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Another voice: Dale Farm reprieved

19 September 2011

This is the second of our occasional ‘another voice’ series. Siobhan Courtney reports again from Dale Farm.

The outcome was not what anyone expected: the bailiffs are not getting into Dale Farm. The atmosphere here now is very different to
that of the weekend, when I was able to see what life was like inside Dale Farm. The
travellers, cheering with joy and hugging each other have just won an injunction preventing Basildon Council from clearing the site pending a further hearing on Friday. Blockades, scaffolding and
walls erected by the travellers and protestors stand defiant. Behind this structure, I’m standing in front of two protestors who have concreted themselves to a barrel and a notice on the gate
says ‘Danger of Death Behind This Gate A Women Is Attached By Her Neck. If You Attempt To Open This Gate You Will Kill Her.’

The eviction process has already cost £18 million, an expensive failure of planning policy as well as a failure of community. Around 400 travellers are living on roughly 50 plots of protected green belt. They own the land, but developed it without planning permission, resulting in a ten year battle. The latest statistics from the
Department of Communities and Local Government show in England there are 18,383 caravans, with 3109 on unauthorised developments and encampments. This equates to one in five caravans on
unauthorised sites, a reflection of the shortage of authorised sites and changing policy. The DCLG even admit that from
1994, travellers were encouraged to buy their own land and seek planning permission. So, that’s what the travellers did, but with 90 percent of planning applications initially refused they were soon placed in an impossible position. It’s ironic that the
DCLG concede that, even though the travellers were encouraged to buy their own land, this “proved unworkable as many Local Authorities have failed to identify appropriate sites or to grant
planning permission.” So, travellers were faced with no choice but to live there illegally.

The worry is that the planning situation is become more not less complicated. The new localism bill has shifted power from
central government back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils and the bill has been followed by another new planning policy for travellers’ sites that is currently in consultation.

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The experience of Dale Farm seems representative of a wider reality: no one wants travellers in ‘their back gardens’. People may have sympathy for them and support their nomadic way of
life, but if travellers turned up in your village or town would you integrate and interact with them like you would with a neighbour that had moved next door? You probably wouldn’t and this
is the crux of the problem.

Nora Sheridan, 76 tells me she has nothing to live for if she leaves here. “Basildon Council have treated us in the same way Hitler treated the Jews”. I ask her about the allegations
that some of the travellers at Dale Farm own properties in Rathkeale, Ireland. “No, no we don’t. We’ve all got the same surnames, McCarthy, Sheridan, Flynn – they’re popular
Irish surnames. If we owned properties in Ireland why would we want to live in a field in Essex?”

Tony Ball, Leader of Basildon Council, is in the adjoining field surrounded by bailiffs holding briefing meetings. He wearily explains this day has been a long time coming: “They will be
gone. We’ve fought a ten year battle with the travellers and today is the beginning of the end”.

It has certainly been a long battle. I can’t help but think that the situation has been unnecessarily ‘drawn out’ for as long as possible, but Councillor Ball insists this
isn’t the case. I put to him that the travellers have settled here for over a decade now and sent their children to the local schools; could the current situation not have been avoided when
the travellers’ planning permission to build on the land was initially rejected? He pauses and replies, “Well, after the planning permission was rejected it went all the way to John
Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister at the time. He gave the travellers a two year period to move off. In that time the site grew and grew and grew in size but there was nothing the council could
do…That was 2005 and we went through the whole process again and it finished up even an application to the House of Lords".

Mr Prescott over to you…

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Show comments
  • Nicholas

    Thank goodness some of the local victims of these “travellers” have commented. Now that is “Another Voice” and one that has been sadly lacking amongst the bleating of the useful idiots who support the clever media manipulation of this extended, rich and non-taxpaying Irish trading family.

  • Publius

    merlinthepig writes: “Fraser, really, what are you hoping to achieve by having this individual spout her tendentious left-wing BS in this blog.”

    I think it’s his way of showing his contempt for the subscribers. Either that or he really has gone stupid.

    He pretends that what we have presented here is another view, as if we had some thought and analysis to digest.

    All we have however is the kind of silly breathless reportage that makes the daily papers and the TV news such a waste of time.

    Can Fraser Nelson tell the difference? I am beginning to wonder.

  • dorothy wilson

    One of the main contributors to the “expensive failure of planning policy” is the clause that allows restrospective applications when planning laws and permissions have been violated.

