I usually focus on rather extreme cases of anti-Roma bigotry in my posts on that topic, and the Dale Farm case is not so extreme, nor does it involve the Roma, but Irish travellers. However it raises some similar issues.
The Dale Farm site is based near Basildon in Essex, and was established on the site of a former scrap heap. It comprises two halves – although both are owned by the travellers, planning permission has been refused for one half. For this reason, the council has long been seeking to evict families from this part of the site, arguing that their dwellings are illegal. Families now have until the end of August to leave, and are due to have their electricity and water cut off after that date.
It’s quite difficult to disentangle the rights and wrongs here. It seems that it was legal to deny planning permission and it is thus legal to seek the evictions. The council, in its turn, would meet their legal obligations to house the travellers. However it has been pointed out that 90% of travellers’ applications for planning permission are rejected as opposed to 20% overall. You can always turn everything round of course – the statistic about planning permission could reflect the fact the travellers’ applications are more likely to be inherently problematic.
A slightly barbed sentence in the Wikipedia entry notes that ‘While there has been a very active campaign to allow the unauthorised portion of Dale Farm to remain, largely from individuals and groups from outside Basildon, there is strong support among Basildon’s settled community for the Council’s actions.’ Does this mean that the trendy liberal outsiders don’t understand the situation? Or does it mean that there are a lot of bigots in Basildon? (Though I don’t want to imply that you have to be bigoted to support the council’s actions.) As there are no supporting references for that sentence perhaps it should, in any case, be discounted.
This detail from a recent article does indicate that the council may be guilty of both over zealousness and negligence:
Dale Farm families are taking heart from a victory by a Gypsy who has just won a planning appeal against Basildon. The inspector in his ruling reminded the council that it has a duty to provide 62 new pitches for homeless Travellers by the end of this year.
The travellers at the site have some unfortunate advocates, including a publication called Further Left Forum which also carries articles by that great anti-racist – Gilad Atzmon. Some defenders don’t seem to acknowledge that there are any legal grounds for the eviction – such as this rather hyperbolic piece which elides the issues of land ownership and planning permission:
Given that the inhabitants of Dale Farm are legal owners of land where they settled their camp and that the environment in which they reside has been improved and beautified by their own efforts, we simply cannot see one single reasonable reason for the pressure that the authorities in England carry out nowdays toward Roma and Travelers community, denying them water and electricity and keeping them under terrible siege.
A more measured note is struck by the Gypsy Council, who seem constructive and willing to compromise. Their press release (pdf) ends:
We and the families accept that they cannot stay on land without planning permission and wish to abide by the same planning restraints that apply to everyone else. We are not an exception and wish to be able to pursue this alternative site approach.
‘tory’ in the comments noted that death threats have been made against Len Gridley, who has campaigned against the site. There is more information on this, and further interesting background, in this article.