Since 8 October 2013 there have been 107 illegal encampments in Harlow.
This has sparked fury among residents, primarily regarding Travellers not paying council tax and rubbish being left behind at sites.
The costs of these encampments can be broken down:
– Legal costs: £15,445
– Clean-up costs: £26,905
– Preventative work and protecting Harlow Council land: £28,443.96
Currently there are two families on four encampments:
– Elizabeth Way/Third Avenue (5 caravans)
– South Road (7 caravans)
– Edinburgh Way (3 caravans)
– Tendring Road (3 caravans)
On Thursday 12 February, I spoke to David Forman from Harlow TUC, who openly supports Travellers on these encampments in Harlow.
Why are you, as part of the TUC, supporting the Travellers?
Essentially because they’re being discriminated against and that unions defend equalities.
Trade unions defend civil liberties, they always have done. The civil liberties of Travellers are no different to yours or mine. The fact that they live in a caravan is irrelevant. Everyone has the right to a home, it’s a fundamental human right.
Harlow has the most plots in Essex, yet we have the most illegal encampments.
The Uttlesford site does not have a single Traveller living on it, because Essex County Council have just allowed people with a caravan, people who are poor basically and have nowhere else to live, on that site.
They’re supposed to go to Travellers but it’s down to the council.
Why do you think Travellers get such bad press?
A lot of it is ancient discrimination, it goes back hundreds of years.
A lot of the real, nasty accusations directed at Travellers actually emanates from the Nazis, who characterised them as asocials and criminals.
With an economy based on the exploitation of labour by minority, there’s an invested interest in dividing up the masses.
Pitch worker against worker in order to divert attention from an economic system that can’t provide for everyone and divide workers by suggesting it’s down to influx of migrants or it’s the actions of Travellers and Gypsies.
“The Travellers themselves like their own community and the settled community like their own.”
What do you think we need to do, specifically in Harlow, for the Travellers because at the moment all of the encampments are unlawful?
It’s a county problem. Essex County Council owns the sites and the county council has to run those sites and maintain them, or not maintain them in the case of Harlow.
There are five councils in Essex that haven’t provided a single Travellers site. Southend, Rochford, Brentwood, Castlepoint and Tendring. They have broken the law for 26 years.
They have a statutory, legal duty to provide sites and at least 15 pitches. That’s the legal requirement that they refuse to obey. So if there’s anybody law breaking, it’s five Conservative councillors in Essex.
80% of Traveller applications are rejected, as opposed to 20% for the likes of the settled community.
It’s a totally biased system that’s designed to discriminate against them and prevent them having homes.
What about the rubbish left behind? There have also been reports of human faeces and verbal abuse.
The Travellers are subjected to unsubstantiated allegations, which means that people phone the police, make a complaint but when the police arrive they refuse to give a written statement. Or when they do they’re unable to identify the alleged guilty parties.
Harlow Council alone have received 449 complaints since October 2013.
I don’t doubt it.
Where Travellers look to get planning permission, there has been a coordinated campaign against them, often involving councillors. In this case Conservative councillors.
They have failed provide sites in other councils and have failed, as a party, and Robert Halfon has failed, to condemn Essex County Council for not providing sites in years gone boy.
Travellers don’t appear to want to integrate with the wider community. Will they do so if they are given planning permission?
This idea that they integrate is another fascist ideal that everyone’s got to be uniform and live up to the ideals and values of the state.
The state says they need to integrate, what that means is they should live in a house. They don’t want to live in a house.
Travellers on illegal encampments don’t want to pay tax because they argue that they don’t use the services that the tax provides.
They do pay tax in council provided sites. They pay council tax and rent for each pitch. Plus they pay for water.
The Travellers on the illegal encampments don’t pay tax.
No, but many of them have business where they’re registered for tax purposes because they’re landscaping, motorway works etc. You’ve seen the sign written vans so they’ve got to pay tax, they can’t avoid it.
They use a registered office, mail drops and all mail drops have to be registered with special branch so the idea that they can escape is nonsense.
