Sunday, 18 September 2011

Dale Farm Evictions- Tomorrow is the Travellers' D-Day

It’s a moral dilemma of life-changing consequences, a choice between respecting fringe lifestyles and the need for all to uphold the law. The depth of the decision has seized the media and gouged a gaping divide in opinion. Tomorrow, the travellers’ community of Dale Farm will face the bulldozers as eviction day finally hits.

The majority of the site has no planning permission and is situated on greenbelt land. This, on the surface, suggests the situation is a no brainer and, as the law exists for the greater good, the families should cut their losses and leave.

However, complications arise when more facts become clear. The travellers own the land and many have planted roots there. Some children, who go to school in the area, have never known another home. Furthermore, it is alleged that the land was formerly a scrap yard and Basildon Council itself was responsible for concreting over it.

The Guardian reports that Ray Bocking, who sold the acreage to the Gypsy community a decade ago, said it was the local council who laid rough tracks leading to the farm and dumped hardcore onto the site. Bocking told The Guardian that, “Dale Farm was a swamp and a breaker’s yard for years. It was a rubbish ground. I really don’t know why they are throwing away £18m.”

From this perspective, it is easy to see how many are calling for compassion, especially when we learn that some of the residents are elderly or infirmed and have no housing sorted. Add to this the fact that Basildon Council have recently passed permission for 70 houses to be built on greenbelt land and the situation, it could be argued, starts to look like prejudice.

Under the Caravan Sites Act 1968, councils were obliged to provide allowances for up to 15 caravans at a time but this law became obsolete with the introduction of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The Commission for Racial Equality believes this has led to there being a deficit of sites to accommodate all travellers and, therefore, their way of life will inevitably become compromised.

But my two pence is this: nobody should be allowed to think that laws don’t apply to them and, frankly, the travelling community should have showed more respect for the local authority all those years ago by only living and building on areas they were given permission to occupy. Before they sent their children to local schools and before some became too weak to move on, they should have established what exactly they would be certain to get away with, rather than settling down and hoping for the best. Their claims of discrimination and racism seem self pitying and hypocritical. The country needs its greenbelt and, to me, it’s reverse discrimination if the majority are not allowed to build on it but a certain small community who keep themselves to themselves are given an allowance.

Nobody, except fascists and Daily Mail readers, revels in hatred and intolerance and, as such, it can be difficult for modern people to criticise minority groups. But the travellers’ claims of racism from Basildon Council should fall of deaf ears. It is one law for all, not one law for some and different laws for others, no matter how different those others may be.

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