Fife Council to spend £2m improving Gypsy Traveller sites

Fife Council has outlined how it is spending £2 million on improving Gypsy Traveller sites in the Kingdom after years of waiting.

The sites are in need of improvement.
The sites are in need of improvement.

The pledge to improve facilities was first made around four years ago in response to plummeting satisfaction levels among residents, but works were delayed further due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Fife has three permanent sites for Travelling communities: Tarvit Mill in Cupar, Heatherywood in Thornton and Thornton Wood in Kelty. The cash will be used to install chalets – containing kitchens, toilets and washing facilities – at Tarvit Mill and Heatherywood.

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However, housing officers are also consulting with Thornton Wood residents over future improvements, and examining the idea of “negotiated stopping places” for nomadic Travellers who are passing through the Kingdom without settling in for the long-term.

Alice McGarry

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This would build on the existing policy of co-operating with Travellers who stop in unsanctioned sites, provided it is safe to do so.

Paul Short, Fife Council housing service manager, said: “At Tarvit Mill and Heatherwood we’l be installing chalets because that’s what tenants want.

“We have no immediate plans for the Thornton Wood site in Kelty but we’ll formulate discussions with tenants to get a handle of what teants there would like to see in terms of the long-term future of the site.”

Judy Hamilton

He added: “In terms of nomadic Gypsy Travellers we manage that through our cooperation policy, which is one of the best in Scotland.

“Legally the approach the government has taken matches with our policy in Fife. There is a pilot [of negotiated stopping places] taking place in Moray, East Ayrshire and Perth and Kinross.

“What we’re recommending is that our review of the cooperation policy waits while that pilot ends.”

Work at Tarvit Mill is expected to be finished by March next year, with improvements at Heatherywood to follow after.

The upgrades will hopefully bring to an end a years-long trend of dissatisfaction among Gypsy Travellers with Fife Council facilities.

Satisfaction levels dipped to a low of 29% in 2017, compared with Scottish averages in the region of 70%. Tenants pay Fife Council a weekly rent of £69 – similar to the cost of a one-bed flat – in order to camp on the sites, and also pay council tax.

Councillors have welcomed the overdue works – but have come up with a few suggestions of their own as to how Traveller facilities could be improved further.

Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay SNP councillor Alice McGarry says officers should look into equipping camps with sustainable energy sources such as wind turbines to reduce costs for Travellers.

She added: “It’s been a long haul but I really do welcome this and hope it’s a new stop forward for Gypsy Travellers as the conditions they’re living in are not the greatest.”

Cllr Judy Hamilton, convener of the housing services committee, says Travellers are not immune to the effects of Covid-19, with many working from home during the pandemic.

“One of the things they want is solar panels and broadband and wi-fi because some are working from home,” she said.

“The kids are home-educated so these things are quite necessary.”

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