‘Cohesion summit’ demanded amid concern over tensions

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INCREASING numbers of residents in a district in West Yorkshire believe community relations have deteriorated in recent years, according to a survey.

The survey in Calderdale has prompted a group of councillors to call for a summit to discuss ways of improving “community cohesion”.

In December the survey asked Calderdale residents if they agreed that different communities “live together harmoniously” in the area.

Fifty nine per cent agreed, a drop of four per cent compared with a poll 12 months earlier.

In the Halifax Central area the drop was more marked, at six per cent, and now stands at 55 per cent.

The council’s Cabinet committee is meeting tonight to consider a request for a “community 
cohesion summit” from the authority’s communities scrutiny panel.

A council report concludes that “community resilience in Calderdale is generally strong” but adds: “...the downward trend in relation to people feeling that they live in harmony with people and communities of different backgrounds is concerning”.

The council is expecting to find out why people are concerned about worsening community relations later this year from a study being carried out by Huddersfield University.

Research will focus on the views of white working class and middle class communities.

The aim is to find out what 
issues motivate people to get 
involved in “community activism”.

The council report says: “We score persistently badly on feelings of living in harmony and we are seeking to understand why.”

The rise in pessimism among residents does not appear to be reflected in crime figures relating to racial and other hate crimes in the district.

Hate incidents in Calderdale fell by 32, a drop of 27 per cent, between April and July last year compared with the same period in 2011.

Such incidents have also fallen in the Halifax Central area, according to the council.

The report suggests that rising tensions locally are the result of several factors, including:

Communities clustering together and not mixing. Recent immigrants from the Czech Republic and Slovakia have tended to settle in the Park ward and Warley/Skircoat areas.

Social media giving “unlimited and uncensored access to images and information” which can lead to “incitement, radicalisation and exploitation”.

Political debate being “hijacked by right wing parties, closing down reasoned dialogue for many people who are left without a voice for fear of being labelled racist”.

Lack of support for asylum seekers, despite HX1 being a top five postcode in Yorkshire for their placement.

The chairman of Calderdale Council’s communities scrutiny panel, Coun Helen Rivron, said: “Lots of excellent work is done by the council, the police and other organisations with communities, to address some of the very real issues that some people face about inequalities, exclusion and disadvantage.

“But we want to make sure that we are taking all the opportunities we can to strengthen communities by working together and thinking imaginatively.”

She added: “One suggestion made by community representatives at our meeting was that different organisations should sign a ‘Calderdale Pledge’ to community cohesion to demonstrate their commitment to thinking about the broader needs of communities, as well as their own, more narrow responsibilities and I hope that the Cabinet will decide to take this forward.

“It is important that councils and other organisations have genuine discussions with citizens and communities and don’t just work on assumptions that we know what they are thinking and what they need.”