Home > General Politics > Dale Farm Travellers lose their eviction battle – a recollection

Dale Farm Travellers lose their eviction battle – a recollection

This time, 2 years ago, I was working in Crays Hill School, which is located in Wickford, Essex.

Some years before I arrived to work there, a large proportion of the locals whose children attended the school removed their children after the arrival of travellers on the disputed bit of land of Dale Farm.

When I worked there, around 100 children were on the register, four of which were non-traveller. Daily attendance saw about 60 kids in class, but this decreased somewhat when parents were travelling the country looking for alternative sites and alternative schools in anticipation of Basildon Council’s wish coming true.

For the year that I worked at the school, there was the expectation that we’d all arrive for work one day to find only 4 children arrive. You could tell when big news had reached the traveller site regarding their tireless campaign to stay, because the children displayed emotions of both extremes; either totally erratic, and prone to bringing up family feuds with other children (of which there were a few), or uncharacteristically sombre, and depressed.

Sometimes the girls, who were normally gleeful, would withdraw themselves into corners instead of reading or writing. The boys, usually decidedly macho and taking after their big brothers, would spend the day seeking hugs from the teachers and learning support assistants.

To say this final bid, which has just been thrown out – meaning Dale Farm residents have lost their last-ditch eviction battle – will disrupt those children’s education, is to miss the point that the last few years of knock backs have affected their education, too.

Brendan O’Neill, this afternoon, dispelled a myth:

Reading some of the coverage of Dale Farm, you could be forgiven for thinking that they were illegally squatting on land, that they had nabbed someone else’s territory and then plonked their homes on it. Not so. They own the land upon which they live. In 2002, the Traveller John Sheridan bought it for £120,000. Their crime is that they subsequently built homes or parked caravans on the land, which is a big no-no because it’s part of the Green Belt. No one is allowed to build on the belt, you see, because it is intended as a barrier between town and country, between built-up mass society with its noisy, grubby inhabitants and the more rarefied, hushed countryside where wealthy people have holiday cottages. By building on the belt, the Dale Farm residents have effectively rebelled against a decades-old system for keeping town away from country.

The Conservatives’ fan base in Basildon is the Nimby vote (Not In My Back Yard); and they have a spent a lot of money, and will continue to spend a lot more, in order to appease this base – but it has come at the price for many traveller families, a representative of which asked, rhetorically, today: “Would you leave your home peacefully“.

Nobody is pretending that the relationship between travellers and locals had been easy in and around Dale Farm, but the prejudices of many did not concern the legitimate versus the illegitimate plots (a rift, some may not know, that existed between the travellers themselves, and among the English and the Irish travellers in Basildon), but highlighted the loathing of the travellers in general (travellers had been in the area for years, but when Irish travellers arrived, and put their children in the local school, it was then parents were pulling their children out en masse).

As more reports come in, just stop and think how many votes this eviction, and the oncoming cheer-leading from the local newspaper and obsessive Jon Austin, will have for the Conservative Party in Basildon.

Categories: General Politics
  1. Mike Killingworth
    September 1, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Why are you so sure that this is the end?

    The government is proposing to relax planning controls, so maybe, if Sheridan holds onto the land, they may yet be able to return there.

    And of course he only got it for the price that he did because it was Green Belt.

    I’m sorry but I wouldn’t want a Travellers’ camp for a neighbour, either. Most of them are fine, of course, but some of them are not – there is a lot of untreated alcoholism in the community for one thing, and let’s not pretend that’s in any way romantic or “part of the culture”.

    • September 1, 2011 at 12:34 pm

      We don’t get to choose our neighbours, mike, if only. As for the other problems, those communities do have links to the council in the form of outreach workers – in fact i knew of the outreach worker working with Dale Farm residents; they were not totally insular.

      There’s good reason to have rules regarding green belt, but this brought out the worst in nimbyism, which extended further than simple dislike of illegal plots – the racism at play, in the press too, was all too clear.

    • Dunc
      September 2, 2011 at 2:19 pm

      Most of them are fine, of course, but some of them are not – there is a lot of untreated alcoholism in the community for one thing, and let’s not pretend that’s in any way romantic or “part of the culture”.

      Which makes them different from the rest of us how, exactly? I could say exactly the same about some of my neighbours. What you’re describing applies to “people”, not “travellers” – including supposedly upstanding home-owning people. There’s a hell of a lot of untreated alcoholism in the middle classes too… At least travellers and the like mostly stay out of your business if you stay out of theirs – unlike certain gin-pickled, nosy, self-righteous, middle-class bastards of my acquaintance.

  2. anjou
    September 1, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    The land is green belt. However, there is no requirement for the fences or gateways to be taken down. This makes the Greenbelt openness argument unsustainable. The Council would find it next to impossible to not grant planning permission for the land as a gypsy traveller site – the only thing that it has are its notices.

    The issues are unlikely to go away.. as the people affected have to have somewhere to live.

    • Mike
      September 1, 2011 at 9:20 pm

      I’ve argued for about 6 years that only the government can resolve the issue.

      The Labour strategy failed spectacularly and the Coalition proposals within the Localism Bill for in effect enabling local authorities to determine the numbers of new traveller sites/pitches will go the same way – no compulsion, insufficient incentive and a failure to recognise that providing traveller sites is seen as political suicide by most local councillors.

      Legislation is needed to :
      a) release surplus public sector land, surplus MoD land for example, on a temporary basis (up to 5 years) whilst each local authority,within say 90 days,identifies land in it’s area for which in principle it will grant planning permission for a minimum of 5 traveller pitches if the gross usable, unconstrained land in it’s local authority area is less than 10,000 ha ; 10 pitches if the area is between 10,000 ha and 20,000 ha and 15 pitches if the area exceeds 20,000 ha
      b) withdraw the need for formal planning consent in respect to all previously used (brown field) land for which a local authority or a developer wishes to develop for affordable housing, including traveller pitches
      c) ensure that all planning consents for major housing developments include provision for a small number traveller pitches as well as other affordable housing

      The follwing link seems to show that there is sufficient land around to make a start.

  3. Mike
    September 1, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    My own recollections about Crays Hill School are mixed.
    I was a governor there for 6 years in the 1980’s.

    There were always some traveller children on the roll, a dozen or so perhaps.
    They needed more teacher input and time than the other kids but the staff were not overwhelmed.
    The feedback from all parents was generally positive and when the kids went on to secondary schools most of them did pretty well.

    Towards the end of my stint, the county education authority proposed a change in secondary school catchment area boundaries.
    I led a fight against the proposal and uncovered low grade political fixes – local councillors conspiring to prop up a very poorly performing local comprehensive, where kids parents were voting with their feet.
    Their chairman of governors, a councillor, “sold” his vote on other issues to another party in a NOC council in exchange for their agreement to shift the catchment area boundary, suck in Crays Hill’s children and mask the falling roll numbers at his school and the cause (mostly incompetent leadership).
    That bit of my recollection actually had a good ending ; the minister responsible, Bob Dunn intervened and overturned the county decision.

    From the early 2000’s,long after I’d gone, traveller children arrived in great numbers and the consequent pressures on all the staff there proved overwhelming .
    Pleas were made to the education authority for more and specialised staff to help cope with the particular educational and behavioural needs of the traveller kids and to try and make sure that the education of the rest did not suffer. The pleas fell on deaf ears, educational standards fell alarmingly and parents of kids from the settled community took their children away, with cries of racists ringing in their ears .

    Those teaching and running the school in those years could provide reflections too but for many the experience is still too painful.

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