James Max - James Max is a broadcaster, columnist and business expert

Why it’s right to evict Dale Farm

Rent-a-mob arrived. Armed with rhetoric and a range of physical and legal tools to prevent the eviction of those who have lived, illegally, at Dale Farm for a decade.

I don’t like to see anyone suffer. People need somewhere to live and the scenes are distressing. However we have to go back and look at the issues to establish how we learn from this wholly unpleasant episode.

The planning system, for all its faults, performs a function and a service. It’s not just about ensuring that buildings are built to certain standards or that we protect countryside. It’s there also to protect those who already live in an area too. Sometimes against development. or from uses that would detract from their enjoyment of their own land, property and buildings.

The travellers argue that bought the site. Very true. But there are developers, landowners and others up and down the country that own land. They are subject to the law that unless you have planning permission, there are certain things you may not do on that land. If the travellers had bought the land and attempted to get planning permission before occupying it, perhaps their case would be stronger. The danger of allowing this to go through unchallenged is precedent. The way in which our law works across the country. Basildon Council was right to pursue this. Where they have made things worse is by their lack of decisive action for so many years.

What if I owned some land or property and decided to build or develop without the planning permission? If I do, the law comes into play. I may apply for retrospective planning permission. If I don’t achieve that, then I can be forced to take down what I have built. That is exactly what has happened in this instance. For ten years, the neighbouring residents have fought a battle against this illegal occupation. It’s not a strong enough argument to say that there is a legal site next door and therefore the illegal part is ok. In the same way that it’s not acceptable to say a house on the edge of a village would or should allow someone to build on a site next door that is farmland.

We live on an island. There is limited space and we have to have planning rules to maintain the balance. The balance between housing, municipal buildings, transport, general infrastructure and green space.

That some people are prepared to argue that the clearing of Dale Farm is in some way ethnic cleansing is as wrong as it is obnoxious. The density of occupation, how the land is used and the activities on the land are what existing residents object to. We have to look at the situation from the perspective of all those involved. In addition to that, green belt land is something we must treat with great care. That’s not to say it can never be built on or developed but, quite rightly, the conditions and presumption against development are stronger.

In my view it’s time we put a stop to rent-a-mob protestors. In the same way that flying pickets were objectionable in the 1980’s, so are those who jump on every bandwagon going. It has cost the taxpayer millions and tested the law and legal system.

Of course there needs to be a general consideration as to where travellers may be able to apply for permission but simply owning land and plonking what you want on it is not the answer. By all means let’s have a review of the planning system to ensure that every council can and should designate land for traveller sites, if needs be. However the law was broken and it is absolutely right that the site is cleared. My personal view is that the rent-a-mob protestors should end up with the bill and perhaps they might be deterred from this kind of costly, abrasive and violent protest in the future.

This particular protest has raised important planning questions. It has also raised the tensions of accommodating those who live in an area and those who seek to move to or develop. NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) behaviour is rife in the UK. There is too much of an objection to any kind of development by many. That’s not right either but I hope that our planning system, post reform, will be easier to navigate and at the very least reduce the amount of time and resources that are wasted on both sides.

As it stands, the law is simple. If you don’t have planning permission you can be evicted and a site can be cleared. That is what has happened at Dale Farm and bravo to Basildon Council for seeing this through.

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