The conflict at Dale Farm in Crays Hill

Conflict is a state of discord or disagreement caused by the actual or perceived opposition of needs, values and interests between people. It is often the result of opposing views about the ways in which a resource might be developed or used. A conflict can involve violence and can be extreme but not always. Conflict also refers to an ongoing state of hostility between two or more groups of people. There are 5 causes of conflict: ethnicity, culture, territory ideology and identity. The conflict at Dale Farm in Cray’s Hill, Essex is predominantly over territory.

There are factors of culture and ethnicity that could be included, as the conflict has progressed, but it originated over territory. The conflict originated between 1999 and 2001 as buildings and structures were erected without permission. The site falls under the authority of Basildon Council, where Tony Ball is the leader. On Monday 14th May 2011, after a decade of conflict, Basildon Borough Council (BBC) voted 28 to 10 to forcible evict 86 families from Dale Farm. The eviction was to take place from 19th September onwards.

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BBC withdrew from negotiations with the travellers and omitted to assisting to locate suitable alternative land. This is a conflict that is relatively complicated with court decisions changing from one day to the next, and has spread over such a long period of time. In 2007, the conflict even became the subject of the Judicial Renew Proceedings and was heard in 2008. The Travellers have used many arguments in an attempt to prevent the eviction from the site. They believe that as they are the rightful owners of the site, there is no reason why they should not be allowed to build what they like.

Although the council have argued, in accordance to this, that everyone must gain planning permission for building on greenbelt land. The Travellers however responded with the argument that most of the residents are poor and vulnerable and are unable to afford to meet the costs of identifying sites and applying for planning permission as it is particularly expensive. The Travellers also believe that planning law is not applied fairly. Using statistics for the Commission for Racial Equality, over 90% of Traveller planning applications are initially rejected.

The Travellers reject the council’s argument that the land is greenbelt, saying the council is biased as the council have complained that the county already has too many travellers. The Gypsy Council have tried, without success, to argue that if this is true the council have used their discretion to override the greenbelt status of other areas in the past. The Travellers have tried to use their lifestyle as their main defence. They believe that planning laws do not take into account lifestyle and culture, and should not be applied across the board so generally.

Some travellers chose to put their hands in barrels of concrete, whilst others lay on mattresses behind a 30ft blockade, which a sign across read ‘Behind this gate a woman is attached by her neck. If you try to open this gate you will kill her. ‘ Whilst these where particularly extreme travellers, others were not. Those who were fairly liberal feared for their lives as up to 20 families fled Dale Farm and set up another illegal site 55 miles away near Luton. It does stand to question whether all of the Travellers really want to live their lifestyle or if they feel they are pressured by fellow Travellers to comply.

However, even though some of the more extreme Travellers suggested they would not leave the site under any circumstances, once the judge had allowed them to stay past the planned eviction date, resident Kathleen McCarthy said: ‘We still need somewhere to go, if we have to leave here. (It) is a great victory, but we still need Basildon Council to approve a legal site for us. ‘ Other travellers from across Europe have travelled to Essex in support of the residents at Dale Farm. Camp Constant has been set up by up to 1,000 travellers giving the media information and attempting to educate on what they are doing and what they believe.

The travellers believe they should stick together, and are threatening that Camp Constant will remain causing more disruption. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination argues that the eviction of 400 people would disproportionally affect family life. In retaliation, the Government argued that Basildon Council was well within its rights to evict the travellers from the site. The Committee believes the evictions would cause hardship, and has called upon the Government to suspend all plans until a culturally appropriate site is identified and provided.

BBC consider that they have allowed enough time for the Travellers to both find new and appropriate accommodation (which they assisted for a long time period) and to move away from Dale Farm, so it would return to greenbelt. The Committee are supporters of the Travellers, yet their attitudes are formal and not indecent as many of the Travellers have appeared to be. This is a clear example of how the attitudes of parties can be particularly different. The Travellers have taken their case right up to the House of Lords where they made an appeal in 2003 against the Court of Appeals decision to find BBC’s actions lawful just 6 months before.

The House of Lords rejected the appeal and this drew a closing to the legal planning challenge. It is questionable, that as the Travellers are constantly using legal services, which if they can afford what will most likely be an expensive legal team, why are they trying to argue that they are poor and vulnerable. They clearly have money coming from somewhere or something. The area surrounding Dale Farm in Essex is abundant with green field and the middle class population living in the area have been greatly affected by the conflict.

They have been subject to a decade long dispute very close to their homes and families. The local services have been greatly disrupted as traveller children joined the local school; locals withdrew their children as the standards were dropping. The travellers claim they have every right to be there too, yet the local people are the ones paying taxes in order for the school to exist. The entire process is estimated to have cost i??18m, and although the Home Office are expected to pay i??6m of this, the remaining will have to come from BBC.

The locals are yet again unhappy, as they feel that the conflict should have been resolved years ago as they are clearly breaking laws that they themselves would have to abide. It is also argued that why should they suffer with less services available in the future, as the money available was spent getting rid of the Travellers? There have also been direct financial losses to the local people, as over the years the house values near to Dale Farm have decreased due to the eyesore that is created. Whether it is right or wrong, gypsies are stereotyped as being common thieves, where people do not want to live.

BBC is extremely keen to complete a site clearance at Dale Farm. In their opinion, the Travellers should not be given preference and exemption to planning laws because of their lifestyle choices. In 2003 the travellers were given a 2 year compliance period from the First Secretary of State, yet they did not comply as the number of caravans significantly increased during this period. BBC view this an as insight to what the Travellers are really like, and that they must be stopped completely otherwise they will continue to increase the population of the site until it becomes out of hand.

On Monday 3rd October, a High Court judge ruled that 49 caravans out of the 54, from the proposed plots could be removed from Dale Farm. The council are also able to remove most of the concrete pitches, however walls, fences and gates must remain – this would suggest that the council are now unable to clear the site and return it to greenbelt. The question of the legality of the eviction is yet to be decided, and the removal of anything from the site has been prevented until the decision is made. Basildon Council has been ordered to pay one third of the Travellers legal fees.

Some of the caravans, buildings and concrete are able to remain on site as they were in place before the Travellers bought the land, or because they are not included in the eviction notices. Resident Kathleen McCarthy reportedly stated that: ‘This will leave Dale Farm as a patchwork, not the greenbelt the council are claiming it will be. To turn Dale Farm into a scrapyard again. It’s ridiculous. ‘ However, the council argue that it is the fault of the Travellers that the site will not match the surrounding area, as they ruined its landscape with illegal building.

In conclusion, it would appear that BBC will eventually win their case to evict the Travellers from Dale Farm. How many, from their original plan, is unpredictable. The entire case demonstrates exactly how a conflict over something like planning can span over such a vast time period, and cost such a large amount of public money. However, it is unclear as to whether the resolution to this particular conflict will be any time in the near future, or if it will continue to eat away at the taxpayer’s money.

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