This week saw a violent confrontation between Gypsies/travellers and the police as the former were evicted from an illegal camp site at Dale Farm, Essex, UK. There is no doubt in my mind that the decision to evict the Gypsies from the site was the correct one under the terms of British law and land use planning law in particular. There is, however, equally no doubt in my mind that UK law in this regard is oppressive and provides a prime illustration of what happens when private property rights are over-ridden in the name of third party ‘community interests’.
As I understand it, the Dale Farm residents bought the property from whence they were evicted, but they acted illegally in erecting a campsite which had not been granted planning permission. As noted in previous posts on this site development rights in the UK are nationalised – if you own a piece of land you have no right to develop it as such – merely a right to request permission to do so from a local government planning authority which purports to represent ‘the community’. As a consequence, all land use decisions are fundamentally politicised and this typically results in the triumph of local ‘nimbyism’.
The Dale farm residents and other gypsies are unfortunate victims of this nimbyism. Though they were wrong to break the law in erecting an illegal site, the reason that they did so was that it is so difficult for them to legitimately build sites anywhere in the country – even on land that they themselves own. Whenever they apply for permission this is typically refused owing to the hordes of local nimby’s pressuring the local authorities and indeed the national government to keep out what are seen as ‘undesirable residents’.
The plight of the gypsies in this case illustrates very clearly, how in the absence of strong private property rights there is frequently a ‘tyranny of the majority’. Without strong protection of property unpopular minorities wishing to live ‘alternative life styles’ will always be subject to arbitrary interventions supposedly in the name of the ‘common good’. While the majority has every right to pursue its own values and standards of acceptable conduct it should do so through voluntary exchange – buying up property in order to maintain its particular standards within that domain. It should not, however, be able to prevent minorities from engaging in similar exchanges with willing partners so that they may live out their own notion of a good life.
The irony of the Dale Farm case is that many of the leftist and ‘anarchist’ ‘protesters’ who turned up outside the gates of the camp to protect the Gypsies advocate the abolition of private property and the institution of a system in which all decisions are made on the basis of majority rule. Stronger private property rights and the denationalisation of land use control in the UK would provide far better protection for minorities such as the Gypsies – for at root they are the victims of an unrestricted social democracy of which the ‘anarchists’ so approve.