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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 June, 2005, 00:17 GMT 01:17 UK
Deadline day for travellers' site
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News community affairs

Yong travellers
Protest: Traveller children marched in Basildon
The future of one of England's largest unauthorised traveller encampments could be decided on Wednesday.

Basildon council is considering whether to evict hundreds of residents at the controversial Cray's Hill encampment near Wickford in Essex.

An estimated 80 families jointly own the Dale Farm site - but most have no planning permission to stay. Action to move them could cost the council 1m.

The 600-strong community says it will not go and is rallying in Westminster.

Last month the residents ignored a deadline to leave the site after Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott had given them two years to find somewhere else to go.

They have accused councillors of sticking their head in the sand and refusing to help find alternative places to stay.

But Ray McKay, spokesman for Basildon Council, said planners would decide the future of Cray's Hill on Wednesday.

"We expect a decision on what the next step will be at that meeting," said Mr McKay. "If there is a decision [to evict] involving additional expenditure, it may need to be considered by the full council."

Action to forcibly move the travellers could cost Basildon more than 1 million, based on the experience of other councils.

Candle-lit vigil

Grattan Puxon, travellers' rights campaigner and a spokesman for Dale Farm, said residents planned to speak at the hearing and hold a candle-lit vigil.

"We're expecting the councillors to recommend eviction," said Mr Puxon.

"If they do, the community will respond with its own legal action.

"People want to keep their children in schools and have invested in their homes at Dale Farm.

"We've offered the council a way out of this by working with us to find alternative, smaller sites so we can gradually manage down the scale of the development. Some people would give up their plots in return for planning permission to stay elsewhere."

But many local residents say the council must now act. When children from the site enrolled in the local school, parents from the settled community withdrew their own children in protest.

Residents in a neighbouring area say they have clubbed together to buy a field to prevent the travellers moving there should an eviction take place.

Eviction demand

Led Gridley, a resident who has campaigned against the site, said he and others would settle for nothing short of eviction.

Traveller house
We don't know what the problem is - we can't understand why settled people won't give Gypsies a chance to settle down
Dale Farm resident Nora Egan

"The council should uphold the decision of the Deputy Prime Minister to give them two years and that's it. Those two years are up and it's time for them to go.

"If the council doesn't evict, then I'm among those who think we should sue the council for maladministration because we have done everything by the book.

"If councillors can't decide what to do then maybe a judge should decide for them."

Leftwing campaigner and actor Corin Redgrave has joined the campaign against eviction saying the community had been victimised by racial prejudice.

His Peace and Progress party sponsored a Gypsy candidate to stand against Conservative leader Michael Howard at the general election.

"This would be a cruel eviction on a scale to which there is no comparison," said Mr Redgrave.

"Before the election, Dale Farm became a political instrument. But there is still time for argument and persuasion."

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