At a recent planning meeting, an application for an HMO (House of Multiple Occupation) was discussed and subsequently refused.
As a member of the planning committee I spoke on the application and my comments, in my view, have been misinterpreted by some at best and misrepresented at worst.
I, therefore, wish to clarify my position, not for those individuals or groups who wish to condemn me or set themselves up as some kind of guardian of anti-racist movements.
Indeed our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities do not need lessons on fighting against bigotry or prejudice – something they have been doing all their lives and continue to do so on many fronts.
This clarification is for those many individuals with whom I and others have stood in solidarity and campaigned with, over the many years and who know me and my anti-racist work in Walsall.
I am of the view that this application was unsuitable in the proposed location. Its management by Serco was a major concern due to local and national experience with their running of such services and centres.
In addition to this and as much a concern was an addition of this HMO in a street where there already are two existing HMO’s and therefore, in my opinion, it would be detrimental to residents.
Specifically, the fear of crime and my understanding and comment that I too would be fearful was to do with the fact a poorly managed facility with people who have specific and specialised needs would create difficulties.
The fear of crime is not and was not from Asylum Seekers from within the facility but could arise, as the meeting heard, from those visiting the facility to exploit vulnerable individuals. A poorly managed facility, therefore, adds to the fear of crime and I stand by this opinion and subsequent decision to vote for a motion refusing planning permission.
I do not and neither did the committee have confidence in Serco, seemingly unlike some of those critical of our decision, to manage this facility. The lack of sufficient and appropriate management would and did create a fear of crime amongst residents.
I do not, nor have I ever condoned scapegoating asylum seekers. I do not, nor have I ever thought that asylum seekers are more inclined to commit crime due to the fact that they are asylum seekers.
Taking a report of a meeting from the Express and Star rather than by watching and understanding a whole debate does not in my view allow one to get an appreciation of the context within which comments are made.
I, therefore, do not find I need to apologise for the comments I made at the meeting. If however, anyone wishes to speak to me on an individual basis then I am happy to do so.
I will continue, in my own little way and with other committed anti-racists, to fight and campaign against all forms of hate, bigotry and racism and against those who would take words out of context and make allegations for political purposes.
Cllr Aftab Nawaz
Leader of the Labour Group (Walsall Council)
Councillor for St Matthews