TONY Ball could be crowned council leader of the year in recognition of his role spearheading the eviction of travellers from Dale Farm.

While Basildon Council gears up for a possible second eviction of families from the legal site at Oak Lane, Crays Hill, Mr Ball has been shortlisted for the award from think-tank the Local Government Information Unit.

Mr Ball, who took overall responsibility for the removal of up to 86 families from the illegal Dale Farm site, is up against nine other council leaders from London to Staffordshire.

He faced constant attention from TV crews and media across the globe during September and October through a series of High Court hearings until police and bailiffs went in.

Mr Ball said: ”It is a great honour to be shortlisted for this award. I was aware I had been nominated, but did not expect this. The operation was an extremely challenging time for the council as a whole and other agencies involved.”

Yesterday, Mr Ball spoke at a conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Hampshire after being invited to share his experiences of working with the police during the clearance.

The awards, in their third year, recognise councillors who have made a difference to the communities they serve under challenging circumstances.

Tory councillor Malcolm Buckley, former council leader, said: “Throughout September and October there was immense pressure on Tony. Attending the High Court in London is daunting for anyone coupled with the focus of, not just local, but the world’s media.”

Prizes will be announced at a ceremony on February 27 at Westminster City Hall.

Guest speakers include Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who heads the Department for Communities and Local Government, which provided a £1.2million grant to the council to help fund the eviction.

Basildon Lib Dem group leader Geoff Williams, who voted against the operation on humanitarian grounds, questioned handing out awards over such a sensitive matter.

He said: “If that is the principal reason, it does strike me as a bit misjudged. If there are other reasons then fair enough.

“It may even be somewhat premature given still outstanding issues to be resolved.”