Dale Farm Report

17:44 Friday 2nd September 2011
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY BURROWS: Travellers who are due to be evicted from the biggest illegal site in the UK say they won’t go but will negotiate. The deadline to leave the land at Dale Farm in Essex, where hundreds live without planning permission, has passed. Bailiffs can now remove them. Earlier on I spoke to¬† the BBC’s Richard Martin outside Dale Farm. (TAPE)
RICHARD MARTIN: Well today a press conference was called on the Dale Farm site. The press conference was hosted by the travellers and also by the protestors, who have made their way here to support the travellers cause. We made our way through the iconic archway that sits at the front of the illegal site, which carries two banners, one, “We won’t go”, a banner which has sat here for several years, and a second, which has just been put up today, “No Ethnic Cleansing”. Now that was one of the areas which this press conference focused on, the travellers saying that somehow they have been forgotten by the local authorities, the local authorities who are there to protect them. They were saying that if they are forced to move off this site, they need to be given somewhere else to move. They own the land here at Dale Farm. What they don’t have is planning permission to develop, or to live on the land itself. Now if you go through the archway just to my left hand side, you will see a number of plots. There’s 51 plots which face eviction. On each of those plots there could be three caravans, or several caravans and a fixed chalet, each with a family living inside it. One of the points they were making was that they’d been given nowhere else to go. They said that they haven’t broken the law, that the local authorities haven’t broken the law by providing that to them (?). In fact they challenged to Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, to come down here and debate lawfulness with them. Now Mr.Pickles¬† didn’t repond to that directly, but did give us a statement which says that the British courts have found that the development at Dale Farm is in breach of planning law, and that Basildon Council is within its rights to evict travellers. Now the second point from this press conference was to try and get rid of rumours which had been circulating, that have been carried in one of the national newspapers, that Anarchists were coming here to try and organise a big fight against police officers. Now the travellers were telling us that they are very very pleased that protestors have come down here to support them, but they said that the protestors have been allowed onto site under the undertaking that they do not take part in violence. That was something that they made perfectly clear during the press conference.
ANDY BURROWS: The United Nations has got involved in this. What more can you tell us?
RICHARD MARTIN: Well today the UN’s Anti-Racism Committee expressed deep regret at the authorities’ insistence at proceeding with this eviction before providing and identifying what they describe as “culturally appropriate accommodation.” Now an offer has been made by the local authority, for travellers who may be elderly or young or vulnerable in some other way, to get bricks and mortar accomodation, housing in the area. But the travellers have said that that is not suitable for the lifestyle that they live. Now the UN’s Committee called on the authorities to suspend any eviction which would diproportionately affect the lives of the families until suitable accommodation is found for them. Now that was something which was announced at the press conference to the surprise of the travellers themselves.This has been an issue which has been going on for ten years. It started at local government with Basildon Council here. It’s been through the local courts, all the way up to the High Court. And also the Government in Westminster itself have taken part as well. This was just another stage, another supporter coming out in favour of the travellers. However, whether or not that holds any water when people are making the decisions about the eviction remains to be seen.
ANDY BURROWS: Yes, I was going to ask you, how does this all affect the eviction plans.
RICHARD MARTIN: Well as I say, ten years this has been in the making, and the rhetoric that we were hearing today from the press conference appears to be different from that that we’ve been hearing before. Normally the travellers say, we won’t go, we’re prepared to fight for our land, we won’t move until we’re dragged off by the bailiffs. Today there was more of an almost apologetic view. We won’t go. Find us somewhere else to live, was the movement we were taking here. Please, we just want somewhere where we can continue to live our lives the way we would like to do so. Now, as you say, the eviction is looming. A couple of days ago the deadline for them to leave passed. They haven’t left the site. Indeed the protestors here that have joined them are continuing to build up new nests above the actual entrance to try and prevent bailiffs from coming in. It seems that everyone here is expecting the eviction to come. Now we don’t expect that to be tomorrow or the next day. We believe that the local authority is going to actually contact the travellers and give them a detailed timeframe of how any eviction could take shape. But the belief is here that the eviction is coming, and the size of that eviction is staggering. Seventeen and a half million pounds has been set aside to cover local authority costs, to cover policing costs, and also to cover the bailiffs themselves. Huge amounts of money; we believe, the local authority believes, that there’s about 400 travellers living on that site. Well the travellers say there’s many more than that. And adding to that, the protestors who continue to arrive every hour or so, we believe that could be many many hundreds of people which bailiffs are faced with trying to remove from here. (LIVE)
ANDY BURROWS: That was the BBC’s Richard Martin outside Dale Farm, speaking to me a short time before we came on the air this afternoon.