Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Au Revoir Marie-Noelle


Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Dale Farm Evictions 'Infringe Rights'

Listen to the BBC Today programme interview with Professor Yves Cabannes, chair of the UN Advisory Group on Forced Evictions, where he outlines his concerns about the Dale Farm evictions and the double standards in its treatment of travellers in the UK.

Basildon Council Sunk Secret Group Appointed To Solve Dale Farm Crisis

The Homes and Communities Agency offer of land and funding for alternative sites had been rejected by Basildon. 

In letters from the Homes and Communities Agency, made public today, it is revealed that Basildon District Council withdrew from the official group tasked to find a housing solution for the Dale Farm community. This left no plan for the Travellers’ welfare following any eviction.

 The ‘Alternative Sites Working Group’ met from November 2009 to August 2010 and included Basildon District Council, Essex County Council, the Government Office for the East of England, plus the former leader of Reigate and Banstead Council and chairman of the Local Government Association Task Force on Gypsies and Travellers (As confirmed in a letter from Homes and Communities Agency to local MEP Richard Howitt, 31 August 2011). They met in secret at the request of Basildon Council. Basildon District Council withdrew in October 2010 and refused to deal with group, over “an alleged breach of confidentiality on details of sites being discussed by the Working Group” (As stated in an email from Homes and Communities Agency to Dale Farm Support Group, 12 Sept 2011).  This stopped its work in finding alternative Traveller sites.

 Dale Farm resident Kathleen McCarthy said, “This is shocking, Basildon Council have put their prejudice above finding a solution to the needs of the Dale Farm community.”

 The Homes and Communities Agency, noted that, “[w]e are willing to place any of our land in Basildon at the Council’s designation as a Gypsy and Traveller site(s). We are willing to identify and invest capital to establish the pitches on such land.”

 However, one planning application on HCA land near the current Dale Farm site has already been rejected by Basildon Council on the stated grounds of road safety.

 Dale Farm resident Kathleen McCarthy continued, “The behaviour of Tony Ball, leader of the Council, makes life for us impossible. He pulled out of the official process to find a new fully legal site, and when we try ourselves, he blocks our proposals for new sites, even when we have full HCA backing. Next weeks’ eviction is about prejudice, pure and simple.”

 The revelations coincide with open letter to the government and Basildon Council that the Council must suspend the eviction and find an alternative culturally acceptable solution to making Dale Farm residents homeless. It was signed by  the Chief Executive of the Children’s Society, Director of Liberty, and MPs Andy Slaughter and Andrew George plus 59 others. (Guardian, 13 September 2011, P33)

Questions have been raised about the motivations for pushing for the eviction as plans are revealed for 900 homes on greenbelt land in the neighbouring district to Basildon. Plans for homes on Jotmans Lane Benfleet have the support of Tory councillors, and face a final vote on the 27th September, after a report by a government inspector highlighted the need for more homes.(Basildon Echo, 13 September 2011, P7)


Monday, 12 September 2011

The Whole World Is Watching

International support for Dale Farm residents as hundreds march in protest at their threatened eviction, planned to begin from the 19th September

Hundreds, including a Member of the European Parliament, political and human rights groups and supporters from the local area, all over the UK and beyond marched from Wickford Station to Dale Farm on Saturday in solidarity with the beleaguered residents of the former scrapyard, how home to 100 families under threat of eviction by Basildon Council.

The campaign to save Dale Farm, initially supported by local church groups and friends of the community and long given the vocal backing of figures such as Lord Avebury and Vanessa Redgrave, has been receiving messages of solidarity from Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia, with supporters travelling from mainland Europe to stay at Camp Constant, a resistance and solidarity camp on the site. Residents were visited last week by Bishop Thomas McMahon of Brentwood and Bishop Stephen Cottrell of the Diocese of Chelmsford, and residents have outspoken support from the Jewish community. Protests are planned at British Embassies in Berlin and Dublin to show support to the families facing eviction.

Kathleen McCarthy, a resident of Dale Farm, said, 'there are people here from all over the world, I just met a girl from America who supports us. It's great to know people are listening, and people are hearing our voices, even if our own Government isn't.'

Richard Howitt, Labour MEP for the East of England, joined the march and spoke afterwards as supporters enjoyed lunch and a cup of tea with residents:

'Their rights are not just for Traveller families to have a home, and for their children to have an education. But for their culture to be respected. To be able to live according to the Traveller lifestyle.... As a Member of the European Parliament I am deeply ashamed that action here in this community is bringing international opprobrium against our country. That Britain's international reputation for tolerance, fairness and justice is being damaged at what may happen next. And that the time to listen to the criticism is now not later.'

