No operational traveller sites for several years

It will be at least a couple of years before there are operational sites designated for travellers in Aberdeenshire, according to council officials.

The admission came during a discussion of the revised policy on the local authority’s management of unauthorised gypsy/travellers encampments at the Kincardine and Mearns area committee this week.

Four possible halting sites have been identified as part of the proposed local development plan, but the council’s Environmental Health Specialist Officer David Cooper told councillors that they could not be fast-tracked and were “part and parcel” of that plan. He said they might not be operational for three years as a result.

The council has come under heavy fire this year for its management of unauthorised encampments, after Stonehaven and other areas across Aberdeenshire played host to large groups of travellers throughout the summer period.

The resulting outcry has led to the council reviewing its management policy for unauthorised encampments but has stated that there is only so much it is able to do until alternative accommodation can be found for the travellers.

The Association of Chief Police Officers of Scotland (ACPOS) has issued operational guidance on the role that the police will take in relation to unauthorised encampments, based on Scottish Government guidance. It highlights the Lord Advocate’s instruction to Procurators Fiscal in 2004 stating that there is a presumption against prosecution where the sole issue is trespass rather than any illegal activity by the travellers themselves.

A report before councillors on Tuesday stated: “It is important to note that ACPOS has indicated that a

failure by a local authority to make provision for the needs of Gypsies/Travellers will reinforce this presumption. This presumption has a significant bearing on the options available to deal with encampments.”

North Kincardine councillor Paul Melling said he was disappointed at the length of time it would take to get operational sites and wanted to know what the council’s “Plan B” was for next year.

He said: “My community - Kincardineshire - is looking for something that is going to stop a repetition of what happened this year.”

Speaking at this week’s meeting of the Stonehaven and District Community Council, chairman David Fleming added: “We still have a problem in March if people start turning up and how the officers are going to deal with this. That should be crystal clear.”

The major changes in Aberdeenshire Council’s management policy include removing the previous stipulations on the maximum number of caravans (eight) and maximum length of stay (six weeks) and instead judging each case on its individual merits.

The council’s policy and resources committee put the document out for consultation last month and it is yet to be discussed by the five other area committees before being returned for final approval next year.

The changes will bring Aberdeenshire Council in line with the policy of Aberdeen City Council and Moray Council, meaning there is a blanket policy in place across the three regions.