The Scottish Government has released new guidance for local authorities on managing unauthorised camping by Travellers.
Dundee City Council’s housing convener, John Alexander, discussed with the Tele some of the key points in the report and how they will affect the local travelling community.
What is the council doing to address unauthorised camps?
As part of our concerted effort to work more effectively with the travelling community and others, we have been focusing on maximising the use of Balmuir Wood.
Since January we’ve had considerably higher usage of our official site, because of that proactive approach.
We move quickly to take legal action where groups arrive in a wholly inappropriate location such as a football pitch.
Does Dundee have a code of conduct for Travellers to adhere to?
I have personally been involved in discussions about this guidance through Cosla and all other councils have had the chance to give their views. The important thing to say is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach and while the guidance is important, it’s what we do locally that makes the difference.
We have agreed site rules and guidance which have been in place for some time. Anyone who does not follow the rules on our site will ultimately be removed.
We have also been working with a group of current residents to set up a tenants group to inform decisions and ensure we work collaboratively.
The Scottish Government states the Traveller community experiences poor outcomes in health, education, and other areas. How is the council addressing this?
We have a full-time Gypsy Traveller Liaison Officer (GTLO) who is very proactive, generally visiting all encampments within 24 hours and advising them of our site at Balmuir Wood. This officer also assists in managing the official site and has an overview of all of the issues related to Travellers.
At this early stage, officers will generally assess the needs of the community including medical requirements.
We work very effectively with NHS Tayside, GPs and Angus Council to ensure that we meet those needs.
A common comment made to the Tele by the public is that Travellers don’t pay council tax, and choose to live in a caravan. Why are they allowed “to do what they want”?
Travellers are usually registered to an official site and pay council tax at that location. Under legislation, they can travel for a specific period of time. It is not true to say that Travellers don’t pay council tax.
Groups using our official site pay rent and utilities and, in previous years, they have contributed more than £80,000 towards costs.
Many groups pay and clean up after themselves, however these are not always reported so we only hear of the instances where rubbish has been left or damage has been caused.
It is not one homogeneous group and I wouldn’t paint this group with one brush.
Our GTLO advises our expectation in terms of looking after the general area and respecting neighbours.
We have a rapid response team that can deal with any instances of rubbish being left, but we do expect that people clear up after themselves. Where we identify this has not happened, we try to identify the individual responsible and take action.
Why does it sometimes take weeks or even months to move Travellers on from private ground or unauthorised sites in Dundee?
The council has obligations and responsibility to both the settled community and the travelling community and we try to balance that at all stages.
We take action when it is required and we work with Travellers where possible too.
It’s a sensible, coherent and lawful way to approach this.