Call for clarity over traveller sites

Ellon and District councillor Gillian Owen next to the travellers on site at Ellon Academy Community Campus
Ellon and District councillor Gillian Owen next to the travellers on site at Ellon Academy Community Campus

Ellon councillor Gillian Owen has called for clarity over travelling sites after Police in the north east admitted the Force had no powers to simply move on unauthorised camps.

Inspector Colin Taylor made the claim in a letter to Scottish Conservative MSP Peter Chapman, stating that there was no legislation that dealt specifically with camps “in the modern context”.

Officers are instead forced to reply on the 150-years-old Trespass (Scotland) Act.

But Inspector Taylor made it clear there was nothing within the law that allowed police to simply move on trespassers.

Local councils and private landowners have faced difficulties for years with unauthorised camps – often in completely unsuitable areas such as school playing fields – which can result in large clean-up bills. This has also led to growing tension between the travelling and settled communities.

North East Region MSP Mr Chpaman said the Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshirem, Angus and Dundee council areas have all experienced problems, with confusion locally on what powers are available to the authorities.

Councillors have been told that if they build halting sites, then police will be able to move unauthorised camps onto that land. However, th ecomments from the Inspector hav ethrown that advice and Scottish Government planning policy on this issue into doubt.

Mr Chapman said: “I appreciate the candour with which the Inspector has responded to my questions about traveller encampments.

“It is clear that officers on the gorund are not equipped with anything like the powers they need to do what the public generally want to see - which is to move these illegal campers on.

“Furthermore, the Lord Advocate has issued guidelines to procurator fiscals that there is a presumption against prosecution of travellers, which I have to say does not make the police’s job any easier.

“The admission that halting sites alone will not solve the problem also throws national policy on travellers into serious question.

“Councillors have always been told that if they build halting sites, then police will be able to move travellers on, but we are now told that is not a solution in its own right.

“The Scottish Government needs to get a grip of this issue. We cannot have police relying on 150 year-old legislation which does not give officers the powers they need to act decisively.”

Cllr Owen added: “Cash-strapped councils cannot afford to build these sites if they are not going to be effective in dealing with the problem.

“It is already near-impossible for local councillors to find sites that the public will be happy with.

“Elected members need absolute clarity on all of these issues before any more decisions are made to spend public money on halting sites.”