South East Wales

Pontypool Race Gypsy site extension proposed by Torfaen

Torfaen councillors have asked for more details about a £3.6m plan to expand a Gypsy and Traveller site in Pontypool.

Part of an unused football pitch at the Race would be used to expand the existing Shepherd's Hill site.

Council leaders said they had a duty to address overcrowding at Shepherd's Hill, and claimed the plans provided best value for money.

But some local residents fear an increase in anti-social behaviour if the site is expanded.

Historical records

Pontypool is home to three Gypsy and Traveller sites, with census records showing they have lived in the area at least as far back as 1871.

Shepherd's Hill, run by the council, has more than 100 residents living on 26 permanent residential pitches for caravans and mobile homes and one transit pitch.

Local authority records for the site date back to 1974, with Torfaen taking control of it from the Gypsy Council in 2006.

The council's oversight and scrutiny committee has asked for more information about the proposals, backed by the council cabinet, to provide caravan pitches on the neighbouring Race football field, out of use since the mid 1990s due to subsidence.

The extension would provide around 20 caravan pitches, enough for around 80 more residents.

The football club would be offered replacement facilities at nearby Coleg Gwent.

Image caption Shepherd's Hill has been officially recognised as a Gypsy and Traveller site since 1974

Another 10 pitches could be built on the privately owned Rose Cottage site.

Gavin Jones, a resident at Rose Cottage, said: "We're very grateful for it but the site needs expanding.

"We plan to stay here for the rest of our lives."

The scheme would be financed from a mix of Welsh government grants, existing spending and future income from the new site.

Councillor Gwyneira Clark, Torfaen's executive member for housing, planning and public protection, said: "We have a duty to address overcrowding and want to improve conditions on the site.

"This proposal also offers the best value for money to do this, and meets our legal requirements to plan for future housing."

'Good relationship'

Mark Duggan, Gypsy and Traveller liaison officer for Torfaen council, said the plan was to provide more room for the Shepherd's Hill community, and relatives who may want to join them.

"This is about accommodating existing families in the area," he said.

"That's where the residents would like to remain."

Mr Duggan added that the lack of understanding between residents of Shepherd's Hill and the wider community was disappearing over time.

"The vast majority of people in the area have a good relationship with the Gypsy and Traveller community," he said.

"A lot of people in their 30s and 40s have been to school with them.

"I would like to think that both communities would come to realise that it's a positive thing for the area.

"It's giving the Gypsies and Travellers that have lived there for generations accessibility to a better site and a better standard of living."

But Adrian Bold, chair of the Cwmynyscoy Action Group, claimed that the concerns of some local residents were being ignored.

"Although there are good relationships with some of the residents of the sites, there are also a significant number of anti-social behaviour and crime problems," he said.

"What they're worried about is that this increase in this very small area will increase that amount of anti-social behaviour and make life very difficult.

"There are all sorts of things - farmers having their fences cut, actual violence, a lot of dogs barking and dogs attacking sheep."

The full council will be asked to take a final decision in September.

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