Dale Farm evictions 'a waste of money' - travellers

There are 20 caravans illegally parked on the lane leading to Dale Farm

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Using a haphazard network of leaky green hoses, the twin lines of caravans are being washed clean.

Gleaming white in the sunshine, the caravans are home to between 16 and 18 traveller families in the heavily potholed Oak Lane in Crays Hill, Essex.

The families were among the 80 or so evicted last year from Dale Farm by Basildon Council.

Oak Lane sits next to Dale Farm, which means these families have moved just yards, from one illegal plot to another.

Numerous mounds of waste lie at the end of Oak Lane. They include clothing, plastic toys, a broken ping pong table and a settee - reminders of the travellers' former lives on Dale Farm.

Before the £7.2m clearance operation in October last year, Dale Farm was one of Britain's largest traveller communities.

Half the site had been legally occupied while the rest - a former scrapyard on green belt land - had grown into an illegal settlement of single storey chalets.

Nora Sheridan Nora Sheridan says the evictees want a place to live with adequate facilities

The council has defended its action, saying it was "upholding the law" which "every public body is expected to do".

But the travellers believe the clearance was a waste of public money which has brought misery to those affected.

One of those evicted was grandmother-of-four Nora Sheridan. She lives in one of the Oak Lane caravans.

She said the eviction last year was "a total waste of money" which had harmed people's lives.

"There are old people and sick people and young babies living along here," Mrs Sheridan said. "We've had babies born since the eviction.

"And people have become ill since the evictions. It is bad, it is terrible. And we have a hard winter ahead of us coming.

"It was bad last year. The whole road got iced like a skating place and we were slipping and sliding and falling.

Filled with rubble

"What has the eviction done? We're here, with nowhere to go. And look at what they've left behind. Have you seen it?"

She described the former scrapyard site, which, far from being returned to green belt land, has been filled with rubble to prevent travellers returning.

Dale Farm history

An activist looks on in front of a burning caravan, which was set ablaze by activists to be used as a barricade, as evictions begin at Dale Farm travellers camp
  • 1970s: Basildon Council gives planning permission to 40 English Romany families to live beside a scrapyard
  • 1996: Dale Farm sold to an Irish travelling family for £122,000
  • 2001: A growing number of families move in and various planning breaches are reported
  • 2005: Travellers ordered to leave Dale Farm after a planning inspector declares the development illegal
  • 2006: A public inquiry is held
  • 2007: Basildon Council votes to evict 14 families
  • 2009: Lord Justice Pill rules the decision to clear the site is lawful
  • March 2011: Basildon Council votes to go ahead with the eviction
  • October 19, 2011: The eviction begins

"It is affecting everybody here," she said. "I just can't hack it."

Asked about her hopes for the future, Mrs Sheridan said: "I just want somewhere to live where we have our own facilities. A temporary building with a shower would do me at the moment.

"My grandchildren (four boys) are in Ireland and they want to see me. But how can I bring them here?"

There have been 37 offers of alternative accommodation offered by the council to travellers. None have been accepted.

Speaking about the Oak Lane residents, Tony Ball, leader of Basildon Council, said: "They are breaking the law and we remain committed to taking the appropriate action, and will follow the correct process to do this.

"This will take time, but we remain steadfast in our commitment to upholding the law."

The land formerly occupied by the travellers was supposed to be turned back to green belt land. That has not happened.

The reason, according to the council, is the land is owned by the travellers which means the authority cannot go on to it.

But as far as Nora Egan, another Oak Lane traveller, is concerned, the council has destroyed the site, leaving behind them a "dump" with unsealed tanks now full of water.

'Not wanted'

She fears it is a potential death trap for children in the area.

And the travellers' hopes for a new home have been dashed. An application to move on to a site in Laindon was submitted but lost on appeal.

The latest hope is for a small travellers site for 15 families in Gardiner's Lane South in Basildon.

Oak Lane The scene beyond the caravans in Oak Lane

But that application has already met with strong opposition from some in the community.

"We're not wanted in heaven or hell," said Mrs Egan.

Eight of the former Dale Farm families have moved 70 miles west into Cambridgeshire to live with relatives at the Smithy Fen site at Cottenham.

Patrick Egan, who owns the legally-sited farmhouse at Dale Farm, moved with them.

Mr Egan said: "Some of the families from Dale Farm have come to stay with relatives. I just can't bear to go back around Dale Farm anymore because of the state it has been left in.

Asked what the future held for the evicted families, he said: "What hope have them people got in getting planning permission?"

Some of the other Dale Farm evictees are understood to be working in the Midlands, while others have gone back on the road travelling.

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