Wrexham Council has been told to consider reassessing the Gypsy and Traveller sites contained within a major housing blueprint after inspectors identified a “serious failing”.
Extra hearings were recently held into the authority’s Local Development Plan (LDP) after officials appointed to examine it raised major concerns.
They included fundamental issues with the selection of three Gypsy and Traveller sites in Llay, Brymbo and Hanmer, which attracted public opposition.
Council officers set out the justification for picking the locations at a meeting held at the end of February.
However, the two planning inspectors overseeing the process have now written to tell them they remain “unconvinced” about the way they were chosen.
Sian Worden and Melissa Hall questioned why they did not consider expanding an existing site on Ruthin Road instead and also highlighted a number of errors and inconsistencies in the evidence.
They included the Hanmer site being recorded as within 100 metres of a bus stop when the nearest one is more than 1.5km away, while the council failed to show that the Llay site lies within Alyn Waters Country Park.
In relation to the Llay land, they said in their letter: “Whilst we concur that it is for you to balance the competing interests in allocating land in the LDP for specific and contentious uses such as this, that decision must be based on sound evidence.
“It seems to us that the inclusion of the green wedge site as an allocated Gypsy and Traveller site undermines the methodology and consistency of the approach to inappropriate development in the green wedge.
“On the basis of the written and oral submissions made to date, the inclusion of this site does not appear to be consistent with the circular advice (on planning for Gypsy and Traveller sites).
“In summary, the decision to allocate the proposed sites does not appear to accord with the council’s own methodology for site selection or the guidance in the circular and is therefore a serious failing.
“We would therefore be grateful for your views as to how the shortcomings we have identified can be rectified.”
They advised that the council might want to check the accuracy of the information contained within the site assessments or reassess them based on how close they are to local services.
They also suggested other locations should be considered before looking at those in the green wedge.
The pair have now asked officers to set out a timeline for addressing the concerns, but said they understood this could be impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.
They said: “We acknowledge that Wales is becoming increasingly affected by the global pandemic, Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) and that any timescale you indicate now may need to be re-visited having regard to resource implications, including the availability and capacity of staff to progress these matters and the prioritisation of other functions in your authority.
“We are sympathetic to this situation and please be assured that we will assist you in considering the most prudent way forward in these uncertain times.
“Whilst we are acutely aware that the council does not have an up-to-date development plan, we cannot simply ignore the requirement for the plan to be based on robust evidence in order to be found sound.
“We trust that this letter demonstrates that we are committed to providing you with the opportunity to secure a sound plan.”
By Liam Randall – BBC Local Democracy Reporter (more here on the LDR scheme)
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