A CONSULTATION on potential Gypsy Traveller sites in Monmouthshire can now get under way after ping-ponging through council committees.
Monmouthshire’s Labour-led cabinet agreed at a special meeting at the start of October it should run a consultation to seek the views of the public on including three sites as potentially suitable, for up to six pitches, in the local development plan it is currently drawing up.
But the start of the six week consultation was delayed after independent councillors called the decision in, meaning it would be examined by a council scrutiny committee.
That met last Monday, October 23 and decided the full council should make a decision on whether to accept the cabinet’s plan to start the consultation or order it to rethink.
The sites are a field behind Langley Close in Magor, Bradbury Farm in Crick and Oak Grove Farm which was described as Caerwent, rather than Crick, when the decision was considered by the full council which met on Thursday, October 26.
Independent councillor or Magor West Frances Taylor, whose ward includes Langley Close, and who had called the decision in, told the full council members of the public had outline “significant inaccuracies” at the scrutiny committee and reminded councillors that four of the original five shortlisted sites had since been ruled out.
Labour councillor for Magor East with Undy John Crook told the full council the “weaknesses far outweigh the strengths” of the Langley Close site and said: “I question whether the Gypsy Travellers want to occupy the site? I can’t support this site going forward to a consultation and ask the cabinet member to look at it very carefully as soon as he possibly can.”
Cabinet member, Chepstow councillor Paul Griffiths, told the council: “The cabinet did not approve these sites, council is not being asked to approve these sites, you are being asked to allow the commencement of a public consultation that will allow people to engage in the decision making.”
He said the consultation would also include dialogue with the Gypsy Traveller community and their representative organisations.
Cllr Griffiths said the three sites could provide up to 18 pitches but the local need, as currently assessed, is for 11 and he said: “We may only need one site.
“I would feel nervous going to consultation needing two sites and saying ‘here are two sites, what do you think?”
It was also clarified at the meeting that testing for potential land contamination, noise and air pollution would take place during the consultation period and the estimated cost would be £26,000 to £28,000 that would cover the three sites.
The suitability of the sites, especially Langley Close which is next to the M4, had been questioned by the public and councillors due to potential pollution problems.
The scrutiny committee had raised concern about costs when referring the decision to the full council, with it told the council could have to spend as much as £14,000 per site. But Cllr Griffiths said “economies of scale” meant though examining Langley Close could cost £14,000 the final bill will not be “three times £14,000.”
The original cabinet decision was accepted by 22 votes to 21 with the ruling Labour/Green administration, and council chairman, Meirion Howells who sits in the Green Independent group, voting to accept while Labour’s Cllr Crook voted with the Conservatives and independents who wanted to refer the decision back to the cabinet member.