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Dale Farm row rumbles on

By Andrew Hosken
Today programme

Dale farm evictees Margaret McCarthy and Nora Sheridan

Many thought the long-running saga of Dale Farm was over when riot police and bailiffs turned up to clear an illegal settlement from green belt land.

But the 80 or so families affected by the action have simply moved into caravans about 300m (1,000ft) away in the legal part of the site and are now vowing vengeance on the councillors who they say destroyed their community.

The council, for their part, reject accusations of persecution, and are urging the travellers not to break the law.

I totally reject any accusation of persecution or discrimination. It is about treating everybody the same and fairly.
Councillor Tony Ball

Before the clearance began, Dale Farm in Essex was one of Britain's biggest communities of travellers. Half the site was legally occupied - its dozen or so bungalows received full planning permission.

The other part of the site was originally a scrap yard on green belt land but over the past decade became an illegal settlement of 50 or so single storey chalets, with gardens enclosed by brick walls.

There was even a community centre, again built without planning consent, which was funded by Essex County Council to the tune of £12,000.

The one remaining building on the Dale Farm site
One building remains on the cleared Dale Farm site

That building too, along with most of the structures on site, has been demolished by council contractors in the past few weeks.

Bizarrely, alone in a sea of mud, stands a single chalet.

Currently protected by a court order, this home belongs to Margaret McCarthy, a traveller and mother of two children. The property's foundations have been compromised by the surrounding diggers and huge cracks have developed in the ceiling.

Few of the 80 families had been able to secure alternative accommodation in the last few weeks, says Ms McCarthy, who claims that most of the travellers have been made homeless by the action brought by Basildon Council.

We are still here because we have nowhere else to go
Dale Farm evictee Laura Sheridan

Most of the travellers were now living in caravans parked in the back yards of the legally built bungalows, but they expect to be given 28 days notice to leave at any point.

Ms McCarthy said the travellers would then be forced to occupy illegally any convenient site within the Basildon Council area.

"We'll be moving on to anywhere we can find a little opening gate," she said.

Nora Sheridan, another traveller and a widow, said she had nowhere to live after her home was demolished in the clearance.

Dale Farm site
Most of the Dale Farm site has now been cleared

"The cold weather is coming. And the old and the sick have nowhere to go."

Another traveller, Laura Sheridan, agreed, saying that the reason they were still on the site was because that had no alternative.

"We were on the illegal site for 10 years asking the council to build us sites but they haven't done anything about it," she said.

The travellers say the cost of providing an alternative site would be £2m, whereas the clearance action - amounting to an eviction - has cost £22m. Others say the bill is nearer £8m.

But the council insists it is not targeting the travellers' way of life - this was a planning dispute, pure and simple.

So far, the council has received 59 applications for housing and has approved 39. That still leaves more than half the families technically homeless, according to the travellers.

Councillor Tony Ball, the leader of Basildon Council, told the Today programme that he does not accept that the travellers are being treated unfairly.

"I totally reject any accusation of persecution or discrimination. It is about treating everybody the same and fairly," he said.

"We have a duty to enforce the law and the travellers have a duty to comply with the law."

He denied the travellers' assertion that the majority of the families were homeless and claimed that the majority "have moved off and moved away".

"I would very much encourage them not to go down the route of breaking the criminal law," he added.

"Our priority is to secure the illegal site at Dale Farm. We will then look at what breaches of planning law and obviously any safety concerns [there are] on the legal site after that."




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