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Trouble down on the farm.

Byline: Nick Lavigueur

THERE are a lot of ironies in the current stand off over the eviction of travellers at Dale Farm in Essex.

Everyone complains when travellers turn up at bits of open ground around the country - we've seen it so many times across Huddersfield. So they move on to the next bit and then, after a few days or weeks, get turfed off and move on again. Yet when they find somewhere permanent to live it's usually in defiance of the law or on someone else's land and so a costly legal battle to get them off ensues, shortly followed by an expensive clean-up operation.

So when they're travelling we're not happy and when they're static we're not happy. With the price of petrol these days, it's no wonder they're going off travelling and looking for somewhere to call home.

If the Dale Farm travellers do get evicted on Friday no doubt they'll turn up somewhere else not far away and another community will object to their presence.

Meanwhile, taxpayers are expected to be lumbered with an pounds 18m bill for this site alone. I shudder to think what the total bill for taxpayers is across the UK. I know many local authorities have tried to find dedicated sites for travellers to pitch up at but clearly this process hasn't worked or happened quickly enough. Considering how difficult it is to get an extension built without a raft of objections from Nimbys this is unsurprising.

Another irony about this dispute is the travellers were allegedly encouraged to buy the Dale Farm site after planning law changes removed the onus on local authorities to find them somewhere to live. Now the council is trying to boot them off.

While the site is technically illegal as some of the pitches are on the green belt, the problem is that if the travellers were to adhere to planning rules they'd probably never get anywhere to live.

Then again, if they are allowed to get away with ignoring laws the rest of us have to follow it is bound to encourage an escalation in similar behaviour from both travellers and rogue developers. But for pounds 18m I think I'm willing to let this one slide.

I have so say I agree with Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George who called for the potentially violent eviction to be put on hold.

Mr George who is chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on travellers and so should know more than most of us on the issues surrounding the community, said he thought it was inappropriate to proceed with the eviction.

He said: "The Government and the local authority are going to be spending up to about pounds 18m to restore the site to what it originally was, presumably - and that is a scrapyard. It's going to make it the most expensive scrapyard in history.

"Simply to make people homeless and to tell them to move onto some other site when they know full well there are no other alternative sites is just telling people to move from one illegal situation to another.'' So yes, I think the pragmatism should prevail. Our green belt is precious but when it's directly adjacent to an existing legitimate pitch of caravans how much is it really worth as a piece of countryside? Travellers often claim they are discriminated against but then on the flip side they don't seem to be that interested in trying to understand everyone else's point of view or playing by the rules. I really don't know what the solution is as I don't feel like I have my feet in either camp (no pun intended). One thing I do know is this perpetual circle of hatred will continue unless either new legislation is brought in to aid local authorities to create new sites or to evict them without the costly court battles.


* FIGHT AGAINST EVICTION: Traveller children climb on scaffolding at Dale Farm near Basildon in Essex before this week's last-minute injunction temporarily halting moves to evict them
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Sep 21, 2011
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