Cllr Mark Howell, (Dear) leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council’s cabinet member for housing, is on point, promoting the new Gypsy site at Mettle Hill. He is ably supported by other Councillors who have sizable Traveler communities around Willingham. They decided to pass responsibility for saying ‘NO’ to their own initiative by passing the buck to the whole Council.
It is worth noting that this committee have worked on this plan in secret with the County Council and Cambridge City over the past few months. SCDC and Cambridge City jointly put forward a bid to the Government for the money to buy the site from the County Council (which as we all know takes time).
Several Councillors objected to the lateness of notification of this initiative to the Communities most affected, using such words as underhand and pointing out that the idea went against previous promises given to Meldreth and standard decision making policies of the SCDC. Local interests have prevailed, and now the whole District Council will have to make the decision on the 22nd November (be there to make your views known).
Should the whole Council reject the Mettle Hill idea, this will not be the end of the matter. SCDC being willing to go against promises previously given and their own policies, would no doubt feel little compunction in revisiting previously rejected sites e.g Bassingbourn. SCDC seem to have an undeclared strategy for Travelers in that only two specific areas Willingham and Meldreth seem to be the default locations where they would most want to place new sites.
The Meldreth community in particular were praised (by the Willingham caucus) for integrating the Meldreth community, gypsies, showmen and English Travelers This was then used in evidence that Meldreth was the ideal place for Irish Travelers because they were so successful at integrating these communities.
To be fair, Willingham does have a problem, they have a lot of Pitches, when applications for new pitches are rejected by SCDC they are overruled on appeal by the local inspector with the reason that there is nowhere else to put the new sites (not in 350 square miles? I don’t believe it!) .
This leads to the conclusion that there is a systemic failure in the whole process of allocating sites for Travelers. The responsibility spans the political establishment from Eric Pickles MP (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government) representing the government, the County Council, South Cambs District Council who all have responsibilities in this area.
More importantly Cambridgeshire administrations have achieved an amazing record, that South Cambs district has the highest concentration of travelling folk pitches of any District the country. The fact that these concentrations are placed into the 2 small areas surrounding Meldreth and Willingham communities smacks as a failure in local Democracy.
It is possible to feel a deal of sympathy for the Councillors who represent Willingham. I feel however that they have taken advantage of being in control of this particular committee to create a crisis situation. The effect is that Meldreth and surrounding communities are being forced to defend their community against predictable strife, unforeseen and now ignored by this Committee.
Cllr Mark Howell is really keen to have this site at Nettle Hill, and promised when it goes ahead to take up residence and deal with any outbreak of civil strife in person (a brave stand given a previous strong minded Politician was incarcerated by the previous occupants of Mettle Hill). His presence may be fully necessary given the lack of an adequate police force in the area. Even when there was an adequate Police presence they were reluctant to actually enter the site in defense of local ratepayers.
Given the preponderance of Conservative Councillors involved in the whole process at local and national government with their big community philosophy (in this case all focused onto small areas in SCDC) one can be forgiven in believing that they take a very parochial view of their responsibilities, and that they are compounding poor decisions with desperate inadequately researched decisions driven by a forceful Cllr Howell.