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Romany Traveller family apply for three pitches at former timber storage yard

A general view Springfield Yard which is subject to a planning application seeking permission for three Gypsy pitches (Pic: Torfaen County Borough Council planning file)

A ROMANY Traveller family has applied for permission to make their home at a former timber storage yard. 

The application has been made by Joe Thomas and it is intended he and his immediate family which includes his partner and three children, his father, his sister and partner and their two children will live at the site known as Springfield Yard at Plasycoed Road near Pontnewynydd, Pontypool. 

All the family, other than Mr Thomas senior, currently live at the Torfaen Borough Council run site at Shepherd’s Hill, Pontypool and have done all their lives. Mr Thomas senior, a boxing trainer, is currently homeless and lives in a touring caravan on the drive of a close relative. 

According to a statement, submitted as part of the application for planning permission, the family want to move due to violence at the current site. 

It states: “Following many episodes of violence between other occupiers over recent years the family have decided to move to a quieter, safer and more tranquil site away from larger, overcrowded council run sites for the sake of the family’s welfare and well-being.” 

More information on the family’s circumstances, their history and “Gypsy status belonging to long established Romany families” with “strong family connections in South Wales, particularly in the county of Torfaen” has been provided to the council in a confidential report exempt from publication or public scrutiny under data protection legislation. 

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The statement adds: “The applicant and his family lived a traditional cultural lifestyle in static caravan, using touring caravans to carry out seasonal agricultural work in the West Midlands and South Wales.” 

The statement also says the council has no alternative Gypsy pitch accommodation available, other than potentially on large council run sites, and private sites have no space available to non-family members. 

The application covers the creation of three pitches with one static caravan, one touring caravan and day/utility room per pitch together with improvements to the existing access, including setting gates back five metres from the road, and ecological enhancements. 

Mr Thomas already owns the one hectare site, which is around two miles west of the Pontnewynydd boundary, having purchased it and a neighbouring plot that rises towards the Nant Ffrwd in October 2023. 

According to the statement: “The Travelling community, as the name suggests, use motor vehicle for travel, work and daily life and, due to experiences of victimisation and harassment, naturally choose to live a little out of the way.” 

Andrew Vaughan-Harries of Haverfordwest-based agents Hayston Developments & Planning Ltd, also cautioned in the statement Welsh Government advice is that Gypsy sites shouldn’t be refused due to “modest” highway impacts. He cautioned “the tendency of local authorities” to use highways or location as a “standard excuse to refuse planning applications has been frequently challenged”. 

The yard is considered previously developed land and used for the storage of timber and other materials and aerial photographs show it was, until recently, occupied by buildings and static caravans which have since been demolished or removed and the application states there is “ample room” for parking and turning. 

A static residential caravan, close to the site entrance, was there when Mr Thomas purchased the site and it remains in place. 

The application describes the site, which has a water and electricity supply and an available public sewer as “readily available at no public expense and capable of accommodating three pitches for family members.” 

Mr Vaughan-Harries also highlighted the council had, in 2012, “identified a considerable shortage of pitch availability” and that its four sites require improvement. 

His statement says as Mr Thomas has identified a “genuine need” for the pitches it meets Torfaen’s current policy and “smaller, family orientated sites” are now considered, by the Welsh Government, “far more appropriate than larger private or public sites.” 

The family, according to the statement, regularly attend chapel in Abersychan while Mr Thomas Senior is a fully licensed boxing trainer who travels to Cwmbran and Pontypool on a weekly basis.