Homeowner claims council branded him ‘racist’ over gypsy objection

July 20, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

A homeowner living near a proposed traveller’s site claims council officials branded him ‘racist’ for writing a letter of objection suggesting gypsies flouted planning laws.

Chris Hollis, 56, was horrified when his local council drew up plans for a caravan park on land previously used as an illegal encampment.

He wrote a letter suggesting the land should be used for affordable housing for local families who ”pay taxes” and ”abide by the normal rules of society and not flout planning laws”.

But Bristol City Council rejected the letter because it contained ”discriminatory and insulting arguments”.

Financial planner Mr Hollis is outraged by the response and believes the council is calling him ”racist”.

He said: ”I didn’t swear. I didn’t call them names but the council said it wasn’t taking any notice of my letter because they had ‘concerns’ over what I’d written.

”And at the bottom of the letter they said: ‘When making decisions we look at all sorts of legislation including the Race Relations Act.’

”So that then says to me, ‘They think I’m racist!’ I feel absolutely insulted.”

The plot of land off Begbrook Drive in Stapleton, Bristol, has been used as recreational land since 1949,except for a period in 1998 when it was descended upon by travellers.

Mr Hollis says that during that time a group of five caravans set up on the land and a ”tarmac gang” began harassing and intimidating the community into giving them work.

He said that elderly residents were strong-armed into having their drives refurbished, before being ”marched down to the cash point” by the travellers, who would demand ”inflated pay” for a poor job.

In addition the illegal residents would dump ”tarmac, nappies, rubbish, and all sorts” into the Frome River basin adjacent to the site, which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The travellers were eventually evicted by the council, who secured the site with fencing.

Mr Hollis says his letter to the council reflects his feelings about the previous experience, and suggests they sell the land for starter homes instead.

The letter says: ”If the council wanted to raise money from the Begbrook site and use this to improve the facilities at our other local park, I am sure the residents might be amenable to its future use as starter homes for local families that pay their taxes and wish to abide by the normal rules of society and not flout planning laws, common decency and moral standards like the gypsies do.

”A tastefully-constructed development that actually helped our community, not some undeserving gypsies that give nothing to society, would clearly be better received by the locals.

”Certainly I would be prepared to debate a proposal of this kind… But a gypsy site? No way, Jose.”

But the council objected to his letter, branding it ”discriminatory and insulting”.

A letter of rejection to Mr Hollis, signed by council strategic director David Bishop, said: ”We have some concerns about the nature of some of your comments, particularly the paragraph beginning, ‘If the council wanted to raise money from the Begbrook site…’

”This contains some discriminatory and insulting arguments.”

It goes on to say the council ”must comply with various legislation including the Race Relations Act, the provisions of which cover gypsies and travellers.”

City Councillor for Frome Vale Lesley Alexander (cons) is campaigning on behalf of the Stapleton residents and says that the council have been too ”heavy-handed” and ”over-sensitive” to Mr Hollis’s letter.

She said: ”I don’t think they were necessarily well-chosen words by Mr Hollis but I can understand exactly where residents are coming from and I would have thought the council could have used a bit more discretion in accepting the letter.

”I think the council has over-reacted.”

A spokesman for Bristol City Council defended the rejection, saying: ”We make no apology for asking the author of this letter to resubmit their letter of objection.”

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