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

Traveller Solidarity Network | 12.12.2012 08:05 | Dale Farm | Anti-racism | Free Spaces | Social Struggles

Yesterday evening 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.[1]

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. [2] 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.”

Yvonne MacNamara, CEO of the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain, who made the application, said[3]: “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[3]: “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 millions of pounds of 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.”

[1] The first Gypsy and Traveller accommodation needs assessment for Essex was produced by Salford University in 2006 – assessing the total need for sites to be generated by 2011. This suggested a need for 249 more pitches by 2011 across the whole of Essex. A Gypsy Traveller Accommodation Assessment benchmarking exercise was later conducted (commissioned by the East of England Regional Spatial Strategies Board) by a team led by Pat Niner of Birmingham University and concluded that the initial Essex GTAA was a significant underestimate of requirements. Pat Niner suggested a need for 483 more pitches across Essex, including the need for 157 pitches in Basildon. The Essex authorities commissioned a further study from Fordham Research explicitly to test the Niner report findings. This suggested a need for 301 pitches (not broken down into boroughs – but still exceeding the original 249 suggested by the Salford Univesity team). A later Independent Panel report again tested the regional targets and suggested a county need for 389 additional pitches by 2011, including 163 in Basildon (plus a further 95 2011- 2021)

[2] Report by members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsies Roma and Travellers ‘Visit to Dale Farm Travellers site: A year on from the eviction”

Related press articles:
Guardian, 20th Oct, 2012
Mental illness now blights many Dale Farm families:

Daily Mail, 21st Oct, 2012
Travellers evicted from notorious Dale Farm site 'are suffering from mental illness as a result of stress'

[3] ITMB Press release, Dec 11th, 2012

Traveller Solidarity Network