Newbury Town Council took the unprecedented step of issuing three personal apologies before a meeting of the Highways & Planning Committee when it was revealed an appendix to a report on planning for traveller sites had included statements contradicting race relations law.
The offending paragraphs claimed:
"We do not believe that travellers should be treated as a separate ethnic group or that policy towards them should be governed by such considerations. Because of the undesirable effects of the travelling way of life on receipt of social services, especially education, we do not consider that travelling in the sense used in this paper can be sustained in the long run,"and,
"It [travelling] is gradually disappearing and that trend should not be discouraged. We obviously agree on the measures to prevent abuse of the planning system by travellers."Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera of the West Berkshire Ethnic Minorities Forum took issue with these claims, highlighting the fact that Roma, Romany Gypsies and Irish travellers are all recognized as ethnic minorities and are protected by the law.
He explained, "The intolerance shown towards these communities is still very obvious, and is even enshrined within some of the policies and procedures of our public authorities."
Committee member Anthony Pick (who admitted writing the report), committee vice-chair Adrian Edwards (who admitted responsibility for its' submission) and Council chief executive Graham Hunt (who accepted overall responsibility) offered 'unreserved' and 'full and unqualified' apologies. The specific paragraphs have been removed from the council website and 'equality training' will be introduced.
This wasn't sufficient for Labour party spokesperson Richard Garvie, however, who condemned the words of his opponents as "worthy of the BNP."
But this only inflamed the situation as the debate transferred to the boards of the NewburyToday forum and accusations of 'uninformed prejudice' and 'ignorant do-gooders' were quickly stirred up by either side.
Meanwhile Wokingham Borough Council will hear an appeal made by Henry Giles against a second refusal to turn a field into a permanent gypsy site for one family.
Cllr Annette Drake described the concern villagers in Hurst had expressed to her over their fears for the site in Islandstone Lane.
She said, "This is something people are very concerned about. It is something that is being talked about a lot in the village," and urged anyone who is interested in the outcome of the appeal to write to the planning inspectorate to express their opinion, adding that she will be lodging her objections.