B&NES Council blasted over traveller sites omni-shambles
Bath and North East Somerset Council has been blasted for 'utter incompetence' over the authority's search for authorised gypsy and traveller sites.
At a public Cabinet Meeting last Wednesday, 12th September, B&NES Council's Lib-Dem Cabinet faced a barrage of criticism from residents and opposition Councillors for wasting tax-payers' money and mishandling the site selection process.
A total of twenty members of the public spoke at the meeting, including residents of Stanton Wick, Whitchurch and Radstock, as well as the owner the nursery at Ellsbridge House in Keynsham, which had been earmarked as a potential traveller site.
Following the public statements, the Lib-Dem Cabinet agreed to drop entirely plans to earmark sites at Radstock, Stanton Wick and Keynsham, whilst pushing ahead with sites in Whitchurch, Twerton and Newbridge. The Cabinet also agreed to submit a planning application for the Lower Bristol Road site in Twerton as soon as possible and to assess a list of 27 newly-proposed sites against a revised set of criteria.
Conservative Councillors have welcomed the removal of the three sites from the Council's plans, but have warned that B&NES could still be leaving itself vulnerable to challenge over its other potential sites.
The Conservative Shadow Cabinet Member for Homes and Planning, Cllr Geoff Ward, spoke at the meeting criticising the Cabinet for ignoring the concerns of residents and pushing ahead with a flawed set of proposals. Following the meeting, he said: "B&NES has completely mishandled this process right from the start. The utter incompetence displayed by the Lib-Dems has been astounding, blighting the lives of residents and damaging local businesses in the process.
"The fact they have finally bowed to public pressure and removed the three sites at Stanton Wick, Radstock and Keynsham marks a victory for these communities. It's just a shame that so much time and taxpayer money has been wasted in the process, when the Council had ample opportunity to listen before.
"Unfortunately, we still have grave concerns that the complete mess created by B&NES could still leave the Council vulnerable to future challenge at other potential sites. For a start, the Whitchurch site was incorrectly named as brownfield yet is actually greenbelt, but has so far been left on the list. Hopefully, the Lib-Dems will see sense and learn from their mistakes when they draw up their final list of proposals."
Cllr Eleanor Jackson, B&NES, Radstock, Labour, also attended the meeting accompanying some of the Bath Old Road residents. She said: "The update paper was infuriating, because it made it clear that Stanton Wick was completely impossible because millions of pounds would have to be spent on the site to make it accessible and habitable. B&NES officers showed it was financially unviable. What an omni-shambles."
The question now becomes, should legal costs be claimed back from B&NES? Action Groups have spent, The Journal understands, over £10,000 fighting B&NES Council's plans for sites which should never have been put forward. The Council clearly has a moral duty to its citizens, if not a legal one.