A SENIOR Labour councillor at Warrington has accused rebel councillor Kevin Bennett of making inflammatory statements which could encourage hate-crime, as the row over a gypsy and traveller site in the borough rumbles on.
Cllr Hitesh Patel (pictured above), the borough council’s lead member for equality and diversity said Cllr Bennett – who represents the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) on the council – was suggesting people of a particular ethnic group should not be allowed to live near the rest of the population.
He said: “It reminds me of stories from the 50s and 60s when black and Asian people were illegally stopped from buying homes in certain streets because people felt it would lower house prices.
“I challenge the TUSC party to provide me with independent evidence that shows that having a properly managed transit site lowers house prices and ‘blights communities’, otherwise I ask them to retract such inflammatory and potentially hate-crime encouraging statements.
“At least by having a transit site, just like in many other local authority areas, the gypsy and traveller community will be able to live peacefully side by side other communities, their children will have somewhere safe to stay and they will also be able to pay their fair share of local Council Tax.”
The Housing Act 2004 places a duty on councils to assess the accommodation needs for Gypsies and Travellers and make adequate provision for them within their area.
Councils also have a duty to promote good race relations, equality of opportunity and community cohesion in all of their policies.
Cllr Bennett, a former Labour councillor who switched to TUSC earlier this year, claims a council working group is recommending a site off Birchwood Way, close to homes in Padgate, for a travellers’ transit camp but that their recommendation has been kept “secret” for eight months.
But Cllr Maureen McLauglin (pictured, right), lead member for public healh and well being, says no decision has yet been made.
She said: “I realise that continued illegal encampments are costing the council money and are breeding resentment in the community.
“The council has not made any decision regarding the location of a transit site for travellers. In the past two years the council has been examining a large number of council-owned sites for a possible location and the Travellers Working Party will be reconsidering this when it reconvenes in September.
“The council will also be considering other sites currently in private ownership. Any decision on the location of a site will be referred to the council’s Executive Board and this will be an open and transparent process, together with full ‘public’ consultation as part of the statutory planning process”
Cllr Patel added: “Without providing a properly managed site with decent facilities, communities across all of Warrington will endure the consequences of unauthorised encampments and local tax-payers will continue to have to foot the clean-up bill. But worse still, it also encourages and perpetuates racist sentiment and how can that possibly be a good example for children growing up in the town.
“According to their website TUSC claims to be a party which welcomes diversity and opposes racism, fascism and discrimination, yet here we have their local representative saying this ethnic group should not be allowed to live near the rest of us.”
Parish steps in
MEANWHILE, Poulton-with-Fearnhead Parish Council has stepped into the fray.
In a statement issued today, the council says it has heard rumours of a travellers’ transit site being considered for the former school playing fields opposite Bennett Recreation Ground in Station Road, Padgate.
Chairman Cllr Poul Gosney said the parish council had now written twice to the borough council asking for clarification but had received no reply.
“If a site has been decided upon for this area then one would have expected the parish council, and also local residents, to have been involved in the process. Neither has been.
“Warrington Borough Council is becoming more and more secretive in its dealings with the public and it seems even more so with its partner organisations such as parish councils.
“As the parish council for the area we will again be pushing Warrington Borough Council for some straight answers regarding this.”