Home > General Politics > Lord Avebury and the Traveller Community of Dale Farm

Lord Avebury and the Traveller Community of Dale Farm

With people like Nick Clegg at the head of the Liberal Democrats, it is often difficult to muster up sympathy for the party – but not enough time is spared for the Lib Dems who have spent their whole working lives opposing the Tories, only to have their party’s top brass emulate the nasty party lock, stock and barrel.

One such Liberal Democrat is Lord (Eric Lubbock) Avebury, whose work alongside the Traveller community in Dale Farm has made him the focus of much news of late.

Back in the 1960s and 70s, when his constituency of 8 years in Bromley voted the Conservatives back in, Lubbock infamously said: “In 1962 the wise, far-seeing people of Orpington elected me as their Member; in 1970 the fools threw me out”. His victory, however, was an important in-road for the Liberal Democrats, and the by-election was dubbed the “first Liberal Democrat revival” (pdf).

Some 45 years later Nick Clegg was outlining his vision for a Liberal Democrat revival. In 2007 he told the Guardian that “The Liberal Democrats must redefine themselves as an anti-establishment and forward-looking party”.

Even his most hardened critics realise that what he probably didn’t see with his forward-looking party was that he’d be Deputy Prime Minister to a government who are now implicated in the imminent eviction of hundreds of people in Wickford, Essex.

Writing about this, Lord Avebury said:

In the next few weeks, some but not all the families living on this site ate going to be kicked out, at a cost of over £10 million, £6.85 million on which is being subsidised by the Home Office and Communities and Local Government. [...] There is nowhere else in the county to which the evicted Travellers could move, so they will be on a roadside facing new harassment, with endless disruption to family life and interruption to the children’s education.

The peer had always known of the Tories’ mistrust of the gypsy and traveller communities. Before the last election, he wrote a letter to the then shadow secretary of state for communities and local government, saying:

The Conservatives evidently failed to seek advice from established experts or members of the Gypsy and Traveller community, contrary to good practice in policy formation generally, and on ethnic minorities in particular.

There is no acknowledgement of the exclusion suffered by Gypsies and Travellers, which as the EHRC and others have demonstrated is primarily caused by a national shortage of sites – made worse by the last Conservative Government’s repeal of the duty to provide sites contained in the Caravan Sites Act 1968.

One month later his party leader signed a deal forming a government with the Conservative party, and since then barely a sigh has left the mouth of Nick Clegg, nor any Liberal Democrat who made Minister back in May 2010, about Dale Farm.

The closest had been from Andrew Stunell, a Communities Minister, who in October 2010 said that legal changes were “set to be made [meaning] that those travellers who play by the rules will get more protection against eviction, putting them on an equal footing to those living on other residential caravan sites or in council houses” (My emphasis).

His absence of late, however, has been noted. Stunell made a statement to Lord Avebury, in response to a question made to him in May this year on the subject of Roma integration, where, in Lord Avebury’s words, his “statement omits mention of”:

1. the Government’s scrapping of Regional Strategies, making it certain that more Gypsies & Travellers have nowhere to live;

2. Their legislation making it easier for local authorities to kick Gypsies and Travellers off sites they occupy in breach of the planning laws because there is nowhere else for them to go, and

3. The subsidisation of Basildon to the tune of millions of £ to facilitate the eviction of GRT families from a site they have occupied peacefully for many years.

The crucial thing here is this last point that Stunell neglected to mention: that is his government’s complicity in evicting the families of Dale Farm.

Basildon Council have a vendetta against these traveller families, and the coalition government is facilitating that. Though they really ought to, the council does not feel they have to provide alternative accommodation, which, as Lord Avebury pointed out some time ago, will bring about “enormous costs for additional health, social security and children’s services for years down the line, and the life chances of the young people affected will be permanently impaired.”

It’s figures like Lord Avebury that remind us there are principled people in the Liberal Democrats being shafted just as hard as the people they represent nationally.

