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Monmouthshire, – M4 Gypsy and Traveller site needed

Monmouthshire County Council

A ‘TRANSIT’ site for Gypsies and Travellers passing through South Wales is needed to avoid unauthorised encampments such as one that recently set up in Chepstow.

That is what the councillor responsible for housing in Monmouthshire has told council members in response to concern at the occupation of the Chepstow Leisure Centre car park, which is next to the town’s secondary school, during the recent Easter holidays.

Councillor Sara Burch, the cabinet member for communities, said the council will review its 2015 protocol for how it responds to unauthorised encampments but said it also believes a new site in the area served by the M4 motorway is required.

Conservative councillor for Chepstow St Kingsmark, Christopher Edwards, outlined various alleged thefts and incidents of anti-social behaviour, ranging from verbal abuse to barbecues in the leisure centre car park, while it was occupied by a travelling community.

He told Monmouthshire council’s April meeting: “I appreciate it’s not all traveller communities behave in this way, and I’m sure they are few and far between, but Chepstow has suffered from the worst of this.”

Cllr Edwards had asked what steps the council would take in future to prevent the “crucial and busy Chepstow car park” from being “used and abused” in this way. He said there are “authorised sites” in Monmouthshire that could have been used and the council has “a duty of care to residents, school and council staff to ensure this doesn’t happen again”.

Cllr Burch said it was a “misconception” there are authoritised sites available to groups passing through and there is no such site along the M4 corridor. She said there are some sites that are privately owned but the council cannot direct people to them and she was told it was “unlikely” a large group would have been welcomed on any holiday sites.

The Labour councillor said the Travelling Ahead charity had recently held a seminar for councillors and it is recognised those who wish to maintain a “traditional travelling lifestyle” are some of the “most discriminated against” in the UK.

She said the council follows Welsh Government advice when an unauthorised camp is established and its first duty is to the welfare of any children and vulnerable adults on site and that there is access to water and facilities for washing and hygiene.

Environmental health officers will also check what the intentions of the occupants are and the council can take legal action to direct them to another site, if necessary and appropriate.

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She said the council will now review its protocol and it could also consider using barriers to prevent access but this could present a problem by deterring tourists and other authorised users.

Cllr Burch said: “We will look at where barriers are appropriate and push for the development of a regional transit site on the M4 corridor and bring forward sites for permanent pitches for local traveller families and review the protocol established in 2015 to ensure it is fit for purpose.”

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