Appalling tone at Horsham planning meeting

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Appalling tone at planning meeting

The following letter has been sent on behalf of Horsham Labour Party to the chief executive of Horsham District Council; the leader of the council; and the leader of opposition.

I wish to draw your attention to the appalling tone of the contributions from some councillors when discussing the applications submitted for additional travellers’ sites at the planning meeting on Tuesday.

The council publishes on its website its equality and diversity policy which states as follows:

‘At Horsham District Council, we are strongly committed to the values of Equality and Diversity in relation to our workforce, our services and when we are serving our residents. When we talk about Equality, we believe it is about ‘creating a fairer society, where everyone can participate and has the opportunity to fulfil their potential’. When we talk about Diversity, we believe this is respecting and celebrating difference. When diversity is used as a contrast or addition to equality, it is about recognising individual as well as group differences, treating people as individuals, and placing positive value on diversity in the community and in the workforce.’

Some councillors were clearly in breach of this policy. Questioning of the cultural background, motivation and integrity of the applicants and their agents is surely unacceptable in any council forum and particularly unacceptable in a public one.

A diverse group of people were present in the public gallery at that meeting, including members of the travelling community.

The tone taken by some councillors when referring to the applicants was offensive and shameful.

I may have expected, though not accepted, this tone had it been delivered by far right extremists but that it came from some members from both mainstream parties, and amongst them experienced and high profile members of these groups, makes this even more of a disgrace.

The only saving grace in terms of delivering a meeting that respected equality and diversity was that a number of councillors expressed alternative views and many expressed no opinion, but clearly the majority were influenced by the extreme statements as one application was turned down.

As stated by officers at the meeting, the council currently falls short of its obligations to provide sites for travellers. These three applications, for small additions to existing sites, submitted by established families in our district, would allow the council to go some way to addressing its obligations and were recommended for approval by the officers. Despite that recommendation and full supporting statements, some councillors took a reactionary approach and put objections that would have been totally unacceptable if applied to any other application.

Having failed to find a justification for turning down one of the applications on the basis that the applicants could not be who they claimed to be, one councillor then opposed the application on the basis of the impact on the countryside. An impact that was such a low level that the council officers did not feel that it was of any significance, and an impact that is tiny in comparison to the massive development that councillors are currently approving across our region. It was further noticeable that the councillors felt that they could ignore the impact on the countryside of other applications dealt with at this meeting, in one instance claiming that the countryside ‘ is not the countryside’ and these were approved.

The conduct of the councillors who vehemently objected to one application and clearly evidenced their reluctant approval of two others, not only contravenes the equality and diversity policy but in my view amounts to discrimination under the relevant government legislation.

I request the chief executive and group leaders address this matter with the councillors concerned and remind them that the policies of the council are not only applicable to council employees but elected members as well. An apology should also be made to the applicants present at the meeting.

CAROL HAYTON

Horsham Labour Party, Clarence Road, Horsham