Plans to Re-Open the Mettle Hill Travellers' Site

On 31st October, South Cambridgeshire District Council (SCDC) issued a press statement outlining plans to buy and re-open a former travellers’ site on Mettle Hill in Meldreth.

The Background

When the site was open, Meldreth’s residents were subjected to theft, vandalism, violence and other criminal behaviour.  Villagers were warned not to travel along Mettle Hill and had to use other routes into and out of the village.  The site’s facilities were finally destroyed by the users of the site and it closed in 1996. Since then, the village has been peaceful and three new travelling communities have successfully settled on their own land, with planning permission, in direct proximity to the Mettle Hill site.  These include two Travelling Showmen’s Guild sites and one Romany site, and all have integrated into the village of Meldreth seamlessly.

In July 2009 the Mettle Hill site was reviewed by South Cambridgeshire District Council and they found that it was unsuitable for use.  Its report stated, “There would be delivery benefits from allocation of this site, as much on the site infrastructure still exists. However, the site does not meet the Tier 1 tests, as it is not located near to a ‘better served Group Village’ that has good access to a Doctors surgery. The site is 3km from the nearest GP surgery in Melbourn.

“Public transport services accessible to the site are very limited. A development of this scale would create a significant scale of site in this rural area near a Group village, beyond the scale identified as appropriate for a new site in a Group village. It would create a significant number of pitches when combined with the existing Travelling Showpeople sites on the opposite side of the road.”

The Response to the SCDC Proposal, November 2012

Following South Cambridgeshire District Council’s press release on 31st October, an emergency meeting was called by some residents which was held in Meldreth village hall on the evening of 1st November.  Approximately 250 villagers attended the meeting, which was chaired by County Councillor Susan van de Ven.  Questions were then put to the Parish Council.

A campaign then started within the village to prevent the re-opening of the site.  The main objections to the re-opening of the Mettle Hill site are:

  • No consultation has been carried out with the residents, local travelling community, Cambridgeshire County or District Councillors.
  • The site has already been rejected by SCDC.
  • The area already supports 38 pitches which is approximately 17% of the whole of the South Cambridgeshire provisioning.
  • Re-opening Mettle Hill will cause a clustering and concentration of sites.

A website was set up giving details of the campaign and an online petition was launched, which can be accessed via the website and signed online.  Paper copies of the petition are held at village shops and the British Queen Public House.

An emergency meeting of Meldreth Parish Council was called for Tuesday 6th November.  Leaflets advertising this and the SCDC cabinet meeting were delivered to every house in Meldreth and to houses in surrounding villages.  On the evening of Tuesday 6th November, the village hall was packed with over 400 residents from Meldreth and nearby villages.  On Thursday 8th November over 300 residents of Meldreth and the surrounding villages travelled to Cambourne.  A number of Councillors and members of the public were permitted to make their opinions known to South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Cabinet.  By this time, the petition had been signed by over 2,580 people (more than the entire population of Meldreth).  The matter has now been referred to the full Council which will vote on whether to request the County Council to sell the land to SCDC for the purpose of re-opening the travellers’ site.

With the news that the full Council discussion was being deferred until January 2013, Meldreth Parish Council called a special public meeting for Wednesday 14th November at 8.00 pm in Meldreth Village Hall to discuss “the way forward”.  The meeting was attended by approximately 250 local residents.  Following the meeting, a number of working parties were set up to manage the village’s response to the proposals.  A weekly update began to be delivered to all houses in the village.

Over 100 local residents travelled to the South Cambridgeshire District Council offices in Cambourne on Thursday 22nd November 2012, when the petition was presented to the Council.  By this time, it contained over 3,000 signatures (more than twice the adult population of the village).

At the public meetings held in November, villagers supported a proposal for the Parish Council to purchase the land.  This was followed by financial pledges from the community.  However, Meldreth Parish Council managed to secure a loan from the Public Works Loan Board and at the Parish Council meeting on 6th December, Councillors voted unanimously to make a formal bid to Cambridgeshire County Council to purchase the Mettle Hill site.

On 7th December, South Cambridgeshire District Council announced in a press release that they would not bid against Meldreth Parish Council for the land.  Meldreth Parish Council chairman Steve Hawkins said: “We welcome the news that SCDC have acknowledged the strength of our arguments against the re-opening of the site. We value the travelling community of showmen and Romany Gypsies that we have on Mettle Hill and we were anxious not to spoil that. We will now consult fully with the village to find a good use for the site that is acceptable to all who live here. The County Council will help us with that exercise and discussions start next week.  Meldreth’s Parish Plan in 2005 found that the threat of the site re-opening was the most unpopular thing about Meldreth and the Parish Council have been seeking alternative uses over the last 8 years.”

The Parish Council’s purchase of Mettle Hill was completed in 2013 and suggestions for the use of the site were requested at the Annual Parish Meeting in May 2013.  A variety of suggestions were put forward but a final decision is yet to be made.

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