Essex

Dale Farm: Basildon Council 'abusing law' on travellers

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Media captionYves Cabannes said Basildon Council had failed to provide pitches at Dale Farm

A former UN advisor has accused a council of "abusing the law" over the clearance of the UK's largest illegal travellers' site.

Professor Yves Cabannes, who used to advise the UN on forced eviction, said Basildon Council had failed to provide pitches at Dale Farm in Essex.

A mass eviction is due to begin there on Monday after a 10-year legal row.

The council said it had exhausted the judicial process and had no option but to clear the site.

Prof Cabannes said: "A study which I led on forced eviction found that at Dale Farm and the UK in general the government is violating international human rights law on three points.

'Co-ordinated approach'

"These are the right to adequate housing, the right to be defended from forced eviction and discrimination."

Prof Cabannes added that Basildon Council had failed to provide the pitches it should make available to travellers.

He added: "The people who are abusing the law are the council, not the travellers. The council is not fulfilling its duties.

"There are many Dale Farms which face these issues every day and there needs to be a co-ordinated approach across the country.

"We are used to seeing millions of people losing their homes in Zimbabwe, China and Nigeria - how is one country unable to solve the problem of 51 pitches?"

'Humanitarian solution'

Prof Cabannes was speaking on a visit to the site to reveal the results of his study on forced evictions in the London area.

The UN's human settlements programme, UN-Habitat, issued a statement saying: "The press conference held today at Dale Farm is an initiative of individuals of the Advisory Group on Forced Evictions. UN-Habitat is not involved in that event."

Travellers own Dale Farm but half the site has no planning permission and is occupied by an estimated 400 people on 51 plots.

At least five caravans left Dale Farm on Tuesday night.

Residents and supporters have said they will resist the eviction peacefully but police are preparing a major operation to assist Basildon Council.

Council leader Tony Ball said: "For 10 years we have sought a peaceful and humanitarian solution to Dale Farm, but it must be one that involves upholding the law of our country.

"The current site has been illegally developed. After 10 years, when we have exhausted the judicial process and every effort to negotiate, we have no option but to resort to direct action to clear the site.

"The travellers can find a culturally appropriate answer to their housing problem but it must involve a site with the proper planning permission.

'Stalling tactics'

"[Prof Cabannes]...may not be aware that Basildon provides more approved traveller sites than any other local authority area in Essex and among the greatest number in any area in the country.

"We have a very strong record of working with travellers within the law."

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "The British courts have found that the developments at Dale Farm are in breach of planning law and Basildon District Council is within its rights to evict travellers from the site.

"It has taken 10 years of failed negotiations and legal process to reach this point, and the unprecedented level of unauthorised development on green belt land has severely damaged community relations."

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