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Tear down your protest camp! After two years of protecting green belt against illegal traveller invasion, villagers get THEIR marching orders

Published 02nd Feb 2012

* Residents warn illegal site is in danger of becoming
Dale Farm II
* Travellers paid £100,000 to buy paddock - and moved
in over bank holiday weekend when the council was
powerless to stop them developing it
* Residents barricaded the site in Meriden, West
Midlands, to keep out trucks delivering 1,800 tons of
hardcore rubble
* 200 villagers manned camp to make sure the site is
not developed - but THEY are given their marching

For 642 days, the residents have camped out to prevent the spread of an illegal traveller camp on the edge of their village.

But now the vigilant villagers of Meriden are being thrown off their protest camp – while the travellers remain.

Planning officials ruled that the residents’ rudimentary shelter of caravan, tarpaulin and wood-burning stove constituted an illegal development and must be dismantled.

But the town hall has so far failed to move on the travellers, despite the rejection of their planning application.

The decision was last night condemned by the residents of the West Midlands village, who branded the move by Solihull Council’s planning committee a ‘disgrace’.

They warned the illegal traveller site was in danger of becoming Dale Farm II – a reference to the mass illegal occupation in Cray’s Hill, Essex, which only ended after a multi-million pound, decade-long planning row.

The Meriden travellers paid £100,000 to buy a paddock from a local businessman and, in time-honoured fashion, moved on to the land at the start of a bank holiday weekend in April last year – when the council was powerless to stop them developing the site.

But they had not reckoned on the determination of villagers to preserve the Meriden Gap greenbelt which separates the village from Coventry and Solihull.

As word spread, residents swung into action, descending on the eight-acre site and forming a human barricade to prevent a convoy of lorries from delivering 1,800 tons of hardcore rubble to the site later that evening.

Ever since, around 200 residents have manned their camp around the clock to make sure the site is not developed any further, working to a rota with shifts lasting anything from an hour to overnight.

Only last week they succeeded in preventing another eight lorry loads of hardcore from being deposited at the site.

But like their foes, the residents did not have planning permission for the camp – which stands on a builders’ yard driveway immediately opposite the gypsy settlement – and, last night, the Tory-run authority voted to issue an enforcement against it.

Planners ordered them to remove the stove, caravan and tarpaulin by March 31, even though the owner of the builders’ yard has given them full permission to remain there.

Around 80 villagers and members of the residents’ group Meriden RAID (Residents Against Inappropriate Development) packed into a meeting last night at the council house to hear the decision.

And despite the eviction order, they remained upbeat, chanting ‘we shall not be moved’ outside the building.

They vowed to continued their protest and face the elements with no shelter or warmth.

RAID spokesman Dave McGrath said: ‘We are bitterly disappointed that councils have voted to evict residents.

‘We are the people who have prevented hundreds of tonnes of hardcore being dropped on our otherwise unspoilt countryside. We are the people who have alerted the council to subsequent breaches of the injunction they imposed on the gypsies.

‘They have admitted we have a valuable role to play in monitoring the site but then decide to kick us off. It’s a disgrace that the planning system finds it easy to enforce against law-abiding tax-payers but seems to become paralysed when it comes to taking action against travellers and gypsies.’

Mr McGrath, a training consultant who lives yards from both camps, said the group would comply with the order but will ‘sit in the rain if necessary to maintain our vigil’ and urged the council to ‘speed up’ enforcement action against the travellers.

He said the group had the right to appeal the council’s decision, but would not on cost grounds.

The gypsies lodged a retrospective planning application after moving on to the site, which was turned down by the local authority. In October, Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, upheld a planning inspector’s recommendation that the appeal should be dismissed.

The gypsies will remain on the site until at least next month, the earliest date the council could obtain a High Court hearing to apply for an injunction to remove them from site.

Meriden RAID also lost an appeal against the council’s decision to refuse them retrospective planning permission for their own camp, triggering last night’s enforcement action.

Last night, around ten caravans remained on the gypsy site. The once-lush paddock has now been turned into a muddy quagmire caused by the gypsies' 4X4 vehicles repeatedly entering and leaving the site.

Source: ' Daily Mail '

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