PLANS to provide dozens of pitches for gypsies and travellers in Glastonbury have been scrapped after Somerset Council’s preferred site flooded twice during the winter.

Part of the £23.6m Glastonbury town deal, which is funded by central government, was the creation of a new off-road accommodation site for the ‘non-bricks and mortar’ community in and around the town, providing people with a safe location and enabling other projects within the Beckery area of the town to proceed.

Somerset Council put forward plans in mid-2023 to create a new travellers’ site on land north of Porchestall Drove using some of the town deal funding, comprising 21 temporary transit pitches and 19 permanent pitches.

But Councillor Liz Leyshon, who represents the neighbouring Street division, has revealed that alternative sites are now being purchased instead after the original land “turned into a lake” over the winter.

This comes as the council prepares to publish a new strategy for delivering gypsy and traveller sites across the county, which is expected to be completed by the end of August.

Before the creation of the new unitary council, both Somerset County Council each of the four district councils had their own estimates for how many pitches would be required in each area and provisions for dealing with unauthorised encampments (such as those on the Taunton park and ride sites).

The Glastonbury town deal project (known as the ‘enabling project’) dates back to work undertaken by Mendip District Council and the Glastonbury Unauthorised Encampment Multi-Agency Group (MAG), which includes representatives from Avon and Somerset Constabulary and local councils.

A public space protection order (PSPO) has been in place since October 2022, which allows the police or council to take court action against any encampment not deemed to be “reasonable, necessary or proportionate” or “having a reasonable excuse”.

The MAG has undertaken numerous enforcement activities against unauthorised encampments, including putting double-yellow lines on Wellhouse Lane, installing boulders and bunds on Stone Down Lane near Glastonbury Tor, and creating a multi-user path on Bretenoux Road.

Ms Leyshon, the council’s deputy leader and portfolio holder for resources and performance, admitted the issues with the Porchestall Drove site at a meeting of the council’s communities scrutiny committee held in Taunton on June 13.

She said: “At the moment we have a planning application in for land at Porchestall Drove. Some of that land is in the flood zone, some of that isn’t, so it was designed to make the most of that land.

“This last winter that land flooded twice, to such a degree that the entire field turned into a lake – and so that land now looks impossible, having done a lot of work on that development.

“We are now, again with town deal money, looking at the purchase of alternative land.

“Hopefully, the first piece of land is in the final stages of purchase and then we’ll be looking at what we can do there.

“It’s really not easy work, it’s fair to say. Everybody I speak to in Glastonbury says ‘we need a travellers’ site’, and then they go on to say ‘but not here’ – and that is, I’m afraid, not specific just to Glastonbury.”

The council confirmed in late-May that it would be spending £125,000 this year putting in new security measures to deter unauthorised encampments at the Silk Mills park and ride site in Taunton, with the funding being set aside within its annual budget.

Chris Brown, the council’s service director for housing, said the new gypsy and traveller strategy was designed to complement the new Somerset-wide Local Plan, which is expected to be completed by April 2028.

He said in his written report: “We are working towards producing a single Local Plan to replace the plans which are still live from the predecessor authorities.

“A new plan requires us to consider the future accommodation
requirements of the gypsy and traveller community.

“The plan will include pitch targets for gypsies and travellers, plot targets for travelling show-people, and a decision on the tenure split between permanent residential and transit areas

“The assessment will include analysis of the need both in the short term (over one to five years) and in the medium and longer term (six to 20 years).

“It must account for annual population increases and the likely rate of new household formation.”

Numerous small traveller sites have recently secured planning permission from the council, including several near the new gigafactory planned for the Gravity enterprise zone, just over the M5 from Bridgwater.

Councillor Gwilym Wren, who chaired the committee meeting, said he understood why so little progress on delivering significant new traveller provision had been made to date.

He said: “If you make any mention of creating a gypsy or traveller site anywhere near a community, then people get very , very agitated very, very quickly.

“I think more permanent sites, which settle on the edge of villages, work better – we’ve one in Milverton and it’s been absolutely fine for many years.”

The new strategy is expected to be published by late-August and will come before the council’s executive committee for ratification before Christmas.