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
On 7th September Lord Avebury and Andy Slaughter MP, both members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsies, Roma and Traveller’s (APPG), and Jane Connolly from the Irish Embassy1 visited the evicted residents of Dale Farm who continue to live on the entrance road to the unauthorised site. In advance of the visit, Lord Avebury contacted Cllr Tony Ball, Leader of Basildon Council and constituency MP John Baron who both agreed to meet APPG members to discuss the issues further. The visit was organised by the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain and attended by the British Red Cross and volunteers working closely with the Travellers. The visiting delegation would like to thank the Travellers for their kind hospitality on the day.
The objective of the visit was to establish how the situation at Dale Farm has developed since last year’s eviction and to explore peaceful and sustainable solutions to the issue. The visit was carried out in the context of Dale Farm being a national issue which brings to light the severe shortage of Gypsy and Traveller sites across the country and the discrimination these communities face in accessing appropriate accommodation.
Following last year’s £7M eviction2, many of the families made homeless from the land they owned or rented at Dale Farm returned to the area and have, for the last year, been
1 The Irish Embassy is not included as a party to this report’s conclusions and recommendations. It’s role in the delegation was to gain a better understanding of the issues facing the Irish Traveller Community in the UK and observe some of the Irish Embassy funded work ITMB are involved in.
living either on the side of the privately owned road leading into Dale Farm, or on the authorised site at Oak Lane, which is adjacent to Dale Farm. Numbers of caravans vary, but typically there are between 20-30 caravans on the road into Dale Farm.
During the visit the Dale Farm Travellers made two key points regarding their circumstances: Firstly, if they had anywhere else to go, they wouldn’t continue to live in such poor conditions, and secondly that the vast majority of Travellers living on Oak lane or temporarily on authorised pitches are the original residents of the evicted site (contrary to claims by Basildon that the Travellers temporarily living on Dale Farm have moved in from outside the Borough and were never resident on the site).
Meanwhile concern has been expressed by the British Red Cross regarding the health of Travellers as a result of their continued poor living conditions and the major excavation works on the nearby evicted site. The Environment Agency has also recently conducted tests on the site for asbestos and hydro-carbons, both pollutants which are dangerous to public health. It should be noted that the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain (ITMB) have submitted a planning application for 15 permanent residential pitches on vacant non-Green Belt land owned by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) at Gardiners Way in Basildon.
The visit and issues arising
Lord Avebury, Andy Slaughter MP and Jane Connolly spent over an hour talking to the Dale Farm Travellers on issues ranging from health, services, further enforcement, future accommodation, education and children. Serious concerns were expressed by Travellers in all these areas as outlined below. The group also took a tour of the unauthorised section of the site where Basildon has carried out extensive works to restore it to the green belt.
Lord Avebury talking to Dale Farm Travellers about conditions on the site
Residents expressed serious concern about the health and wellbeing of Travellers living on the entrance road and temporarily on the authorised pitches. Of particular concern was the fact that midwife visits to women living on the site were suspended for approximately 8 months, with women who had given birth by caesarean section (who are generally discharged from hospital 2 days following the operation) being refused visits and expected to make their way to the hospital for care. It was only following complaints from various individuals and organisations that these services were restored. However, during the visit some residents and volunteers indicated that health visitors were still reluctant or not willing to visit the site and that provision of such services may not be in line with standard provision to other communities. One resident made this comment:
“Midwives and health visitors don’t come here since the eviction; we have to go to Billericay for ante-natal care. Three women are pregnant on the roadside, two on the settled site”.
Volunteers on the site and the British Red Cross updated the group that as of May 2012 a Health Bus has been conducting weekly visits and offers baby-weighing, health advice etc. However, it was emphasised that this was no substitute to standard domiciliary services and mid-wife ante and post-natal home visits.
The delegation found that many of the residents are highly vulnerable and have serious conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia, Osteoporosis, Chron’s Disease, Bowel Cancer, Down Syndrome etc. Below are some of the health conditions residents described to Lord Avebury (personal details have been removed):
Male 24, severely disabled after a car accident and 30 operations for broken bones.
