Saturday, 9 July 2011

'Travelling in different directions'

Conservatives in Berkshire are standing accused of offensive and potentially racist attitudes towards Berkshire's travelling community after two separate incidents this week.

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," 
"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.


  1. You've hit on an intractable topic here. There are travellers who are ethnic Romany and there are travellers who just happen to travel. There is discrimination against both groups and most people fail to distinguish between the two (or more). The groups also discriminate between themselves.

    Society has chosen to live in fixed dwellings for which relevant local taxes are payable and, in the main, fails to understand why travellers would wish to live a nomadic lifestyle. Then there is the paradox where travellers set up a permanent camp, thus ceasing to travel. That says, surely, that they are no longer travellers?

    Often there are serious issues of lack of relevant consents to camp, permanently or temporarily. Consents should not be withheld unreasonably, but they should also have conditions associated with them set down by the society within which we all, travellers included, live. In the same way that conditions are enforced upon those of us who live in fixed dwellings, conditions should be enforced upon travellers.

    I see no issue with travellers wishing to travel, wishing to camp temporarily or wishing to camp permanently. I have no need nor desire to enforce my lifestyle upon them, and they have none to enforce theirs upon me.

    So where is your article going with this? Are you simply reporting various politicians' stances or is there a purpose other than that in your text? I'm pretty sure you aren't a supporter of 'political correctness' in the same way that I'm sure that you are not a supporter of abusive speech. I'm just perplexed. Your articles usually lead me somewhere. This one hasn't.

  2. Hi Tim,
    that's kinda the point of the title - if people go in different directions they're unlikely to get to the same destination. The situation is confused because people on all sides are confused.

    If we say the conservative report which was at variance with the law was bad, should we say the encouragement to participate in the planning appeal is good? Or if the apology is good, is the fear of a one-family site not?

    For sure West Berks EMF was right to intervene, but can't we also say the Labour spokesman was wrong to deliberately collude and unhelpfully inflame the situation for any reason, especially partisan advantage?

    And what of LibDems? Why are they sitting silent when there is ample reason to call for greater consistency (compare with the 'racist tweet' episode where Reading's Cllr Swaine is currently suspended from his party pending investigation).

    As for the various travelling communities perhaps we should also ask where their duty to ensure a more harmonious relationship with settled society and pick up on those minority elements which detract from the majority is not being met: with legal status comes political responsibility.

  3. I probably ought to have 'got' that from the article. I blame the big floaty painkillers I'm taking at the moment :) Maybe I needed to be led by the nose today.

  4. Not at all. I appreciate what you said - to leave you scratching your head about a confused situation was exactly the note I was hoping for. I mean, to put that comment in the post would be a bit too heavy-handed and didactic, when I find a nice tickle can often be more fun!

    Hope you're ok, at least it's painkillers on a day when the weather's miserable!

  5. Now I'll make you jealous! We have great weather here in Dartmouth :)


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