Judge stops demolition of Essex Travellers site

 More than 50 Gypsy and Traveller families in Essex won a High Court fight on Friday, to stop the local council from evicting them. The families bought the green belt land at Dale Farm, Billericay and Five Acres Farm, Wickford, about ten years ago. It had previously been derelict or used for storing scrap metal. The families pay council taxes and have gradually built up semi-permanent homes there. But they do not have planning permission. Basildon District Council has been trying to evict them for several years. Last December, the council decided to use section 178 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, to enter the land, evict the residents and demolish their dwellings. This would have left them homeless, and the council would not have been able to offer alternative accommodation. In a 26-page judgment, Mr Justice Collins said the eviction order could not stand and he ordered more time to investigate concerns on the needs and welfare of the families. He drew attention to the high degree of prejudice faced by Gypsies and Travellers and the discrimination they have suffered at the hands of local authorities. (There has also been a very one-side campaign in the local press and the Daily Mail). Judge Collins said sick and vulnerable persons, and children attending school had not been given proper, individual consideration, nor had anti-racist legislation been fully complied with. Any future decisions by the Basildon council would have to be based on these and other considerations, he said. The judge warned the residents they would not be able to stay on the sites permanently, but said: "I think that the approach has been that the sites should be cleared, rather than a consideration of whether there are any individual families whose circumstances are such that in their individual cases eviction would be disproportionate." Judge Collins gave the council permission to appeal against his decision, saying the case raised "important points" over what appeared to be the "insoluble problem" of providing sites for Gypsies and Travellers. Traveller spokesman Grattan Puxon said in a statement that the ruling "represents a major legal victory for Britain's long harassed Gypsies and Travellers, many of whom have in recent years seen their homes mercilessly bulldozed. " "This is a wake-up call to all councils," said Dr Keith Lomax, the solicitor representing Dale Farm's 132 households, comprising chalets, mobile-homes and caravans. "Those that don't provide legal living space will find they can't rely on enforcement powers." A meeting of the Gypsy Council has been convened for 10 June at Dale Farm to consider the implications of the judgment. Father John Glynn, Parish Priest at Our Lady of Good Council in Wickford, told ICN last night: "This judgment is a welcome stay of execution. The great thing is that it draws attention to the situation of these individual families. I hope this will now lead to a proper dialogue between all the parties." Father John said the local Churches, have offered to help bring the sides together for talks. On Friday, the Bishop of Brentwood, Bishop Thomas McMahon, the Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford, Bishop John Gladwin, and other Catholic and Church of England clergy visited Dale Farm, where a small cabin was opened recently to be used as a chapel and community centre. Source: Roma News Service/ICN

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