Dale Farm: does English and Welsh law require tweaking?

It seems today that the planned eviction of the Irish Travellers from the Dale Farm complex is going ahead.

The whole fiasco has apparently cost the local council and police force a combined £18 million and taken ten years as the case has wound its way through the courts, bouncing between different appeals courts, including last minute injunctions preventing the council from clearing the site.

This is a pretty amazing expense in both time and money for a local council, given that any cursory reading of the situation would reveal that the Travellers were categorically in the wrong, with them only having planning permission for 40 dwellings on the site, as opposed to the approximately 90 that they currently have. Further, it appears that many were offered social housing by the local council, yet refused on the grounds that permanent housing is a “prison”, and many others own multiple properties in Ireland.

Does English and Welsh law need tweaking to speed up cases like this through the court system?

While it might appear to be an open-and shut planning issue, there is a wider context to this specific case in that Basildon Council have to balance their responsiblity to uphold planing laws with their legal obligation to provide suitable accommodation for the Travelling community.

The Council, of course, will argue that they have made the right offers in the last ten years, but this issue is significantly more complex than asking someone to take down an illegal extension on the suburban semi.

Had the Council ploughed ahead with evictions in a short timeframe they risked being mired in ongoing legal disputes which no doubt would have cost a similar amount of money.

I’m not saying I support either side (although I think it’s an issue of basic fairness it’s also the case that this “greenbelt” land was a derlict scrapyard rather than a nature reserve, so I do wonder how much damage would actually been done by granting an exception in this case).


This is the crux of it all. Much as though Dale Farm was, to the casual observer, rather illegal and took the piss the fact remains that pretty much all counties do not meet their targets for places for Travellers to live. Either they provide places to meet demand or they don’t bother at all and all land squatting is made illegal and acted upon. This halfway point is not helping anyone.

Forgive my ignorance, but what exactly do they do? A quick look online netted me the following:

They’re a bunch of people who basically wander around and camp places. They are not particularly beloved.

Transients of any stripe are rarely very well respected, so that’s no surprise. But how exactly do they make a living? Are they unable to own or rent land? How many are there?

I don’t really care, not knowing much about them. I do wonder what they do that requires special government support just to get by.

I thought that sometime in the 1990s the law changed and communities were no longer required to provide suitable accommodations for the Travelers.

A lot of them make their living as common laborers. They were once associated with dog breeding and horse trading but I don’t know if they’re into that kind of thing these days. Some of them do own land.

Locally a lot of Travellers are involved in scrap dealing, horse trading, and stuff like driveway paving, and landscaping. It used to be common to see them begging too. They’re accused of being involved in all sorts of criminality too.
Between Britain and Ireland there are approximately 40-50,000 Irish Travellers. Note that while many of these families have strong connections with Ireland, a lot of members of the group have never lived here. There are also Irish Travellers in the US and elsewhere. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Traveller

Where I live in Warwickshire we have a regular Horse Fair, where loads of Traveller families travel down for the weekend. There used to be a lot of bad feeling and mistrust from the locals (shops and pubs closing early, reports of disorder etc) but it’s well managed and doesn’t seem to cause any disruption apart from the odd traffic queue.

Unfortunately in much of Britain and Ireland there is a mutual distrust. I have some sympathy for the Travellers but then enough of them really take the piss in various ways and unfortunately because of their visibility they all get tarred with the same brush.

I wish more of the news reports would mention that the travellers in question own the land and it was planning permission for permanent dwellings (albeit static caravans, not buildings with foundations) that were the issue. All the TV news I’ve seen makes it look like they just turned up and pitched tents.

The homes they were offered were mostly not in Basildon. They were mostly not even in Essex - many were in the North-East of England, in multiple different places, splitting up a community which is one of the closest you can find. (I’ll see if I can find an acceptable cite for the North-East point).

The reason for denying planning permission is that it’s on Green Belt land, supposed to lessen urban sprawl from London, but give it a couple of years and that site will be full of faceless Barratt Homes for rich commuters. I’d lay money on that happening, especially with the ConDems attempting to repeal Green Belt legislation.

FWIW, I’m originally from Thurrock, the neighbouring borough to Basildon, and have lived in Basildon, so this is not an outsider’s POV.

“Require” is too strong a word. It is a mandatory punishment only in extremely aggravated cases of mopery with intent to gawk, otherwise discretionary with the judge. The degree of the offense is a jury question, but they are all to be distracted with crickets in boxes while the instructions are read. It’s a system with a few medieval holdovers yet, you understand.

A fascinating point about where they’re offered homes, it’s not something I’d come across before in the coverage.