Dale Farm in Essex is the UK’s largest Travellers’ community. The residents have been fighting for ten years to remain there but now 90 families of 500 people, many of them children, face eviction from 31 August. The Conservative-led Basildon Council has set aside £18 million for an eviction which could take weeks, while supporters have set up a solidarity camp at the site.
The community at Dale Farm are predominantly Irish Travellers and many have lived there for 30 years. They own the site but planning permission has refused because the land, a former scrap-yard, is designated “green belt”. Residents point out that the council has over-ridden green belt status elsewhere for development. They consider that the eviction is disguised ethnic cleansing, pandering to hostile neighbours. The Travellers have been refused alternative culturally appropriate sites, and Amnesty International argue that “Basildon Council has not engaged in genuine consultation consistent with international human rights standards”.
Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsies are distinct ethnic groups who traditionally held a valued place in rural economies as tin smiths, peddlers, and seasonal labourers. In the last decades their traditional stopping places such as common land have been sealed off. In 1994 the Conservative government repealed the duty of councils to provide pitches, leaving 5000 families homeless. Travellers were encouraged to buy their own land and apply for planning permission, as at Dale Farm, however in practice 90% of planning applications by Travellers are turned down (compared to 20% for non-Travellers). A 2003 MORI poll found that 1/3 of people admitted to personal prejudice against Gypsies and Travellers, which has been called the “last acceptable form of racism”. What happens at Dale Farm will have ramifications, both for the housing struggle, and for the future of solidarity work between Gypsies, Travellers and settled people in fighting against discrimination.
Visiting Dale Farm the desperation of residents is clear. Many say that they have nowhere to go, and are fearful of violence at the hands of the notorious Constant and Co, bailiffs. Children’s schooling and vulnerable residents’ healthcare will be disrupted. Legal efforts to stop the eviction continue and the UN Commission on Human Rights has joined the growing chorus of support. Meanwhile, residents are calling urgently for supporters to come and act as human rights monitors and to join them in non-violent direct action to stop the eviction. As the bishop of Chelmsford has said: “If evicting children is the answer then we must be asking the wrong question.’
More information can be found at dalefarm.wordpress.com