By Grattan Puxon
Gypsy Council president Richard Sheridan says he is willing to meeting with Basildon council chief and a local MP provided they are not bent merely on repeating demands that Dale Farm residents abandon the land they own ahead of the long-planned mass eviction.
Leader of Basildon Council Tony Ball has approached Sheridan with an offer to meet him and Tory MP John Baron at the House of Commons in the New year. But it is so far unclear what would be on the agenda.
Baron, who served in the British Army in Northern Ireland and later became a merchant banker, says Basildon should go ahead with the Dale Farm eviction in order to restore the five-acres of Greenbelt which some 96 families now reside on without planning consent.
The MP earlier sponsored an unsuccessful private Bill to increase the powers of local council to act against illegal developments in the Greenbelt. It was coupled with a clause restoring the duty to provide caravan parks for Travellers.
Sheridan points out that Baron’s own home stands on land that was previously part of the Billericay Greenbelt zone, released to meet rising housing needs.
Meanwhile, lawyers acting for Dale Farm have won permission to submit an appeal to the High Court for a hearing that might reverse a Southend County Court ruling which effectively bars homeless Travellers from obtaining accommodation compatible
with their traditional culture and life-style.
Dale Farm families have without exception refused to move into council houses and flats offered by Basildon District Council because they wish to go on living in their own mobile-homes and caravans and to preserve the unity of the community.
Both Labour and Liberal councillors have recently denounced Basildon’s Tory
administration for taking an unnecessarily hard-line against some hundred homeless Traveller and Romani families in the district. One councillor compared current policy to Nazi ethnic cleansing.
Opposition to the expenditure involved in clearing Travellers from land they own at Dale Farm and nearby Hovefields is also growing. Legal and administrative costs, along with employment of bailiffs Constant & Co, has probably topped £2m.
The council still has a war-chest of some £3m. But Essex police have requested up to £10m from the Home Office to cover policing of an eviction that could possibly continue for three weeks and at the end prove unsuccessful.
Dale Farm residents, who have deployed miles of barbed-wire, old tyres, and scaffolding gates, are expected to put up stiff resistance to the bulldozing of their homes. Hundreds of supporters have pledged to join them. In addition a team of legal observers from Essex
University Human Rights clinic plan to be present.
“If they get us off we’ll be forced to move onto other bits of land in the district,” Sheridan says. “We have to live somewhere. This could go on for years yet at a cost of much misery to us and millions more to the council.”
Unless the proposed meeting at the House of Commons produces a positive result, Tony Ball may give the go-ahead for the UK’s biggest-ever Gypsy eviction. But he knows cannot do so without direct assistance from the Government.
Home Secretary Theresa May has been considering the request from Essex police for some months. Like other ministers she is aware of UN opposition to the destruction of Dale Farm and has also to contend with a 30% reduction in the Home Office budget due to big cuts in government spending being imposed by the Coalition.