ABERDEEN City councillors today voted to press ahead with a dual offensive against the spate of illegal travellers sites being established in the city.
Following a stormy two hour debate, the council agreed to pursue plans for a new halting site for gypsies and travellers at Howes Road, between Northfield and Bucksburn, and to push ahead with the possible introduction of a bye-law, banning people from camping on the city’s most sensitive and high profile public places.
The controversial proposals were passed by 22 votes to 10, with five abstentions.
Martin Smith, the council’s Housing Manager, told councillors: “So far this financial year, the Gypsy Traveller Liaison Officer has handled 54 encampments. These consist of 20 on council owned land and 34 on privately owned. Approximate clean up and legal costs amount to £73,381 – this does not include the costs incurred at private land. None of these costs are currently built into budgets but are currently being met from budgets held by Housing and Environment on a reactive basis.
“Despite a review of council policy which included a re-writing of the Good Neighbour Code, upgrading the (permanent) Clintery site – including the creation of four short-term plots, Aberdeen continues to experience unauthorised encampments on an unprecedented scale. These encampments invariably generate high profile attention and considerable controversy as to the rights of the settled community and
the rights of Gypsies/Travellers. The camp sizes have grown over the last four years and we now require sites which are suitable for a large family group.”
He continued: “There will be some costs in establishing any site, but we anticipate that the running costs would be less that that of the current clear up costs. A financial study will be developed once design, construction and operating costs have been fully ascertained.”
Councillors also voted to pursue dialogue with the Scottish Government on the principle of a proposed byelaw to prevent camping on sensitive areas such as public parks.
Mr Smith said: “The aim of this proposal is to prevent people from camping on the most sensitive, high profile public places, where the adverse visual and other physical consequences of encampments are likely to attract the most attention together with complaints and negative media coverage. All of our recent experiences with unauthorised encampments have involved Gypsies/Travellers.
“It is considered that a byelaw preventing camping in specified places may help foster good relations in that tensions may ease between the settled community and Gypsies/Travellers if the potential negative impact of, and negative media coverage on unauthorised encampments on designated places were to cease.”
He added: “Relationships between Gypsies/Travellers and the settled communities will be significantly improved if there were no unauthorised encampments in these very visible and sensitive areas. Clarity on the
legal status of these sites will enable Gypsies/Travellers to make more informed choices about the suitability of sites for unauthorised encampments.”
Councillor Ross Thomson, The Conservative’s housing and environment spokesman on the council’s rainbow coalition, welcomed the decision.
He said: “Residents across Aberdeen are fed up having their good nature taken advantage of and are tired of constant illegal encampments. They are calling out for the council to provide a solution. Conservatives have listened which is why we are pursuing a by-law and halting sites which will give the police the powers they need to tackle illegal encampments.”
He added: “The number of illegal encampments is growing - we have had record numbers. We need to take action straight away so that we can stop these illicit encampments from happening in the first place. To do absolutely nothing as the Lib Dems and SNP propose shows that they are not treating this problem with the seriousness it deserves.”