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Categories: General Politics
  1. Mike
    August 27, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    The 13 Blair / Brown years were more than sufficient time for a strategy to be put in place to provide sufficient pitches on a mandatory basis.
    The Traveller Law Reform Group, of which Lord Avebury is a long standing member, have succeeded in reforming little or no law, despite the 13 Blair / Brown years.
    For much of this time, Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper were with Lord Avebury , members too and like him, failed to bring any reform of the Law making it mandatory for local authorities to provide pitches.

    Basildon provides more authorised pitches than any other single district in Essex,Hertfordshire,Norfolk,Suffolk or Huntingdonshire.
    Some districts in these counties provide none at all, including many of Basildon’s nearest neighbours.
    How much time has Lord Avebury spent pressuring these non-providers ?

    Describing Basildon as having a vendetta against travellers displays both ignorance of the facts and clear evidence of why the Liberal Democrats have yet to grow into a party of real influence.

    • August 27, 2011 at 5:04 pm

      I think you’re right on the Blair/Brown years but you needlessly undermine Lord Avebury’s work – after all the actions of Basildon council are no indictment of his tireless campaigning.

      As for Basildon’s vendetta, I did say it has a vendetta against *these* travellers, so please quote me correctly. The real issue here is to work out which came first: Jon Austin’s obsessive tirades (he actually opposed the children having a government funded bus to and from Crays Hill school) in the Basildon Echo or the council – under Malcolm Buckley’s leadership. Cruelty to the travellers of Dale Farm was an election spinner and a money maker – a vendetta is the kindest way of putting it.

      • Mike
        August 28, 2011 at 1:56 pm

        The planning appeal decisions of three Labour Secretaries of State – Prescott, Kelly and Blears – was the first writing on the wall for Dale Farm.

        The Court of Appeal and the House of Lords rulings early in 2009 upheld Basildon Council’s processes and the Prescott, Kelly and Blears decisions. From then on, the impending eviction became inevitable and berating Basildon Council quite pointless.

        Focus should have shifted from the political to the practical and this includes Lord Avebury who has proved perfectly capable of undermining his own position by such persistent flogging of a dead horse.
        He is articulate and often persuasive but not this time – political points scoring rather than tabling any credible solution that recognises the reality of what happened in the Courts and at the ballot boxes is never, ever going to deliver a single additional pitch .

        Late in 2009,Basildon Council and John Baron MP made a plea to the Labour government to release state land to provide a temporary solution for Dale Farm until, by whatever prevailing government policy, local authorities delivered sufficient new pitches but their request was denied .
        Today, as then, there are over 750 separate parcels of surplus public sector land in the UK.
        The Dale Farm travellers and their leadership have no real interest in any of this surplus land. They have insisted that the only acceptable solution is for them all to stay together exactly where they are – by comparison, Canute was a complete amateur.

      • August 29, 2011 at 6:11 pm

        This doesn’t marry with them and the leadership accepting a move, providing adequate space is found – and that is not too far for the elderly people in their care to travel without risk.

      • anjou
        August 29, 2011 at 7:23 pm

        Focus should have shifted.

        Basildon had identified to it by its own consultants (Fordham) in about 2008 that it needed to provide an additional 155 pitches by 2013. This was reduced to 65 (by 2011) on the understanding that Basildon would work with partner Council’s through the regional spatial strategies. There have also been failures to deliver ‘bricks and mortar houses for the settled community.

        Basildon have failed to deliver. The question that needs to be asked is why?

        Money has been made.. How many s106 agreements have been registered at Land Registry to allow their realisation (getting cash in for the people of Basildon) none.

        How many of the organisations that have entered into s106 agreements with Basildon have made donations to the Conservative party about 70 per cent..

  2. anjou
    August 27, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    Every six months before an election (national or local) Council’s particularly conservative Council’s start taking action against gypsies, particularly when it can be shown that they are not managing the Council very well.

    On 04 February 2011 Andrew Stunnell (the liberal minister in CLG) wrote to Cllr Balls at Basildon for the government and told him that following request of the Council for grant aid that this was refused.

    On 13 April 2011 Bob Neill (a conservative minister in CLG) wrote to Cllr Balls at Basildon and said: ‘Further to our telephone conversation on 31 March 2011, I am writing to confirm that I have decided to make a one off grant payment of upto £1.2 million towards the costs incurred by Basildon Council..”

