There’s something about Dale Farm

The other day I visited Dale Farm in Crays Hill, Essex, allegedly the largest illegal Traveller site in Europe.

It was pouring down with rain and the place looked deserted. A resident with a young girl and dog in tow eyed my car with suspicion, but her face softened when I wound down my window and told her I was there to see Mary-Ann McCarthy.

The Dublin-born site matriarch waved from her doorstep and welcomed me in. Her mobile home looked as neat as a pin and the living room was plush with a cream leather suite and large dried flower displays.

Mary-Ann McCarthy: At home on Dale Farm

Mary-Ann, 70, has lived on the site for 10 years, which now houses three generations of her family. She insisted that the Travellers don’t want to break the law but they have nowhere else to go.

Death threats and police escorts

I also met Len Gridley, 52, whose one-and-a-half acres of garden backs onto the Dale Farm site. He said his outspoken opposition to the site has led to death threats and he is given a police escort home after council meetings.

He showed me aerial-view photographs of the site that stretch back to 2001 when the first eight families arrived and put up fencing and hardstandings without planning permission.  Now there are 51 plots and 86 families and Basildon Council is expected to serve a 28-day eviction notice at any time.

Mr Gridley said he doesn’t blame the Travellers in spite of the intimidation he’s experienced. He suggested Basildon Council is at fault for not nipping the illegal site development in the bud all those years ago.

It all started with a disgruntled scrap merchant

It’s interesting that it all started with a disgruntled scrap merchant who warned the council that he would sell his land to the Travellers, if he didn’t get the planning permission he wanted.  He wasn’t joking.

One wonders why it has taken a decade to get the go-ahead on an eviction that may cost the tax payer as much as £18million.  Such is the nature of planning law: the process can take so long if you’re determined to fight it every step of the way.

But the problem is that it isn’t just a simple planning application.  It’s actually a small settlement with none of the attributes required of one: no road infrastructure and no water, sewer or power networks.  These could cost a lot more than £18million, even if it was a suitable place to locate such a settlement, and who would pay for that?



A lesson in community cohesion

Dale Farm eviction looms

New warning about localism for Gypsies and Travellers

“Lives at risk” say Dale Farm campaigners

Localism: who’s really got the power?





Filed under My Blog

7 responses to “There’s something about Dale Farm

  1. Eamonn judge

    One gets a curious sense of deja vu here as one recalls the 1984 study by Denis Hardy and Colin Ward entitled ‘Arcadia for All: The Legacy of a Makeshift Landscape’. This describes the way in which the mushrooming urban populations of our major cities in the late 19th century attempted to break out of the urban jungle and make little worlds for themselves out in the countryside, or on the coast, to commute in from, or simply to escape to live the good life away from it all. The Essex plotlands as they were called were all part of this, and Basildon was right in the middle of it, with a maze of dirt roads and shanty dwellings on scattered plots all over the place. It was one of the tasks of the Basildon New Town Development Corporation after the Second World War to both develop the New Town, and also create some order amongst the patchwork of mini-settlements which dotted the area. There is still evidence of this if you know where to look, but it took the Development Corporation some decades to create order out of a low level, if not chaos, then disorder. Maybe this experience has been forgotten by the new breed of administrators which took over in the new elected local authorities after the dissolution of the New Town Development Corporations, but it is rather surprising that they allowed a new type of plotland to grow up literally under their noses.

  2. Chris Whitworth

    As was said above its all about infrastructure. The obvious purpose of planning law is to control and regulate. Water supply and sewage capacity, bus and road congestion, school class sizes… All are put in jeopardy if anyone is allowed to ignore them. There is evidence here in Poland, of uncontrolled growth adversely affecting quality of life. Today I was talking to someone who was welcoming the new motorway- Another lesson ignored!

    As a human race we need to get our act together better- why can one group do it but another not? Jow much of it is really down to laziness- on the part of the police, the council, us all. It is so much easier to prosecute and punish a law abiding citizen who has an address, pays taxes etc, than a traveller who has and does none. So we see untaxed uninsured cars driven with impunity, groups of tenants on sink estates burning and bricking anything in their way, whilst those of us “in the system” have to toe the line.

    Perhaps the answer is to find mechanisms to bring travellers into the system?

  3. Thanks for the comment, Chris. You suggest finding ways to bring travellers into the system. Interestingly one reader, Helen Jones, told me she has tried to get her local authority to take council tax payments from ‘roadside’ families and they won’t do it. She said: “It’s systematically impossible is their lame lame excuse. It isn’t systematically impossible at all, they don’t want to do it because then they would have to face up to their responsibilities to what are without any doubt ‘local’ families.”

  4. For the record, the residents of Dale Farm pay Council Tax (£40,000 in total a year), their cars are insured and taxed (the police walk around the estate every day, by-the-way), those working pay National Insurance and Tax. The children all attend the local schools. It is just that they are of Irish Traveller or English Gypsy heritage, live in caravans or mobile homes and do sometimes travel. And regarded as unwelcome to live in the Basildon area by the MP, John Baron, some Basildon Councillors and Mr Gridley (the other neighbours have no big issue with Dale Farm).

    • Thanks for your comment Alan. There seems to be a perception that people living on authorised sites pay rent, council tax, utilities and so on but not so on illegal sites. Maybe it depends on the nature of the site. Dale Farm is a settled community, whether or not it is illegal, and the fact it has been there 10 years means there has been ample time for Basildon Council to assess the homes on the site and calculate the council tax that should be paid. I’m assuming that’s harder to do in the case of more temporary sites. You may have seen a comment from another reader (Helen Jones) who has struggled to get her local council to collect council tax payments from Travellers. If anyone knows more about these issues, I’d be interested to see their comments.

  5. susie

    why dont they just leave them alone , there not doing any harm and the council could at least find them another place to go or even better build a new site for them .

  6. Chris Whitworth

    May have relevance.

    Thanks for the enlightenment on Dale Farm – in Bradford it was clearly not the case. No tax discs in sight anywhere! And often true of many other communities there!

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