DALE FARM PRESS RELEASE: SATURDAY, 10th SEPTEMBER
Today at 1pm the residents of Dale Farm will gather with hundreds of supporters at Wickford station, and women and children will lead a march to Dale Farm. At Dale Farm there will be a rally with speakers including MEP for the East of England Richard Howitt, from the Public and Services Union, and from a number of protest groups, including No Borders, No One Is Illegal, No Sweat, and Camp Constant. The rally is backed by Dale Farm Solidarity, Barbed Wire Britain, Campaign to Close Campsfield, Feminist Fightback, London No Borders, No One is Illegal, Southall Black Sisters, Unite Against Fascism, Oxford & Cambridge Trade Councils, Anonymous Promotions. Local supporters from Wickford and Basildon will be joined by supporters from all around the country. There is a solidarity demo in Derry.
Supporters are gathering to show solidarity with the Dale Farm residents, and to peacefully demonstrate their outrage at the forced eviction, led by Basildon Council and the Coalition government, of 90 families and over one hundred children from the former scrap yard they own at Dale Farm. This eviction will devastate a close knit, supportive, and established community, removing children from a good school where literacy rates have been flourishing, and removing families from their local healthcare services.
The Dale Farm estate was a concreted scrapyard for 30 years before the Travellers bought it. In 2001 when Traveller families bought the land, cleared the site, and pitched caravan homes, the Council began a multi-million pound ten year legal campaign, all of sudden taking a keen interest in restoring the previously uncared for concreted ‘greenbelt’. Hypocritically, across the rest of Basildon, other parts of the greenbelt and valued green spaces, such as Vange school fields, Gloucester Park, Kent View and Northlands have been sold or proposed by the council for major housing developments.
Basildon Council has consistently failed, in ten years, to offer any alternative local sites for families to move safely on to. Dale Farm resident and mother Mary said: “The council are prepared to agree to build on Gloucester Park, yet insists on evicting us from an old scrap yard. The council are prejudiced against us. It’s one rule for settled people and another for travellers.”
The Council is hastily pursuing hugely costly forced evictions, with an estimated total cost of £18 million, while avoiding discussion of a two viable alternative plots which have been identified by the Travellers at Church Road, Laindon, owned by the Homes and Communities Agency, and at Gardiners Lane South. A public enquiry is due on 22nd November to consider the Church Road site. If suitable plots in the local area had been identified the Travellers have always said they would move on peacefully.
“In pursuing these forced evictions at this time Basildon council is taking unnecessarily brutal and overly hasty action, when a possible solution is just around the corner. Crucial meetings are due to take place which have a strong chance of finding alternative appropriate sites for the Travellers to move on to safely and without the associated costs of forced eviction” said Ann, a local resident and supporter of the Dale Farm community.
Helen, another supporter at Camp Constant added “this just shows the council doesn’t want a peaceful solution, they just want to hound the Travellers out of Basildon.”
According to the Commission for Racial Equality, more than 90% of Traveller planning applications are initially rejected. This compares to less than 20% of rejected applications for everybody else¹. Gypsies and Travellers in the UK are trapped in a web of overlapping, systemic failures to respect their customs and preferences.
Instead of working to find an alternative suitable site and a peaceful solution Traveller families with nowhere to go, and which include many sick and elderly residents as well as many children and several pregnant women, have been told their homes will be forcibly evicted on 19th Sept. Basildon have voted to spend a third of its budget — £8 million demolishing the estate and turning people out onto the road. The policing of what could be a three-week operation has an additional price tag of £10 million, of which £6 million is being provided by the Home Office.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission reported² recently on these issues, saying that “Few local authorities have a policy for identifying, and dealing with, objections to planning applications that are or may be racist. This means racist representations are reaching planning committees, in breach of guidance from the Royal Town Planning Institute.‟
Local Councillor Geoff Williams released a statement contesting the forced evictions at Dale Farm and saying that the green spaces and green belt of Basildon are far more threatened by the local authority and the planning inspectorate than by any incursions by Travellers. He described the use of public funds to forcibly evict families at Dale Farm as ‘mind-boggling’. He stated that “The council’s unremitting desire to protect the dubious qualities of the greenbelt at Dale Farm stands in stark contrast to its reluctance to pursue the designation of recognised wildlife sites as green belt, or to defend other existing pristine designations”
Today’s march will proceed to Dale Farm and Camp Constant, a base for human rights monitors and those who will engage in civil disobedience to stop the bulldozing.
Bringing in hundreds of police officers and bailiffs to threaten people’s lives, break up their communities, bulldoze their homes, and hound them out of the area, is how Essex does its ethnic cleansing and today’s march seeks to confront this, and to bring attention to the moral outrage, which leads to the endless of eviction of Travellers sites, and local authorities failure to find appropriate land for Travellers all over the country.
Supporter Mark said “This is the UK largest Traveller site. The community here are amazing; really close and really great people. If we stand by and watch while these lives are torn apart, we are supporting a system which crushes Travellers everywhere, and leaves them with nowhere safe to go. We have to recognise this kind of behaviour is based on prejudice, and we have to overcome that and find a better way. I’m here because I want that change to happen. I want these people to be safe, to be free to live in their lives in peace, and for their community to flourish, and I don’t want to stand by in a society which apparently thinks it’s ok remove people from an area like this, just because of their ethnic status.’