A report prepared by Carta Developers for the Gypsy Council has identified that much of the legal underpinning for the proposed £18.5 million eviction operation against Dale Farm in Essex - the UK's largest Travellers’ community - may be flawed.
Residents at Dale Farm this week discovered that on 10 of the 54 properties they have a right to operate a scrap-yard. This means bailiffs Constant & Co., who are expected to be contracted at a cost of £3.5 million to bulldoze these homes cannot legally remove existing hard standing and fencing.
According to the Report the same situation applies to as many as 48 of the properties as enforcement notices issued by Basildon Borough Council are either flawed or have already been declared void by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in 2003.
This leaves Basildon Council and the present Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, as well as the Home Office - which has agreed to fund policing of the eviction - in an embarrassing situation, the Carta Report reveals. They have planned and are financing an eviction operation which appears to lack legal foundation.
The Gypsy Council expects to raise the issue on Thursday 16 June at 5pm at a meeting chaired by Lord Avebury in Committee Room 4, Houses of Parliament, with members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gypsies and Travellers, and with representatives of the Department of Communities and Local Government.
Notes for Editors/Background
Basildon Council proposes to take action against Dale Farm under section 178 of the Town and Country Planning Act ('TCPA'). The Council has sought and obtained grants from Central Government of about £6 million and proposes to make about £12 million of Basildon Council's money available to fund eviction of half of the estate.
On 1 June the Gypsy Council and Dale Farm Housing Association forwarded a draft report to Basildon Council and ministers in an attempt to secure consensus as to what the Council could take planning enforcement action against at Dale Farm.
The report identifies that in 2003 the then-Secretary of State said that it was lawful to stand caravans at Dale Farm, use the land for the deposit of hardcore and road scalpings and that use of certain areas of the land was formally lawful. The Secretary of State determined that notices 4 and 8 issued by the Council in 2002 were nullified, and that notice 6 issued by the Council should be modified.
Reissue of the enforcement notices first issued by the Council would have enabled the owners and occupiers of Dale Farm to identify that the site was a former scrap yard, and that the majority of the land was covered in concrete when they purchased it in around 2001. The Council failed to reissue notices and denied the travellers a right of appeal to the Secretary of State.
The report identifies that Basildon Council has been proposing to take enforcement action against Dale Farm for the last five years yet has failed to examine its own notices to determine if it actually has the right to do so.
s178 TCPA only allows a council to take enforcement action if it actually has enforcement notices. The Carta Report identifies that Basildon does not have enforcement notices which could enable it to take enforcement action against most of the Dale Farm properties.
s178 TCPA raises significant issues for the Gypsy and Traveller community. Under s178 a Council, if it claims to have enforcement notice, is able to clear land, and determine what costs are reasonable to secure clearance. Local authorities are able to act in this way without supervision.
Dale Farm is the latest example of a council seeking to use powers against the Gypsy and Traveller community, which in reality it does not have. This has involved significant resources to fund clearance of land without supervision being obtained. This time Government ministers have made funds available to clear a site despite having previously determined that the Council's acts would be illegal.
Grattan Puxon, secretary of the DFHA, said, "Issue of an enforcement notice by a council is the same as imposing a mortgage deed on a property. The council is able to foreclose on the mortgage and claim the land without any supervision. We have asked the Council and ministers to identify why they have made about £18 million available to foreclose on enforcement notices that don't exist to evict Travellers from their own land."
"This is a serious matter and we would have expected the Council to have ensured that it actually had mortgage deeds against the land before seeking to dispossess people of their land. The residents find it amazing that government ministers will make millions of pounds available based on lobbying by a council leader and a local MP."
Candy Sheridan vice chair of the Gypsy Council stated: "Dale Farm is the latest example of a council seeking to foreclose on mortgages that don't exist against Gypsies. We have sought to obtain clarification from both government and Basildon Council as to why they have acted in this way. They have failed to reply and we are raising the issue with Parliament. We have examples of other councils that have foreclosed on mortgage deeds that don't exist, and in one case the Council unreasonably stopped Gypsies clearing the site so that they could claim a mortgage and dispossess them of their land. The same Council obtained £200,000 as a grant from Communities and Local Government in 2009 and has not spent the money. It refuses to identify how the funds can be accessed to address pressing needs in the district, that have caused avoidable hardship."
Dale Farm raises major issues for the government as it unambiguously shows that mortgages claimed by Councils need to be better regulated. It shows that Councils will seek to use non-existent mortgages to engage in harassment of people.
Candy Sheridan, vice-chair of the Gypsy Council 0789 9723177
Grattan Puxon, secretary, Dale Farm Residents Association 01206 523528
A copy of the Carta Report can be obtained from Grattan Puxon.