Thankfully signs like these are part of a past history that seems unbelievable now. Did we really think it was acceptable to discriminate so blatantly? Over decades of social change and legislation we undoubtedly become more tolerant and open. One can argue that such prejudiced views still exist, but they are less obvious now.
The battle for Dale Farm in Essex is coming to a climax. At great expense (estimated at £18m) Basildon Council are in the final stages of evicting the travellers who live on a part of the site without planning permission.
The land in question was purchased in 1996 by Travellers for £122,000 from someone who used it as a scrapyard. It was not an ancient forest, historical building or anything else of value. It was a scrapyard in the countryside that was next to an established traveller site.
There are similarities to an incident that happened locally to where I live recently.
The future closure of a local waste site on the border of Wakefield and caused such an hysterical reaction, that the only conclusion I can come to is that the such prejudice against Travellers is alive and well.
The site is currently a council tip belonging to Wakefield Council. It was due to close in 2012, and it was revealed in an answer to a question tabled by a Councillor, that it was proposed to turn it into a Travellers site.
Councillors from the wards in both Wakefield and Kirklees which are adjacent to the site. Very quickly a petition began. Feelings were running high. Formal objections were raised. Here are some examples:
“To put this briefly, why should the many people who regularly pay their way (sometimes struggling to do so) be overridden by people – such as travellers. When the travellers are in an area there is a fear of crime and sites are trashed and rubbish is left. On a personal note, there will be a slightly higher safety issue when dog-walking during early morning and evening.”
“We strongly oppose the planned travellers/gypsy site at owl lane, shawcross. We live in close proximity to the proposed site and we do not want the noise, nuisance and constant doorstep selling, harassment and in the past we have been victim of theft from passing travellers”
“I would like to make my protest against turning owl lane tip into a camp site for travellers, its bad enough on Sundays when they have the car boot sales cars are parked all along owl lane and sometimes come up into the village, if you do let travellers live here we will have traffic jams seven days a week, anyway let them buy a proper home like me and pay taxes like everybody else.”
A public meeting was held in Ossett Town Hall and nearly 700 residents turned up. Dewsbury MP Simon Reevell stated he had never seen such anger at a public meeting. He launched a petition against the proposed change. Simon Reevell, and a number of Local Councillors have received what is clearly ‘good’ publicity for bringing such a controversial issue into the headlines.
Wakefield Council has since stated that the proposal has been dropped and the site will remain as a waste tip beyond 2012.
It is so sad that negative stereotypes about Travellers remain strong and largely uncontested by politicians. While politicians obviously need to listen to their Constituents, they also need to challenge incorrect and nasty stereotypes and defend minorities, when the frankly the selfish and ignorant views of the majority threaten them.