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Dale Farm

The eviction of the Travellers at Dale Farm is fairly local to me, so it's been on our news pretty much every day for the last however long.

One curious aspect of the coverage, though, is that I don't think I've once heard a TV reporter point out that the land actually belongs to the Travellers themselves: they are being evicted from their own land, which they bought some time before settling it. Whether deliberately or not, the impression has firmly been given that they are squatting/trespassing there – which is quite untrue.

(Was that a surprise to you? If so, that supports my point.)

Given that it's their land, the issue at hand is that they are using it for residential purposes without having planning permission for the change of use. This planning permission would be denied, because the land is in the green belt. But don't think that means it's leafy verdant lungs of the countryside: it was a disused scrapyard when they bought it. It would be hard to argue that using it for residence purposes is any kind of degradation. Planning premission has been granted retrospectively, or the breach tolerated, in any number of such cases – that didn't involve Travellers.

It seems to me that the council are pushing the issue (at considerable expense) not for any practical reason, but because they think kicking Travellers out will play well with the Basildon electorate. And they are probably right.

(Interestingly, if the govt's current plans go through, there will be an enforced predisposition in favour of housing development, even on green belt land. I assume the Travellers could then apply anew for planning permission, and would have to be granted it. That would render this exercise an even more absurd waste of money.)



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
14th Sep, 2011 10:30 (UTC)
Yep, knew that.

I thought exactly the same thing as you did in your last paragraph.

From reading the parish notice-board in one of the more up-market villages in the vicinty of here, my impression is that all building work is done by doing it then getting retrospective planning permission (to be fair this is for extensions not new houses - though there was one big house burnt down and after years of saying it had to be rebuild they seem to have relented and allowed a bunch of less large but still large houses).

There also seems to be a lot of pretending that brown field sites are green field and vice-versa depending on mood. A big farm equipment shop was built at the edge of town on the pretext that the hockey club had once had a small club-house there.
14th Sep, 2011 19:58 (UTC)
Mm, my impression is that in a lot of villages the parish coucil's main role is to facilitate that kind of manipulation.
(Deleted comment)
14th Sep, 2011 20:09 (UTC)
I think that would be fair enough if it did always mean non-residential for the gadjes. But councils often stretch or ignore these rules when it suits them. By deciding not to do so here, they are essentially (it seems to me) choosing to gratify one constituency at the expense of another. Which is all well and good and part of the business of politics: but I don't think it should be portrayed as the regrettable workings of even-handed justice.
14th Sep, 2011 10:43 (UTC)
I was aware they owned the land and it was a planning permission issue (it was in BBC coverage). I don't have a lot of sympathy with people who try to force permission through as a fait accompli, and I think that having your application rejected is a risk you take when you gamble in that way - sometimes it pays off, and other times it doesn't. I've read about lots of examples where planning offices have rejected retrospective permission and the work has had to be undone, so it's not a particularly unusual situation. I would have thought that the siting on green belt land would make it far less likely that they be given retroactive permission whether they're Travellers or not.

That's not to say that I don't think there was any ulterior motive here (I'm sure there was)... just that I don't have a lot of sympathy for their cause in this instance. OTOH, I do have sympathy with the lack of legal sites for Travellers to use.
14th Sep, 2011 20:15 (UTC)
I don't think anyone would dispute that the Travellers were in the wrong in undertaking the development without seeking permission (presumably, knowing they wouldn't get it) and thus trying to impose a fait accompli.

But the question I suppose is whether it is then 'right' to address that wrong by evicting them. Arguably, this is wrong both morally (making people homeless without providing satisfactory alternatives) and practically (expense of public funds without actually gaining anything worthwhile from it). If one accepts those arguments, then two wrongs can't make a right, according to the traditional arithmetic.
14th Sep, 2011 13:10 (UTC)
I only really heard about it this morning on the Today Programme, and they raised the point very prominently that the Travellers owned it but had no planning permission.

I agree with what another commenter said about not liking planning permission done as a fait accompli, but beyond that I have no views on the matter, I don't know enough about the particulars I'm afraid. In general, local government likes coming down hard on travellers for the reasons you cite, but from what I've seen, traveller groups often do themselves no favours in that regard, as they play up to the "us and them" nature of the relationship between themselves and settled residents as much as anyone.
14th Sep, 2011 20:22 (UTC)
What you say is true, but I don't feel that there should be an onus on the group to do themselves favours in that way, in order to be treated fairly – given the great disproportion in power, it's really for govt bodies to act correctly and not to complain if the recipients aren't suitably grateful and emollient.

(I know you weren't saying that, but I think it is a fairly common feeling – not just wrt Travellers. It is a pretty fundamental issue in a multicultural society.)
15th Sep, 2011 08:27 (UTC)
Yes, I agree with you entirely. I do however think that in the travelling community (and indeed in many settled communities), there is a feeling of triumph if, by hook or by crook, they can 'get one over' on State bureaucracy by ignoring or avoiding rules and regulations and getting away with it, but in the case of travellers a stronger than average tendency to cry "foul!" if brought to book.

Either way, I do have sympathy with their situation, but not to the extent that I would want councils to let them ignore planning laws that are rigorously enforced for everyone else. Looking at the specifics of the case and determining what the benefit is of denying them planning permission objectively is a different matter. After all, this Government and the last seem very keen to let developers build all over the Green Belt, I see no reason why travellers should be exempted from that largesse.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )