Well done to everyone now fighting the Police and Bailiffs at Dale Farm
Well done to the determined Dale Farm residents who have refused to leave their own scrap of land peacefully. Also well done to the brave activists who have stood against the Police sent in to facilitate the Bailiffs, Constant & Co., appointed by Basildon Council as the Local Planning Authority. The residents and their active supporters have done well in facing up to the force sent against them on the first day of an eviction that has been threatened for a decade. This was a fight that the residents didn't want to have, but which has been forced on them ever since Basildon Councillors decided to refuse planning permissions for Chalet homes and Caravan pitches. Even though it was Basildon Council that had earlier told the Gypsies and Travellers that Dale Farm was somewhere to live.
Their critics whine that for "Travellers" the Dale Farm residents don't seem to want to move on. But why shouldn't Gypsies and Travellers be free to make a home in one place and travel. That is not much to ask for.
Their opponents complain that the residents have flouted the planning law. That is true, but they had to build their Chalet homes and Caravan pitches illegally because the Local Planning Authority had turned against them. Basildon Council has used the planning law to block the Dale Farm residents. This former scrapyard that they were encouraged to buy is perfect for building cheap homes, near to work and facilities.
Their political enemies say that in challenging the planning refusals in the courts, and partially stopping a full eviction, the residents should leave and allow the clearance to proceed without further delay and cost to the Local Authority and Government. That to seek to use and then flout the law shows a double standard. That the residents cannot pick and choose when it comes to the law. Yet when the planning law has been used against them so cynically for 10 years it is not surprising that the Dale Farm residents have tried to oppose the planning lawyers on their own terms. When that tactic is proven insufficient, they are quite right to stand against the Bailiffs as they try to carry out the legally authorised instructions of planning committee Councillors.
The Dale Farm residents have done well. They are standing up for themselves against those who control and enforce the British planning law. Their supporters may have all sorts of reasons for being there to face the Police and the Bailiffs, but they are standing up for people who want to be free to make a home in one place and travel. Standing for people who need cheap homes, near to work and facilities. For people who don't think that all laws must be obeyed for all time.
The planning law is a problem in Britain, and should be broken by many more people than just the Gypsies and Travellers of Dale Farm. That the people who increasingly recognise the planning law is a problem have not sided in large numbers with the Gypsies and Travellers of Dale Farm is a political weakness of their hard fought and creative campaign to first legally frustrate and then physically resist eviction. That weakness must be overcome in future attempts to break the planning law. Lessons will be learned. But for now, at Dale Farm, the fact that residents and their active supporters have stood together is already a striking victory.
Eric Pickles as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government planned to demolish, destroy, and devastate half of Dale Farm. Basildon Council and the Courts have not provided the Pogróm Pickles hoped for.
The legal campaigners have forced the clearance to be partial, and far less complete than Basildon Council initially wanted for the £17,500,000 they are prepared to spend. The Dale Farm site will never look like a green field. It will remain partially developed, and more development will be attempted on what the Councillors like to call Green Belt. Having partially lost in the Courts, as was always likely, the legal campaign is a spent force, with Basildon Council now able to destroy what they can.
The residents and activists may hold off the Police and Bailiffs for a while, but they cannot stop the forced eviction indefinitely. Their modest homes are in danger of being destroyed in the effort to resist the attackers. However they have forced this Government to reveal what the planning law is really about - the national power to deny the development rights of all, and the ability to reallocate valuable planning permissions only to those favoured by Local Planning Authority committees of Councillors. That is a power ultimately backed by the Police in riot gear, and the Government always expects to maintain a monopoly on the use of violence.
The Police and Bailiffs at Dale Farm represent the planning law.
Ian Abley 19.10.2011
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