Today's visit to Dale Farm was to look at the current situation, where 90 families are on notice by Basildon Council that they are to be evicted, and will be given 28 days notice of the date for the eviction in a few days' time. We were exploring possible alternatives, and particularly the idea of an alternative site or sites for the short term, pending agreement on permanent sites either in Basildon or elsewhere in Essex. Some local authorities in the county have no Traveller sites, but given time, they could be persuaded to accommodate some of the Dale Farm residents. What is needed in the meanwhile is land with temporary planning permission for 3-5 years, so that the families don't end up on the roadside or on some other unauthorised site, from which in turn they would be liable to a second eviction.
Various estimates have been given of the cost of a forcible eviction, but the official estimate by the Council is £8 million for the police and bailiffs alone. But it doesn't end there, because the Council has duties to look after homeless families, and there will be huge problems in satisfying the obligation to ensure that what is done is 'in the best interests of the child'.
The residents accept that they will have to move, and are prepared to cooperate in a reasonable solution that gives them a place to go to, where they can stay lawfully.
Our team consisted of Labour MP Andrew Slaughter; Rodney Bickerstaffe, former General Secretary of UNISON; Conservative Councillor Richard Bennett, former Chairman of the Local Government Association Task Group for Gypsies and Travellers; Michael Keaveny from the Irish Embassy, and me. Accompanying us were Matthew Brindley, Policy and Research Officer, Irish Traveller Movement in Britain (ITMB), and my daughter Victoria, who helps me part time. On the site we were met by Richard Sheridan, President of the Gypsy Council and Chair of the Dale Farm Residents Association; Mary-Ann McCarthy and other residents; LibDem Councillor Candy Sheridan, and Grattan Puxon, an activist and campaigner for Traveller rights who I've known for more than 40 years.
We now have to consider the best way of pursuing our findings, and will be reporting to the meeting next Wednesday of the Parliamentary All-Party Group on Gypsies and Travellers, of which Andrew Slaughter and I are both members,