    The rest as they say is history.. the liberals lost some seats on the Council.. the conservatives did not lose as many as they should have.. and labour won some seats.

    When you couple this with what appears to be the local MP (John Baron) forging letters from ministers in 2009 to identify that the then Labour government supported clearance of Dale Farm.. just in time for the general election.. You have the issues in a nutshell.

    Conservative Council’s particularly in eastern England have been playing the race card to ‘buy votes’ and this has been supported by the conservative members of the current government.

    The flack that is likely to come out of Dale Farm is potentially disastrous for the government.. as if the eviction takes place there will be more than enough ‘human interest’ stories to keep the media interested for months.. and the problem that the government faces is that cronyism is identifiable.

    Whoever heard of a government minister making £1.2 million available to a leader of a Council based on a phone call..

    • August 29, 2011 at 6:08 pm

      That’s very interesting indeed – how do you know Baron was forging letters? Is that established fact?

      • anjou
        August 29, 2011 at 7:05 pm

        Looks like it aka Baron he managed to receive a letter from Ian Wright MP after Ian Wright had left CLG.. and Baron said:

        http://www.basildonrecorder.co.uk/news/echo/4426565.Illegal_traveller_camp_hails_MP_s_intervention/
        Illegal traveller camp hails MP’s intervention

        3:00pm Tuesday 9th June 2009
        By Jon Austin »

        “Yet Mr Baron says it has never publicly said they must go, until he received a letter from Iain Wright, Communities Minister, saying the council “must” enforce planning law to move them on. ”

        Wright had already moved about a week earlier as part of the Brown reshuffle.

        Baron and Wright and CLG have been asked for a copy of the letter. Baron to date has failed to reply.

      • Mike
        August 30, 2011 at 1:17 pm

        I understand the letter from Iain Wright to John Baron was dated 31st May 2009 when Wright was still Under Secretary of State at CLG.

  3. tim f
    August 27, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    “It’s figures like Lord Avebury that remind us there are principled people in the Liberal Democrats being shafted just as hard as the people they represent nationally.”

    Well, maybe not quite as hard. He won’t be made homeless after all. (But point taken.)

    • August 29, 2011 at 6:09 pm

      Agreed, but he was told the LibDems stood for something which it went back on in office – but yeah, not as severe as some.

  4. anjou
    August 28, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    There are two planning applications in for Homes and Communities Land in Basildon for 22 pitches (12 at Laindon and 10 at Gardiners Lane South). There was previously an application for land at Pitsea.

    The land at Laindon is subject to appeal to the Secretary of State and was going to be a rugger club. The Council has already allowed establishment of 600m2 of hardstanding and standing of mobile structures on two hectares of land adjoining that the Council as a planning authority designated as being a local nature reserve. The development was approved. The Council refused the application for the gypsies despite Mr Pickles agency being willing to make about £75 million of building land available for establishment of a traveller site to meet some of the needs of Basildon.

    There is a planning application that the Council is determining for Dale Farm itself.

    There is also an enforcement notice appeal that is being reopened by the Secretary of State for the entire Dale Farm site.

    John Baron (MP) and Cllr Tony Balls have apparently been seeking land outside of Basildon ever since they decided to pursue their policy of being nice to gypsies at election time – and then seeking to stop all negotiations with government agencies.

    Amazingly the travellers have managed to identify some pitches in Mid Suffolk that could be suitable. Cllr Balls has been asked to give some of his £1.2 million to Mid Suffolk to support better provision. South Norfolk District Council was given a grant of about £300,000 to provide sites for travellers by CLG in 2009. The money has disappeared after no doubt negotiations with Cllr Balls and John Baron.

    To cap it all Conservative controlled Nottinghamshire County Council have bought up large swathes of Basildon’s green belt – as they don’t beleive that Basildon’s planning policies are sustainable. Good business for Nottinghamshire buying land at £5,000 an acre and being able to sell it for more than £1 million an acre..

    • August 29, 2011 at 6:18 pm

      This is all very interesting stuff – what are your sources?

