The invasion of Meriden
PUBLISHED: 11:03 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 17:49 20 February 2013
When 17 caravans moved onto a field in Meriden the residents were spurred into action as Nicholas Butler reports.
To succeed, an invasion must combine surprise, speed and strength, and this invasion had all three.
Shortly before 5 pm on Friday, 30th April, the eve of a Bank Holiday weekend, a planning application for a caravan site in a field above Meriden was presented to the Solihull Council. Between 5pm and 6pm, 17 caravans arrived at that field and have been there ever since. The people of Meriden were not altogether surprised. The field had recently changed hands and the new owner brought water and electricity onto the site. Before the day was out, the town was alerted and the residents mustered.
On Saturday morning the second phase of the invasion was begun and repulsed. Eighty lorries, carrying 1,800 tons of hardcore, moved up Eaves Green Lane towards the site and were met by villagers who asked them not to go any further. Nor did they, when they were told that this material was not, as they had supposed, to build a slip road off the A45. Had they been allowed to proceed that field, already much the worse for wear, would be a field no more.
That same day, the residents countered the planning application with a temporary stop notice and on Tuesday, Residents Against Inappropriate Development (RAID) was formed. On 21st May, an interim injunction was issued, to prevent further development until the planning application was decided.
The defenders set up two camps, which they named after local residents. Camp Nancy is opposite the travellers site, the other, Camp Barbara, half a mile down Eaves Green Lane. They contain sleeping bags, microwaves, television sets, tables, chairs, provisions and firewood, and both are substantially manned at every hour of the day and night.
The arrival of the travellers is not particularly surprising. What is remarkable about this affair is the immediate, vigorous and continuing resistance of the locals. The residents of Meriden know that the Meriden Gap, that precious six miles of peaceful countryside, stops Coventry and Birmingham from tumbling into each others arms. They are good humoured, but very determined.
I talked to Doug Bacon, the vice chairman of RAID and he put the case in a nutshell: There are three elements to this. There is the abuse of the planning process, the protection of Green Belt and the recognition that the travellers communities need somewhere to live. Provision must be made in appropriate areas with the full consent of local residents and only by doing this can we achieve a long term solution of this problem, which is a national problem. We dont want to win a victory and push them somewhere else. That would be a hollow victory for us.
On 7th July, the Solihull Council Planning Committee predictably refused the planning application submitted three months earlier. Equally predictably, the travellers appealed.
They might win the right to stay. By law, provision must be made for travellers camps and Warwickshire has not provided enough. If we want these confrontations to end, provision must be made. Where?
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