Dale Farm in Essex is the UK's largest Travellers' community. They have been fighting for ten years to remain there but now 500 people face eviction from 31 August. The Conservative-led Basildon council has set aside £18 million for an eviction, while supporters have set up a solidarity camp at the site.
There are mostly Irish Travellers at Dale Farm where many have lived for 30 years. They own the site but were refused planning permission because the land, a former scrap-yard, is designated "green belt". The council has over-ridden green belt status elsewhere for development. They 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 have been sealed off. In 1994, the Conservative government repealed the duty of councils to provide pitches, leaving 5,000 families homeless. Travellers were encouraged to buy their own land and apply for planning permission, as at Dale Farm. In practice 90% of planning applications by Travellers are turned down.
A 2003 MORI poll found that one-third of people admitted to being prejudiced against Gypsies and Travellers, 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.
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. Legal efforts to stop the eviction continue and the UN commission on human rights has given support. Residents are calling for people to come and act as human rights monitors and to join them in nonviolent 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”.