FFS Press Briefing
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What is happening on 19 October?
To mark the first anniversary of the eviction of the Dale Farm Traveller site in Basildon Essex, protesters are targeting central government for the role they played in supporting the eviction last year, as well as the continuing role the Tory government is playing in passing legislation which further criminalises Traveller communities.
Protesters will assemble at Victoria Station at 1pm on Friday the 19th October. The demonstration will then target Eric Pickles’ Department for Communities and Local Government.
Who is organising the protest?
The Traveller Solidarity Network are organising the protest. The group emerged from the Dale Farm eviction resistance, where supporters from across the UK and Europe joined Dale Farm residents to resist the eviction of 83 families from their own land. In the year since the Dale Farm eviction, the Traveller Solidarity Network has organised a speaker tour across 25 cities in the UK, a march for Roma Nation Day in partnership with the Bulgarian Roma community in London and other protests, campaigns and events.
What are you protesting about?
The Dale Farm eviction was a historic moment. The scale, cost and brutality of the eviction was unprecedented, as was the outpouring of support for the Dale Farm community. Supporters ranging from the United Nations, European Commission, Amnesty International, church groups, anti-cuts groups, local residents and other concerned individuals came together to fight against the eviction.
One year later, supporters are reaffirming the importance of Dale Farm as an example of an injustice that concerns all of us. The ‘Fight for Sites’ campaign aims to highlight the severe lack of sites in the UK, leading to evictions like the one at Dale Farm a year ago.
- There is a severe shortage of sites for Travellers in the UK. As outlined by a recent article in the Guardian, a significant proportion of the Traveller population in the UK are homeless, with no authorised place to live in the present or in the foreseeable future. The persistent under-provision of sites in the UK is based on a long-held reluctance to address the needs of Travellers.
- Government policy is giving the green light for an escalation of evictions, which are part of a brutal and expensive cycle: culturally-suitable site provision is a sustainable and more affordable solution. The Localism Act has abolished regional targets for site provision, despite estimates showing that 4,500-6,000 Traveller families are homeless and face evictions. [EHRC, 2012]
- Living under the threat of constant eviction, Travellers are one of the most disadvantaged groups in the UK, struggling to access health and education services.
We are targeting the Department for Communities and Local Government because they are leading the attack on Traveller communities, overseeing harmful legislation like the Localism Act. They also contributed £1.2 million to the Dale Farm eviction, adding to funding from the Home Office and Basildon Council
At the Conservative Party Conference, Eric Pickles announced a proposal for ‘unlimited fines’ for Travellers temporarily stopping without permission. This is part of a deliberate agenda to criminalise Traveller communities.
What’s the situation at Dale Farm now?
Dale Farm was initially bought and set up by families wanting to create homes for themselves safe from the endless cycle of evictions, seeking a normal life and an education for their children. On 19th October 2011, Basildon Borough Council carried out a brutal forced eviction of 83 families at Dale Farm, Essex, supposedly to uphold greenbelt planning laws.
The bailiffs dug huge trenches and banks across the site, rupturing sewage tanks in the process and turning the close-knit community into an uninhabitable and contaminated zone. The Environmental Agency are currently testing soil samples for evidence of asbestos, testament to the site’s use as a scrap yard before the Dale Farm families bought the land.
Since the eviction, the homeless families have been living on the roadside leading to their former homes, without adequate access to electricity, sanitation or running water. Basildon Council has recently pursued further legal action against the families in order to push them out of the borough and they face another eviction in the coming months.
Hasn’t the government just released funding specifically for Traveller sites?
Earlier this year, the government made £60m available in funding for new and improved sites for the next 15 years. Many councils, including those with the largest Traveller populations, simply aren’t applying for the funding, leaving £13 million unawarded. As a result, this funding has translated into only 510 additional pitches, representing less than a tenth of the identified need. As local anti-Traveller campaigns spring up against plans for new sites, it is likely that many of these will not receive planning permission, and the funding will have to be returned.
What does the Localism Act have to do with Travellers?
The Coalition government have proactively made the housing situation for Travellers worse, particularly through the Localism Act.
● The Localism Act abolished regional targets for pitch provision and instead local government will be left to assess and set their own targets. The Act also removed the Regional Strategy framework for planning, resulting in a ‘vacuum’ between local and national planning issues, and significantly reducing the number of bids for sites and funding.
● The Localism Act has strengthened the power to evict: Councils can evict communities even while they are awaiting planning decisions.
In all aspects, the Act is a backward step for Gypsies and Travellers seeking equal and fair planning law.
What solutions are you proposing?
The Traveller Solidarity Network Fight For Sites campaign has several aims:
No more evictions
Evictions offer no solution to the well-documented shortage in sites, scar families and cost the state more than it would to provide more sites.
Without more sites, evictions will continue as people are forced to live on unauthorised sites. This could involve councils providing sites as social housing, as well as making planning processes fair and granting permission to those who have bought their own land.
Traveller autonomy: the right to move, the right to stay
Travelling is an integral part of Traveller culture; as well as permanent sites, an increase in transit sites is important.
Quality of sites
Finally, what is needed is not simply more sites, but better sites. Private and publicly- owned sites must be controlled by the people living there, and Travellers’ must gain a greater say in the planning process.
For more information or comment, call: 07729762059