In letters from the Homes and Communities Agency, made public today, it is revealed that Basildon District Council withdrew from the official group tasked to find a housing solution for the Dale Farm community. This left no plan for the Travellers’ welfare following any eviction.
The ‘Alternative Sites Working Group’ met from November 2009 to August 2010 and included Basildon District Council, Essex County Council, the Government Office for the East of England, plus the former leader of Reigate and Banstead Council and chairman of the Local Government Association Task Force on Gypsies and Travellers (As confirmed in a letter from Homes and Communities Agency to local MEP Richard Howitt, 31 August 2011). They met in secret at the request of Basildon Council. Basildon District Council withdrew in October 2010 and refused to deal with group, over “an alleged breach of confidentiality on details of sites being discussed by the Working Group” (As stated in an email from Homes and Communities Agency to Dale Farm Support Group, 12 Sept 2011). This stopped its work in finding alternative Traveller sites.
Dale Farm resident Kathleen McCarthy said, “This is shocking, Basildon Council have put their prejudice above finding a solution to the needs of the Dale Farm community.”
The Homes and Communities Agency, noted that, “[w]e are willing to place any of our land in Basildon at the Council’s designation as a Gypsy and Traveller site(s). We are willing to identify and invest capital to establish the pitches on such land.”
However, one planning application on HCA land near the current Dale Farm site has already been rejected by Basildon Council on the stated grounds of road safety.
Dale Farm resident Kathleen McCarthy continued, “The behaviour of Tony Ball, leader of the Council, makes life for us impossible. He pulled out of the official process to find a new fully legal site, and when we try ourselves, he blocks our proposals for new sites, even when we have full HCA backing. Next weeks’ eviction is about prejudice, pure and simple.”
The revelations coincide with open letter to the government and Basildon Council that the Council must suspend the eviction and find an alternative culturally acceptable solution to making Dale Farm residents homeless. It was signed by the Chief Executive of the Children’s Society, Director of Liberty, and MPs Andy Slaughter and Andrew George plus 59 others. (Guardian, 13 September 2011, P33)
Questions have been raised about the motivations for pushing for the eviction as plans are revealed for 900 homes on greenbelt land in the neighbouring district to Basildon. Plans for homes on Jotmans Lane Benfleet have the support of Tory councillors, and face a final vote on the 27th September, after a report by a government inspector highlighted the need for more homes.(Basildon Echo, 13 September 2011, P7)