Unauthorised traveller camps - new policy

Aberdeenshire Councillors have given their backing to proposals for a single policy for dealing with the controversial issue of unauthorised gypsy/traveller encampments across the North east.

The issue came before a meeting at Alford of the Marr Area Committee, with members being asked to comment on a draft policy for tackling the problem, that would be consistent throughout the region’s three local authorities – Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen City and Moray.

Aberdeenshire Council’s Environental Specialist Officer David Cooper told the meeting that there would be Scottish Goverrnment cash available to develop traveller sites but he warned that he doubted that “we will ever have enough pitches” to meet the demand.

He said that the aim was to have proposals for joint action with the Government by the end of February and a meeting in April of all those involved to discuss the issues.

A report before the meeting said that the draft policy proposals have come from the Inter Agency Gypsy/Travellers Group, which involves the three local authorities, as well as Grampian Police, NHS Grampian and Grampian Racial Equality Council. The aim is to hammer out an agreed policy for dealing with the issue that is consistent across the North east and it is hoped that this can be achieved during the current year.

The report said that the main change to the existing policy is the “suggested removal of the maximum number of caravans and length of stay on Council-owned or controlled land.”

Encampments would also have to comply with a Code of Conduct and occupancy would not be tolerated if the encampment and/or behaviour was not acceptable.

The report said that some members of Aberdeenshire’s Gypsy/Travellers Working Group have questioned the Grampian Police policy on the issue “and are of the opinion that the police should be more involved in taking action against gypsy/travellers who establish unauthorised encampments, particularly those on private land.”

It was claimed that a key issue of the guidance given to police from the Association of Chief Police Officers was a presumption against prosecution for trespass and that “this presumption is seen by some as being detrimental to the effectiveness of the Council’s policy on managing encampments.”

However, the report conceded that Aberdeenshire Council lacked adequate accommodation for travellers, with only one Council-owned site – Greenbanks at Banff, which has 20 pitches.

However, 4 sites have now been identified within the Council’s proposed Local Development Plan and that is out to public consultation.

Councillor Karen Clark, from the Banchory area, told the meeting that there was a need for holding sites for travellers as well as semi-permanent sites, because even when travellers were moved on from a site there was nowhere for them to go.