      • anjou
        August 29, 2011 at 7:14 pm

        Basildon Council’s website, the Planning Inspectorate Website and the echo (+ a telco with Nottinghamshire to confirm) as I thought it round about took the biscuit.

        South Norfolk all on the whatdotheyknow website. Understand that the Gypsy Council is chasing the cash that the South Norfolk politicos trousered.

        Land valuation for the Laindon site from a development in Laindon that obtained planning permission on appeal to the Secretary of State.

  5. Mike
    August 30, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    raincoatoptimism :This doesn’t marry with them and the leadership accepting a move, providing adequate space is found – and that is not too far for the elderly people in their care to travel without risk.

    The Basildon Recorder article of 9th June 2009 shows that the traveller leadership had at that stage not accepted the legal position and was still bent on staying put.
    It’s only recently and since Basildon Council’s final decisions, that there has been any sign of interest in looking further afield and then only with pre-conditions when they are hardly in a strong position to make demands .

    The leadership/supporters long held reluctance to take a pragmatic and realistic view of the prospects of remaining in situ inevitably means that they now risk not being taken seriously .
    The planning applications for space elsewhere in Basildon have only been made in the last couple of months and the re-application for consent for a plot within Dale Farm as a test case (on the grounds that circumstances have materially changed) was made only 2 weeks ago.

    • anjou
      August 30, 2011 at 7:49 pm

      It took I understand about two years to get parties to agree to constructive meetings.. there has undoubtedly been fault on all sides.

      • Mike
        August 30, 2011 at 8:28 pm

        And so say all of us……

  6. Mike
    August 30, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    anjou :Focus should have shifted.
    Basildon had identified to it by its own consultants (Fordham) in about 2008 that it needed to provide an additional 155 pitches by 2013. This was reduced to 65 (by 2011) on the understanding that Basildon would work with partner Council’s through the regional spatial strategies. There have also been failures to deliver ‘bricks and mortar houses for the settled community.
    Basildon have failed to deliver. The question that needs to be asked is why?
    Money has been made.. How many s106 agreements have been registered at Land Registry to allow their realisation (getting cash in for the people of Basildon) none.
    How many of the organisations that have entered into s106 agreements with Basildon have made donations to the Conservative party about 70 per cent..

    If there had been no change of government in 2010 Basildon and Thurrock councils were lined up with a joint JR action against CLG and the Regional Assembly.
    In court, a coach and horses would have been driven over the local allocation of pitches under the regional strategy.
    The Labour government appointed Pat Niner from Birmingham University to assess the overall need for sites up 31/12/2011 in the Eastern Region. Using the Niner “formula”, a regional total of 1187 was calculated and almost no one disagreed because at regional level ,no one gave a monkey’s.
    Only when the Regional Assembly used the “formula” to calculate local allocations were the flaws exposed.
    Under questioning from the floor at the Examination in Public at Letchworth, Niner explained that her work was only a desk-top exercise, no field work had been carried out so it took no account of individual local authority circumstances, geography or constraints (flood plains, environmentally protected land including the green belt, overall land mass) or opportunities ( surplus public sector and reclaimed land, major housing developments and infrastructure projects) .

    There was no government mandate insisting on sub-regional working so all of Basildon’s neighbours ran away .

    By May 2011,Labour’s site provision policy via regional spatial strategies and the principles of Circular ODPM 01/2006 (a 6 year programme) was running 10 years late. Trevor Phillips people at EHRC take an even gloomier view and think it was 16 years behind schedule.

    S106 Agreements could have a part to play but not in the context you suggest.
    Governments should insist that all major housing and mixed developments must allocate small portions of land for traveller pitches via S106, especially for developments of brownfield and other previously used land and at the same time, loosen the planning application rules to enable affordable housing and traveller pitches to be delivered much easier and quicker .

    You say Basildon has failed to deliver but bear in mind that however regrettable it may be, there is no requirement for demand to be matched by supply for any housing – Chapman v The United Kingdom paras 98 and 99 is relevant.

