On Tuesday night I fell asleep with a heavy heart after hearing the news that the clearance at Dale Farm was likely to start the following morning. I hoped that, overnight, common sense would prevail and a forced eviction would not take place, but I awoke to the inevitable sight of riot police storming the camp at dawn.
For the residents of Dale Farm, and Gypsies and Travellers all over the world, their worst nightmare was finally coming true. “They’re breaking the law,” I hear many of you cry, “It’s green belt land.” And you are right: it is an illegal camp, and if we want to live in a civilised society we must all uphold the law, no matter what background or culture we come from.
But the law is not black and white, and these people have certainly been let down by the system. Legal wrangling aside, the reality is that hundreds of human beings are about to be dragged from their homes and forced on to the roads.
My overriding emotions are sadness and confusion. I’m writing this from a caravan on my father’s land: it is parked here legally, but the memories of countless evictions from my childhood are etched in my mind. When I look up I expect to see the men in Day-Glo coats walking towards me and I’m filled with a sense of dread. I know how the Irish Travellers at Dale Farm feel as their life crumbles around them and they have nowhere to go. Hopeless is the only word that can describe it.
Most people in the UK don’t want them at Dale Farm or anywhere else in the country. Over 90% of those who responded to a recent poll believe a forced eviction is the right outcome. I won’t use many of the sensationalist terms being thrown around by some of the activists and Travellers involved in the eviction, and I don’t think this is a case of ethnic cleansing; but do I know first-hand how unaccepted the nomadic lifestyle is today. It doesn’t matter how quiet, clean or law-abiding you are, if you live in a caravan you are scum in the eyes of most of the British population.
Gone are the days when the government actively tried to defuse the tension and hostility between settled and travelling people. Sites are not being created, and budgets given to councils to do so are being used for other “more pressing” issues. It is a case of: “Not on my patch.”
Basildon council leader Tony Ball pulled out of discussions with the Homes and Communities Agency – who offered land to rehouse the Dale Farm families within Essex and within a suitable distance to the children’s school. In my opinion that was because keeping them within his borough would lose votes, and votes seem to be more important than human welfare.
A peaceful solution was never going to be found because Ball apparently believes that Basildon already has more than its quota of Travellers. Swap the word Travellers with any other ethnic group and ask yourself if that is an acceptable position to take.
For the Dale Farm community the tragic reality remains: they have nowhere to go. As they exit the site they will be greeted by blocked-up tracks and barricaded lanes, parks with trenches dug around them, and car parks with a heavy security presence. They’ll end up in laybys, the children will have no chance of an education, and their quality of life will be appalling. But at least they won’t be in Basildon.
People all over the country cheer the enforcement officers on, relishing the scenes of distress and trauma. I ask: whatever happened to human compassion?
The first report in a series using official private rental market statistics to examine rent levels and affordability for average earners at local authority level.
- Private Rent Watch Report 1 (PDF 4.9 MB)
The private rented sector is experiencing unprecedented growth, and the cost and affordability of rents is a major concern for many tenants. Shelter are producing a series of reports examining the market, using official statistics published by the Valuations Office Agency for the first time in September 2011. Report one focuses on average rent levels across England, and the affordability of those rents for full-time earners (an amount which is comparable to average total household income for private renters). Further reports will examine affordability for Local Housing Allowance claimants and trends in rent inflation.
If you are interested in a wider range of local level housing and homelessness statistics, visit our new Housing Databank resource.
Click on image to read…
Today members of NCAG joined travellers and their supporters at Dale Farm for a march from Wickford train station to the site and the official opening of ‘Camp Constant‘ where an attempt will be made to fend off the eviction that is now only days away.
The march itself was lively and had a good turn out of a few hundred strong. The only question was where were the mass throng of ‘leftist activists’ who constantly talk a good talk of ‘fight back’ and ‘equality for ethnic minorities’-apart from a handful of union banners, they were noticeable by their absence once again.
As usual the police presence was bordering on the ridiculous and FIT teams were out filming four year olds for their ‘database of domestic extremists’.
If any of our members, friends and supporters are able to get down to the site and help out the residents, we’d encourage you to do so as soon as possible.
Thanks to all at of Dale Farm for having us, our thoughts will be with you over the coming week.
The widow of a tenants’ champion who passed away this week has told how he laboured behind the scenes to improve Norwich’s council housing.
Comments Email Print Got a story?
Geoff Lowe, who died on Wednesday evening, joined the Norwich Tenants’ CityWide Board in 2006 and was in his third year as chairman.
The 68-year-old, from Trafalgar Street, was a former chairman of the Norwich Residents’ Forum and was also chairman of the New Lakenham Tenants Residents’ Association.
His wife Alyson, 55, who is also involved in tenants’ rights and has vowed to carry on, said: “People were not aware of just how much he did behind the scenes.
“Although it was an uphill struggle at times he felt strongly that if we all sat back and did nothing then nothing would happen, but if you try maybe something will.
“When he became chairman of the CityWide Board it was very different. He created the sub-groups which have since achieved a lot and I think his work with the CityWide Board would be the thing of which he would be most proud. He took it and made it an effective tool for resident involvement.”
Laura McGillivray, chief executive of Norwich City Council, said: “Geoff was tremendously involved in the council’s housing service for a significant number of years. But more recently he acted as a critical friend, helping us turn the service around – to the extent that the council and tenant representatives in partnership won an award for excellence in tenant participation.
“We were extremely grateful for the huge amount of time and energy he devoted to this. This has come as a terrible shock and his absence will be felt.”
Mr Lowe spent his formative years in Reading and served as a councillor there.
He moved to Norwich more than 20 years ago and had worked as a computer consultant, a trainer and most recently as a quality consultant before his retirement.
Norwich City Councillor Victoria MacDonald, who represents the Lakenham ward and was appointed cabinet member for housing in May, said: “This is devastating news and everybody is absolutely gutted.
“He was very warm and welcoming to me and was the first person to congratulate me on becoming the portfolio holder.
“There is no doubt whatsoever that he only ever had the best interests of Norwich tenants, and the CityWide Board and its work, at heart.
“It can be very difficult to be that critical friend and he always did it so well.”
The system through which thousands of families in and around Norwich are allocated social housing and council houses is on the brink of being scrapped, after one of the councils involved agreed to withdraw from the scheme.
The Home Options scheme was set up in 2007 with the aim that a single system would be used to find social housing for people in Norwich, Broadland and South Norfolk.
The government gave the councils a £100,000 grant to set up the system, which sees people apply on the internet for the type of housing they want.
Once on the housing register – and around 14,000 people are – they are given a banding ranging from emergency to low, through gold, silver and bronze.
They can then ‘bid’ for properties when they come up on the Home Options website and landlords, either one of a number of housing associations or the city council, offers the property to the applicant who falls into the highest banding of those who have applied and who has been registered for the scheme the longest.
But members of Broadland District Council’s cabinet today agreed to give officers the go-ahead to withdraw from the scheme and, with South Norfolk Council likely to follow suit next month, that will almost certainly trigger the end of Home Options.
The most likely outcome of the scheme being dissolved is that each council would set up its own system to allocate housing.
At today’s meeting, Roger Foulger, Broadland’s cabinet member for planning policy and conservation, said: “It’s a sound decision on two fronts – one that it will improve the service and second, that it will get rid of the waste which has been inherent in the scheme.”
Jo Cottingham, cabinet member for housing and environmental services said there would still be a need to link with other authorities over whatever scheme replaces Home Options.
South Norfolk Council had called in consultants KPMG earlier this year to look at the way the system operated, concluding it was wasteful and not good value for money.