Opinion: Tolerance is key here

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This newspaper has had a long and largely amicable relationship with David Blunkett.

Whatever your political persuasion, the city MP is a giant in his field. When he speaks, people listen.

Which is why it was surprising he took to the radio earlier this month to describe race relations in Page Hall as being so tense they were on the point of “explosion”.

Whether this was an unguarded moment or a calculated decision to draw attention to what has undoubtedly become an issue is unclear.

But, as Roma, white British and Pakistani communities get used to living side by side, it was inflammatory language which this newspaper believes was only likely to exacerbate problems.

The Star chose not to rush in – unlike several wholly irresponsible national newspapers – to condemn the neighbourhood as verging on civic breakdown. It seemed sensationalist to suggest that England’s safest city was on the brink of urban disorder.

Having had a reporter spend much time there since, we believe we were correct to keep our counsel. Because the truth, as ever, is nuanced.

Undoubtedly Page Hall has issues – it is Sheffield’s second poorest neighbourhood and has unenviable crime rates. Littering should concern any right-minded resident. And certainly those issues have been exacerbated by an influx of Roma families. Cultural misunderstandings have made life hard. Some buy-to-let landlords have hardly helped as they take advantage of desperate families to fill poor shoddy houses.

But the overwhelming message The Star has received – and we spoke to far more residents than we quoted – was that this is a neighbourhood with no desire for conflict; which wants to resolve concerns with measured action.

Whether we agree with government policies on immigration is neither here nor there right now. The Roma will stay and we must all do what we can to make that work in our neighbourhoods.

Sheffield is a city with a history untarnished by race riots. The Star hopes – and is confident – it will remain that way.