Basildon Council has pledged to carry on chasing up a £4million debt left from the eviction of the notorious Dale Farm traveller site.

The Basildon Labour group had tabled an emergency motion following the announcement that taxpayers are being asked to foot the bill for the clearance of the camp.

Basildon Council has admitted £4m is still owed to it for the 2011 eviction, but gave up chasing the debt from the travellers after it became clear it would be too difficult.

Around 90 families were evicted from Dale Farm after a long legal fight concluded with a forced eviction that saw caravans torched in defiant last stands.

Just over £2,000 has been recovered for operational costs but Basildon Council says it has not actively pursued the debt as it is unclear who owns the land.

A report from the council had said: “For a number of reasons, including lack of information about landowners’ whereabouts and the likelihood of being able to recover the debt through other means at the time, it was decided that no further action would be taken to pursue the debts.

“It was also decided not to pursue acquiring the land due to the liabilities which the council would be accepting responsibility for.

“It was recognised that the debt recovery position may change in the future, particularly if any land transfers took place. In which case the approach may be revisited.”

Councillor Andrew Baggott,leader of Basildon Council said: “The debts have not been written off and the landowners have not been let off paying the debt.

“The council is committed to protecting the public purse and services residents deserve.

“If there are any patches where we do know the location of the owners that we have not followed through, I would expect the chief executive to take the appropriate action.”

Councillor Malcolm Buckley, who was leader when it was decided to take enforcement action, said: “It was always the case that we had an intention to recover costs. It was recognised by the administration at the time that this was going to be a difficult task.

“We always wanted to recover the money but what was important was the reason we incurred the debt in the first place. Had we not taken that action we could have seen a free-for-all across the borough.”

Councillor Gavin Callaghan, Labour group leader, said: “We cannot ignore the fact that at the moment have collected just over £2,000.

“That is an average of £285 a year and at that rate it would take 14,000 years to recoup that money.

“The reality is we have to do something differently to recoup that money.

“We are asking a taskforce to be convened. I don’t want Basildon taxpayers to have to pay a penny more so I would look for help from central Government and the land registry in order to move this forward.”

He added the council should set a target of recovering the costs by December 2019.