Going back to my earlier point about the rubbish and human faeces left behind..
They bag up their rubbish, and I’ve seen them bag it up. There’s foxes, there’s rats, there’s cats. The rubbish will be strewn everywhere.
Should the rubbish be left there in the first place? Why not take it to Harlow Recycling Centre?
The Travellers told us that they had been prevented from entering the waste recycling and I have also been prevented from entering the waste recycling when I had a sign written van.
They let you in once, then if you come back they challenge you and you have to fill out a form stating that the materials are domestic waste.
Travellers are being prevented from using Harlow Recycling Centre, why?
Because there is racism in society. The fact is that the people who work at the dump are no different to anyone else. Amongst them they have attitude problems and they have been told by them and bin men that you are not using our facilities because you don’t pay council tax. That was the attitude of the people there.
Despite the fact that the council Traveller and Gypsy Liaison Officer brought this up, so did my wife (Waida Forman, Labour councillor), to the council and the staff at the recycling centre were instructed not to impede their access. The fact is that they have continued to complain that they are.
The bags are put out so they get split up by cats, foxes and dogs. Sometimes the council provide a big trade waste wheelie bin and all the waste was out in there and they filled it up. In general, where they’ve got facilities to dispose of their rubbish they will.
It’s the bloody minded attitude of we won’t give you a bin and then castigate them for not dealing with their rubbish.
In your opinion, do we need more permanent plots in Harlow?
We need more plots across the county. We need the existing plots in Harlow brought back up to a usable condition.
The bulk of these sites were built prior to 1994. Harlow’s were 1991. Traveller population increased like the rest of the population. To somehow say that because we built 44 sites 25 years ago we can wash our hands of it and say that’s everything’s hunky dory when it’s not.
Have the Travellers made requests to Essex County Council themselves?
They have made requests to Essex County Council and to Eric Pickles.
They appeared at the meeting with the Police and Crime Commissioner where they said that they just want the land that they’ve paid for that they’re being prevented from using by a prejudice, discriminating, racist Conservative Councillor in Epping.
They’ve used every planning trick in the planning book to prevent Travellers having access to what they call green belt land, yet they are happy to have extensions to do privately owned, commercial caravan sites in Theydon Bois. Which makes them loads of money.
Have you heard about the 14 March protest against the Travellers?
I haven’t heard about it, no.
Do you think there will be a reaction to this from the Travellers?
No, not if it’s well away from them. The Travellers will just let them get on with it.
What’s building in this town is a vigilante group and many of my colleagues are fearful that we’ll return to the bad old days where people were throwing petrol bombs at the caravans.
The facts are that Robert Halfon is completely two-faced on this issue. He talked about the Human Rights Act when he planted a tree for Holocaust Memorial Day. The Human Rights Act came out of the Holocaust as a direct consequence of it, yet he talks about scrapping that act.
He says: “the so-called rights of Travellers”. There’s nothing so-called about them, they have the same rights as you and I.
What he’s suggesting, and what people who are involved in his campaign are suggesting, is that people who live in houses have more rights than people who live in caravans.
When I went to Harlow Synagogue for Holocaust Memorial Day, people there expressed to me their deep unease about Robert Halfon’s campaign. They said he was stirring up sentiments that had only been seen in the 1930s.
Do you think this will result in physical attacks soon?
It’s heading that way because no-one is sticking up for the rights of Travellers.
What government will be better for Travellers?
The Labour party certainly aren’t proposing any improvements. In fact the trades council’s members and Unite Against Fascism lambasted Harlow Labour Party for putting out leaflets in March that called for tougher government action. We said no. Provide the sites. When they’ve got the sites they need then if they then create a nuisance, by all means take tough action.
The best government for Travellers is a Green government. Their policies for Travellers are really good. They are what we would describe as living up to the ideals of the Equality Act.
We’ve got a Labour party that is trying to out-UKIP, UKIP basically. I describe them as a thoroughly despicable party that masquerades as a party of the working class and yet will do the bidding of the ruling class at the drop of a hat. They talk left and vote right.