Yesterday, 19 May 2016, I asked the Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council about an article that had appeared in Private Eye on 1 April 2016. Unfortunately, the article is no longer available online, but a lot of the background information is on Phoebe Buckley’s blog, in particular on this post: https://phoebebuckleyblogs.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/filling-in-the-gaps/
A video of the meeting is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIWl1ESmgRU. My question is at 1:09:22.
Below is the text of my question, as asked.
“To start with, I would like to say that I hope that this issue does not detract from the excellent work that officers of the council, in particular in the Housing department, do with the gypsy and traveller communities in our district. This is vital work that doesn’t get nearly enough praise.
“The story that this question relates to was published over 6 weeks ago. I didn’t write it, I had no involved in it. To my knowledge, no one has responded to it. But I think that it is essential that we do respond.
“This question provides our leadership with an opportunity to confirm that they agree that it is crucial that we all avoid any perception of prejudice. While prejudices persist in our society, and in particular the one we are talking about here, against gypsies and travellers, which, we have to admit, is very widespread, I believe that our rejection of such prejudice bears repeating.
“More specifically, this is a good moment to address a problem with how our planning system works and how it is perceived. On the one hand, there is a perception that the planning rules are biased in favour of gypsies and travellers and that if they play the system, they can get permissions that others would not be able to get. I’m sure we all know of cases where this seems to be have happened. But the rules are written the way that they are for very good reasons.
“On the other hand, many gypsies and travellers find that all possible obstacles are put in their way when trying to find homes for their families and businesses, whether temporary or permanent. The slight advantage they have in planning rules can be easily outweighed by other disadvantaging factors.
“This is the possibly most problematic aspect of the story that has been reported, the perception that facts are being distorted for planning advantage. Who can possibly agree with the statement, for example, that “the District Council have said that there will be some new sites available soon”?
“None of us have the answers to the underlying problems, housing pressures, high prices of land, or a shortage of sites for gypsies and travellers. But this seems to be taking us further away from a solution.
“So to reframe my question: Do we agree that our role should be to ensure that the planning process works fairly for the common good of all? Do we agree that we cannot do this if we exacerbate the already deep sense of unfairness among so many participants?
“I don’t believe that councillor Manning is racist. But it is vital that we do everything that we can to avoid the perception that any of us are.
“I hope you will agree to take this opportunity to do this.”