TWO county councillors have called for full public engagement on “shock proposals” from the Labour-led county council to create capacity for the entire county’s gypsy traveller population in the narrow rural lanes of Mitchel Troy Common.

Cllr Richard John and Cllr Jayne McKenna, representing Mitchel Troy and Trellech, have said the proposal identifying two potential sites off Common Road in Mitchel Troy is “inappropriate for a number of reasons”. 

Cllrs McKenna and John
(R John)

While the plans were only made public late yesterday (Tuesday July 11), Monmouthshire County Council has already consulted gypsy traveller representative groups and its own ecology and green infrastructure teams on the proposals. 

They have published a list of four potential sites, two of which are off Common Road in Mitchel Troy which Cllr John points out is a narrow rural lane in a community with very few public amenities. 

The short-list of four sites will be presented to a scrutiny committee on Wednesday 19th July, with the council’s Cabinet due to decide on which site(s) should be subject to a formal consultation a week later on July 26.  

There would then be a short consultation period through August into early September, with recommendations for potential development drawn up in late September for discussion by councillors at the start of October. 

Under the 2014 Housing (Wales) Act, all councils have to undertake a Gypsy and Traveller Assessment every five years and Monmouthshire has an unmet need for 13 pitches in the county. 

Of the four sites under active consideration, only two are big enough to meet the county’s predicted need of a dozen or so pitches – Langley Close in Magor and a field to the rear of houses in Garthi Close.  

The second proposed site in Mitchel Troy is just below Rocklea where there are a number of sheds located.  Neither site has vehicle access “so would require the removal of significant sections of hedge” says Cllr John, attracting objections from the council’s own ecology and green infrastructure teams due to the detrimental impact on native species in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The council say the Mitchel Troy sites could accommodate up to 17 pitches but the Welsh Government’s guidance on Designing Gypsy and Traveller Sites defines a single pitch as big enough for an amenity block (connected to water, drainage and electricity), a mobile home of up to 20 metres in length and up to a maximum 6.8metres in width, a smaller touring caravan and enough parking for two vehicles.  Each parking space must be a minimum of 2.4 by 4.8metres.  Each pitch must also have bins and space for drying clothes. 

Cllr John went on to add that Mitchel Troy Common “has no school, post office, shop or church and the walk to the nearest bus stop is along a narrow country lane without any pavements”. 

Cllr Jayne McKenna is on the council’s planning committee so is forbidden from expressing a view on any specific proposals but has called for a thorough public consultation. 

She said: “Residents may be surprised that these plans are only now being shared with the public given that the gypsy and traveller community has already been consulted on the sites the council’s administration is advocating.        

“August is a difficult time for the Council to carry out a public consultation and I would ask whether they can get a meaningful perspective on public opinion in such a short timeframe.  In my view, this consultation should be extended so a broad range of sites can be considered. 

“I look forward to hearing views from residents in the community about these proposals and would encourage people to engage fully in the consultation,” she added. 

Cllr Richard John said, “Of course I understand that the council has a moral as well as a statutory responsibility to provide suitable pitches for the gypsy traveller community.  These two sites, on a narrow country lane and in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are inappropriate for many reasons and have already been branded unsuitable by the Council’s own ecology team. 

“The gypsy traveller community themselves will not want to live immediately behind residential properties in such close proximity to the settled population, in the way these two sites are proposed.  I’m disappointed that these plans have been drawn up behind closed doors and that it’s only now that residents will have a chance to have their say. 

“Neither of these sites would be deemed suitable for residential development, so nor should they be suitable for permanent gypsy traveller accommodation.  I think the Council needs to go back to the drawing board and consider a broader range of sites that would better suit the needs of the gypsy and traveller community and local residents alike.”