Gypsy eviction due tomorrow morning
evnuk at gaia.org
Mon Aug 23 19:29:10 BST 2004
Tomorrow morning's eviction is one of a spate in recent months which amount=
to British government sponsored 'ethnic cleansing'.
More info call Grattan Puxon 01206 523 528 Roma Federation
Bitter disputes between Travellers, councils and local residents are becomi=
ng increasingly common as 'illegal ' Gypsy-owned sites continue to grow. But=
isn't there a better way? Jake Bowers and Alison Benjamin report
Wednesday July 28, 2004
Nazing, Essex, is a suburban sprawl where east Londoners who have made a bi=
t of money move to see green fields from the windows of their big modern hou=
ses. Past these homes, with their St George's flags flying, and behind the r=
ow upon row of industrial greenhouses, is a narrow road that leads to Harry =
and Linda Smith's land - half an acre of gravel on which stand two caravans,=
a neat wooden cabin, some well-cared-for potted plants and a portable toile=
This pitch off Paynes Lane has been the Smith's home for 14 years but the c=
ouple bought it without planning permission and subsequent planning applicat=
ions have been rejected. As a result, Epping Forest district council has ord=
ered them to leave. Unless Harry, 63, and Linda, 57, go by August 23, the ba=
iliffs will remove them by force.
Only a few weeks ago, at the same five-acre site, 26 Gypsies and Travellers=
were evicted who had repeatedly flouted planning regulations since their ar=
rival two years ago. The Smiths' eviction could be the latest in a line of u=
gly confrontations between Gypsies and Travellers and local councils trying =
to remove them from "illegal" sites.
Earlier this year police in riot gear paid an early morning visit to Meadow=
lands, also in Essex, to help clear out 15 families. At Bulkington Fields, W=
arwickshire, police and bailiffs were met by an angry crowd behind a huge ba=
nner that read Stop Ethnic Cleansing.
Harry Smith says he will not leave Paynes Lane. "We've got nowhere to go," =
he argues. "If the council finds me a place by all means we'll go, but how c=
an I take my misses on the road? She's had a triple bypass and she's got to =
go back to the doctor for tests. They think her arteries are blocked again. =
She also has to take insulin twice a day for her diabetes."
Epping Forest district council has no sites for Gypsies and Travellers. And=
, claims Linda Smith, the nearest is full. It is a similar story across Engl=
and. The 324 sites provided by local authorities, where just under 6,000 car=
avans are pitched, have long waiting lists. Since the 1994 Criminal Justice =
Act removed the statutory duty on local councils to provide caravan sites fe=
w new ones have been created. Resistance from local residents and lack of fu=
nding are the two most frequent reasons cited by councils.
Gypsies claim that their nomadic way of life has in effect been outlawed. C=
urrent government policy recommends that the 300,000-strong Gypsy and Travel=
ler communities should house themselves on their own land. Many of the plots=
they have bought, however, are on greenbelt land on the outskirts of towns,=
so they are often denied planning permission. The government's own studies =
state that more than 90% of applications from Gypsies are refused, compared =
to applications from settled people, of which more than 80% are granted cons=
Last year there were almost 2,000 illegal encampments on land privately own=
ed by Gypsies - up 40% on the previous year. Nearly half were in the east of=
Britain. What results are bitter legal wrangles that can drag on for years.=
The Birmingham- based Community Law Practice, which specialises in represen=
ting Travellers, is dealing with up to 100 planning appeals, about a third o=
f all cases.
The most high profile appeal is ongoing in Cambridgeshire, where Cottenham =
residents and Travellers are locked in battle over the addition of 17 new mo=
bile homes on Smithy Fen, Cottenham's long-established Travellers' site. Out=
raged local residents threatened to withhold council tax in protest at the a=
ntisocial behaviour they say they have endured since the Irish Travellers mo=
Common complaints against Gypsies and Travellers include lorries rumbling a=
long country lanes delivering gravel, burning rubbish with smoke billowing a=
cross nearby gardens and residents claiming that burglaries have increased, =
despite little evidence to support this, according to the police.
In Epping Forest, growing tensions may have contributed to the election of =
three British National party councillors on the back of a manifesto pledge t=
o "immediately evict Travellers/Gypsies from private or council lands". In F=
irle, east Sussex, a mock Gypsy caravan with the number plate P1KIE, was tor=
ched last year on November 5. The Crown Prosecution Service has dropped char=
ges against the 12 people arrested because of lack of evidence.
The negative impact that the shortage of traveller sites has had on race re=
lations is recognised by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), which thi=
s week appointed a Gypsy commissioner, Charles Smith, chair of the Gypsy Cou=
ncil. Launching the commission's first strategy on Gypsies and Travellers ea=
rlier this year, chairman Trevor Phillips said: "There is no question that G=
ypsies and Travellers are probably the single most intensely discriminated a=
gainst group in the country. I've described it as a case of Gypsies and Trav=
ellers in the UK being akin to [what ] black folk were in the deep south of =
the US 40 years ago."
