Black’s Blog: Travellers - let’s get this right

Jimmy_Black_SNPCllr Jimmy Black attends a seminar in Perth to launch a series of good practice books on travellers’ sites.

Theory is easy, real decisions are not. The Scottish Government is working on a new strategy for travelling people; COSLA is wholly behind it; and everyone will pay lip service to it. In short, there should be a range of sites for travelling people. They should generally be small … around five pitches in some cases … and there should be several. There should be room for vehicles and working equipment.

Some should be permanent, for those who no longer travel but still remain part of their community. Some should be well equipped transit sites, with water, electricity, showers and toilets, separate food preparation areas. And some should be for very short stays, with basic amenities such as water, sanitation and electricity, with rubbish collections and not much else.

New guidance says we have to plan for the housing needs of the whole population, including travellers. Housing Needs Demand Studies must take travellers into account. So should local plans.

I’m a local councillor. Would I have any kind of a travellers’ site in my ward? Yes, I would. Find a site in Coldside which works well in planning terms, and I’d be fine with it. The ideal thing would be for travellers to acquire a site, apply for planning permission and set it up themselves; but councils can also create sites.

Councillors need to do many unpopular things. Sometimes we close schools, or set up homeless hostels in areas where they are not wanted. If we get these things right, and treat the local community with respect, then people come to accept them. There was a huge protest about a new homeless hostel in my ward a few years ago. Since then, I have had no complaints about its operation. Absolutely none.

It takes a wee bit of bottle to set up a travellers site. But across Scotland we need to face this challenge, because of the increasingly bitter disputes over unauthorised encampments, the cost of clearing these up, time spent in the courts and the bad publicity. In my view, its worse to be seen as helpless and hopeless than it is to take action and sort the problem.

Scottish Government Minister Marco Biagi, speaking at a pas seminar in Perth, called on councillors to show leadership on travellers’ issues. pas on the same day published an excellent series of handbooks on policy and practice for local authorities, councillors and for travelling people themselves. Look them up - they’re here.

Councillor Jimmy Black is a former convener of Housing at Dundee City Council, and writes here in a personal capacity.

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