Basildon Council leader Tony Ball departed for the Conservative Party Conference this weekend, shamefaced and fleeing increasing pressure from his constituents to find a resolution to the Dale Farm fiasco. As legal proceedings enter their third week on Monday, Basildon Council’s £18 million eviction strategy has sparked criticism from all quarters.
Len Gridley, the most outspoken advocate of evictions at Dale Farm, has now accused Ball of a botched eviction. He said “I’ve lost faith in the council’s promises to resolve this.” He added “He has had six months now, so he has to resign.” 
Dale Farm residents also hope that the Conservative Party Conference sheds light on why Eric Pickles’ department agreed to give Basildon Council £1.2 million towards the eviction of the former scrapyard in a major u-turn on funding. In February this year Tory Basildon Council leader Tony Ball’s request for funds was flatly rejected , but a single telephone call in March by Mr Ball caused the Department for Local Communities and Government to reverse the decision and give Basildon Council £1.2 million towards the costs of the eviction .
The contract between Eric Pickles’ department and Basildon Council has not been seen, but the letter refers to payment only “after the clearance operation has been completed” . Given the High Court cases indicate that Dale Farm will not be cleared – only some plots will be removed – it is unclear if the Department for Local Communities can now legally pay the £1.2 million if the eviction goes ahead.
Long-term Basildon resident Zelda Jeffers said, “Tony Ball’s arguments about greenbelt have completely fallen apart in court – they can now only return Dale Farm to its former state as a scrapyard with isolated fences, walls and caravans. They are breaking up a community for political gain. This is not only senseless, it is financially reckless when there are lots of local community groups that have seen their funding reduced or withdrawn.”
Ball has faced further criticism for refusing an offer of free land from the Homes and Communities Agency. He claimed that the reason the land was refused was because of the possibility that Great Crested Newts live there. Dale Farm resident Kathleen McCarthy said, “We’re concerned that Mr. Ball doesn’t seem to want to find a solution, he’s just hell bent on getting us out of Basildon. We contacted him yet again a week ago, asking for him to re-engage in negotiations. Even though he’s said to me on national television that he received our letter, a week later, he’s gone off to the Tory Conference in Manchester without even responding.”
Celebrity Big Brother winner and Traveller, Paddy Doherty, has also weighed into the debate, stating, “So the government has said that they have some land, but Basildon Council says no because there are some newts down there. I mean, show some respect. We’re not asking for anything special, we just want to be treated like human beings. It’s appalling how they are treating the Dale Farm community.” 
Last week Labour leader Ed Miliband joined the chorus of criticism of Mr Ball, accusing Basildon Council of ‘grandstanding’ and failing to assist the travellers in finding an alternative site. Mr Ball reacted angrily to the accusation, but has now left Basildon to attend the Tory party conference rather than negotiate a peaceful solution to the Dale Farm crisis.
Dale Farm is not an isolated case but part of a sustained attack on Travellers’ rights by the Conservative Party. After abolishing Regional Spatial Strategies , the Conservative Party’s proposed Localism Bill goes even further in reducing the responsibilities local councils have to its Traveller and Gypsy constituents. Basildon Council have a responsibility to provide 62 more pitches, but they have refused. Last week, it was revealed that only £16.9m of the £97m allocated to the Gypsy and Traveller Sites Grant had been spent since 2008. The money was intended to “reduce the number of unauthorised sites” and “reduce the need for costly enforcement action”.
Notes to the editor:
 http://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/view/213032/Travellers-You-will-never-boot-us-out-/ and http://www.suffolkfreepress.co.uk/news/regional-news/villagers_plan_dale_farm_protest_1_3091802.
 Letter from Andrew Stunell MP to Tony Ball. 7 Feb 2011
 Letter from Bob Neill MP to Tony Ball. 13 April 2011
 Audio tape available upon request
 Regional Spatial Strategies make it the duty of local council to assess and provide sites for Traveller and Gypsy communities