Kartik Raj, speaking on behalf of Amnesty International, which recently sent out an Urgent Action to its members on behalf of Dale Farm, said, 'hundreds of people are writing to Basildon Council from all over the world to express their horror at the evictions.'

The South East Region Trades Union Congress (SERTUC), No Borders, No One Is Illegal, No Sweat,  and Unite Against Fascism also sent representatives who spoke out against the eviction.

International pressure on the British Government is growing, with concern expressed by two different UN Special Rapporteurs, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination and the Council of Europe, and news of the planned UN visit later in September. Mr Howitt has repeatedly called for the British Government to release the Council of Europe report, to no avail. Next week the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights in Vienna will debate the evictions.

The UN has spoken out strongly against the evictions, with the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination writing several times to the UK government expressing concern and calling for protection of the human rights of the families. A statement of the 2nd September called  on the UK Government to suspend the planned eviction, which would disproportionately affect the lives of the Gypsy and Traveller families, particularly women, children and older people.
Dale Farm is home to the largest Traveller community in the UK, a former scrapyard which was purchased by the community thirty years ago. The residents of Dale Farm have pledged to leave if alternate sites can be found, and two planning applications have been lodged which are due to be heard in October. 90% of Gypsy and Traveller planning applications are turned down, compared with 20% overall. Government inspectors have noted that Basildon has a “dire shortage” of Gypsy and Traveller sites, and have placed pressure on the Council to provide 62 pitches. Because no alternative sites have been approved, families will be forced to stay at Dale Farm or become homeless.

-Press pack available at http://dalefarm.wordpress.com/press/
-Interview, comment and photos available from savedalefarm@gmail.com, 07583 761462
-For directions to get to Dale Farm, see: http://dalefarm.wordpress.com/contact/
- The £18 million cost of the eviction includes £10 million for policing- £6 million of which was granted by the Home Office

At the request of residents, members of the press are asked to restrict their visits to the hours of 11am-12pm and 3pm-4pm, unless by prior appointment. To make an appointment, call 07583 761462.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Hypocrisy In Basildon Council’s Approach To Planning Regulation


In a move described as ‘totally undemocratic’ by local Councillor Geoff Williams, Basildon Council suddenly cancelled last night’s general council meeting, avoiding discussion of contentious plans for a major housing development – 500 houses – on environmentally sensitive green space, at Gloucester Park.

Citing inexplicable ‘public safety reasons’ and ‘exceptional circumstances…at Dale Farm’ for the last minute cancellation, it appears Basildon Council fears exposure of blatantly hypocritical planning decisions.

The council meeting was intended to focus on the controversial development of green space at Gloucester Park, a designated nature reserve, which was donated to the council on the condition that it would not be developed. A meeting planned to discuss selling off this green space for housing threatened to expose the inconsistent and discretionary nature of the Council’s planning decisions. The Council is attempting to justify making 90 families homeless to save a former scrap yard classed as ‘green belt’, while selling off valued green spaces for a major housing development project.

Councillor Williams said that as a result of the cancellation of this meeting “local people have been denied the right to protest, challenge, and scrutinise”. The Councillor added that this cancellation is on top of the complete closure of council offices from next week, with further meeting cancellations announced on 20th Sept, expressing concern that ‘so much will have to be caught up with…[and] some issues have time constraints’. However, the cancellation of the Gloucester Park meeting is being viewed particularly cynically.

Dale Farm resident and mother Mary said: "The council are prepared to agree to build on Gloucester Park, yet insists on evicting us from an old scrap yard. The council are prejudiced against us. It's one rule for settled people and another for travellers."

A supporter from Dale Farm, Jane Trevellion, added “the prejudicial nature of the council’s planning decisions are really obvious if you look at the history of the council’s planning decisions. There is no consistency: at Vange school, greenbelt was sold off under the direction of the government Planning Inspector, without much fuss from the council…before that there was a huge Homebase Development on the greenbelt. There are other developments proposed on highly valued green spaces at Kent View and Northlands. In the case of Dale Farm the ‘greenbelt’ was concreted and used for 30 years as a scrap yard and the council didn’t make any fuss. It is only since the Travellers arrived that the council has suddenly become protective of the greenbelt land at Dale Farm. The council’s claims of fairness under the law are entirely false. This is clearly about prejudice against the Traveller population and this kind of racial intolerance is totally wrong. The law is not applied equally and there is no fairness in that.”

