CONCERNS have been raised over four proposed gypsy traveller sites at Mitchel Troy Common, Manson Heights in Monmouth, and Magor and Undy,

Public meetings have expressed fears over the suitability of the two Troy sites and one in Monmouth (the latter being on the council’s own contaminated site register), which were identified by officers at Monmouthshire County Council to meet the local authority's legal requirement for the provision of gypsy and traveller pitches for the next ten years.

The council's own scrutiny committee declared the sites 'unsuitable' last week ahead of today's (Wednesday, July 26) council Cabinet meeting, where the proposals were still due to be voted on, and declined to endorse them.

Mitchel Troy residents have also highlighted the 'damage' the sites would cause to the natural environment and the problematic access on steep and narrow country lanes. 

And Monmouth residents who met on Monday night (July 24) at Buckholt Hall, near the proposed Manson’s Height site proposed for a single traveller pitch on the former site of an isolation hospital, have also voiced concerns.

The Buckholt meeting heard that the area had been used for more than 20 years as a children’s play area.

“When the (Monmouthshire County Council) scrutiny committee visited the site last week, they had to park their bus and walk to the site as the access was so poor,” Osbaston Conservative ward councillor Jane Lucas told the 60 people that packed the meeting.

“How on earth do they think this is suitable for lorries carrying static caravans as well as big vehicles towing caravans and trailers?”

“Manson Heights is completely unsuitable for gypsy traveller provision and even the gypsy traveller community has confirmed this. 

“This isn’t Nimbyism – this is about finding sites that are in the best interests of the gypsy traveller and settled communities and also sites that don’t worsen road safety or irreparably damage our natural environment. 

“I’m grateful to the local community for fighting this and we’re now having detailed talks about how we can secure protected status for this site as a village green to prevent any future development.” 

Last week, Friends of the Lower Wye also warned that if the Mitchel Troy sites were to go ahead they risked worsening the phosphate pollution in the River Trothy, which feeds the Wye. 

Speaking ahead of today's Cabinet meeting, Mitchel Troy and Trellech United Conservative councillor Jayne McKenna said: “We are disappointed that despite a cross-party scrutiny committee condemning the council’s shortlist of gypsy and traveller sites, the Cabinet is still due to vote on recommendations to proceed to a formal consultation. 

“The whole point of scrutiny is to listen to the public, study proposals in detail and make clear recommendations to the council’s cabinet. 

"Members of the public who attended the committee last week will feel badly let down to think that the cabinet may have taken no notice at all of their concerns. 

"Hundreds of residents have objected with concerns about the unsuitability of local roads, the damage to ecology and wildlife and the proximity of neighbouring properties, while Friends of the Lower Wye have expressed risks of worsening river pollution. 

“As responsible councillors we feel compelled to intervene and force cabinet members to justify their actions and failure to listen to the views of residents or deliver on the needs of the gypsy traveller community.” 

he council’s Cabinet was due to meet to vote on recommendations to go out to formal consultation on the four proposed sites, despite last week's cross party scrutiny committee condemning the sites as unsuitable. 

They are on land that once housed a pre-WWII isolation hospital at Manson Heights, Monmouth; at Rocklea and Garthi Close/Garrow Road on Mitchel Troy Common; and Langley Close near to the M4 motorway in Magor. 

An alliance of Conservative and Independent councillors were planning to trigger a rarely-used constitutional check and balance at today's meeting, which would take the decision back to the People Scrutiny Committee for further debate. 

The council's scrutiny committee of one independent, four Labour and four Conservative councillors expressed grave concerns about the “flawed and rushed” process at last week's meeting, and urged the Cabinet Member for Inclusive and Active Communities, Cllr Sara Burch, to scrap the four unsuitable sites and go back to the drawing board.  

Conservative opposition leader Cllr John questioned why the recommendation to go to consultation was being put to the Cabinet and published on the eve of the scrutiny committee meeting, and said: “I want reassurance this isn’t a done deal.” 

He said comments from seven members of the public, who addressed the scrutiny committee, highlighted why the Mitchel Troy sites were “unsuitable” from a range of issues, from highway access and impact on nature, including the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the process officers had followed in shortlisting the sites.  

Cllr John said residents had voiced their opposition to the plans with “a majority of the population of Mitchel Troy” having signed a petition calling for protection of the common from any development.

“A cross party committee of Conservative, Labour and Independent councillors was tasked with scrutinising these proposals in detail and their conclusion was clear – that none of these sites is suitable and that the cabinet should go back to the drawing board," he said.

“It’s disappointing therefore that the cabinet has not changed the recommendations it had already published for their cabinet meeting today in light of the ‘grave concerns’ raised by the committee. 

“I hope that even at the 11th hour, cabinet members will change their minds and drop these unsuitable sites.”

Cllr Burch told last week's committee meeting she wanted it to suggest alternatives if it intended recommending that none of the sites are suitable, with the council intending to seek the views of the public on the selected sites in August and September.

But Independent Llanelly Hill councillor Simon Howarth said: “I do not look for sites, it’s not my job, I will recommend them if someone tells me about one. I ain’t traipsing the county looking for Gypsy Traveller sites.” 

He also criticised the process that started with all 1,500 areas of land in the council’s ownership whittled down to 50 and then 17 possibilities before nine were presented to councillors in a behind-closed-doors seminar. 

Cllr Howarth said: “We seem to be rushing things through. This has been ongoing since 2015 and now in 10 weeks we have to make a decision.” 

Council head of planning, Craig O’Connor, said: “We have a duty to find homes for people and I’m concerned about the timing of the replacement LDP.” 

He said the intention was to identify sites that have the potential for development and further investigation and the planning process would determine if they could be developed. 

But the committee agreed it wouldn’t recommend any sites as suitable for formal consultation. 

Chairman, Cllr John Crook  (Magor, Labour) said there were concerns about the sites, the process used to select them and if they were compatible with Government guidance. 

The committee also said it wanted the council to put out a call for private landowners to nominate potential sites, which it had done last week, and which officers said had been done earlier in the process without a successful response.