News & Events Voting With Their Feet

Voting With Their Feet

Villagers in the Warwickshire village of Meridien formed a blockade to stop the Romany owners of the land developing it.

For many the May day bank holiday provided some time to relax with family or friends or do a little DIY. But for one group of Travellers in the West Midlands, the long weekend proved to be more handy than most – they used it as an ideal opportunity to create a site of their own. Welcome to Meridien, Warwickshire, the exact geographical centre of Britain and scene of the latest Do It Yourself “Gypsy Land Grab”.

It started on Friday night, when farmers and villagers blockaded roads and turned back supply trucks from a field where work had begun to lay the foundations for a permanent site. On Saturday, Solihull Council had called an emergency planning meeting in a bid to stop the site being built. The owner of the land, Romany man Noah Burton, has now been served with an emergency notice to stop further development. The community is believed to have bought the land from a local farmer, but does not have planning permission to develop it.

Ironically, the site is in the constituency of Tory MP Caroline Spelman who is up for re-election on Thursday May 6th. As Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government she published a planning green paper in February which called for greater repression against Gypsy and Traveller communities. If elected, Spellman says a Conservative government would;

* Scrap the human rights act because it favours Gypsies and Travellers
* Provide greater enforcement powers to deal with unauthorised developments
* Reform the law of trespass to create an offence of “intentional trespass.”

The Conservative candidate said: “Essentially, it is possible to exploit a loophole in the law which allows retrospective planning permission to be granted where a genuine mistake has been made.

“Others, however, deliberately try to use this loophole to create illegal encampments. Such events often begin on the eve of a bank holiday weekend because the council will not have all its staff on hand to deal with a breach.” She contacted Solihull chief executive Mark Rogers who was able to call in key members of the planning department on Saturday to deliver a stop order to the site.

The dispute began when 20 caravans pulled onto the field. It is thought they paid £50,000 for the land last year. But residents in Meriden, near Solihull, West Midlands, swung into action after they spotted the Travellers into the 10-acre field in the village just after the council offices closed at 5.30pm on Friday. They community had arrived with mechanical diggers, to rip up the ground and pour concrete bases for a permanent site.

In a desperate bid to halt building work to supply caravans with water and electricity, residents formed a human barricade to prevent trucks delivering raw materials from getting to the site.

“We don't want them here, it is as simple as that, “ said 65 year-old local farmer Lawrie Arnold, who organised the village's resistance.