According to the Commission for Racial Equality, more than 90% of Traveller planning applications are initially rejected. This compares to less than 20% of rejected applications for everybody else¹. Gypsies and Travellers in the UK are trapped in a web of overlapping, systemic failures to respect their customs and preferences.

Councillor Linda Williams for the Nethermayne ward added that the “Greenbelt is not sacrosanct, it was designated by people and people have the right to reconsider its boundaries.” Councillor Geoff Williams has also released a statement contesting the forced evictions at Dale Farm and saying that the green spaces and green belt of Basildon are far more threatened by the local authority and the planning inspectorate than by any incursions by Travellers. He described the use of public funds to forcibly evict families at Dale Farm as ‘mind-boggling’. He stated that “The council’s unremitting desire to protect the dubious qualities of the greenbelt at Dale Farm stands in stark contrast to its reluctance to pursue the designation of recognised wildlife sites as green belt, or to defend other existing pristine designations”

The Council is pursuing hugely costly forced evictions when suitable alternative plots have been identified by the Travellers at Church Road, Laindon which is owned by the Homes and Communities Agency and at Gardiners Lane South. A public enquiry is due on 22nd November to consider the Church Road site.

“In pursuing these forced evictions at this time Basildon council is taking unnecessarily brutal and overly hasty action, when a possible solution is just around the corner. Crucial meetings are due to take place which have a strong chance of finding alternative appropriate sites for the Travellers to move on to safely and without the associated costs of forced eviction” said Ann, a local resident and supporter of the Dale Farm community.

Helen, another supporter at Camp Constant added “this just shows the council doesn’t want a peaceful solution, they just want to hound the Travellers out of Basildon.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission reported² recently on these issues, saying that ‘Few local authorities have a policy for identifying, and dealing with, objections to planning applications that are or may be racist. This means racist representations are reaching planning committees, in breach of guidance from the Royal Town Planning Institute.’

The Localism Bill puts more power in the hand of deeply flawed local planning processes, further threatening both valued green spaces and reducing the chances that adequate suitable land will be found for Gypsies and Travellers.

On Saturday, 10th September at 1pm supporters of the Dale Farm community are gathering at Wickford train station and marching to Dale Farm. MEP of the East of England Richard Howitt will attend the rally, as will members of the Public and Commercial Services Union. Notifications on the Dale Farm Solidarity website are asking supporters coming to the demo on 10th Sept to “bring a sleeping bag and a toothbrush and stay for as long as you can.” Adding: “Our ability to stop this ethnic cleansing is now almost entirely down to numbers- so come on down!”


1. http://www.journeyfolki.org.uk/Community/HelpResources/CommissionForRacialEqualityCRE/tabid/832/language/en-US/Default.aspx

2. http://www.equineteurope.org/2384_gypsy_travs_summary.pdf

Saturday, 3 September 2011

United Nations Anti-Racism Committee Calls On UK To Suspend Dale Farm Evictions

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Friday expressed deep regret at the insistence of authorities in the United Kingdom to proceed with the eviction of Gypsy and Traveller families at the Dale Farm in Essex before providing culturally appropriate alternative accommodation to them.

“We call on the Government to suspend the planned eviction, which would disproportionately affect the lives of the Gypsy and Traveller families, particularly women, children and older people,” the Committee members said.

“We urge the authorities to find a peaceful and appropriate solution, including identifying culturally appropriate accommodation, with full respect for the rights of the families involved,” the Committee added.

The Committee reviewed the combined 18th, 19th and 20th reports of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland at its current session in Geneva. The Dale Farm issue was extensively discussed with the United Kingdom’s delegation.

In March 2010, the Committee sent a letter to the United Kingdom under its Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedure on the matter, expressing its concern, seeking clarification and calling for protection of the human rights of the families.

The evictions may breach articles 2 and 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and are inconsistent with the Committee’s General Recommendation No. 27 (2000) on Discrimination against Roma.

“Travellers and Gypsies already face considerable discrimination and hostility in wider society and the Committee is deeply concerned that this could be worsened by actions taken by authorities in the current situation and by some media reporting of the issues,” the Committee noted.

The Committee will today issue its concluding observations on the United Kingdom as well as Albania, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Kenya, Maldives, Malta, Paraguay and Ukraine. The documents will be accessible on the Committee’s website on http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cerd/cerds79.htm.

To read the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, please visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cerd.htm

To access the Committee’s Early-Warning Measures and Urgent Procedures, visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cerd/early-warning.htm

To see General Comments issued by the Committee, visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cerd/comments.htm