Dale Farm evictions: Irish Travellers make bid for alternative site
IRISH travellers evicted from the UK's largest illegal travellers' settlement have launched a bid for permission to live on a new site.
Travellers' representative Stuart Hardwicke Carruthers told a planning inquiry that, had Basildon Council granted permission earlier, the multimillion-pound clearance of Dale Farm, Essex, would have been unnecessary.
He was speaking at an appeal by the Dale Farm Residents Association over the council's decision to refuse a planning application for 12 pitches on alternative land at nearby Laindon.
Mr Hardwicke Carruthers said: "The issues are quite contentious because of their linkage to Dale Farm and the council's previous actions.
"There are currently around 60 families living homeless as a result of the council's actions at Dale Farm.
"If this inquiry finds that the planning approval should be granted, it would throw into question a lot of the council's actions."
Inquiry chairman Clive Hughes said his report will focus upon the potential impact of the loss of open space and the threat to protected species, including great crested newts.
The report, which will be presented to the Secretary of State for decision, will consider whether the need for a travellers' site should outweigh these considerations.
In her opening comments, Melissa Murphy, for the council, said an amended application for as many as 60 temporary pitches should be "given short shrift" as it had been submitted too late to allow for consultation.
Travellers have argued that these pitches would meet "immediate need" following the Dale Farm clearance.
A council spokesman had earlier insisted that the inquiry related solely to the application for a change of use from grazing land to a residential site with 12 new pitches.
While residents say the site measures less than one hectare, the council claims it is above one hectare and should be regarded as a major application.
Miss Murphy added: "The appeal site is for leisure or recreation use. The use proposed is inconsistent with that use."
About 50 people, including Dale Farm travellers and Laindon residents, attended this morning's hearing at the council's Basildon Centre offices.
A string of Laindon residents are scheduled to speak about their objections tomorrow morning.
The hearing follows last month's clearance of the six-acre site in Crays Hill following a decade-long row over unauthorised plots.
The operation saw violent clashes between police and protesters.
Basildon Council has since completed the site clearance but, despite a legal injunction and physical barriers, at least 10 families have moved back on to a road inside the illegal site.
Many others have settled on the legal half of Dale Farm, exceeding its authorised capacity.
The authority has not yet published the full cost of the clearance operation.
The inquiry is expected to last up to four days with a judgment published at a later date.