    This clause allows aggressive developers as well as people like these travellers to run rings around the planning staff in local councils. It also causes considerable stress to people who live in neighbouring properties and who are thus affected by these retrospective applications.

    Another key problem is the way in which legal aid is used to fund people who seem to delight in cocking a snook at law abiding citizens. I’m not sure how much of the £18m this fiasco has cost comes from legal aid but a single penny would be too much. If anyone blatantly breaks the law they should not expect the taxpayer to fund their fight against the application of that law.

    And, if these people are receiving housing benefit someone should be asking some long hard question as to why it was granted to fund the rental of illegal properties.

  • New Britannia

    “If we owned properties in Ireland why would we want to live in a field in Essex?”

    Our welfare state

  • Simon

    Is this the same Siobhan Courtney that works for the BBC? If it is then it all makes sense – upper middle class, metropolitan and no clue as to how people (law abiding people) live outside of the well off areas of London, so instantly takes the side of the so called “down-trodden”

    A perfect person for the New Spectator

  • Keith

    “People may have sympathy for them and support their nomadic way of life, but if travellers turned up in your village or town would you integrate and interact with them like you would with a neighbour that had moved next door?”

    This less-than-subtle attempt to blame the “crux of the problem” on the hypocrisy of the general public is truly nauseating. Like most people I don’t have any sympathy for them and I don’t support their nomadic way of life. Nor do I want them turning up in my town. The rule of law requires that all are treated equally. These people should be moved on continually until they either go to a country that does sympathise with them and support them, or they decide to obey the law like the rest of us.

  • Dancer

    I live within 2 miles of the Irish Traveller site at Dale Farm, I am fed up with hearing actresses and high profile people telling me how nice these people are!! The are bullies and thieves and extremely dirty and how about you try having them live in your back yard for 6 months… 50 year old women come to our houses at christmas carol singing but with an underlying threat of if you dont give us money … we know where you live… my 17 year old was attacked by their children countless times over the last 10 years.. he is mixed race and they even used racist names. I am always polite, as is my son as if you are not… you will pay!!! A message to the peace loving human rights activists.. what about our human rights!! I pay my taxes I abide by the law… I work full time yet I’m living on the breadline while these people drive around in flash cars dripping with gold intimidating us locals… How about you make a stand for us.

  • HackneyJon

    Oh come on Peter from Maidstone. No-one needs to be ‘silenced’. I don’t agree with Siobhan either and was really frustrated to hear that, yet again, the courts have put a spoke in the wheel of the evictions. Nonetheless, robust debate from all points of view is surely to be welcomed. There is lots of conservative comment in the Spectator, as even a cursory glance will bear out.

  • Frank Sutton

    “If travellers turned up in your village or town would you integrate and interact with them…? You probably wouldn’t and this is the crux of the problem.”
    Well don’t just leave it hanging there, Miss Courtney, how about considering why that is?

  • nonomad

    Ihave no idea what’s happened to my post of the 19th on this ,and as it was quite long i will reduce the content and hope this one is published .
    In short i lived near this site up to about ’83 there was a problem then well before the ten years currently quoted even the “legal”site was expanded way above the original permission,the Irish government pushed these people out with a cash handout and if they dont want them why should we tolerate what is happening,the real victims in this are the unfortunate people who abutt this site ,who’s homes are devalued by two thirds ,thats of course if they could ever sell them,never mind the well documented they have to put up with year in year out,no legal aid for them ,no cash handouts ,just misery.
    When sites are provided they are often trashed ,at the local taxpayers expense ,no one is ever seemingly bought to book for any of this ,and so it goes on at Dale Farm,Cottenham,and others including the endless mini Dale Farms that spring up round the area i live in now, all subverting the planning system and costing a small fortune to the local population,i could go on but when i see the efforts buy those who do not have a clue what its like to have to put up with living next to all that rubbish to save them “because they have rights to” i really wonder what planet they live on.

  • TomTom

    Siobhan is a BBC Journalist and hardly “Another Voice” merely Establishment Broadcaster Viewpoint. Why not get really radical and have “Another Voice” like Geert Wilders or The Pirate Party or Marine Le Pen ?

