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Dale Farm wait on relocation proposal

Travellers at Dale Farm, facing imminent eviction, await to find out whether the formation of the Lib-Con coalition will make a difference to their plans to move peacefully to another location they have found for themselves. Grattan Puxon reports.

Conservative-led Basildon District Council has set aside three million euro to flatten the Dale Farm community, the biggest of its kind in the UK. They have been staunchly opposed by a minority of Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors, who have denounced the intended destruction as racially motivated and disproportionate.

What will happen now is anyone’s guess. Re-elected local Tory MP John Barron, while campaigning for the eviction has sought central government help to find an alternative outside the district. Meanwhile, Gypsy Council president Richard Sheridan, who heads the community-organized Dale Farm Housing Association, has put forward a proposal for relocation closer at hand.

Almost within a kilometre of Dale Farm, on the opposite side of the A127 arterial road, land has been set aside for the construction of 3,500 new homes. However, the site at Gardiners Lane South, will not be built on for at least five years due to financial constraints.

“We want to develop a temporary mobile-home park at Gardiners Lane for everyone made homeless at Dale Farm,” explained Sheridan. “It will save a lot of misery and a great deal of public money.”

He has asked for a meeting on 19 May with Basildon council’s project leader Dawn French, who is in charge of engagement talks with the Dale Farm community. So far those talks have excluded discussion of an alternate site for evicted families. Residents have been repeatedly asked to leave of their own accord with nowhere arranged for them.

Sheridan says they are willing to move if an acceptable alternative can be designated. He believes Gardiners Lane offers the best solution. Earlier, the DFHA attempted a relocation to a site recommended by then Deputy PM John Prescott at Pitsea. But that proposal was rejected.

According to housing legislation, the local council must assess the needs of Gypsies. Basildon is required to provide 62 new mobile-home pitches by next year, and a further 52 within ten years. But it is contesting this requirement in the High Court and expects a hearing on the issue starting 28 July.

Technically already homeless, most families have submitted applications for re-accommodation. A number have been offered flats or houses. Every one has declined bricks-and-mortar because it would mean the break up of their community and is unsuited to the life-style of ethnic Travellers. They want the new pitches instead. Whether they will get them through this route will be tested soon in Basildon County Court.

The UN has sent a letter of concern to the UK Government over the Dale Farm eviction and a UN-linked monitoring team is standing by, with other legal observers, to attend the operation. Last month a meeting took place with Essex Police Authority over the policing of the eviction. The heavy cost, put at close on one million euro, was to have been borne by the EPA but it now says the police will bill Basildon for the full amount.

While the EPA has guaranteed that police officers will act impartially and ensure bailiffs obey safety laws, complaints concerning the private security company engaged by Basildon are being sent to the Local Government Ombudsman. The past conduct of Constant & Co has been the subject of many allegations, from racial abuse, to arson arising from the burning of caravans and property, and even looting.

Bailiffs uncertified to handle children have been filmed manhandling little girls during evictions, and company head Brian Constant admits no risk assessments were conducted before previous operations done for Basildon.

“Our hope is that David Cameron shows the kinder face of conservatism he has promised,” said Sheridan. “We’ll see if Basildon will let us move to Gardiners Lane. The last thing we want is an ugly confrontation of the sort his political allies in Hungary have instigated against Roma.”

14 May 2010

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