Basildon Council defends Dale Farm eviction


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The Independent Online

A council leader who oversaw the clearance of Europe's largest illegal travellers site has defended the eviction despite concerns the site has become an eyesore.

Speaking a year on since the start of the £7 million clearance of Dale Farm in Crays Hill, Essex, Basildon Council leader Tony Ball said: "Doing nothing was simply not an option."

However, those neighbouring the six-acre site have expressed concern that many of those who lived on Dale Farm have simply moved to an adjacent site, exceeding its authorised capacity.

This means a second bout of enforcement action to remove those living there illegally remains likely.

There were violent scenes during the previous clearance operation as travellers and protesters clashed with bailiffs and police.

Council officers have been unable to begin work to restore the Dale Farm site to green belt land and it is regularly being used for flytipping.

The land is filled with rubble, remains of chalets and earth embankments constructed to stop travellers moving back on.

Meanwhile former Dale Farm residents have said they have nowhere else to go after seeing a bid for a new legal site at nearby Laindon rejected at a planning appeal shortly after the clearance.

Mr Ball said: "We are now one year on from the site clearance and I am still clear in my mind that what we did was the right thing.

"This was about upholding the law, something that every public body is expected to do and something that the majority of our residents supported.

"At its height, Dale Farm had over 80 families and 400 people living there illegally.

"The objective of the site clearance was to remedy the illegal development in the area, and this objective was achieved."

Many of the travellers moved just yards from Dale Farm to neighbouring Oak Lane.

This site is authorised for some travellers plots but it is currently thought to be over-occupied by more than 100 people.

Mary Flynn, a former Dale Farm resident, said: "The way we're treated, it's like we're not human beings - we're seen as a problem that they need to get rid of.

"There are more travellers than there are sites, so where do they expect us to live? It's so hard to tell my children that we're never going to get to go home."

Referring to travellers living on the Oak Lane roadside, Mr Ball added: "They are breaking the law and we remain committed to taking the appropriate action, and will follow the correct process to do this.

"This will take time, but we remain steadfast in our commitment to upholding the law."

Mr Ball said he accepted people would not recognise the site as green belt but said this process had been complicated by the fact the land is still owned by the travellers.

"The council simply does not have the legal right to enter the land," he said.

"Let me be clear. Every single issue in the Oak Lane area at the moment has its origins in the persistent law-breaking of the traveller community over the last 10 years.

"But let me also make it clear that we are dealing with these issues and we are working through the legal and planning process which does take time and has to be done step by step."

Protesters are planning to target the Department of Communities and Local Government offices in London on Friday to mark the first anniversary of the eviction.

The group said it would "disrupt operations".

Oscar Farrell, a supporter who resisted the eviction at Dale Farm, said: "Last year I couldn't believe I was seeing 83 families made homeless by the Government; but it's not just Dale Farm, it's happening all over the UK."