Kevin Meagher reports on the apparent end of the Dale Farm saga and Basildon Council's pyrrhic victory over the travellers.
Yesterday the High Court rejected three separate appeals brought under the human rights act by the residents of the Dale Farm traveller site in Essex, protesting against their threatened eviction by Basildon Borough Council.
The travellers may seek to appeal against the ruling, but after a decade of to-ing and fro-ing this looks like the end of the road for their campaign in legal terms. Work to begin clearing the site is expected to begin early next week, although the 400 people illegally camped at Dale Farm have, as yet, nowhere else to go.
In his summing up, Mr Justice Ouseley rejected their pleas claiming it was “astonishing” that they had delayed activating legal proceedings against the threat of eviction until the last minute.
This is because the residents of Dale Farm hoped that a common sense solution would prevail. Unfortunately, the council’s panjandrums set their municipal face against a good old fashioned political compromise; one that should have recognised that the residents owned the land they are camped on, that the Dale Farm site adjoins an existing, legal, traveller site and the disputed plot, rather than a beatific corner of rural England, had, in fact, previously been used as an illegal scrap yard.
In this sorry tale of over-zealous officialdom, perspective has been lost. The travellers will eventually move off the site – probably to decamp somewhere else in the vicinity. The underlying issue about the acute shortage of legitimate facilities for traveller communities – in Essex and across the country – remains.
Basildon Borough Council and its outsourced spin machine have handled the whole episode with a bureaucratic bumptiousness that would not disgrace a Carry On film. Of course upholding planning law is important, but so, too, is the wellbeing of 400 people – a quarter of whom are children. Their needs, especially their welfare and schooling, are being completely neglected by a council more interested in pandering to some voters’ innate hostility towards travellers.
But yesterday’s result is a pyrrhic victory for Basildon council. Despite having an annual budget of just £27 million, the council is now set to blow up to £8 million of council taxpayers’ money (with a further £10 million to go on policing) in order to press ahead with its crusade to evict the travellers. But to what end?
To restore the site to its former glory as an illegal scrap yard it seems.
Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.
• Basildon’s hired spin doctor complains at “emotive” tactics of Travellers – Kevin Meagher, September 2nd 2011
• The ‘Dalits’ of Dale Farm have needs too – Kevin Meagher, September 1st 2011