When the dust starts to settle at Dale Farm what have we learned? What of the future? What would I have done?
For me, this, (as with many issues), is often not a problem in itself, but a problem of ‘need’. Further, it is a problem of competing needs and yet it doesn’t and didn’t have to be.
Firstly, the process of eviction was protracted and our system of law, which can often help us, can also hinder us. The process was allowed to go on, with counter appeals and arguments, to such an extent that real people, with real lives and children had grown up on a site. It matters not if it is Greenfield when you talk about real people living lives – illegally or not.
Secondly, the local residents were also ostracised from a community decision to such an extent that two camps became locked in intransigence.
Thirdly, it is untrue that the majority of planning decisions go against Travellers and Roma, any more than any other applicant. Often, with the numbers involved, rejection will be based around the notion of impact, (traffic etc.), as well as the fact that we have laws barring Greenfield permanent building. However, because of the nature of applications often requiring more facilities and space and the fact that Travellers were encouraged to buy land for themselves; discrimination can be the inadvertent result of those rejected applications.
Moratorium. What would I have done? If I was in a position to do so, I’d have identified the ‘competing needs’ first and called for a moratorium. Everybody ‘stop’; no more building; no more evictions. Take time to breathe and identify what it is that is actually needed. The European Union has its place at the centre of the moratorium.
A moratorium does not mean that existing decisions will not eventually go through.
There are very few ‘old style’ Roma; Gypsies and Travellers in Europe as compared to the general population or modern travelling communities – i.e. trailers and trucks, as opposed to horse and old style caravans. Communities hail from all over Europe and beyond and have very individual needs. So, any ideas that Travellers might be ‘stuck’ in the past are wrong.
I see this as a Europe wide ‘need’ and lack of inter- and intra- community understanding. We need to understand each other better and use a Moratorium to work for a modern mutually agreed outcome.
Travelling communities need to understand static communities and static communities need to understand Travellers. The competing needs have to be recognised and worked through for a Europe wide settlement.
My Ideal. I could be wrong, but I understand from the Travellers I’ve met that they want the option to travel. Travelling sites need to be essentially like a well run campsite – toilets, washroom and laundry blocks etc.
So, why can’t all of the numbers of Travellers be catered for via a Europe wide network of sites and travel coordinated between them? Some folk may want to stay on site or stay within one country. However, some travelling folk have links to overseas communities and properties in other countries and like to travel.
The network of sites can be paid for by local authorities all over the country and a levy charged, like a campsite fee for upkeep. Or on site Travellers could run the site and have sections open to the general public to camp on and charge a fee – run it like a business. I might be naive, but it seems a good idea for Traveller and non-Traveller to share the same space occasionally.
Above all, it’s about taking responsibility to break down prejudices from both sides and finally address the modern needs of modern Travelling, Roma and Gypsy communities.