River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The Village SOAPBOX

September 2011

Dale Farm (At the time of writing the eviction was imminent but had not taken place.)

It is clear that the ‘Travellers’ of Dale farm no longer wished to be travellers. Their aim has been to settle down in one place and raise their families. They bought the land in anticipation that they could get planning permission to set up home there. This seemed to be a not unreasonable assumption, it was simply an extension to an existing legal site and previously the ground had been used legitimately as a scrapyard. Planning was at first refused, however, and there followed a long drawn out series of appeals that at one stage went in favour of the travellers but finally, as we are all aware, went in favour of the local council so that they had the legal right to forcibly evict those on unapproved sites.

The council has said that, if the forty plus families involved really want to settle down in one place, they would find homes for them, a surprising offer bearing in mind that the council must have many local families on a waiting list for affordable homes. No doubt the council made the offer confident that the travellers would reject it, of course they would, they would not want to give up the homes that were fully paid for, that they liked and were proud of, neither would they want to give up living amongst a community of their own kind, to go and live in a council flat somewhere and pay rent forevermore. If the council had offered an alternative site that might have solved the problem, but I doubt they could have found a more appropriate location.

Of course, the argument goes, they were living on the sacred ‘green belt’, the green belt introduced to ensure that urban spread was curtailed so that we could all continue to enjoy the aspect of green countryside around our towns and villages, but in this case a scrapyard for goodness sake.

The consequences of the decision to evict will be that, the local authority will spend millions along with a few additional millions from the taxpayers, not to mention the thousands, if not millions already spent on legal costs, all money that could have been spent much more usefully.

As a consequence of the evictions these families will be forced to leave the homes that they have created, at some expense to themselves one should add, and reluctantly take to the road once again finding nowhere to stay and driven from one location to another, blighting other genuinely green sites as they go.

Of course the law has to be enforced, but planning permission could have been given and one has to question why it was not. Was it really because they preferred a scrap yard, or was it really because they just didn’t like these people? Of course one does have some sympathy for that point of view, travellers have a reputation for anti-social behavior and for petty thieving, and one has to suspect that some of the present scourge of stealing cables for their copper and drain covers for their scrap value is due to travellers, but I have no knowledge as to the extent to which anti-social behavior and criminality might apply to the Dale farm residents. One would expect that those travellers that wish to settle in one place would not antagonize the local community. Whatever the situation is in that area, there is already a legal site there, denying planning permission and evicting the ‘illegals’ never was going to rid the area of travellers.

It is almost certainly true that if the local council had found an alternative site there would not have been a problem. The previous government placed a requirement on local authorities to provide sites for travellers, the present government has removed that requirement. Why? We now have a crazy situation likeAlicein Wonderland. If legal sites were provided it is possible that the travellers would stop travelling, their children would go to local schools and slowly they would become better educated and integrated in society. The criminal behavior would reduce and it would be easier for the police to apprehend the culprits. There are an estimated 3600 illegal traveller sites in the country. The total cost of forcible evictions would run into billions and it would achieve nothing, the travellers would simply set up illegal sites elsewhere.

This eviction is wrong on basic human grounds, church leaders have condemned it, the UN has condemned it, it reflects badly on the local people and it reflects badly on our country, greater efforts should have been made to resolve the difficulties before it came to this.

Ron Watts

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