Farming couple fears forced cattle sell-off if rented land used for Gypsy Traveller site
A FARMING couple say they fear they will be forced to sell their cattle if land they rent is instead used as a Gypsy Traveller site.
Denis Waters, 30, and wife Shauna, 26, rent three fields that are just over five acres in Magor from Monmouthshire County Council but the authority is considering the land as a potential Gypsy Traveller site.
However the couple, who have rented the fields, sandwiched between residential street Langley Close and the M4, for the past two years only discovered its intentions when a friend saw a post on Facebook – and say they now face an uncertain future.
“We only found out a few days before there was a council meeting, we didn’t find out from the council, but we were told by a friend who had seen it on Facebook and said ‘you need to have a look at this’,” said Mrs Waters.
“It has been really stressful with all the not knowing what will happen.”
Should the council end the couple’s three year tenancy, or decide to use the site for development and not renew it, they say they could no longer keep cattle as they simply wouldn’t have the land needed.
“We wouldn’t have anywhere to put them as we need a designated field for the cows over the winter,” said Mrs Waters.
She and her husband currently live in rented accommodation, in Magor with 11-month-old daughter Winnie, and farm just over 100 acres in total, with most of that land around Chepstow, some owned in partnership with Mr Waters’ family.
He said: “Having to drive 10 miles to Chepstow three times a day during calving wouldn’t be very environmentally friendly or practical.”
As the land they farm in Chepstow is along the sea wall, and underneath the first Severn Bridge, Mrs Waters said it wouldn’t be suitable for calving: “You couldn’t calf a cow on the sea wall.
“When the tide comes in it would take the cow and the calf away. We would have to sell all our cattle and that would be a real problem for us and wouldn’t be as profitable.”
The couple currently keep 26 cows, and ‘Rory’ the bull, at Magor over winter and sell, through a farm assured scheme contract, supplying a major supermarket while they also have some 400 sheep which they take to market and house some of ther flock in the field during the summer months.
“If we sold the cattle we would still have the sheep but one of us would probably have to get another job,” said Mr Waters.
The couple would like daughter Winnie to at least have the opportunity of following her parents and paternal grandparents and great grandparents into farming.
Mrs Winter’s father was also a farm worker and she said: “If we can’t continue she won’t have the option as farming is not easy and farms are very hard to get. This is about her future more than us.”
Mr Waters added: “It’s difficult for a town person to get into farming.”
Development in Monmouthshire has been concentrated in the south of the county especially in areas like Magor that are along the M4 corridor and that has placed real pressure on land which the couple say has cost farmers.
It has also created pressure for the council as it seeks to increase the supply of affordable homes and has began the search for land that could be used as potential Gypsy Traveller sites as it identifies all areas suitable for use from thousing through to industrial as it prepares a replacement local development plan.
As part of that work it has assessed a need for 13 permanent Gypsy Traveller pitches and in July published a shortlist of five sites that could be suitable. It has since ruled out three but is currently considering whether it should hold a consultation on including the Langley Close site, and land nearby at Dancing Hill, Undy in the plan.
But Mr and Mrs Waters said farmers are also on the sharp end of the rising cost of land, and their dream of owning their own farm is a distant one, while they are currently seeking to get a mortgage to buy a house.
“It’s hard enough to get a mortgage yet alone buy a farm,” said Mrs Waters who said a five-year tenancy for a council owned farm that was available recently in Chepstow required “stupid money”.
“It hard to get a council tenancy and to buy a farm you are looking at £2 million.”
When the five sites that were under consideration were discussed at a council scrutiny committee meeting on July 19 Magor independent councillor Frances Taylor complained that the Waters hadn’t been directly informed the land they rent was being looked at.
At that meeting Cllr Sara Burch, the Labour cabinet member responsible for housing, said: “I would like to express my apologies to tenants if the first they informed is when the proposals were in the public domain.
“We should have anticipated when the report went out it would be news in the communities and we should have written to them.”
Mr Waters said he has not had any contact from the county council.
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