The Monmouthshire Council’s administration is continuing its attempts to identify land in the county suitable for the gypsy and traveller community.
It’s a legal requirement that every council quantifies the gypsy and traveller need through an assessment and then finds suitable land within the county to meet their needs.
It’s both a moral and statutory obligation to find sites that meet the needs of the gypsy and traveller community.
Typically successful sites will have a bit of distance between the gypsy and traveller community and the settled population – indeed, in its own feedback on prospective sites to the council,
Travelling Ahead, the representative group for the community expressed a desire for sites that don’t back on to private properties.
It was disappointing therefore that all shortlisted sites backed on to private properties. It was immediately obvious that some sites, including the two in Mitchel Troy Common and the site at Manson Heights near Monmouth, were unsuitable due to poor access – hilariously even the councillors’ own bus couldn’t access the sites when it brought them on a tour to see the sites for themselves.
In July, all shortlisted sites were unanimously rejected as unsuitable by a cross party committee, even though four of the nine councillors were members of the ruling Labour group.
Despite this clear direction, one of the sites, Langley Close in Magor, remains under active consideration and will go out to formal consultation.
After a well-publicised and ill-judged tweet, the Labour administration is now on its second cabinet member with responsibility for identifying gypsy and traveller sites.
Having previously said they had reviewed all sites in council ownership, it has now emerged that some sites had not been considered after all – because they had been held back for residential development. Two such sites have now been brought forward – but these don’t seem to be at all suitable either.
The administration has now decided to consult on three shortlisted sites over the next six weeks or so. It’s been a sorry saga over the past three months and I hope the next stage of this process will inspire more confidence than we’ve had so far.
I hope residents will take the chance to have their say, but I also hope the council will do more to engage with the gypsy and traveller community, because too often it has felt that their wishes have been ignored as the council has continued to put forward sites already deemed as unsuitable by the gypsy and traveller community themselves.