Evictions began at a 50 pitch travellers’ site in Essex this week, marking the beginning of the end of a long battle between the gypsy community and the local authority.
Basildon Council ordered mass evictions from two sites, one at Dales Farm, Basildon, and one at Hovefields, Wickford. Evictions began at the latter site on Tuesday (7 September), and involved bailiffs dragging out members of the Hovefields’ community.
Protestors gathered at the site, and proceedings were being monitored for any breaches of the law by the bailiffs.
The water supply was cut off and some arrests were made as bulldozers moved onto the Hovefields site.
At one point a sizeable group of the travellers at the Hovefields site applied for homeless status to protect them from eviction. They have also complained against the bailiff company (Constant & Co) employed to evict them. The council, who says it has 115 registered pitches, have fought through the courts for the eviction to be allowed.
Basildon Council leader Tony Ball said: "I am extremely disappointed that direct action has become necessary.
“The council has done all it can to encourage the travellers to vacate voluntarily. However, Basildon Council has an obligation to protect its greenbelt from unauthorised development.”
Across the county, plans for specially built travellers’ sites, such as a landmark site at Severall’s Lane in Colchester, have been halted, as the coalition government has abolished regional planning bodies that oversaw registered site provision.
A local government minister Bob Neill has also promised stronger enforcement powers for councils who have “good provision” for travellers, sparking fears that large numbers of gypsies will be shunted from local authority to authority, with no-one having a responsibility to provide adequate facilities.
Grants for specialist travellers’ sites have been slashed, although in one article in the Observer it was reported that around £18m is spent each year on evictions. The Labour government required local authorities to find land for them and offered £150m over five years to pay for it.
“Concerned residents” in Essex have also taken action, with home and landowners in Chelmsford reported to have set up barricades land to prevent a “flood” of gypsies in the wake of the evictions in the south-east of the county.
The Observer reported recently that there are around 18,000 traveller caravans in England, 80% of them on authorised sites or land they rent or own. The numbers on illegal sites is so small that “according to the government's own reports, that they could all be accommodated on one square mile.”
The clampdown against the Roma community is a Europe-wide attack, with the French government announcing the closure of 300 sites recently, while the Italian government declared its Roma population a national security risk in 2008.
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