SECRET documents revealed to the Echo show councillors rejected a chance to send a clear message to travellers that illegal development will not be tolerated.

Documents obtained by the Echo reveal that planning officers recommended that Basildon Council’s planning committee approve “direct action” to remove a number of caravans from the Hovefields site.

The action would have consisted of removing four caravans, believed to be unused, from the site, to show the council would not be soft on illegal encampments.

But instead, the Echo is led to believe councillors voted to continue “investigating” the four caravans, rather than approving the recommendation of direct action, leading to fears the mistakes made in dealing with the mass illegal Dale Farm camp have not been learned from.

The Echo has agreed to keep the councillor who leaked the documents anonymous.

However, councillor Chris Jackman, of the Wickford Park ward, said: “I believe we need to take a strong stance on the site, particular on the fact the site is greenbelt land.

“But at the same time, Basildon Council must make sure legal proceedings are watertight.

“These are savvy traveller developers we are talking about, and it would not be fair to class them as gypsy travellers.

“Of the four caravans in question, there are a number of expectant young mothers claiming to live in the caravans.

“But why would you jeopardise their welfare in that way, is that responsible?

“Direct action is a timely thing, and it must be done right.

“Remember, Dale Farm took ten years.”

The Hovefields site, which has been used by travellers since August 2016, is divided. It consists of six plots, which the travellers are legally allowed to occupy due to a High Court injunction, “until trial or further order”.

Aside from the six plots, four caravans have been placed and hardstanding laid to the south of the site, which are not protected by the High Court injunction.

While residents in the six plots have all made themselves known to Basildon Council, no-one has come forward as residing in, or owning the four caravans in question, despite repeated attempts by the council.

Direct action would have allowed the council to go onto the site and remove the caravans.

The officers recommendation, not intended to be viewed by the public, said: “In respect of the four caravans and the plots to the south, members should consider authorising direct action at this stage for the breach of the injunction and failure to comply with the requirements of the enforcement notices.

“This would authorise the council to enter the land and take the steps required by the enforcement notices to be taken, and recover from the owner of the land (if identified) any expenses reasonably incurred by the council in doing so.”

Later adding: “On present evidence, the risks of further enforcement action at this stage with respect to the four caravans and the plots to the south do not outweigh the merits of direct action.”

But at Tuesday’s meeting, a motion was tabled by a member of the planning committee to continue investigating the site, rather than to approve direct action.