Female 65, has dementia. Daughter is her full-time carer and has high blood pressure herself.
Male 81, oldest resident, COPD, gout, high blood pressure, was a smoker and uses a breathing machine at night. He has no carer.
Female 76, dementia, stroke, over-active thyroid, needs to go twice a week to health centre at Billericay.
Female 76, Parkinson’s, used to be visited by district nurse, but that stopped after the eviction. Daughter is her carer, has thyroid problem for which she is treated with 275mg thyroxine daily.
Female 36, children 14, 15, has Crohn’s disease for which she had surgery last year, and is taking medication. [Note: there is no cure for Crohn’s disease, but symptoms can sometimes be alleviated].
Female 72, COPD, uses breathing machine, also osteoporosis. Daughter is carer.
Male 7, has Down’s syndrome who attends Pioneer special needs school in Basildon where he is doing well. He has a problem with his hearing and also with breathing for which he needs to attend Wickford Health Centre and Basildon Hospital regularly. “I don’t drive, so I need the help of my community. When Basildon evicted us they didn’t assess
special needs. If we get evicted, where do we go? Everybody helps each other here, but if we’re separated we can’t do that”.
Female, looks after her brain-damaged son, 32. Partner (Male) has had 2 heart attacks, suffered stroke 2 days after the eviction. “We have nowhere to go with all our problems”.
Female 60, high blood pressure, stroke victim, being treated at Wickford Health Centre, which she says is good. “I can’t drive, so I depend on the neighbours for shopping and visits to the doctor”
Male 80, Angina, bowel cancer, scan awaited for prostate cancer. Lives with daughter and her three children. She suffers from depression and two of the children are deaf, one profoundly.
Female, fractured spine caused by police attack with batons during the eviction, caught on video. She described the police shouting at her ‘Get down you pig’ when she tried to stop them knocking down a wall on a legal site. Police have admitted responsibility, her solicitors have made a claim for damages.
It should be noted that the British Red Cross have expressed concern regarding the health of Travellers as a result of their long-term poor living conditions and the works carried out on the nearby evicted site (see Appendix A).
The delegation found conditions to be very poor on site, largely due to the lack of services. There are no toilets. Fresh water is only available from taps on the authorised site and residents complain about the number of rats. Residents also made the point that if they had anywhere else to go, they wouldn’t be living in such poor conditions. It was noted that the community returning to the site reflects the chronic shortage of accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers throughout Essex and nationally. It also reflects the increasing impossibility of living on the side of the road (because of the risk of repeated evictions, abuse, assault etc). During the visit residents repeatedly expressed their worries about spending yet another winter living in such precarious conditions. Below are some of the concerns residents described to Lord Avebury:
“Conditions are terrible. No toilets, no electric. Water has to be fetched in jugs. Nearest laundrette is 3 miles away”
“Biggest problem is the toddlers – 12 aged 1-2 out of some 60 children up to the age of 16 on the site. About 20-25 from the illegal site attend primary school, none go to secondary school”.
“There has been a recent outbreak of vomiting and diarrahoea. Fifteen children have been to the doctor in Wickford or Billericay”.
“You can have a shower at the ‘sporting village’ in Basildon, at £3.50 for an adult, £2.70 for a child”.
Resident on lawful site: Overflow from drains broken by Council in his garden.
Environment Agency and British Red Cross
Between 14th and 16th August the Environment Agency were on the evicted site at Dale Farm testing for pollutants, particularly asbestos and hydro-carbons. The fact that they have taken this action suggests they are convinced there is a significant risk that harmful pollutants could exist. If they are found the responsible parties (potentially Basildon Council and their bailiffs) could be liable for the costs of carrying out the testing and of possibly capping the site. The EA’s test results are not expected until mid-to-late September.3
Meanwhile an independent assessment carried out by the British Red Cross in February 2012 expressed concern regarding the health of Travellers on the site as a result of the major excavation works and the shortage of adequate sanitation (see Appendix A). During the 7th September visit members of the Red Cross again stated their continued concerns regarding the physical and mental health of the Travellers, lack of sanitation and the possible health threats posed by the evicted site.
