A racial row engulfs a Cambridge City Council meeting where the out-marketing of homes is being discussed

Workers’ councilors claimed that a motion not to market publicly funded homes abroad was exacerbating racial tensions in Cambridge.

A Liberal Democrat motion called for assurances that housing built on the council-acquired former Murketts site in Heston Road would not be marketed to foreign investors.

Colorer Katie Thornborough
Colorer Katie Thornborough

However, a heated debate followed with councilors who heard the city’s Hong Kong community was facing “growing racism” and warnings that the motion was “encouraging racism”.

Cllr Katie Thornburrow (Lab, Trumpington) grew up in Hong Kong and told board members: “Unless you’ve experienced racism, it’s very hard to understand. Sometimes it’s very small things, sometimes it’s big, but I know Hong Kong society here faces it.” increased racism and that one of the problems is that he’s constantly being brought up in this room.”

She urged the Liberal Democrat members to “really think about the consequences” of their proposal.

Cllr David Levien (Lib Dem, Trumpington) read a statement from proponent Cllr Cheney Payne (Lib Dem, Castle), who was unable to lead the debate, to Cambridge City Council meeting on Thursday, 2 March.

He said: “More and more people in Cambridge each year are unable to afford to live in the city, and key workers in particular struggle to live in the city they serve.

“They were forced out, and then inevitably took their skills and talents elsewhere. This is why building new homes is so critical.

“Now, to be clear, no one here will question the value of inclusivity and I feel there are a few cities where diversity and openness are welcomed, but there is a huge difference between someone moving from abroad to fulfill their home and life in Cambridge, and an outside investor acquiring our property and blowing up the housing market.” we’ve got “.

Last year, the council’s governing workers’ group admitted to holding two online “promotional events” for Hong Kong buyers interested in private housing on iron and timber business websites. They said both locations are restricted to individual buyers only, with 25 percent of homes for sale available to overseas buyers.

Cllr Baiju Thittala Varkey (Lab, East Chesterton) responded with extreme shock to the suggestion and said, “Any idea like Hong Kongers can’t buy a house in this area and can’t settle in this area, directly or indirectly, has some connotations of racism. This movement has some elements of racism.”

Liberal Democrat Claire Cheney Payne
Liberal Democrat Claire Cheney Payne

Cllr Chair Mark Ashton (Lab, Cherry Hinton) repeatedly interrupted the discussion to remind members to allow others to speak and to keep the discussion civil.

Cllr Mairéad Healy (Lab, Romsey) added: “I think it’s absolutely outrageous that people who have shared lived experiences of racism are being treated in this way and upset in this way, and it really bothers me.

“The way you laughed and laughed all the way when my fellow council member shared her experiences with racism, and when another council member shares her experiences with racism, I think it’s pretty awful. And I would suggest you go do some anti-racism training.”

Council chair Cllr Anna Smith (Lab, Coleridge) said: “If someone with a lived experience of being from Hong Kong tells us in this room about her experience with racism, I think the least we can do is listen.”

She referred to the proposal as “leaf fodder” adding that she was proud to lead an authority that was building council houses.

Cllr Martin Smart (Lab, King’s Hedges) warned Democrats that the proposal “encourages racism” amid a climate of increased incidents among the Asian community in the wake of the pandemic.

“Why are you talking about Hong Kongers? All I can get from that is that maybe you are not racist, but maybe you are willing to use racism as a way to get votes on your posts.”

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr’s Executive Advisor on Finance and Resources, Cllr Mike Davey (Lab, Petersfield), referred to the comments made by Cllr Payne as “a pile of rubbish”, adding that the suggestion was a “deliberate attempt to mislead the public”.

“It is a false claim at best that we are selling to foreign investors. There is no evidence for that.

Cllr Davey continued, “Two investors approached us, and they were told no—we don’t sell investment property.”

Cllr Liberal Democrat Lucy Nethesinga
Cllr Liberal Democrat Lucy Nethesinga

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dem, Newnham) said: “This was not a very pleasant debate. However, whatever moral foundation your party might once have had is completely destroyed by the willingness of large numbers of people on the other side of the room to deflect a motion, concerning marketing, to accusations of racism against members of another party.

“I think that’s outrageous, and completely undermines any ethical case you might have.”

Lib Dem group leader Cllr Tim Bick added: “When we raised this issue last year, Cllr Davey was in an uncomfortable and uncomfortable position to defend something that had already happened. We are raising it again now in connection with this new site before it happens again.”

It was said that the reason for the overseas marketing was due to covid, and the terrible recession in the local housing market. In fact, there was no such depression.

Lib Dem Cllr Group Leader Tim Bick
Lib Dem Cllr Group Leader Tim Bick

“This is something that pisses us off in this aspect and for many people in Cambridge, and it has nothing to do with racism. This is a residential market open to anyone who wants to move. What we’re seeing is that this is a deliberate inflationary tactic for local house prices, which are already high enough that they don’t need clever marketing tactics.” to make it higher.”

The Murketts garage site was recently acquired by the City Council through the Cambridge Investment Partnership.

A spokesperson for the council said after: “We received a complaint about council member’s conduct in the full council last week. Formal complaints about councilor conduct, whether from a member of the public or from another councilor, follow the council’s complaints procedure. This is to ensure fairness and consistency. All are reviewed Complaints received in this way by the Monitoring Officer of the Council then a specific process is followed.”

The proposal was rejected.

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