By Grattan Puxon
Even before Basildon Tory councillors, in the face of Labour and Liberal Party opposition, voted last night [14 March] to evict Dale Farm’s homeless, a legal challenge to the £13m operation had been set in motion.
During the day, Basildon District Council was faxed a pre-action protocol letter stating that should the council proceed with direct action it would immediately be countered by judicial review proceedings.
Hopes are now that this strongly stated legal opposition to Basildon’s draconian policy, which is based on council leader Tony Ball’s belief in an overarching need to enforce planning law, will at least gain time for a non-confrontational solution
to be reached.
Opposition councillors said at the meeting that they would rather see the families involved allowed to continue to live on their own land then have millions in public money squandered on a futile and shameful eviction.
“I believe welfare of the community should be the priority,” commented Gypsy Council president Richard Sheridan this morning. “We want to live within the law. There is no law-and-order issue.”
In earlier negotiations Cllr Ball himself has indicated that he is willing to allow Dale Farm residents at least a limited window of opportunity to find alternative locations to which they can legally, and peacefully move. On balance its seems unlikely therefore the 28-day notice of eviction will be delivered to residents for some weeks yet.
Indeed, both the Gypsy Council and lawyers for residents are urging that negotiations regarding suitable alternative sites be recommenced. One planning application for
development of a model mobile-home park is already awaiting council approval, and several others also involving land owned by a government quango are in preparation.
Another promising development is that in the search for alternative land outside Basildon, a suitable private 12-acre site in metropolitan Essex has come to light.
Meanwhile, linking with Roma communities in other parts of Europe, many of whom are under similar threat, Dale Farm will on 9 April host one of the events marking the 40th anniversary of the lst World Romani Congress, which took place in London in l971.
As well as an international Zero Eviction Tolerance Day, that weekend will see the setting up of Camp Constant, a support establishment composed of human rights monitors pledged to be on hand should a forced eviction be prematurely attempted.