of which was Personal Circumstances Information (detailed forms and supplementary letters for up to 86 families). (See the official decision from the Committee here.) Not only was the information incomplete, it is also safe to assume that this is not enough time to “carefully review each individual case”.
Given the personal circumstances of Dale Farm residents, BDC cannot fulfil its duties and responsibilities to Dale Farm residents if they are evicted.
As Mr. Hillier guarantees that “the committee made a fair, unbiased judgment… with full regard to all relevant matters”, it would be logical to assume that the Committee fully regarded its “duties and responsibilities to the families and individuals subject to the direct action” as outlined in this Statement Regarding Proposed Eviction by BDC Legal Services Manager, Lorraine Browne. In the statement, BDC are obligated to “provide practical and sustained support for the families affected. Examples of such action would include:
a. Facilitating identification of alternative school places…
b. Facilitating identification of alternative health providers…
c. Ensuring individuals have a sufficient amount of prescribed medication…
d. Ensuring that regular care services … are delivered…
e. Facilitating introduction…to religious leaders and communities…”
As stated in the Committee decision, the Council’s homelessness duties were highlighted in the discussion. The Committee is therefore aware that, as can be verified by BDC’s Homelessness Department, the eviction will make Dale Farm residents homeless. How then does the Committee propose that BDC provide sustained support in facilitating school places, health providers/medication, care services, introductions to religious leaders and communities… if the Travellers are forced out of the area and onto the road indefinitely? If the Committee had genuinely reviewed the personal circumstances of the residents, it would have found out that there are many ill people and pregnant women who require regular medical attention (some awaiting operations at Basildon Hospital). Residents who cannot read rely on their established relationship with the local pharmacy, which has developed a colour-coding system to ensure they take the right medication. There are many children attending school (and more to start next year) who will have no access to education if on the road.
If Basildon Council takes the personal circumstances of Dale Farm residents and its legal duties and responsibilities seriously, how can they go ahead with an eviction? The only way BDC can fulfil its obligations is if an alternative site, where the Travellers will have regular and appropriate access to doctors, schools, care providers, churches…, is designated for them to live on.
As reported in the Essex Chronicle, “Basildon Council has insisted it will seek a peaceful resolution at the site.” Dale Farm Travellers can only hope that this is an indication that BDC also sees that the provision of an alternative site is the peaceful, practical and legal decision. Not only would this solution allow BDC to carry out its own duties and responsibilities effectively, but would also demonstrate the UK’s commitment to the new EU strategy to integrate Gypsies and Travellers. The UK has been given until the end of this year to draw up a national plan to ensure that every homeless Traveller has access to suitable accommodation.
Posted By Susan Craig-Greene
Posted Jun 3rd, 2011