With the government estimating that more than 4,000 additional pitches will=
be required on long and short-stay council sites, by 2007, a wide range of =
organisations as diverse as the Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition (GT=
LRC), the Association of Chief Police Officers and Cottenham residents' asso=
ciation have reached the same conclusion; more sites must be provided.
The residents have even joined with GTLRC to put pressure on government to =
amend the housing bill and reintroduce a statutory duty on councils to meet =
Gypsy and Traveller accommodation needs. The action has not sprung from a ch=
ange of heart, but is an example of pure self-interest, says GTLRC's policy =
development worker Andrew Ryder. "I can 't think of a better recipe for disc=
ord and strife [than the Criminal Justice Act ],"says Ryder.
Epping Forest says the impact of fighting Travellers through the courts can=
be huge for a small council. "The amount of work involved seriously affects=
the capacity of legal, planning and environmental health departments to con=
tinue with the normal day-to-day activities," says Independent leader of the=
council John Knapman.
Then there's the cost. Mid-Befordshire district council estimates that it h=
as spent close to £500,000, excluding officer time, in court proceedings. Th=
e Local Government Association is in no doubt that forcing councils to provi=
de sites is the only solution.
"Unless there is a statutory duty supported by adequate funding it is unlik=
ely that site provision and wider service provision for Travelling communiti=
es will be developed as a priority for both financial and political reasons,=
" it told an Office of the Deputy of the Prime Minister select committee rev=
iewing government's Gypsy and Traveller policy. The review will report in th=
e autumn, but going on evidence given by housing and planning minister Keith=
Hill the reinstatement of the statutory obligation is not a done deal.
"The government is, of course, considering all options," said Hill. "Howeve=
r, I am very clear that a duty would have significant spending implications.=
I am also conscious that a duty would put Gypsies and Travellers arguably i=
n an advantageous position by comparison with other local residents without =
In Epping Forest, Knapman favours a Traveller-focused housing association s=
cheme to bring forward appropriate sites funded by private and public money.=
For Harry and Linda Smith it could come to late. When the bailiffs arrive a=
t Paynes Lane, Harry says: "They'll have to put me in prison."
Travellers' sites manager, Fenland district council
"Fenland has five local authority self-financing sites, the most of any dis=
trict council. The £40 a week rent covers maintenance. Some 66 families live=
on these sites. Another 200 families are on private pitches. Before they bu=
y land we encourage them to speak to us. We look into finding other potentia=
l sites for them if the ones they want to buy aren't suitable. We treat peop=
le respectfully and listen to what they're saying. In 40 cases we've persuad=
ed Gypsies from buying unsuitable land. In the past year there have been 229=
unauthorised encampments. We currently have four. We negotiate with the occ=
upants to move on to another area between five and 15 days later. We tell th=
em: 'If you act in an environmentally responsible way we're not going to mov=
e you on immediately'. We run Gypsy and Traveller cultural awareness seminar=
s for public sector workers and explain to the Gypsies and Travellers how th=
ings they do could be annoying for local residents."
Member of Paynes Lane residents' association
"There are 13 houses in Paynes Lane, Nazing, Essex. I live about three-quar=
ters of a mile from the five-acre site off the lane where originally seven o=
r eight Gypsy families were living. There was an incursion of a further 15 t=
o 20 families in January 2002, which led to a stand-off between the local re=
sidents and the newcomers. We blocked off our lane; it's a private road, and=
the council had an injunction against the Gypsies saying they couldn't go o=
n to the site. But the police let them go on. They told us it was to prevent=
a breach of the peace. After that incursion we had three solid months of hu=
ge lorries going up and down the lane from 7am to 7pm. There were incidents =
of abusive and bad language and they chopped down a hedgerow. The original s=
et would burn bonfires whose smoke billowed over the bungalow and cottages n=
earby. It's not a question of racism or nimbyism. It is a question of right =
and wrong. It's like you or me building a block of flats in a field."
"About 100 riot police and 40 bailiffs arrived at 8am on January 26 at Mead=
owlands, near Chelmsford. They smashed and kicked everything up. My two-year=
-old was hysterical. I was pregnant with my fourth child. I felt like they w=
ere trying to sweep us away into a sewer, that they were not treating us lik=
e humans. They towed my three-bedroom mobile home off the site and put it on=
the road. I was told it would be put in storage until the council found me =
a legal site. But it was left on the road and a few days later it was set al=
ight. All the children's toys and clothes were in there. I've lost everythin=
g. I'd been on the site for six months. My family bought the pitch for £14,5=
00. I'd applied for planning permission and thought it was going through. Le=
gal sites are very difficult to find and there is a three-year waiting list =
to get on one. Chelmsford council found me a house but I'm not coping very w=
ell. I feel like an alien. My whole life has been in a caravan. My mother is=
a Romany Gypsy and my father's an Irish Traveller."
More information about the Diggers350