Why am I interested in the plight of the Dale Farm Travellers? I say ‘plight’ and you know immediately that I am in sympathy with them. Why?

I have two reasons. One is based on South Africa under apartheid. The other is based in England.

Any eviction is a cause for concern.

In South Africa under apartheid, thousands of people were evicted from their homes under a policy known as the Group Areas Act. If they owned their homes they were forced to sell and move. If their homes were rented, they had to move. There it was known as ‘forced removals’.

It began with every citizen being labelled according to their ethnicity. The criteria for labelling people were cruel, relating to skin colour and texture of hair, such that members of the same family were often placed in different ethnic groups.

Following this, areas in each town and city were allocated to each ethnic group and the people were forcibly removed from their homes, – if they refused to move – and relocated.

That forced removal of people from their homes, is perhaps the connection with the Dale Farm Travellers.

My interest in what is happening in England to the Dale Farm Travellers is very different. It relates to the Green Belt.

It appears that the scrapyard on which the Travellers are living is in or near a Green Belt. My understanding of the Green Belt is that it is not intended for housing or for development, but should be left in its natural state, or be used for farming.

I live in Heslington which is a village. When the University of York proposed builing its East Heslington campus here in Heslington, many local people and some farmers opposed building on the Green Belt. Alternative sites were offered.

The local Council approved the building of the campus. The public called for an inquiry, which took place but which failed. The building went ahead and is now complete.

The East Heslington campus consists of, among other things, accommodation for students.

If the university could be given permission to build student housing on Green Belt land, (and other universities have also been given permission to build on Green Belt) why should the Dale Farm Travellers be refused permission to live on the scrapyard that they have bought?