West Lindsey residents are being warned not to be ‘racist’ when opposing council plans to deal with a booming gypsy population.
Councillors met last night to discuss how they can grapple with the issue, such as providing more pitches and potential new sites, but also to develop a policy on “how to deal with racist representations.”
A 146-page Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA) was produced by RRR Consulting Ltd in November and presented to the Prosperous Communities Committee for discussion in February.
It said of three local authorities in Lincolnshire, West Lindsey had “the largest need” for new pitches over the next 20 years and proposes a near-doubling of them.
The assessment has identified “a need” for 43 extra pitches (up from the current 49) within West Lindsay over the next 20 years, with 13 pitches needed by 2018.
Though favouring the expansion of existing sites, the report says “relatively rural character of West Lindsey means that there is potential for the location of new sites,” as long as they have access to services.
The meeting was recommended to approve the GTAA findings, which also said the council should review all its existing Gypsie accommodation policies, advise them on the most suitable land for residential use and to provide help with the application process.
“Developing an internal policy on how to deal with racist representations in the approval process,” was another recommendation.
Coun Paul Howitt-Cowan of West Lindsey’s Prosperous Communities committee says such racism “does not help.” whatsoever and gives councils a “challenge” in accommodating Gypsies and Travellers.
Coun Howitt-Cowan warned racist abusers could be at risk of police action, though he said declined to say what action the council might take until members had determined council policy.
“We hope to put in place reasonable and compassionate structures to assess the situation. The community is made up of all types of people. There is a choice of how you want to live. As a community we have to be sensible about it,” he said.
“I can understand how people get worked up about it. At the end of the day we are dealing with the law. Hopefully we can come to a sensible and reasonable case to the challenge.”
West Lindsey District Council Leader, Coun Jeff Summers says his council was working with its neighbours to come up with an equitable solution.
“For me the simplest way to increase pitches is to add extra pitches to existing sites rather than develop new sites.
“People get extremely emotive about the subject. It’s something we have to deal with. We have to make the provision.”
Such matters have led to public outbursts in meetings.
“People come along with extremely strong, racist comments, which are extremely inappropriate.
“Anyone using inappropriate language will be taken to task. We close down. We don’t allow it.”
Coun Summers could not say what policy the committee would develop but he gave this advice.
“Don’t be racist. You just can’t do it. It’s not appropriate.”