Council 'abusing law' on travellers

A UN representative has accused a council of "violating international law" over the clearance of the UK's largest illegal travellers' site.





Professor Yves Cabannes, a UN adviser on forced eviction, was visiting Dale Farm near Basildon in Essex where a mass clearance is due to begin on Monday.



He said: "A study which I led on forced eviction found that at Dale Farm and the UK in general the Government is violating international human rights law on three points.



"These are the right to adequate housing, the right to be defended from forced eviction and discrimination."



Prof Cabannes added that Basildon Council had failed to provide the pitches it should make available to travellers.



He added: "The people who are abusing the law are the council, not the travellers. The council is not fulfilling its duties.



"There are many Dale Farms which face these issues every day and there needs to be a co-ordinated approach across the country.



"We are used to see millions of people losing their homes in Zimbabwe, China and Nigeria - how is one country unable to solve the problem of 51 pitches?"



His visit came as there were signs of travellers beginning to leave the site voluntarily. At least five caravans are believed to have left last night.



The eviction is due to start on Monday and follows a decade-long row over unauthorised plots.



Although half of the site is legal, an estimated 400 people are said to be living on 51 unauthorised plots.



Travellers and supporters say they will resist the eviction peacefully but police are preparing a major operation to ensure the Basildon Council-led operation passes off peacefully.



Council leader Tony Ball said: "For 10 years we have sought a peaceful and humanitarian solution to Dale Farm, but it must be one that involves upholding the law of our country.



"The current site has been illegally developed. After 10 years, when we have exhausted the judicial process and every effort to negotiate, we have no option but to resort to direct action to clear the site.



"The travellers can find a culturally appropriate answer to their housing problem but it must involve a site with the proper planning permission.



"The UN 'representative' may not be aware that Basildon provides more approved traveller sites than any other local authority area in Essex and among the greatest number on any area in the country. We have a very strong record of working with travellers within the law.



"The UN refers to the rights of the families involved. Basildon Council respects those along with the rights of the vast majority of its residents who want this illegal camp moved after 10 years of stalling tactics by the travellers."



A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "The British courts have found that the developments at Dale Farm are in breach of planning law and Basildon District Council is within its rights to evict travellers from the site.



"It has taken 10 years of failed negotiations and legal process to reach this point, and the unprecedented level of unauthorised development on green belt land has severely damaged community relations."

PA

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