New Homes Block Is for ‘Asians only’
Paul Waugh, Evening Standard, ThisisLondon, Apr. 27
Race watchdogs have been called in to investigate a state-of-the-art London housing block that is being reserved for Asians only.
The development, which will provide sheltered housing for 40 Muslim “elders” when it opens in the East End this summer, has triggered controversy because white pensioners will be excluded.
The Commission for Racial Equality has now been asked to check whether the Sonali Gardens project breaks the Race Relations Act.
Criticism of the project comes from both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Tories warned today that the block was a form of “segregation” that could be seized on by the British National Party in its bid for votes in the capital, particularly in the East End.
The 40 new homes, together with a day centre, have been built in a joint project by Tower Hamlets council and Circle 33 housing association on the site of an old people’s home that catered for all communities.
Three other new sheltered housing blocks in the borough are not earmarked just for Asians.
Critics point out that its specialist services, such as halal meals, Bengali-speaking carers and Islamic praying facilities, could be offered within a mixedrace development. Lib-Dem councillor Janet Ludlow said: “The most important thing is to make sure we are acting legally.”
The 1976 Race Relations Act and its 2000 amendment state that a discriminatory service can only be offered if an authority can prove that a specific need is not currently being met.
But a recent council report admitted that the level of need among elderly Bangladeshis was “a hidden need”.
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: “There would rightly be outrage if a council offered a whites-only housing block.
“I firmly believe that we should look to achieve integration rather than segregation in our society. This is the sort of thoughtless policy that feeds extremism.”
Sirajul Islam, lead councillor for social services at Tower Hamlets, said: “We certainly do not advocate segregation in Tower Hamlets.
“But the ‘one size fits all’ approach to public services is no longer acceptable in 21st century Britain.
“Tower Hamlets is fortunate to have a diverse mix of communities and the council strives to ensure that its services are responsive to the differing and changing needs of its residents.”
A spokesman for the CRE said: “We would seek to understand the full facts of why someone was doing this and on the basis of those facts whether it was within the law or a breach of the law.”