It seems strange that in the five months that have passed since their eviction, in some ways, everything is different for the Dale Farm Travellers but, in other ways, nothing has changed. The home they had made over the past ten years is unrecognisable: Basildon Council has dug up every yard and has intentionally left piles of rubble blocking any possible entrance point into the site. Bunding (enormous mounds of earth and deep ditches) on the road makes it impossible for residents who are legally allowed to remain to get their trailers anywhere near the three legal pitches. (Lorraine Brown, Basildon Council’s legal representative, told these residents that they would need a helicopter to re-enter their yards.) It has been left resembling a bombsite and has now become a prime site for fly tipping. It seems impossible to imagine that Basildon Council has any intention of returning it to green fields as it promised (particularly since none of the eviction budget was allocated for this purpose).
Photos: The road leading to the 3 legal yards at Dale Farm; A sign put up by activists before the eviction is one of the only surviving structures on the site; View of the legal yards at Oak Lane. Photos by Mary Turner and Susan Craig-Greene
Dale Farm residents, however, did not just disappear after the eviction as Basildon Council hoped. The majority remain just past the boundary of the Dale Farm site on the legal Traveller site at Oak Lane. The conditions under which they are living are far worse than before. Some have been allowed temporary refuge on relatives’ legal yards with limited access to amenities (electricity, water, toilets) but the majority are forced to live alongside the main road of the site without even these basic necessities. Spirits are low and tensions high and these hazardous conditions are taking their toll. Both the UN and the Red Cross have visited the site and have submitted reports to Basildon Council detailing the environmental health implications of living under these conditions. Opponents to the Travellers and the local press often claim that the Dale Farm residents have other places to live – but having seen the post-eviction reality at Dale Farm first-hand, I find it difficult to believe that anyone would choose to live there, if they had anywhere else to go.
Their lives have been turned upside down and, to make matters worse, they are facing all of the same problems they were trying to tackle before the eviction. The Council is still refusing to engage in constructive negotiations to find a long-term solution to its problem, despite the Travellers’ eagerness to work with the Council to find a suitable alternative site. This week they not only lost again in the courts (this time they lost their appeal arguing that Basildon Council should be required to provide culturally appropriate accommodation), but they were also served with Planning Contravention Orders requiring them to leave the legal site within 21 days. The Travellers know that it is only a matter of time before they are again facing an eviction, and the Council has still not addressed the residents’ very real concerns that consistent and reliable access to schools and healthcare whilst on the road will not be possible.
Photos: A post-eviction view of one of the 3 legal yards at Dale Farm. Basildon has left it impossible to re-enter; Jeany and her grandson Richard. She is awaiting surgeries at Basildon Hospital but will soon be forced out of the area; View of caravans on the main road at Oak Lane. Photos by Susan Craig-Greene
So, where do we go from here? I don’t believe it is too late to find a long-term solution. Council Leader Tony Ball has stated “the council accepts that it will need to provide additional pitches to cater for the growth of the traveller population who live legally in the borough and it will be working with the travellers to do this.” This is an important declaration. So, CL Ball, is there a willingness on the part of the Council to engage with the Dale Farm Travellers who have been made homeless by the eviction and have a clear need for pitches? Wouldn’t this serve Basildon’s interests better than further costly enforcement action that has no guarantee of solving the problems of either side?
Posted By Susan Craig-Greene
Posted Mar 22nd, 2012