Next stop St Helens for Dale Farm travellers?

Protesters clash with police at Dale Farm illegal travellers' site in Cray's Hill, Essex, where supporters clashed with bailiffs and riot police during the planned eviction. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday October 19, 2011. See PA story POLITICS Travellers. Photo credit should read: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Protesters clash with police at Dale Farm illegal travellers' site in Cray's Hill, Essex, where supporters clashed with bailiffs and riot police during the planned eviction. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday October 19, 2011. See PA story POLITICS Travellers. Photo credit should read: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

THE deputy leader of St Helens Council has blasted the leader of Basildon Council for touting St Helens as a possible destination for evicted Dale Farm travellers.

The unlikely link emerged after St Helens Council was one of only two authorities to even respond to Basildon Council leader Tony Ball’s request to find out which of the country’s councils had vacant traveller pitches.

Mr Ball last week suggested there was “room in St Helens” after police and bailiffs moved in to evict hundreds of travellers from the illegal section of the vast Essex site.

But Coun Barrie Grunewald (pictured, right) said Basildon Council should “stop bandying St Helens around” and should instead “put their own house in order”.

He said: “I’m surprised and annoyed to see that St Helens keeps being used as a fig leaf for Basildon’s failure to make enough provision for its own residents. We are always ready to help, but they should stop bandying St Helens around as some sort of alternative destination and should put their own house in order.

“Basildon wrote to all local authorities asking if there was any spare capacity on traveller sites. We wrote back to them saying we had eight spare pitches, but that this was clearly not an adequate solution.”

An official, legal traveller site has been in place in St Helens - near Sherdley Park - since the early 1960s.

And a Town Hall spokeswoman accepted that, in theory, Dale Farm travellers could seek relocation in St Helens.

However, she added that no applications had yet been received and that any future applications would be subject to the council’s traveller policy, which matches each application against specific criteria.

She also indicated that Dale Farm travellers had apparently made it clear that they did not, in any event, want to relocate to the North West.

Following a decade-long legal battle, Basildon Council was finally given the go-ahead to evict travellers from part of the Dale Farm site last week.

Although part of the green-belt site, a former scrapyard, is legal, the bulldozers moved in last week because more than 80 properties had been created without planning permission.

At one point, up to 400 people were said to be living there illegally.