    • anjou
      August 30, 2011 at 7:44 pm

      The decision of Basildon to issue a mortgage deed (enforcement notice)…. was that of the Council’s political leadership.. the decision of Basildon to seek to claim a mortgage based on the Council’s enforcement was also a political decision.. it was a political decision of Basildon to claim sub-regional working and announce that beneits would be realised… and then to identify that sub-regional partners were to assume all the responsibilities whilst still claiming to be working with sub-regional partners.

      Para 98 and 99 of Chapman v UK is clearly relevant to the decision of the mortgagor to take action.

      Ref/2009/258/259/260 (Adjudicator to HM Land Registry)is clearly relevant to a decision of a state mortgagor not willing to prove or able to prove the formal validity of their enforcement notice (mortgage deed), its reasonableness (mortgage) or its failure to observe the law.

      • Mike
        August 30, 2011 at 8:32 pm

        I understand Chapman pretty well but the rest is too technical for me – sounds like planning consultant speak.

  7. Mike
    August 30, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    anjou :Looks like it aka Baron he managed to receive a letter from Ian Wright MP after Ian Wright had left CLG.. and Baron said:
    http://www.basildonrecorder.co.uk/news/echo/4426565.Illegal_traveller_camp_hails_MP_s_intervention/Illegal traveller camp hails MP’s intervention
    3:00pm Tuesday 9th June 2009By Jon Austin »
    “Yet Mr Baron says it has never publicly said they must go, until he received a letter from Iain Wright, Communities Minister, saying the council “must” enforce planning law to move them on. ”
    Wright had already moved about a week earlier as part of the Brown reshuffle.
    Baron and Wright and CLG have been asked for a copy of the letter. Baron to date has failed to reply.

  8. Mike
    August 30, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    The link to the Basildon Recorder article of 9th June 2009 shows that John Baron was pushing the government to provide temporary land well over 2 years ago.

    It made one reader comment :

    “As for Mr Baron, pressuring the Government to provide temporary land outside the district should have taken place years ago, when it first became clear that the legal process would eventually support the Council’s position. It is appalling that this sort of research has not been carried out already”.
    Clearly the author felt that punch and judy, p…ing contests up the wall and the other childish games beloved by politicians and the traveller leadership was not the answer .

    • anjou
      August 30, 2011 at 7:57 pm

      The reader continued..

      “Fortunately, Mr Baron is not in the decision making loop and it is the Council alone who have the clear obligation ,as the Minister rightly says, “to enforce the Law”. Failure to do so would invite justified claims of maladministration.”

      as far as I’m aware there have been two reports of maladministration causing injustice in relation to the issue from the Local Government Ombudsman. The Ombudsman found against the Council, and the Council ignored the Ombudsman… and the issues went to Court…

      • Mike
        August 30, 2011 at 8:25 pm

        As I implied,the reader was not exactly a fan of the MP or the Council – just a lone voice for action over rhetoric.

  9. anjou
    August 30, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Be interesting to see the date on John Baron’s letter then

    Mike :
    I understand the letter from Iain Wright to John Baron was dated 31st May 2009 when Wright was still Under Secretary of State at CLG.

    Then it will be interesting to see the date on John Baron’s letter.. that is if he bothered to keep it

  10. Mike
    August 30, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    I believe JB wrote to Secretary of State Hazel Blears on 5th May 2009 (Wright replied on her behalf).

    • anjou
      August 30, 2011 at 8:42 pm

      The issue should be resolved.. as baron (as identified) has been asked for a copy of his letter.. I would have expected baron to write to blears..

    • anjou
      August 30, 2011 at 8:51 pm

      The issue should be resolved.. as baron (

      Mike :
      I understand Chapman pretty well [must be a lawyer] but the rest is too technical for me – sounds like planning consultant speak.

      All it says is that if a Council wants to realise (get in benefits.. like cash) a planning mortgage then it has to register it first at Land Registry if the land is registered. The process of registration converts a statutory right to a private right.. and makes the Council (and the voters who they act for) liable in law…. if they cant prove the formal validity of their mortgage, justify its reasonableness, etc… can’t see that having anything to do with planning..

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