Ed Miliband criticises Basildon Council over Dale Farm

One of the themes of this week's Labour Party conference has been standing up for people who feel left out of society. Ed Miliband believes that included the travellers of Dale Farm.

As the legal wranglings continue, he told us: "I don't think Basildon Council has handled this situation very sensitively. Of course the law has to be enforced, but it must be done in a way that's sensitive."

The council is trying to evict some of the travellers from the site near Basildon because, although they own the land, they did not have planning permission to build their homes. After 10 years of stalemate, a vast eviction operation has been readied to swing into action as soon as the travellers' legal challenges come to an end.

Mr Miliband stops short of calling for the eviction to be halted but he says the council should be doing more.

"Instead of grandstanding the council should be providing alternative sites," he says. "It must be possible to for them to provide an alternative site for the travellers so that they can take the heat out of what has become a very controversial issue, which doesn't do anyone any good."

The council argues it already provides more official pitches than many other authority in the area and that it has behaved sensitively. Its leader Tony Ball recently claimed that if Labour had still been in power, the eviction would not have gone ahead.

Political football

The Labour leader isn't impressed: "They are turning this row into a party political football, this is about the enforcement of the law not party politics."

But he was happy enough to endorse party politics when it came to Labour's prospects. Mr Miliband agreed that Labour had to "do better" in the eastern region but warned it would take time.

"We lost the last election very badly but I am determined that we will recover."

Earlier in the week he assured local party members, some of whom feel the last Labour government largely ignored the East, that our region was essential to Labour's future success and he promised more resources and attention from the party leadership.

"We value the role that the region plays," he says. "We want to be a party of absolutely the whole country. What I've been talking about this week is having practical policies which can help the people of the region like cutting tuition fees, taking on the energy companies and reducing train fares because the train companies are overcharging people in certain cases. These are practical policies based on the values of 'something for something'."

Transport plans

On airport expansion, an issue that made his party very unpopular during the last government, he would not speculate on whether a second runway for Stansted may one day return to the agenda.

"I think any decisions have to be made within the framework not just of airport capacity but around environment and climate change. If we were in government we would be saying let's set some clear targets on climate change and then judge it in the context of airport expansion and economic competitiveness."

So he's not ruling it out then...

And on the other controversial transport issue, plans for a high speed line cutting through Northamptonshire (HS2), he tells us: "I think the principal is an important principal, I support it. I think we've got to look at how it's done and make sure it's sensitive to local views."

It looks like the region will face yet more planning blight in the future.