A PUBLIC consultation is being launched today (November 9) on proposed council-owned sites for possible use as Gypsy and Traveller pitches for local families in need of a permanent place to live.
The issue has seen protests over previously proposed pitches at Monmouth's Manson Heights near the Buckholt village hall and Mitchell Troy Common before those sites were withdrawn as inappropriate.
It also led to a storm over a Conservative leaflet, with Monmouth MP and Welsh Secretary David Davies reported to police by advocate group Travelling Ahead for alleged “dog whistle actions" against travellers, only for officers to rule there was no evidence of "discrimination".
And there is also criticism of the currently proposed sites, which are all in the Severnside region of the county, with Portskewett Tory councillor Lisa Dymock saying Monmouthshire Council appeared to be plucking sites out of “thin air” without thorough assessment.
Following on from an MCC Cabinet proposal, the six-week public consultation starting today is aimed at giving residents, businesses, local stakeholders and the gypsy and travellers community the chance to provide feedback on two proposed sites near Caldicot and one at Magor.
Along with information on the website , residents can attend public drop-in sessions at Church Hall, Portskewett, on November 22 from 4-7pm and at Magor and Undy Community Hub on November 23 between 4-7m to find out more about the council’s obligations and considerations.
Further drop-in sessions are also planned for the Gypsy and Traveller community.
Additional information on the public drop-in sessions will be made available on the website.
MCC says it has a legal and moral duty to provide sites within its Replacement Local Development Plan to meet identified needs.
No decision has been made on which site(s) will be put forward, and it says the public consultation will fully allow participants to gain information and provide feedback.
Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Development, Cllr Paul Griffiths (Labour, Chepstow Castle and Larkfield), said: “The public consultation will allow residents, businesses, local stakeholders and the Gypsy and Travelling community an opportunity to voice their opinion on the proposed sites.
"Please take this opportunity to engage with officers and councillors on what matters to you. I would urge everyone to read the information that will be available shortly to gain an understanding of the proposals.”
But the two sites near Caldicot have been branded “inappropriate” by critics, due to overdevelopment concerns in the Severnside area and road safety fears.
Bradbury Farm and Oak Grove Farm were put forward following a review, after the Mitchel Troy Common and Monmouth sites were dropped.
The proposed Bradbury Farm site is located on the northern perimeter of the farm in the Portskewett ward, while the Oak Grove Farm site is situated on land alongside Severn Farm in Leechpool, Portskewett.
A third site, previously announced, is also under consideration at Langley Close near to the M4 in Magor.
Cllr Dymock said: “The council has said the gypsy traveller sites need to accommodate a combined total of 10 or 11 pitches and that a pitch is around 320 square metres, so 10 pitches across the entire county requires less than one acre (0.7) of land.
"The county has 200,000 acres, yet the Labour-led administration is proposing the only suitable sites are all within the Severnside area.
"The council’s own scrutiny committee recommended going back to the drawing board but instead, two new sites have been identified in Portskewett.
"I am doubtful that any officers or cabinet members have visited either of the sites as the one they refer to as Oakgrove Farm in Crick is 2.4 miles away from Oakgrove Farm in Caerwent. How am I supposed to believe that a thorough assessment has been carried out?
"Incorrectly identifying Portskewett ward as Caldicot East is misleading and it is disappointing the council cannot accurately pinpoint a site location. They seem thoroughly confused.”
Monmouth MP Mr Davies, who visited the sites with Cllr Dymock, said: “Feedback from the gypsy traveller community was they did not wish to be sited in close proximity to built-up area.
"The sites proposed in Portskewett ward are inappropriate due to the volume of houses that have already been built and the 750 to 1,400 houses Portskewett could be allocated in the future, risking its identity as a village. It’s all too much in an area that is becoming overdeveloped.”