Saturday, December 03, 2011

Dale Farm: Where now?

One of the many Dale Farm myths has been the supposedly staggering costs of the clearance, with figures of £18m or more bandied about. This has usually been by people who did not wish the Council well, but unfortunately the astronomical figures have also been taken up by some of the mainstream press. Well folks, there is a difference between a budget and a spend. In this case the budget was set by two factors: the need to cater for a worst case scenario that was regarded as highly unlikely; and the need not to put the clearance under budgetary pressure to cut corners and do something unsafe. The worst case scenario, which was a much longer and more violent operation, did not happen and the clearance eventually accounted for 7 relatively minor injuries. So, Council spend is a somewhat over £4m and while the police spend is not in yet it is likely to be well below their maximum budget of around £10m. These are very large sums, but in the ways that these things are calculated it is considered that it was an efficient use of resources. However, I would much rather have spent the money on making Basildon Borough better in a more positive way.

There is the other matter of cost recovery, which is likely to result in bills of tens of thousands of pounds for each Traveller family. The Traveller 'supporters', who advised them have very carefully limited their own liability of course and so they can retire back to their comfortable houses and leave the people they care so much about to pick up the tab. Their rubbish advice has resulted in a clearance and crippling bills for the people they have supposedly been representing. So, what are they doing in the face of total failure? Why they are carrying on with the same confrontational and adversarial approach that has worked so well. One has managed to rack himself up a staggering legal bill and liability to compensate the Council in the process, so we will see if he has the hundreds of thousands of pounds he will need to settle it.

For those that have been gloating that the travellers have no assets and that we won't get a penny I would remind that Basildon Council has a legal duty to recover monies owed it. Further, I would hope that, even if you don't like what we are doing, recent events have shown that the Council is pretty efficient once it decides to do something.

What now? Well the legal site at Dale Farm is now over-occupied, and that cannot be allowed to continue. While we can give a bit of leeway, the problem is that crowded caravan sites are very vulnerable to things like fire. This is why caravan density and spacing is taken so seriously in the various regulations that pertain. The Planning conditions on the legal site control the number of pitches that are allowed, and these will be enforced.

For the travellers, my advice is do ditch the useless 'supporters' that have been advising you thus far. Especially get rid of the anarchists and cause-whores from London and further afield. They pretty much destroyed public sympathy for the Travellers when they decided to bombard the police with bricks and urine. As for your longer-term representatives: all they and they  have done is got Dale Farm cleared and got you on the wrong end of a huge financial claim. They are in it for the cause, not for you. Assuming what you want is a legal site or sites somewhere then stop treating this like a war, stop playing the race card and find someone to represent you who is not just in it to big themselves up. The last time we tried to do a deal to find alternative sites a Traveller 'supporter' destroyed the process by issuing a press release on the confidential talks that were taking place. If you keep these same people then you will get nowhere.

It would have been far, far better if this had happened ten years ago by the way. Following the site clearance, and the way the Travellers and their 'supporters' have behaved a solution that pleases everyone is probably impossible to achieve. That is when you negotiate in good faith. The traveller community and their 'supporters' should try it sometime.