"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Friday, 21 October 2011

The Legacy of Dale Farm

Well most of the fighting and violence is over. At Dale Farm anyway, but the basic problems still remain. Plus additional problems engendered by the events of the past few weeks.

Mention of the fact that one lives not far from Dale Farm to anyone living elsewhere in the country and the other person has a definite view on the events of the past few months/years. Sometimes that view is obviously coloured by which newspaper the individual reads. The orator will tell me they are very knowledgeable about the history/geography/social make-up of the area - despite the fact that it is only a very few miles away from where I am typing this and have lived for over forty years and I possibly know a little bit more about it.

It seems that prejudices do seem to abound - for and against the travelling community. And for against Basildon Council which happens to be Conservative, not my favourite political colour it is true but a council that has changed hue over the years that this problem has been ongoing and has had to deal with changing national laws as well as the local issue. And for and against those who arrived at Dale Farm and actively supported the Irish travellers who were living at the 'illegal' part of the Dale Farm settlement. These protestors/supporters were variously called amongst other labels 'activists' or 'anarchists' according to which media source is being followed.

The local newspaper to the Dale Farm has published over the past few months lots of facts and figures about the history of the dispute which can be found by searching the archives. Possibly these articles give the clearest, most disinterested account of how the situation arose as presumably they have been double and treble checked by the paper's legal team. [I have had stories checked by that legal team and can tell you they are good!]

The awful press photographs and media filming of the violence of Wednesday's eviction process were not a surprise to local people. The travellers had been threatening such violence for a long time. However I certainly wonder whether those threats were purely from desperation on the travellers part and would not have been enacted if it had not been for the glare of publicity plus the assistance of some of the more pro-active protestors and supporters. There were plenty of peaceful protestors and travellers on site who sadly did not seem to attract the same attention from the cameras.

So the legacy? Well it would seem that a lot of people have had their prejudices about travellers confirmed and entrenched. This is very sad for the travelling community as a whole, most of whom around the country integrate well with their surrounding communities. Basildon council is facing massive bills and a lot of censure for their handling of the long running legal process. Various 'bodies' have become involved and various accusations - like 'ethnic cleansing' - hurled about which will take a long time to settle. Any campaigner with any sort of cause will be labelled as a trouble maker 'like those at Dale Farm' - ignoring the fact that the peaceful protestors and the peaceful travellers did not cause any hurt or harm to the police, baliffs or anyone else.

Wednesday was a very sad day to be in this part of Essex. Parts of our main roads could not be negotiated, helicopters were circling constantly overhead [police and media] and watching the fires burning and the rhetoric from both sides at Dale Farm on the TV screen juxtaposed with news reports of similar scenes from Greece was depressing. Essex is a nice, friendly county - honestly.

Nobody 'won'. Civilisation regressed a bit. Where communities can't or won't integrate everyone loses. Magnify this and we have wars.


  1. Nobody won? I certainly think toleration was a loser.

    What I fail to understand, and it could be my ignorance, is why illegality is now punishable by mass eviction. If I break the law will my wife and children be made homeless?

    Of course travellers must obey the law, but was mediation really exhausted here? The UN seems to think our laws do not always treat everyone equally.

    The green belt here was an old scrap yard – desperately fought to be preserved as green belt. I have much sympathy with this as I have campaigned by green belt preservation in other areas. But whilst this little, untidy, bit of green belt is being championed, the council are building over other bits.

    You will know, Elizannie, that much of Castle Point has been subjected to retrospective planning approval. I hear stories of by-laws flounted by those with ‘connections’. Travellers do not have friends in high places, and suffer because of it.

  2. I agree Julian that toleration certainly lost. One of my great sadnesses over this long running dispute is the polarisation of the two communities in Crays Hill that has got worse and worse over the years. Neither side seemed to want to integrate with the other so where there perhaps might have been an opportunity for the 'sides' to understand each other that was lost, sadly. In schools we teach children about the different major religions but what we should also teach is how the different 'sub-sections' and ethnic differences within main stream religions can cause and lead to such major differences too.

    When I was teaching one of the qualifications that I undertook was about teaching traveller children. I thought that I knew it all [!] but that course was a real eye-opener into how one could easily offend without intending to. I would suggest that perhaps travellers do not realise in some instances they may offend the settled community too. That's why I saay an opportunity for integration was missed at Dale Farm.

    Regarding the eviction of whole families, well actually yes that has happened in other areas of the country - it was suggested after the riots that council tenants who took part could face eviction along with their whole family. And yes I agree with you that is awful. But on the Dale Farm site it is perhaps different again because the family is not actually being evicted - rather the dwelling removed. But I am not happy at seeing young children dispossessed - who could be.

    Regarding Castle Point and retrospective planning permission - it is quite a time since I remember that happening although many years ago in common with a lot of councils along the suburban train lines out of London the 'plotlands' dwellings often came into this category. I also remember very many years ago when there were lots of 'roping off' of land on Canvey Island. As there were no apparent ownerships in force the land had to 'roped off' for seven years and then it belonged to whoever had put upthe roping. But if the original 'roper' didn't keep checking he would go back and find that someone had roped off inside his rope and all he stood to gain was a one inch strip!

    I think that you are agreeing that the Crays Hill scrap yard was also without planning permission and that Basildon Council were trying to return it to Green belt when the owner sold it to the original English Traveller buyers who in turn sold it on to those who have just left.

    There was also a story in the local paper a few weeks ago of a couple who bought a house to live in a few miles from Dale Farm, knocked it down and then found they couldn't get planning permission to build 'the house of their dreams' and were going have to re submit plans and spend the winter not in their own home. A really similar story to the Dale Farm residents in a lot of ways although a fraction of the human misery involved. This couple were not travellers, but residents who had not thought to enquire about planning permission until after they had demolished their house.

    Something that does worry me is that Basildon Council has not got a squeaky clean reputation regarding green belt preservation and if they do not keep their promises about the Dale Farm area and suddenly a large housing development gets permission I think there could be a lot of fat hitting the flames.

    As to was mediation really at an end, I really don't know. Did either side ever really want a compromise? So is truth a casualty too? If both sides seem reasonable in their arguments, how do we decide?

    The legacy of Dale Farm has lots of clauses.