Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Tories call for traveller site chaos

I missed a fun bit from my Full Council synopsis! Tory Avonmouth councillor Siobhan Kennedy-Hall used the debate on the Core Strategy (see previous posting) to air her 'interesting' views on the Council's provision of transit sites for gypsies and travellers.

Her view, in a nutshell and wrapped up in some right-wing and not-very-progressive rhetoric, is that the Council should not spend taxpayers' money providing a transit site which just gets trashed by the ungrateful users. Leaving aside the fact that this was, I believe, the first time the Tories had mentioned this during the three year process of developing the Core Strategy, when there is a cross-party panel (which I chair) to discuss issues of contension, this was a singularly stupid and/or ill-informed line of argument.

Aside from the moral position, the Council has a duty to provide transit sites. If it fails to make adequate provision, there are no legal powers to remove travellers from other land, leading to very expensive legal action and costing the taxpayer a small king's ransom. I think the current legal framework was actually brought in by the last Conservative government, but I might be wrong. In any case, it would be truly bizarre for Bristol not to make provision, in common with other local authorities, and it would lead to absolute chaos. Yes, there is a cost, but it is dwarfed by the risky alternative. Labour's John Bees did an excellent job of slapping Siobhan Kennedy-Hall down, reinforced by Lib Dem Jon Rogers.

What I wasn't clear about was whether this was an official Bristol Tory position. Leader Richard Eddy and a couple of others were busy nodding along, while the eminently sensible Barbara Lewis had a look of quiet despair on her face. Either way, it's pretty clear that the Nasty Party is live and kicking in Bristol.

On a similar track, at the last Full Council meeting, Frome Vale Tory councillor James Stevenson heckled and shook his head throughout a speech supporting Alphonse Daudet Touna's application to remain in the UK. For those that don't know, Alphonse is a musician who does a lot of work for Bristol schools and is regarded as a real community asset - he's recently been given permission to stay after a lengthy appeal process, which is great news for the cultural life of the city!

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