By Clerk to Parish Council - 2nd December 2019 6:00am
During the Open Forum of the Parish Council (PC) meeting on Monday, 25th November, evening a member of the public raised the issue of a possible traveller site on Tarporley Road. He was considering buying a property in the area and wanted to know the latest position.
The PC had previously agreed that the Chairman, together with a specialist planning consultant, would attend the Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) Cabinet meeting to let them know the community's views on the proposal. The Cabinet was due to discuss it on 27th November, but this item has been postponed until 15th January 2020 because of the General Election.
The PC has a clear and unambiguous mandate from residents to oppose this opportunistic, ill-thought through, and unfair proposal. Although the report to Cabinet has not yet been published the PC has seen the Working Party report which is likely to be the basis of the report to Cabinet.
Based upon this report the draft of what the Chairman of the PC is authorised to say is as follows:
"Thank you for the opportunity to address the meeting before you consider the matter in detail. I am addressing the issue from a community perspective; Mr Stallard who is also scheduled to speak on this matter will approach it from a professional planning perspective.
When the possibility of a traveller site was first mooted for the Tarvin Parish area no issue has ever caused our community so much concern. Public meetings attracted hundreds of attendees. It was no surprise that nearly 800 Tarvin residents responded to the public consultation on Part 2 of the Local Plan and most of these were in relation to the establishment of a traveller site in Tarvin. This figure represented over half the responses received by Cheshire West and Chester Council. The PC, taking its steer from public reaction and mindful that there was a risk to good community relations if the proposal went ahead, adopted a measured and evidenced approach to explain why a traveller site in Tarvin would neither be in the best interests of the travelling community nor of the local community.
The best interests of the traveling community should, in the opinion of the PC, be given particular weight. There is no evidence that travellers have any tradition or affinity with the Parish area. It would therefore seem to the PC to be both insensitive and inappropriate to establish a site in Tarvin simply because the Borough Council happens to own land there.
Since the original proposal was withdrawn the PC has produced a Neighbourhood Plan which was "made" in September 2019. The Plan says nothing about identifying a site for travellers in the Tarvin Plan area. This is because the Steering Group, which produced the Plan on behalf of the PC, adhered to the national guidance that any land use policy proposed had to be positive. The Plan however does identify a number of community infrastructure shortcomings. One of these is recreation.
Currently in Tarvin Parish there is one large playing field, the King George V Playing Field. Since that field came into community use in the 1930s the population of Tarvin has grown significantly, with the result that the field is at capacity, resulting in some Tarvin children having to play some of their team sport away from the parish. This significant shortage was addressed in the Neighbourhood Plan. Every potential site for a new playing field was evaluated. The Plan concluded that the most sustainable site was land owned by CWaC, but currently farmed under a life-long tenancy.
This particular area of land has been identified, once again, as a site suitable for a traveller site but, quite correctly, is designated as "not available" because of the tenancy agreement. However, the nature of a life-long tenancy does mean that at some future date it becomes available. The community view is that its aspiration for another recreation site is crucial and, as such, needs to be recognised by CWaC which is responsible for providing recreation facilities throughout its area.
Finally, it is worth noting that the Tarvin Neighbourhood Plan took 4 years to produce. In the early stages the Steering Group spent a lot of their time looking at housing need and how it could be addressed. This was because survey data and community feedback showed that, in the Plan area, there was a shortfall of: affordable properties that young people, brought up in the village and who wanted to stay, could access so that they get on the housing ladder; also of homes for older people to down-size to and accommodation that would be suitable for those who needed care. The Steering Group did take this up with CWaC as it felt that the land it owned, currently farmed under a life-long tenancy, could potentially provide a sustainable solution to meeting some of these housing shortfalls. The Steering Group also felt that embracing this notion would not only demonstrate a commitment to the rural area but would also generate considerable positive publicity, in a policy area where the community accepts there was and is a problem. It was therefore disappointing to the Steering Group that these ideas were not picked up by CWaC. An opportunity lost then but maybe it is not too late.
To conclude, just because CWaC owns land in Tarvin this is not a defensible criterion for continuing to identify it as a possible site for travellers, particularly when there are other significant community needs that should and could be addressed using this land if and when it does become available. While there is the possibility of the land being used, at some future date, for travellers this remains a threat to good community relations. The Cabinet should therefore agree now to remove the site from future consideration for travellers and instead determine how its land could best be used to meet local community needs."