I felt all eyes shift towards me as I walked behind the podium. I had prepared most of the day for the speech I was about to give, but speaking in front of forty people, the majority of whom were faced with being evicted from their homes, made each one of my heartbeats sounds as if someone was banging a drum next to my ear.
Unfortunately my words, nor those of other members of Dale Farm who spoke, could stop the Basildon Development Control Committee from voting for the eviction of members of Dale Farm who are currently residing on eleven properties in the center of the community.
The plight of individuals such as Margaret McCarthy, 85, who endures severe arthritis and can’t walk, nor that of Margaret Gammell, who is both deaf and suffers from depression, were unable to persuade the committee to postpone the eviction until the planning application for an alternative accommodation site at Pitsea has been approved.
Instead, the committee is willing to give residents of the eleven properties until July 6th to move or be forcefully evicted.
While it is true that the Pitsea site does not present the Travelers with an optimal location in which to relocate, the living conditions there are by no means worse than those which were present at Dale Farm before the Travelers arrived. People often forget that Dale Farm was a scrap yard before the Travelers bought the land. Not only has the area been turned into a thriving community since the appearance of the Travelers, but tarmac roads have been constructed and running water installed.
The Pitsea site is also neither a “condemned” location, as council leader Malcolm Buckley would have others believe. A highway overpass does intersect it, but some other brown field sites with overpasses have been granted planning permission throughout England. Why should Pitsea be any different?
One of the more disturbing aspects of the eviction is the grounds on which the council based its decision. The main reason for the eviction of the Travelers is that there is such a scarce amount of Greenbelt left in the Basildon district that it is imperative to protect what little remains from being developed. In other words, the Basildon committee deems it perfectly logical to destroy part of Dale Farm and render approximately twenty-five people homeless so that nothing except grass and maybe a few trees can grow in their place.
In early June, the Travelers protested against the eviction outside the Basildon Centre.
Even more startling is the fact that Thames Gateway, a large construction project currently taking place in southeast England, has been granted permission by the Basildon Council to build a number of its proposed 160,000 houses within the district, some of which are planned to be constructed on Greenbelt! Suffice it to say that the when Mr. Buckley spoke of how all the “precious little” amount of Greenbelt left in Basildon must be preserved at any cost, he must have been suffering from a brief fit of amnesia about the deal his council brokered for the Thames Gateway project.
As such, the reasons that the Committee gives for why it voted for eviction and the eventual destruction of the eleven properties without providing for an alternative site to which the Travelers could relocate is rife with contradictions. Committee members continue to be unwilling to compromise with Dale Farm over a possible relocation to Pitsea, causing one to wonder if their vote was not merely a manifestation of their internal prejudices against Travelers.
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Posted Jun 10th, 2007
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