Tuesday, 26 April 2016

New Gypsy and Traveller Sites under consideration - how not to do it

Last night at CWaC's Local Development Plan Working Group we had a presentation from the council's retained consultants - WYG - regarding the provision of new Gypsy 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 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 ward details for the sites in question.  We simply were shown places on a Borough map which was its devoid of detail.

I was appalled just how cursory the presentation to us was.  However this was nothing compared to what I judge to have been the deliberate manipulation of panel - and the failure to publish the list of sites with the working group's papers 7 days in advance of the meeting.

When I challenged this in the meeting I was 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.  I protested that this was inappropriate - and that openness and transparency demanded that the list be published - and be open to full democratic scrutiny.  It is through my efforts that I am able to publish the list below now.

I also challenged the officers and the consultancy as to whether the landowners and occupiers of the sites identified had been informed.  I was told that this had not happened in many cases.

I reminded the officers of the near violence that erupted when a similar failed approach was taken a few years ago.  I know of one 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 - so everyone will have an opportunity to have their say in due course - however that does not get us over the fact that the list was suppressed before the meeting - and the detail provided to us in the meeting was insufficient to identify precise locations - no doubt part of the same strategy.  

I asked for the working group's consideration of this issue to 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 party lines and on the casting vote of the Labour Chairman.

Now I have no idea whether the Labour Chairman was party to what I see as an underhand approach in suppressing the publication of this list before and at the meeting or not.  If he was - then shame on him for the complete lack of openness, transparency and respect.  If he wasn't party to it - then shame on him for being asleep at the wheel and failing to uphold democratic accountability, openness, transparency and respect.  Either way it wasn't his or the officers finest hour.

Our next meeting will look at fracking.  I have asked for the meeting to be webcast.  Clearly there were no plans to do it before I asked.  Whether that will be done remains to be seen.


Ref No
Location
WYG status
Ward
1
Land adjacent to Winnington Leisure Park
Amber
Winnington and Castle
2
Land at Stannage Lane, Farndon
Red
Farndon
3
Land east of Utkinton Road, Tarporley
Green
Tarporley
4
Land south of A556, Rudheath
Red
Davenham and Moulton
5
Land at former BICC, Chester Road, Helsby
Amber
Helsby / Gowy
6
Ince caravan site, Ellesmere Port
Red
Elton
7
Winnington Business Park, Winnington Avenue, Northwich
Red
Winnington and Castle
8
East of Shurlach Road / Chester Road, Lostock Gralam
Amber
Shakerley
9
Land at Chowley Oak Lane, Tattenhall
Amber
Tattenhall
10
Land at Whitchurch Road, Tushingham cum Grindley
Red
Malpas
11
Land east of King Street, Northwich
Amber
Shakerley
12
Land south east of Gadbrook Park
Red
Witton and Rudheath
13
Land at Gorsthills County Primary, Ledsham
Red
Ledsham and Manor
14
Land at Crookes Lane, Northwich
Amber
Shakerley
15
Land at Arderne Golf Course, Tarporley
Red
Tarporley
16
Rode Street works / depot, Tarporley
Red
Tarporley
17
Adj to Hampton Heath Industrial Estate, Malpas
Red
Malpas
18
Land south of Chester F’ball Club, Bumpers Lane, Chester
Red
Blacon
19 / 21
Land at Marton Villa Farm, Marton (2 sites)
Red
Winsford Over and Verdin
20
Land at Marton Villa Farm, Clay Lane, Marton
Green
Winsford Over and Verdin
22
Land at Church Farm, Tarvin
Red
Tarvin and Kelsall
23
Holding No.10, Tarporley Road, Tarvin
Amber
Tarvin
24
Land at Marton Villa Farm, Marton
Amber
Winsford Over and Verdin
25
Meadows Island, Bradford Road, Winsford
Amber
Winsford Wharton
26
East A533 Brick Lane, Middlewich
Red
Davenham and Moulton