Basildon Council: A Bunch of F**cking Hypocrites!

PRESS RELEASE: SEPT 10th, 2011

*Hypocrisy in Basildon Council’s approach to planning regulation *

In a move described as ‘totally undemocratic’ by local Councillor Geoff
Williams, Basildon Council suddenly cancelled last night’s general council
meeting, avoiding discussion of contentious plans for a major housing
development – 500 houses – on environmentally sensitive green space, at
Gloucester Park.

Citing inexplicable ‘public safety reasons’ and ‘exceptional
circumstances…at Dale Farm’ for the last minute cancellation, it appears
Basildon Council fears exposure of blatantly hypocritical planning
decisions.

The council meeting was intended to focus on the controversial development
of green space at Gloucester Park, a designated nature reserve, which was
donated to the council on the condition that it would not be developed. A
meeting planned to discuss selling off this green space for housing
threatened to expose the inconsistent and discretionary nature of the
Council’s planning decisions. The Council is attempting to justify making 90
families homeless to save a former scrap yard classed as ‘green belt’, while
selling off valued green spaces for a major housing development project.

Councillor Williams said that as a result of the cancellation of this
meeting “local people have been denied the right to protest, challenge, and
scrutinise”. The Councillor added that this cancellation is on top of the
complete closure of council offices from next week, with further meeting
cancellations announced on 20th Sept, expressing concern that ‘so much will
have to be caught up with…[and] some issues have time constraints’. However,
the cancellation of the Gloucester Park meeting is being viewed particularly
cynically.

Dale Farm resident and mother Mary said: "The council are prepared to agree
to build on Gloucester Park, yet insists on evicting us from an old scrap
yard. The council are prejudiced against us. It's one rule for settled
people and another for travellers."

A supporter from Dale Farm, Jane Trevellion, added “the prejudicial nature
of the council’s planning decisions are really obvious if you look at the
history of the council’s planning decisions. There is no consistency: at
Vange school, greenbelt was sold off under the direction of the government
Planning Inspector, without much fuss from the council…before that there was
a huge Homebase Development on the greenbelt. There are other developments
proposed on highly valued green spaces at Kent View and Northlands. In the
case of Dale Farm the ‘greenbelt’ was concreted and used for 30 years as a
scrap yard and the council didn’t make any fuss. It is only since the
Travellers arrived that the council has suddenly become protective of the
greenbelt land at Dale Farm. The council’s claims of fairness under the law
are entirely false. This is clearly about prejudice against the Traveller
population and this kind of racial intolerance is totally wrong. The law is
not applied equally and there is no fairness in that.”

According to the Commission for Racial Equality, more than 90% of Traveller
planning applications are initially rejected. This compares to less than 20%
of rejected applications for everybody else¹. Gypsies and Travellers in the
UK are trapped in a web of overlapping, systemic failures to respect their
customs and preferences.

Councillor Linda Williams for the Nethermayne ward added that the “Greenbelt
is not sacrosanct, it was designated by people and people have the right to
reconsider its boundaries.” Councillor Geoff Williams has also released a
statement contesting the forced evictions at Dale Farm and saying that the
green spaces and green belt of Basildon are far more threatened by the local
authority and the planning inspectorate than by any incursions by
Travellers. He described the use of public funds to forcibly evict families
at Dale Farm as ‘mind-boggling’. He stated that “The council’s unremitting
desire to protect the dubious qualities of the greenbelt at Dale Farm stands
in stark contrast to its reluctance to pursue the designation of recognised
wildlife sites as green belt, or to defend other existing pristine
designations”

The Council is pursuing hugely costly forced evictions when suitable
alternative plots have been identified by the Travellers at Church Road,
Laindon which is owned by the Homes and Communities Agency and at Gardiners
Lane South. A public enquiry is due on 22nd November to consider the Church
Road site.

“In pursuing these forced evictions at this time Basildon council is taking
unnecessarily brutal and overly hasty action, when a possible solution is
just around the corner. Crucial meetings are due to take place which have a
strong chance of finding alternative appropriate sites for the Travellers to
move on to safely and without the associated costs of forced eviction” said
Ann, a local resident and supporter of the Dale Farm community.

Helen, another supporter at Camp Constant added “this just shows the council
doesn’t want a peaceful solution, they just want to hound the Travellers out
of Basildon.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission reported² recently on these issues,
saying that ‘Few local authorities have a policy for identifying, and
dealing with, objections to planning applications that are or may be racist.
This means racist representations are reaching planning committees, in
breach of guidance from the Royal Town Planning Institute.’

The Localism Bill puts more power in the hand of deeply flawed local
planning processes, further threatening both valued green spaces and
reducing the chances that adequate suitable land will be found for Gypsies
and Travellers.

On Saturday, 10th September at 1pm supporters of the Dale Farm community are
gathering at Wickford train station and marching to Dale Farm. MEP of the
East of England Richard Howitt will attend the rally, as will members of the
Public and Commercial Services Union. Notifications on the Dale Farm
Solidarity website are asking supporters coming to the demo on 10th Sept to
“bring a sleeping bag and a toothbrush and stay for as long as you can.”
Adding: “Our ability to stop this ethnic cleansing is now almost entirely
down to numbers- so come on down!”

Footnotes

1.
http://www.journeyfolki.org.uk/Community/HelpResources/CommissionForRacialEqualityCRE/tabid/832/language/en-US/Default.aspx

   1. http://www.equineteurope.org/2384_gypsy_travs_summary.pdf

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