NO decisions on the next stage of a council’s updated search for potential new Gypsy Traveller sites will be taken until October.
Monmouthshire County Council issued a five strong shortlist in July which was then reduced to two by the end of that month, with a decision on whether to open formal consultations on the remaining plots in Magor and Undy due to be taken by the Labour-led cabinet in September.
The council has said it now has an “updated shortlist” and has also given further details of how the sites it will earmark in its replacement local development plan that is currently being drawin up as suitable for development as Gypsy Traveller sites, to cater for 13 pitches, will be developed.
However the process has been mired in controversy leading to the resignation this week of cabinet member Councillor Sara Burch, whose housing brief included responsibility to identify areas to be put forward as potential sites.
She had linked a public meeting in Magor to discuss the council’s plans, attended by Monmouth MP and Welsh secretary David Davies and chaired by local independent councillor Franes Taylor, to the Nazi holocaust and the murder of thousands of Roma and Sinti people.
She had accused the pair of “whipping up anti-traveller feeling” ahead of the council’s intended consultation in a since deleted post to social media site X, formerly known as Twitter, and shared her comments with a post from the Travelling Ahead campaign group which commemorated the anniversary of the murder of thousands at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The meeting was held on August 2 which is the international remembrance day to honour the thousands murdered at the Auschwitz concentration camp on that date in August 1944.
Mr Davies, who in August was told he would face no further police action over leaflets he had issued during an earlier stage of the council’s search for potential sites, said Cllr Taylor had gone “out of her way to make it clear there was not to be any hint of prejudice” at the meeting.
Cllr Taylor said she was personally offended by Cllr Burch’s comments and said concerns raised during the meeting included a loss of open space to development in the area.
The council owned sites, including land behind Langley Close in Magor and at Dancing Hill, beside the M4 in Undy, on the council’s original shortlist were all dismissed as unsuitable by a cross party scrutiny committee but Cllr Burch had said she would keep the two under consideration ahead of an expected decision in September.
She had also repeated the council’s call for suggestions of alternative sites, including from landowners, and the council has confirmed potential sites that were put forward by its August 23 deadline are now under consideration.
A further review of land in council ownership is also underway, with the council having previously said it produced the shortlist of five after working through a desktop review that started with 1,500 pieces of land in its control.
The cabinet will review the updated shortlist when it meets on Wednesday, October 4 when it will also take a decision on when to start a consultation on up to 13 Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pitches.
It had been intended to take a decision in September so a public consultation could be run and the agreed sites included in the development plan in November, with a consultation on the document as a whole also due to be held next spring.
The 13 pitches would cater for local families with an identified housing need, in line with the council’s legal obligations to provide permanent pitches, but there is no duty on it to identify a transit site for those passing through the county.
It has said it is trying to identify potential sites that could hold up to six pitches and “ideally for individual families”, suggesting the identified need could be accommodated between two or three sites.
The definition of a pitch is each pitch should be capable of accommodating an amenity block, a mobile home, touring caravan and parking for two vehicles.
The cabinet report will be published on the council’s website on Tuesday September 26.