Clearing Essex traveller site is set to cost £5m

Council tax payers in Essex will have to pay the £5m cost of clearing the largest traveller site in Europe, a local authority leader has warned.

Basildon Council is determined to evict traveller families from Dale Farm at Crays Hill, its leader Tony Ball has told the BBC Politics Show East.

The pitches were developed without planning permission in the green belt.

A travellers' representative said forced evictions would have a bad impact on children in the community.

Next week the council is expected to approve the clearance order on 86 families, which will give them 28 days notice to leave when it is activated.

'Action needed'

Mr Ball said: "In 2001, we became aware that a number of traveller families had started to develop land within the borough's green belt at Dale Farm."

Since then there have been a number of court cases and appeals.

"We have tried to work with the families concerned to find a peaceful resolution but, after 10 years of continued and illegal development of the green belt, we must draw a line under the matter and take action," said Mr Ball.

"The site must be cleared by spring this year. I will resign as council leader if it is the council's fault that the site is not cleared by spring this year."

The council's costs for the project will be in the region of £5m.

A bid for £3m funding from the government was turned down and so the council has to fully fund its costs directly from general funds.

'Fear of eviction'

The council said it has £1.5m available from the current budget for planning enforcement and it proposes that the remaining £3.5m is met from the council's contingency reserve.

Mr Ball said: "No one wants a forced clearance of this site and we have spent 10 years asking the travellers to work with us to seek a peaceful resolution.

"However, it is important the law is applied equally and fairly to all people."

A travellers' representative said she believed the community was being treated unfairly.

She said she feared forced eviction procedures would harm the children on the site.

She said her "greatest fear is to wake up one morning to find the bulldozers on the doorstep".

The Politics Show in the East will be broadcast on BBC1 at 1200 GMT on Sunday.

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