New Gypsy and Traveller Sites under consideration
– How not to do it
On Monday evening at Cheshire West and Chester Council’s (CWaC) Local Development Plan Working Group there was a presentation from the council’s retained consultants – WYG – regarding the provision of newGypsy and Traveller sites in the Borough.
The consultancy had started with an initial list of some 9,000 sites. Through various processes – such as ensuring no sites were in the green belt, this list was whittled down through a long list and then a short list process until the consultants reached a list of some 26 potential sites.
The consultancy has rated these sites Red, Amber, Green according to what they judge the planning and physical constraints are that may hinder these sites ultimately being allocated for Gypsies and Travellers.
Those of us who were present at the meeting were given a very cursory high level overview of the work undertaken with no detail given of the sites under consideration. We weren’t even given addresses or Council warddetails for the sites in question. We simply were shown places on a Borough map which was its devoid of detail.
Some Councillors present were so appalled just how cursory the presentation was and the fact officers had failed to publish the list of sites with the working group’s papers 7 days in advance of the meeting.
When challenged in the meeting, we were told by the council’s most senior planning officer that this had been a deliberate decision – effectively to ensure that the working group’s meeting passed off peacefully. Some of the councillors present, protested that this was inappropriate, and that openness and transparency demanded that the list be published and be open to full democratic scrutiny. Following the challenge, the officers relented, and we are now able to publish the list below.
The Officers and the Consultancy were also challenged as to whether the landowners and occupiers of the sites identified, had been informed. We were informed that this had not happened in many cases.
The officers were reminded of the near violence that erupted when a similar failed approach was taken a few years ago. There is one recorded case where an unknowing landowner was accosted by his neighbours, threatened with violence and accused of doing deals behind the scenes, all because the council hadn’t had the courtesy of telling him about the proposals they had initiated and were considering without his knowledge.
Now the publication of this list can be seen as the start of a lengthy consultation process.
It was requested that the working group’s consideration of this issue be put back to the next meeting, so as to ensure that detail of what was presented was open for full, expected democratic scrutiny. That proposal was lost after a 3:3 vote, on the casting vote of the Chairman.