  • Fergus Pickering

    This is one of those cases where the chatterati, of whom Sibhan is such an adornment, are on one side and ordnary people (who can’t stand ‘travellers’ at any price) on the other. The travellers have a way of life. So do burglars and cannibals. Having a way of life does not make it sacrosanct. As a rule they live by thieving and fencing of stolen goods. I do not speak directly of THESE travellers of course, who are pure as the driven snow and into property, Irish property, in a big way. If they stay will they pay council tax? Will they pay income tax, come to that? No, I thought not.

  • Biggestaspidistra

    Fraser this is not another voice this is third rate rubbish writing. Can’t you shift it over to your arts blog where at least it can be ignored with the rest of the nonsense there.

    No offence Siobhan.

  • James

    “but if travellers turned up in your village or town would you integrate and interact with them like you would with a neighbour that had moved next door?”

    Whoa… Back up a moment. You’re suggesting that existing residents should have to bend over backwards and integrate with the norms of new neighbours, rather than the other way round? Why, exactly?

  • Ruby Duck


    The only point this post actually makes is that it would have been fairer to evict them in the first place, and that the delays int he system, particularly that introduced by Prescott, has exacerbated the problems.

    Sounds pretty conservative to me.

  • Archibald

    I don’t think people will continue to have sympathy for a nomadic way of life when the travellers appear to be anything other than nomadic. They are even asking for more time as they have planning requests in elsewhere. And I don’t think anyone can realistically be accused of saying ‘Not In My Back Yard’ given the evidence of a complete ignoring of planning laws both here and at their homes in Ireland as well as all the other issues detailed in the article I posted and the BBC report I posted that covers some of the concerns from their home town. It seems increasingly clear that there is no ‘way of life’, it died out many years ago, and surely the only sensible solution is to integrate them into society in permanent homes or have them return to their permanent homes in Ireland. The only culture they appear to continue now is that of exploiting and flaunting laws both here and in Ireland.

  • Charles

    Very poor logic.

    “It’s ironic that the DCLG concede that, even though the travellers were encouraged to buy their own land, this “proved unworkable as many Local Authorities have failed to identify appropriate sites or to grant planning permission.” So, travellers were faced with no choice but to live there illegally.”

    It may be they bought the land and were refused planning permission. But they DID have a choice: they actively chose to break the law. Why are they special?

  • Archibald

    I’ve made 3 comments on this some time ago and none seem to be appearing, is there a problem with the site yet again?
    1. I posted the BBC Look East report on the town in Ireland many if not all of them have houses in.
    2. I posted a view from Ireland from the Irish Independent, a real different view is to get the Irish perspective on the situation and judging by the BBC interviews and the Independent piece, they’re a much more straightforward bunch, the Irish.
    3. I requested that it might be worth putting the questions about homes and stakes in developments made by the BBC and the Mail to the people there, that would be a proper different view. Do they dispute all the allegations? Is the choice they have not one to go home to their houses in Ireland?
    4. The cost is unbelievable – that to me is a story worth investigating – how does the £18 million break down?
    5. Is there no culture to speak of? It would appear not, so how would they define their ‘way of life’ when it seems to be spent pretty much entirely at Dale Farm except for at Christmas when they go home for a few weeks and get wasted?

  • Yow Min Lye

    Most people who wish to develop land get outline planning permission first, then decide whether to purchase the land.

    But then, as I guess any self-respecting ‘traveller’ might say, “Planning permission? What’s that?”

  • Clear Memories

    In memory of the late, great Kenny Everett, who directed, round them up, get them all in a field and …………. bomb the bastards!

    Well, they’re in the field …… Get on with it.

  • wrinkled weasel

    Do any commenters think that poor Siobhan was not warned in advance about the probable reaction to her posts?

    Personally, I have enjoyed them. Siobhan lives in a world we see little of here at the Speccie. I wonder if she is real and not a journalistic construct.

    Keep at it Siobhan. You clearly have cojones and I like cojones on a girl.

  • Ralph

    If you start treating certain groups differently to other, positively or negatively, you create inequality. I thought that was what those on the left were trying to decrease not increase.

    Those at Dale Farm should be treated the same as anyone else who had illegally developed a site, the removal of any offending structures and the landowner footing the bill.

  • Peter From Maidstone

    I wish you would not be asked to post. I don’t mean to be rude. But you are not ‘another voice’, you are the same socialist voice that needs to be silenced not promoted. If the Spectator wanted to present another voice it would allow a conservative to post. It doesn’t want such a voice to be heard.

