Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting ECHONEWS to 80360, or email us »
Updated: Taxpayers fund travellers' community centre
A NEW £12,000 community centre complete with laptops has been built at Dale Farm traveller camp...with taxpayers' money and without planning permission.
Travellers at the Crays Hill unauthorised site will unveil the county council-funded log cabin at a special launch event on Saturday.
There will be beers and a buffet and it will be attended by a member of the House of Lords, a catholic priest and a race relations boss.
The building, called St Christopher's, will be used for community meetings and as a chapel and IT school for kids.
On top of sealing the grant, the Essex Racial Equality Council is still having a whip round to gather a further £850 to install toilets - otherwise visitors will have to use travellers' homes.
On Saturday, the building will be blessed by Father John Glynn of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, Wickford. There will also be speeches by Lib Dem peer Lord Avebury, Clive Mardner, director of equality council, who sponsored the project and bid for the cash, and site spokesman Richard Sheridan, Gypsy Council president.
News of the community centre has infuriated residents and politicians. It means more unauthorised work has taken place before the High Court decides if 86 families should face eviction.
Billericay MP John Baron has already urged the National Lottery to stop funding the equality council because he claims it is "biased to travellers".
He said: "Supporting a community centre on an illegal site shows a clear bias and discriminates against the law-abiding majority. The equality council should provide fairness for all. By backing this centre, it has contributed to community tensions."
The equality council used the cash it got from a county council youth fund to buy the building and computers.
Grattan Puxon, a lead campaigner for the site, has named the centre after a school he helped build on a site facing eviction on the outskirts of Dublin in the 1960s, where some ancestors of travellers at Dale Farm once lived.
He said: "We are very optimistic the judge's ruling will go in our favour, so the community centre will be very beneficial.
"James Dasinger, a US volunteer living at the site, will run IT lessons for children."
He said he did not believe the building required planning permission and said the equality council had pushed the project forward.
Basildon Council leader Malcolm Buckley said: "If any breaches of planning have occurred they will be subject to enforcement action.
"I believe the equality council has done more damage to race relations in the district than any other organisation."
County: We will investigate
ESSEX County Council said it will investigate if funds have been provided inappropriately.
A statement said: "We expect all applications to strictly adhere to planning legislation and guidance. Where a planning application is required, it is for the sponsor of each bid to ensure the correct process is met.
"Where this has not happened and where breaches have occurred, we, together with the relevant district council will take the appropriate action. We are currently investigating together with Basildon Council."
A total of £9,894 was awarded for provision of lap-tops and to construct the log cabin, for use for education, literacy and health. A further £2,011 was given for extra expenses. The statement added the funding was from a Government youth grant.