Wednesday, July 28, 2010
DALE FARM ENGLAND
Dale Farm Travellers: 'We won't just get up and leave' At Dale Farm in Essex, the UK's largest Gypsy and Traveller site, families are braced for one of the biggest evictions in British history
Rachel Stevenson The Guardian, Tuesday 27 July 2010
For the moment, peace reigns in the afternoons at Dale Farm, home to around 1,000 people on the outskirts of Basildon in Essex. Dogs lie sleeping in the lanes, women move to and fro, hanging out washing, tending their homes. When school finishes, the hum of traffic on the nearby A127 is drowned out by the sound of children playing, tearing around on bikes. On hot summer days, there are the squeals and delights of water fights. It could be any other housing estate in Britain.
But this is far from a suburban idyll. Battle lines are being drawn here for one of the biggest evictions in British history. Dale Farm is the largest Romany Gypsy and Irish Traveller site in the UK, and part of it is due for demolition.
A number of Gypsies and Travellers have lived at Dale Farm entirely legally since the 1960s. Over the years, more families came to join them after councils began shutting down public sites and Travellers were forced to look for permanent places to settle. But the land the newcomers bought at Dale Farm is protected greenbelt, making development on it illegal. After a five-year court battle with the council, bailiffs have been appointed to evict nearly 90 families from the unauthorised plots.
"We won't go," proclaims a sign hanging across the entrance lane. Beyond the barbed wire wrapped around the scaffolding, preparations are being made to resist the bailiffs. Recently, the council demolished plots on a smaller unauthorised site nearby, which has put everyone on high alert. An ugly confrontation looms.
"Our boys are ready for them whenever the bailiffs do come. We're not just going to get up and leave – there will be an awful fight and we do not want that to happen," says Mary Ann McCarthy, a 69-year-old grandmother who has lived at Dale Farm with her family for eight years. "I've been through evictions before and I've seen rough ones – people screaming and women tearing their hair out. That should never be."
Some residents in the neighbouring villages, however, will be cheering on the bulldozers. There are complaints of crime and antisocial, intimidating behaviour by the Travellers. One local man, who did not want to be named, said: "We have to abide by planning laws – we can't just build where we like, so why should they get away with it?"
he Travellers say planning laws are biased against them, and that they have nowhere else to go. "There are some really sick people here who can't go back on the road," McCarthy says. "Without an address you can't get doctors, our kids can't go to school. The camps we used to pull in to have been closed and barricaded up. Travelling life is finished for Travellers."
Although they remain as a defined ethnic group, with their own cultural practices and languages, around two-thirds of Britain's Gypsy and Traveller population now lives in housing. The problem of unauthorised sites is also small, with the vast majority of those who live in caravans doing so on legal developments owned by Gypsies themselves, or privately rented.
Just one square mile of land would be enough to provide all Gypsy and Traveller families in the UK with a place to stay, according to a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, but there is a shortage of authorised pitches. The government, however, has just cut £30m of funding for new sites.
Basildon council says it is doing all it can to avoid an eviction at Dale Farm. It has offered some residents alternative housing and is encouraging people to leave voluntarily. But the Travellers say this is not a realistic solution.
"They'll just keep moving us on from other places, so what good will they have done anyone by putting us out of here?" McCarthy asks. "Everybody has to have somewhere to live, somewhere to go. Why can't we be left to stay in peace and quiet on land we bought and paid for?"
Posted by Morgan at 3:36 PM