Dale Farm, developers and the green belt

·Columnist

There is a massive housing shortage in Britain. This is the main reason the government says planning laws must be relaxed, to allow builders to deposit Barratt-style, mock-Tudor monstrosities in the middle of areas of outstanding natural beauty. So if they want to pave paradise to put up a parking lot why the sudden urge to evict 200 gypsy families from Dale Farm in Essex? The eviction from the site is going to cost as much as £8 million and increase homelessness.

It has been reported that some gypsy families have already fled to another site in Luton, where the struggle could start anew. Some gypsies should be fairly accustomed to travelling and it's probably an easy process to move if you live in a caravan but is the plan really to hound them from place to place, like Custer's cavalry chasing the Indians? Are the remaining static homes going to be bulldozed, casting Basildon Council as the Israel of Essex. Much like the Israelis' love to follow up a good bulldozing (or ancient olive grove tear-up) with a bit of a housing estate construction for some radical settlers, Basildon Council will likely take advantage of next year's changes to planning laws and replace the gypsy settlement with some hastily constructed starter homes.

Whilst taking a moment to wipe the froth from my lips it is worth noting that planning laws under Labour actually favoured gypsy sites over the sedentary population. When John Prescott was in charge of the planning system the rules he brought in meant councils' ability to use enforcement action were intentionally restricted. The guidance local authorities received stated that if there were no official sites for gypsies then the council had limited powers to ask them to move on. This can be interpreted as one law for travellers, that is they can settle on green belt land, and another for the Barratt builder, who can't.

This law has already been changed under the Localism Bill, with the new guidance protecting the green belt saying, "Traveller sites in the green Belt are inappropriate developments." They also may more heed to the opinions of the local population stating sites must have due regard to the protection of local amenity and environment. So it seems like a leveling of the green belt playing field at least until next year when The Coalition is set to rebalance the legal landscape by relaxing planning rules for property developers.

The planning minister Greg Clarke claims the new regulations are intended to simplify 1000 pages of policy to 52. However campaigners believe the new law completely undermines protection for the countryside, National Trust Chair Dame Fiona Reynolds has said: "Weakening protection now risks a return to the threat of sprawl and uncontrolled development...The National Trust believes in growth as we all do - but not at any cost. Development that works must pass a triple bottom line test - by showing that it meets the needs of people and the environment as well as the economy."

You don't know what you got until it's gone and once countryside has been built over it's forever and so despite the need for regulations to be consistent and fair it seems like gypsy sites don't have the same irreversible impact on the land as a housing estate, so perhaps allowing them a bit more leeway than developers makes sense. So isn't it a good thing that 200 families can be housed on a semi-permanent, high density green/brown field site like Dale Farm? Especially if they've been there for 20 years already.

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