Europe's biggest traveller site revealed in aerial shots of Essex camp on protected green belt land

Europe's biggest traveller site revealed in aerial shots of Essex camp on protected green belt land

Full extent of Europe’s biggest traveller site is revealed in aerial pictures of Essex camp meant for just 50 caravans on protected green belt land

  •  The sprawling Buckles Lane site in South Ockenden, Essex, is now home to more than 1,000 people
  •  In the 1980s, permission was granted for 50 caravan pitches for travelling showmen to use during the winter
  •  But over the years, the site has more than doubled in size with an estimated 350 families on 120 pitches
  •  Many rent out mobile homes to wider community, which have been installed without planning permission
  •  Residents complain that Thurrock Council could be doing more to enforce their planning regulations
  •  One councillor described the camp as a ‘festering eyesore’, while a 2014 report called the site ‘overcrowded’

Shari Miller For Mailonline

The true extent of a sprawling traveller’s site in Essex, which has been allowed to expand onto green belt land, is revealed in these new aerial photographs.

Buckles Lane in South Ockendon – thought to be the largest traveller site in Europe – is home to more than 1,000 people.

In the 1980s, permission was granted for 50 caravan pitches for travelling showmen to use during the winter months.

These aerial shots reveal the staggering extent of a traveller's camp located in Buckles Lane,  South Ockenden, Essex

These aerial shots reveal the staggering extent of a traveller’s camp located in Buckles Lane, South Ockenden, Essex

The Essex camp is thought to be the largest traveller site in Europe and houses 1,000 people, many without permission 

The Essex camp is thought to be the largest traveller site in Europe and houses 1,000 people, many without permission 

The Essex camp is thought to be the largest traveller site in Europe and houses 1,000 people, many without permission 

In the 1980s, permission was granted for 50 caravan pitches for travelling showmen, but the site has more than doubled 

In the 1980s, permission was granted for 50 caravan pitches for travelling showmen, but the site has more than doubled 

In the 1980s, permission was granted for 50 caravan pitches for travelling showmen, but the site has more than doubled 

But over the years, the site – described as ‘overcrowded’ by a Thurrock Council report in 2014 – has more than doubled in size, often without planning permission, with an estimated 350 families living on 120 pitches.

There are also a considerable number of mobile homes, which are being rented out by the site’s residents to eastern European gypsies and the settled community.

The sheer size of the site has drawn comparisons to Dale Farm, located a short distance away in Basildon, which at its height provided accommodation for more than 1,000 people.

Following a ten-year legal battle, Basildon District Council gained the right to evict 80 families from their illegally-built homes in 2011, in an operation that cost the council £4.3million.

The site, which has expanded onto green belt, was described by Thurrock Council as 'overcrowded' in a 2014 assessment

The site, which has expanded onto green belt, was described by Thurrock Council as 'overcrowded' in a 2014 assessment

The site, which has expanded onto green belt, was described by Thurrock Council as ‘overcrowded’ in a 2014 assessment

The  site has drawn comparisons to Dale Farm, located a short distance away in Basildon, where 1,000 people lived until 2011

The  site has drawn comparisons to Dale Farm, located a short distance away in Basildon, where 1,000 people lived until 2011

The site has drawn comparisons to Dale Farm, located a short distance away in Basildon, where 1,000 people lived until 2011

Residents living close to the buckles Lane site believe Thurrock Council could do more to enforce planning regulations

Residents living close to the buckles Lane site believe Thurrock Council could do more to enforce planning regulations

Residents living close to the buckles Lane site believe Thurrock Council could do more to enforce planning regulations

Last October, regeneration councillor Mark Coxshall at Thurrock Council described the sprawling site as a 'festering sore'

Last October, regeneration councillor Mark Coxshall at Thurrock Council described the sprawling site as a 'festering sore'

Last October, regeneration councillor Mark Coxshall at Thurrock Council described the sprawling site as a ‘festering sore’

Of the Buckles Lane site, people living close to the massive camp believe Thurrock Council could be doing more to enforce planning regulations.

Tony Jones, 48, told the Sunday Express: ‘For years the council has let them get away with it.’

A woman in her 60s added: ‘I have lived here more than 30 years and the showmen have never caused a problem. But now they are advertising caravans to anyone in the local paper for £100 a week.’

Ben Maney of Thurrock Council believes people living in Buckles Lane 'create their own set of rules' over planning issues

Ben Maney of Thurrock Council believes people living in Buckles Lane 'create their own set of rules' over planning issues

Ben Maney of Thurrock Council believes people living in Buckles Lane ‘create their own set of rules’ over planning issues

An estimated 350 families are living on 120 pitches  at the Buckles Lane site, despite original permission for only 50 pitches

An estimated 350 families are living on 120 pitches  at the Buckles Lane site, despite original permission for only 50 pitches

An estimated 350 families are living on 120 pitches at the Buckles Lane site, despite original permission for only 50 pitches

One resident, who has lived there for 19 years without planning permission, said they were 'an upstanding community'

One resident, who has lived there for 19 years without planning permission, said they were 'an upstanding community'

One resident, who has lived there for 19 years without planning permission, said they were ‘an upstanding community’

Last October, regeneration councillor Mark Coxshall described the camp as a ‘festering sore’, while fellow Tory councillor Ben Maney said: ‘For years, there has been a complete lack of parity with residents and businesses who are held to one set of rules while people in Buckles Lane create their own.’

Fairground boss John Biddall, 51, who has lived at Buckles Lane for 19 years with no planning permission, defended his fellow residents as ‘an upstanding community’.

He added that renting out mobile homes was ‘doing a service’ given the housing shortage in Thurrock.     

Earlier this year, housing minister Dominic Raab launched a public consultation around unauthorised gypsy and traveller camps.

He invited police leaders to consider whether officers need new powers to evict travellers by criminalising those who settle on land without permission.

Mr Raab said he was ‘deeply troubled’ by allegations about the behaviour of travellers and ‘particularly by the widespread perception that the rule of law does not apply to those who choose a nomadic lifestyle’.

Ministers are considering a new offence that would extend the scope of aggravated trespass. The offence currently applies only if a traveller has camped illegally and is shown to have intimidated or obstructed the landowner.

The consultation asks whether it is time to create a new criminal offence that would allow action against unauthorised camps that ‘substantially damage land or cause serious inconvenience to the landowner or other lawful users of the land’.

Mobile homes on the site are being rented out by  residents to eastern European gypsies and the settled community

Mobile homes on the site are being rented out by  residents to eastern European gypsies and the settled community

Mobile homes on the site are being rented out by residents to eastern European gypsies and the settled community

One resident said they are 'doing a service' to Thurrock by providing mobile homes, given the  housing shortage in the area

One resident said they are 'doing a service' to Thurrock by providing mobile homes, given the  housing shortage in the area

One resident said they are ‘doing a service’ to Thurrock by providing mobile homes, given the housing shortage in the area

The move would significantly lower the legal threshold for criminal action against illegally camped travellers.

But last month, The National Police Chiefs Council said the criminalisation of travellers was not the answer and recommended that new permanent and transit sites should be set up across Britain for gypsies, Roma and travellers in an effort to reduce illegal incursions.

The 2011 census found that 63,000 people in the UK identified themselves as either gypsy, traveller or Irish traveller. However, experts believe this figure may be an underestimate.

Local authorities have spent almost £35million creating 1,800 traveller pitches since 2012 – although councils agree there is a need for more than 5,000.

Official statistics show the total number of traveller caravans rose by 32 per cent in the decade to January 2017. 

There are now estimated to be 3,700 caravans on unauthorised sites – about 16 per cent of the total.   

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