Bid to break down black and white ghettos

Oldham a year on: Can council plans to tackle urban deprivation in white and Asian areas promote 'unity in the community'?
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Councillors in Oldham are to unveil ambitious plans to improve relations between the town's white and Asian communities, a year after rioters fought pitched battles with police.

Councillors in Oldham are to unveil ambitious plans to improve relations between the town's white and Asian communities, a year after rioters fought pitched battles with police.

The council's proposals, to be announced next month, will include a programme to build more than 500 new homes each year and refurbish hundreds of other dilapidated and abandoned houses in poor white and Asian areas.

Phil Woolas, one of Oldham's two Labour MPs, said the proposals, part of a £25m government programme, was an attempt to break down white and Asian ghettos, tackle urban deprivation and counter white resentment at an alleged favouring of projects in Asian areas.

All three issues were major sources of community tensions. "The object is to build multi-ethnic communities. We need to do that with lots of small-scale projects," he said. "We need to be seen spreading the butter fairly."

Other projects will include "twinning" primary schools from Asian and white areas to promote mixing and to hold joint classes. The police and council will also launch a "unity in the community" programme for young people.

These projects follow the worst rioting in Britain since the race riots of the 1980s. In May and June last year, Burnley, Oldham, Bradford and Leeds were hit by serious disturbances, often sparked off by white neo-Nazi sympathisers.

Up to 500 youths and 500 police clashed at the peak of the Oldham riots, with scores of police and locals injured over two nights of violence.

Mr Woolas and Asian community leaders were optimistic yesterday that tensions, which rose during the British National Party's campaign for the council elections this month, had now subsided. The most serious problems surround Asian cab drivers still too afraid to enter some white council estates at night.

In Glodwick, the neighbourhood hit by the worst violence, the mood was cautious.

"There's been no trouble since but people have lost confidence in the area," said Saddique Azhar, a local shopkeeper. "They don't think it's safe to walk on the street and it has affected business."

The police were becoming more effective, more visible and more respected, keeping youths off the streets at night.

"This community is a good community. What happened a year ago wasn't about race. Whites and Asians have got along here together for years. My neighbour, Alma, says things to me like: 'Your little girl makes my day when she smiles at me' and my little girl always tells me how happy she is when she sees our neighbour," he said.

Close to Mr Azhar's shop, Paul Barrow runs the Live and Let Live pub, a white pub that was the focus of Asian anger and a focal point of the riots.

Mr Barrow, 48, has repaired his pub but his business has yet to recover. "I wouldn't say things have got better and I don't think this place has any kind of a future. You have to be an Albert Einstein to sort this out. I don't know what the answer is," he said.

Most of his customers are over 40 and are too scared to come out at night. "Gangs of youths hang on street corners and spit at you. They are intimidating everyone ... they are so aggressive. There's no respect," he said.

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