Holyrood urged to take action over travellers

THE Scottish Government was today challenged to take action to tackle illegal traveller encampments after a flood of complaints about unauthorised sites in Aberdeen.

Aberdeen Council will push on with a dual offensive against illegal traveller sites. Picture: Julie Bull
Aberdeen Council will push on with a dual offensive against illegal traveller sites. Picture: Julie Bull

In the latest incident a football ground used by a local Boys Club was damaged after eight caravans moved on to the Altens community football pitch, near the area’s community centre.

There were also complaints about human faeces being left on the Cove Bay Woodland Walk.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Richard Baker, the North East Labour MSP, called on the Government to take action to protect affected communities. He said the Scottish Government was pressing local authorities to find halts for travellers but had failed to provide any support in terms of either funding or legislation to protect communities from illegal encampments.

Mr Baker said: “I have written to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill to consider what more can be done to protect communities from illegal traveller encampments. I think most people accept that travellers have a right to travel and live their lifestyle but when it clashes with the settled community it can cause huge resentment and also damage. The Police cannot just move encampments on and landowners are too often forced to take civil legal action to resolve a matter.”

He continued: “The Scottish Government have told councils to build stop-over sites but have not funded this recently or provided any legal support when the sites are not used.

“The working group on travellers went on for a long time but has not resulted in Scottish Government action. Ministers need to do more to protect our communities and also support the travelling community too.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Unauthorised Gypsy/Traveller sites are a sensitive issue. Clearly there is no one-size-fits-all solution and we remain of the view that key decisions about these issues are best made at local level.

“However, the Scottish Government has twice reviewed our guidelines on managing unauthorised sites since first issued in 2004. The guidelines aim to help local authorities and the police to effectively managed unauthorised sites in their area.“

He continued: “Following the Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee report on Where Gypsy/Travellers Live we are convening a group to look at issues around Gypsy/Traveller sites. This will include looking at unauthorised sites, the rights and responsibilities of Gypsies/Travellers and the settled community in relation to sites, and reviewing the current guidelines.”

The spokesman said that the Scottish Government had provided a total of £2million between 2008 and 2010 to local authorities to support the provision for Gypsy/Traveller communities. He added: “Since 2010 this allocation has been included within the General Capital Grant as part of the local government settlements. In 2011 additional funding of £157,00 was allocated to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire to support the provision of new sites and services for Gypsies/Travellers. Local authorities have a responsibility to identify the accommodation needs of Gypsies/Travellers and to consider how best to meet those in the Local Housing Strategies. “