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Call for more sites for Travelling community as councils forced to take action

Councils have taken court action dozens of times.
Councils have taken court action dozens of times.

Council officials have been forced to take action against dozens of unauthorised Travelling community encampments, prompting calls for more designated sites.

Both Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils have had to take legal action over the camps, which have occurred in various locations across the north-east.

While Aberdeenshire Council couldn’t put a figure on how much this had cost the local authority Aberdeen City Council said since 2015 they had forked out £6,840.14 in legal fees.

Local authority chiefs say they are committed to delivering equal opportunities for the Travelling community, which often faces discrimination.

And council bosses say there is often no choice for members of the community, since they are regularly told they are not welcome on housing estates or private campsites  – even when it comes to developing their own land.

Even though there is a policy of only taking action “when necessary”, Aberdeen City Council has gone to court 44 times in the last six years, while Aberdeenshire Council has taken action on 19 occasions.

The figures, which were revealed using Freedom of Information legislation, have sparked fresh calls for more permanent sites.

‘Long way to go’ for Travelling community sites

“Gypsy/Travellers are one of the persecuted communities in the world and while we have made progress in recent years, clearly there is still a long way to go with one of the most fundamental issues being a lack of available sites,” said Aberdeen Central MSP Kevin Stewart.

Aberdeen Central MSP Kevin Stewart.

“When I served as Housing minister we put in significant effort to support the Gypsy/Traveller community by working to increase local authority engagement around accommodation needs.

“And earlier this year we announced up to £20 million for more accommodation for Gypsy/Traveller communities – this investment will make a real difference and as local authorities start to use that cash and develop new sites, I’m sure we will see a real difference.

“The north-east has a rich Gypsy/Traveller history and the sooner we see more approved sites here the better.”

Councils ‘constantly’ looking to support community

Aberdeenshire Council said it was “constantly” looking for ways to better support the Travelling community.

A spokeswoman added the local authority’s priority was to “ensure the safety of both Gypsy/Travellers and nearby communities”.

“Travelling is part of Gypsy/Travellers’ ethnic identity and has been a part of Scottish culture for hundreds of years,” she said.

“Currently there are two council-owned and managed sites in Aberdeenshire, one accessible year round and the other seasonal.

Travellers ‘often have no choice’ according to council chiefs.

“Racism and discrimination, coupled with lack of provision across the country sometimes means that Gypsy/Travellers have no other option.

“In our role we have to find a balance between meeting the demands of local communities and supporting this marginalised group.”

A spokesman for Aberdeen City Council added the authority is not able to take action to prevent unauthorised encampments as “we would not know where the Travellers intend to move”.

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