    When the revolution comes the Spectator will not deserve to survive. It is enthusiastically part of the problem.

  • Archibald

    And there’s more, BBC Look East report from their ‘spiritual home’:

  • nonomad

    Only in this country it would appear that something so wrong would be allowed at enormous expense to have been allowed to reach this stage ,i have commented elswhere on this as i lived close to this encampment in its earliest phase up till ’83 ,most of it wasn’t legal then ,only with endless retro planning and every loophole in the law was it allowed to develop to what it is today.
    The history goes back even further to a time when Ireland would not allow what is happening here and payed many of them a sum to buyland or leave they choose the later for obvious reasons, its more complicated than that but thats the essence ,their total lack of respect for any sites that have been provided ie the total trashing and theft of anything that can moved (i can give examples) has hardly endeared them to the local populace that has had to pay for this ,yet still they claim sites are not available to them ,is there any wonder that in most cases why should the tax payer do so ,other than under duress from some human rights directive or similiar.
    As for the people who have the misfortune to abutt these sites ,and its not just Dale Farm,they have the pleasure of unsaleble homes and in the case of Dale Farm a value reduced ,if they can sell ,of 60%,plus the usual ,and it is usual,aggravation ,threats ,bounday problems ,and threats various,where is the support in any form for them,their lives in many cases have been made a total misery for years with no hope of release,this new new injunction must feel like the never ending story ,but without the joy.
    It has cost and will cost the the local tax payers millions with maybe no end result ,this is an appalling indictment to our planning system and the laws that make all this misery possible.
    Here were i live now the council seem to have endless mini Dale Farms going on all the time,all take huge amounts of time and money (always our money ) to resolve and bit by bit the travelling community seem to obtain more and more of these sites against the wishes of the local residents and the planning regulations that excist for everyone one else,one things for sure ,whatever anyone may think of them ,messrs Berlusconi and Sarkosy didn’t wait 10 years plus to resolve similiar problems and i would imagine ,no in fact i know that the residents of Crays Hill and indeed similiar like Cottenham in Cambs would love a PM who would act in such a swift manner on behalf of the residents who have to tolerate all this,and to all those handwringing ,they have rights to brigade ,you haven’t got a clue unless you have lived near and had to suffer the consequences of allowing this nonsense to continue as it has for so long.

  • Archibald

    Here’s another ‘another voice’, one from the Irish Independent. Funny you have to go to the Irish themselves for a bit of balance, but there you go.

  • Archibald

    That the eviction process has so far cost £18 million is the real scandal here. Let’s have a breakdown of that please, that truly would be a different view on the situation and one deserving of proper analysis.

    A proper investigation into the allegations against Prescott would be useful, one presumes he did absolutely bugger all, as he only becomes a brave ‘man of the people’ when something directly affects him.

    Perhaps you could also question those identified by the Daily Mail as owning homes and stakes in developments back in Ireland and the other allegations put, to see what truth there is in all that, it all seems to be well backed up by fact and rather puts a different slant on things, as does the reputation of the town they are all from as detailed in Nicholas’s link on the previous article. To say they were forced to build as they had nowhere else to go would seem to be just a little bit misleading.

    And still no word on any culture? Should we take it that this argument is a nonsense?

  • Yosemite Sam

    It’s a funny old world – these ‘travellers’ do not seem to travel. Rather, they live in mobile homes – which given today’s imprecision of language, counts as travelling. They buy land without planning permission then expect to live there permanently, without paying council tax. We cannot deport them to Ireland (who do not want them anyway), and no doubt on Friday some judge who lives 200 miles from them will say their human rights have been violated. What a funny old world.

  • merlinthepig

    Fraser, really, what are you hoping to achieve by having this individual spout her tendentious left-wing BS in this blog. Sympathy? Understanding? An exodus of readers from CIF. Or of current readers away from this site? I’m on my way once the next article of this nature appears.

  • Fergus Pickering

    OK, so the tinkers stay. And how many more come over here and find a field and stay. The Irish are simply pushing these people out of their native country to batten onto us. As has been pointed out many of them have property in Ireland. So why don’t they go and live in it. The age or youth of them is completely irrelevant.

  • Heartless, Hard, unRomantic Perry


    Just . . . NAUSEATING!

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