Dale Farm volunteer showing Andy Slaughter MP excavation works carried out on the evicted site
in order to restore it to green belt
In July 2012 Basildon Council served enforcement notices on residents living on the entrance road to Dale Farm, but not on the allegedly overcrowded authorised plots. These notices were appealed by the Travellers, however, the Planning Inspectorate deemed the appeals invalid as the appellants could not prove they ‘had any interest whatsoever in the land the subject of the issued Enforcement Notice.’4 As a result the notice came into effect
4 Letter from Basildon Council dated 7th September 2012, Neil Costen, Manager of Planning Enforcement (see Appendix B)
on the 29th August 2012 and according to Basildon its requirements must be complied with by the 29th September 2012 (see Appendix B).
Planning application Gardiners Way Basildon
In media interviews Cllr Tony Ball, Leader of Basildon, has acknowledged the need for further provision of Gypsy and Traveller sites in Borough.
On 21st August the ITMB submitted a planning application for 15 permanent residential pitches on vacant non-Green Belt land owned by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) at Gardiners Way in Basildon. This application was validated by Basildon on the 4th September and should be determined within 8-13 weeks, after which time the applicant may have the right to appeal against non-determination on the grounds of invalidity.
The objective of the application is to deliver a high quality authorised site for the most vulnerable on Dale Farm (the 15 proposed pitches will address approximately half the accommodation needs of the homeless Travellers on Dale Farm). The plans for the site also include a children’s play area and a community building / site manager’s office (see Appendix C).
ITMB together with Homes Space Sustainable Accommodation5 (who are a partly Gypsy owned, not-for-profit Community Interest Company with expertise in site management and development) will shortly be submitting a bid for funding to the Homes and Communities Agency for funds to develop the Gardiners Way site.
Meeting with Dale Farm Travellers, Matthew Brindley ITMB, Josie O’Driscoll ITMB (standing)
and Jane Connolly from the Irish Embassy (seated in front of Josie)
Basildon Council will note that under the Government’s Planning Policy for Traveller Sites and National Planning Policy Framework, they have a duty to develop a core strategy which includes a five-year rolling land supply for Gypsy and Traveller sites that will cover the needs of the community in the area, including those displaced from Dale Farm, by March 31, 2013. It should also be noted that the 2009 Essex Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessment (GTANA) carried out by Fordham Research found that Basildon had a requirement to provide 148 additional residential pitches between 2008-2013 and a total of 177 additional pitches by 2021.6
If Basildon’s core strategy is not in place by given date, the Council may not be able to resist planning applications on land they may consider unsuitable.
The delegation also noted that none of the children of secondary school age of the families living on the roadside is attending secondary school, and the Council is in default of its obligation to satisfy itself that these children are receiving suitable education, through the Education Welfare Service.
The PCT (to be replaced in 2013 by Clinical Commissioning Groups) and the local authority should immediately conduct assessments of the health and welfare needs of the residents, to ensure that they are carrying out their statutory duties to vulnerable groups including the chronically ill, the disabled, older residents, mothers, babies and children. The Health and Social Care Act places specific duties on each Clinical Commissioning Group to (a) reduce inequalities between patients with respect to their ability to access health services; and (b) reduce inequalities between patients with respect to the outcomes achieved for them by the provision of health services. (Section 14T)
Basildon should refrain from carrying out further evictions of the residents on Oak Lane when it is patently evident that they have nowhere else to go. As previously recommended by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Basildon should identify alternative culturally appropriate accommodation with full respect for the rights of the children and families involved.
The Gardiner’s Way planning application should be granted, providing there are no objections based on sound reasoning and robust evidence. The immediate welfare of the Travellers living at Dale Farm should be taken into serious consideration in all future planning decisions made by BBC.
The office of the Children’s Commissioner should visit Dale Farm, and make relevant representation to the Council Leader and CEO of BBC regarding the current serious risks to the health and welfare of babies and young children living in Oak Lane.
6 2009, Fordham Research, Essex Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessment, p. 117