Minister accused of ‘slur’ on councils

Travellers were criticised for debris left at Ellon Castle Park last year.
Travellers were criticised for debris left at Ellon Castle Park last year.

An Ellon councillor has taken exception to remarks by a Scottish Government minister that councils need education on the human rights of the travelling community.

Social Justice and Communities Secretary Alex Neil was assessing the approach local authorities take to dealing with unauthorised camps and described the community as one of the “most disenfranchised and discriminated against” in Scotland.

Mr Neil was addressing Holyrood’s equal opportunities committee last Thursday and said the government would publish guidance on official campsite planning and the standards councils are expected to maintain at existing sites in April and May.

Ellon and District Councillor Gillian Owen has now sent a strongly-worded letter to Mr Neil seeking an apology over his remarks.

She said: “How dare the Minister attack hard-working local councillors over the travellers issue.

“I find the attitude of the Scottish Government lately to be so condescending and verging on the authoritarian. It is interesting how they blame us when they have a role to play as well as the police.”

She added: “It’s all very well asking for toleration but we would ask travellers to respect our communities too, which they have plainly not done on a number of occasions.

“I call upon the minister to apologise and withdraw his unwarranted slur on all councillors. This issue is three way, Scottish Government, council and police.”

Mrs Owen pointed to her record of supporting transit sites in her ward, against local feeling.

She said: “Aberdeenshire Council tried to put forward a site at Aikey Brae but it failed, so some councillors have tried very hard but this issue is unpopular purely and simply because of the way some travellers leave such a mess.”

The relationship between travelling people and the settled community in parts of the North-east has been strained in recent years.

Local authorities have taken legal action to move on illegal encampments, including some in Ellon.

Last year local residents complained about the amount of debris left behind by a group of travellers who had pitched up on land at the town’s Castle Park.