Council Committee Rejects All Potential Sites for Gypsy Traveller Development, Sparking Controversy and Concern
NONE of four plots of land shortlisted as a potential Gypsy and Traveller sites should be put forward for potential development, a council committee has said.
Monmouthshire County Council’s people scrutiny committee held a four hour meeting today (Wednesday) which ended with its members deciding against recommending the cabinet open consultations on any of the pieces of council-owned land which it has identified could potentially be developed for Gypsy Traveller sites.
But there was criticism the meeting had been called for pre-decision scrutiny while papers for next Wednesday’s cabinet meeting show it is being recommended to consult on the four sites. Those are at Rocklea and Garthi Close/Garrow Road on Mitchel Troy Common; land that once housed an isolation hospital at Manson Heights, Monmouth; and Langley Close near to the M4 motorway in Magor. Land west of Dancing Hill, Undy could also recommended for consideration subject to further investigation.
The council has to identify potential sites as part of its planning blueprint, the Local Development Plan, and to meet the need it has identified for 13 pitches.
However the meeting was told that number could be reduced if some sites currently in use, without planning permission, are given approval.
Conservative opposition leader, and councillor for Mitchell Troy, Richard John questioned why the recommendation to go to consultation is being put to the cabinet, and published on the eve of the scrutiny committee meeting, and said: “I want reassurance this isn’t a done deal.”
He said comments from seven members of the public, who addressed the committee during the first hour of the meeting, highlighted why the sites were “unsuitable” from a range of issues from highway access and impact on nature, including the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the process officers had followed in shortlisting the sites.
Cllr John said residents had voiced their opposition to the plans with “a majority of the population of Mitchell Troy” having signed a petition calling for protection of the common from any development and he said the Gypsy Traveller community didn’t support the proposed sites. He said: “The Gypsy Traveller Community don’t think they’ve been properly consulted in the process.”
Conservative councillor for Raglan, Penny Jones asked where “existing sites fit in?”. She said: “The sites are side by side the local community very successfully, could the number of 13 be reduced considerably?”
Mark Hand, the council’s head of placemaking, said he had to be “careful” about discussing the situation of individual families in public but said there are two sites in use which could reduce the number of 13 identified to meet local need.
He said one family “could probably stay where they are” if planning permission could be obtained, while another site had been refused planning permission, and the decision upheld on appeal, and to bring that site into use would “require us to revisit a previous decision”. But he said if those sites were brought into authorised use there would “still be some remaining unmet need.”
The Labour member for housing Cllr Sara Burch had told the committee she wanted it to suggest alternatives if it intended recommending that none of the sites are suitable, with the council intending to seek the views of the public on the selected sites in August and September.
The scrutiny committee would then consider the views put forward in October and the cabinet could agree which sites would be included in the Local Development Plan in November. There would be a consultation on the full development plan, which includes all sites for potential housing as well as those listed for other uses such as employment, in the spring of 2024.
But members said it wasn’t their responsibility to select sites. Independent councillor for Llanelly Hill Simon Howarth said: “I, as a member, do not look for sites, it’s not my job, I will recommend them if someone tells me about one. I ain’t traipsing the county looking for Gypsy Traveller sites.”
He also criticised the process that started with all 1,500 areas of land in the council’s ownership whittled down to a list of 50 and then 17 possibilities before nine were presented to councillors in a behind-closed-doors seminar in early July.
Cllr Howarth said: “We seem to be rushing things through. This has been ongoing since 2015 and now in 10 weeks we have to make a decision.”
The council’s head of planning, Craig O’Connor, said: “We have a duty to find homes for people and I’m concerned about the timing of the replacement Local Development Plan.”
He said the intention is to identify sites that have the potential for development and further investigation and the planning process would determine if they could be developed and whether impacts on wildlife, or issues such as highways access, could be managed.
However the committee agreed it wouldn’t recommend any sites to the cabinet as suitable for formal consultation.
Chairman, Magor Labour councillor John Crook said there were concerns about the sites, the process used to select them and whether they were compatible with Wesh Government guidance.
The committee also said it wanted to council to put out a call for private landowners to nominate potential sites, which it had done last week, and which officers said had been done earlier in the process without a successful response.
By BBC LDRS
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