A judge has given the green light for Basildon council to remove 49 out of 54 threatened caravan plots from Dale Farm in Essex. The high court ruling from judge Justice Edwards-Stuart will be a blow to Travellers living on the site who are fighting to save their homes.
The same judge granted an injunction last month to delay the council’s eviction plans. But the evictions will now go ahead unless the Travellers win one of three judicial reviews due to be considered on Tuesday of this week.
Justice Ouseley was considering these reviews as Socialist Worker went to press. Ouseley ordered the eviction of Travellers from Hovefields, near Dale Farm, in September last year. This site is now a rubbish dump.
Marc Willers is one of the lawyers representing the Travellers. He told the court on Friday of last week that an eviction at Dale Farm would be disproportionate.
He also said it would breach Travellers’ human rights under article 8 of the Human Rights Act, which grants the “right to respect for private and family life”.
The Travellers had found a potential alternative site, said Willers, and should be allowed to stay at Dale Farm until this had been confirmed.
Christopher Jacobs, also representing the Travellers, confirmed that the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) had offered land “as suitable for a Travellers’ site”.
Willers concluded that the offer held out “a realistic prospect of success” in resolving the dispute between Dale Farm residents and the council.
But Tony Ball, the Tory leader of Basildon council, has refused the HCA’s offer. He claims great crested newts may live on the site—though the presence of the newts can’t be confirmed until next spring.
Marc Willers said that councils had a duty to “safeguard and promote the welfare of children”. He added that Basildon council had not carried out a “housing needs assessment” with respect to the Travellers.
Willers also cited the threat eviction posed to the health of Dale Farm residents, including Mary Flynn and Margaret Gammell. Willers quoted a doctor’s assessment of Margaret Gammell, which concluded that “removal from this site will have a particular impact on her state of health”.
Reuben Taylor, barrister for Basildon council, cited a number of previous legal decisions that accepted that evictions would “interfere” with Travellers’ rights under article 8 of the Human Rights Act—but nevertheless backed evictions.
Taylor said the challenges to the eviction orders should have been made earlier and that “undue delay without explanation” amounted to an “abuse of process”. He added that the council had “done all it can do” to address the needs of Traveller children.
The legal battle has cast doubt over claims by the council that its eviction of the Travellers was aimed at preserving “green belt” land outside London.
Edwards-Stuart ruled on Monday that the council could remove most concrete pitches at Dale Farm, but could not remove walls, fences and gates. This means the council cannot create a “green belt” site even if the eviction goes ahead.
Zelda Jeffers, a Basildon resident who supports the Travellers, said that the council’s arguments about green belt land had “completely fallen apart”.
“They can now only return Dale Farm to its former state as a scrap yard with isolated fences, walls and caravans. They are breaking up a community for political gain.”
Meanwhile, threats to Travellers are set to grow. Councils across Britain are diverting money earmarked for new Traveller sites elsewhere.
Only £17 million has been spent out of £97 million allocated for Gypsy and Traveller sites, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Go to dalefarm.wordpress.com to get involved with the campaign to defend Travellers at Dale Farm. Activists at the site have pledged to physically resist any eviction attempts. Updates on this story will appear on socialistworker.co.uk