Searchlight Magazine

Travellers celebrate “step in the right direction” as Basildon Borough Council approve planning application for a 15 pitch Traveller site

A week ago Basildon Borough Council’s planning committee finally passed a planning application for 15 pitches to accommodate some of the most vulnerable homeless Gypsy and Traveller families in Basildon.

This is the first site approved by the Council since official planning needs assessments in 2006 stated the need for between 157 and 163 pitches for Gypsy and Traveller families in Basildon by 2011. The council had previously rejected several similar applications, but years of campaigning and direct action appears to have finally paid off. Although 15 pitches will not accommodate all those left homeless by the Dale Farm eviction, families whooped for joy on hearing the news.

The application, made by the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain (ITMB), working in partnership with Home Space Sustainable Accommodation (HSSA), aims to deliver a model Traveller site using vacant Homes and Communities Agency land at Gardiners Way in Basildon, Essex. ITMB anticipates working with Basildon Council to access substantial Homes and Communities Agency funds to pay for the development of the new site now that it has been approved by Basildon Council.

Concerns have been raised about the desperate conditions the families made homeless by last year’s eviction are living in. Since October 2011, the 83 Traveller families evicted from Dale Farm have been living in squalid conditions in caravans parked on Oak Lane adjacent to the cleared Dale Farm site, without adequate sanitation, heating, or electricity supplies. Although 15 pitches will accommodate only a very small number of the remaining homeless Dale Farm families, they whooped for joy on hearing the news. Basildon Council is expected to delay plans to evict the families currently living near Dale Farm site, until those most vulnerable can move into the new site.

Mary Sheridan, a mother of four encamped on Oak Lane since last year’s eviction, said “Even though this doesn’t solve the problem for most of us, this is something good for the community – it’s a bit of hope – it will help the old people and the sick people here – it’s good news”.

Dale Farm Traveller Kathleen McCarthy, who campaigned tirelessly for a peaceful settlement to avoid the Council’s costly eviction action last year, said “This is a step in the right direction and it shows there is an alternative to evictions – this is what we always asked for. If only they could have approved a few sites like this last year, then there would have been no need to put us out of our homes and onto the roadside. This is good news, but it’s just 15 pitches, that still leaves a lot of homeless Travellers in Basildon.”

Nora Sheridan, a resident of Dale Farm spoke in support of the planning application, noting that the site would allow her children to continue their education at the local school. Not everyone was happy — Len Gridley, who has campaigned against the Dale Farm Travellers for many years spoke in opposition, saying that while sites should be made available for English Travellers, “sites should not be made available to the Irish”. He said that they should go back to Ireland.

Yvonne MacNamara, CEO of the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain, who made the application, said: “Basildon Council’s planning committee has rightly recognised that the planned site will help address the dire need for more Gypsy and Traveller pitches both in Basildon and within Essex County Council as a whole.”

Michael Hargreaves, the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain Planning and Policy Officer, said: “This was the right decision. It’s an attractive, well designed scheme and an ideal site. It is on vacant, previously developed land, not in the green belt, and near local services, including the Crays Hill School that many Traveller children attend, and also to the authorized Oak Lane site. We look forward to Basildon Council supporting our bid to the Homes and Communities Agency for the funds to build it.”

Maria Stoppart, of the Traveller Solidarity Network said: “Basildon Council has made a small step towards meeting the needs of local Travellers by approving plans for culturally suitable accommodation rather than wasting more taxpayers money on forced evictions. The families parked alongside Dale Farm are seeking reassurance that the Council will suspend the planned eviction of the roadside while the new site is being developed.”

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