Controversial proposals by Fife Council to set up a stopover site for travelling people at a beauty spot in Crail have come under scrutiny at a public meeting in the East Neuk village.
The local authority is at present canvassing the public across Fife for their views over plans to introduce stopover areas at Kilminning in Crail and also at Cardenden, Cairneyhill and Crossgates in a bid to address the thorny problem of illegal encampments.
This week’s meeting in Crail Town Hall - the second to be held for local residents over the past month - was attended by around 20 people, some of whom gave the council’s plan a hostile reception.
The meeting was also attended by Donald Macgregor and Mike Scott-Hayward two local Fife councillors, and chaired by Dr Jack Jarvis, chairman of Crail and District Community Council. It was addressed by John Mills, the authority’s housing management and homeless senior manager, and Ruth Gibson, housing manager (special needs).
Travellers have been using the Kilminning picnic site at Crail as an illegal encampment for a number of years - in particular from early spring through to September - much to the anger of local people who cite many problems, including debris littering the area and dogs running loose.
The meetings in Crail are part of the council’s public information sessions to listen to the concerns of residents across Fife over the plans to develop stopover sites.
Council officials maintain there is potential for a few areas of the Kilminning site on the edges of the village to be utilised as an official stopover location, although a full survey will have to be completed.
Explaining the process and legal framework, Mr Mills said that the Racial Equality Act (Scotland 2003) does not allow police or the local authority to move travellers on from any public area, unless there has been a criminal offence.
However, Fife Council has submitted a paper to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers calling for more powers to take enforcement action when travellers set up any illegal camp.
The introduction of authorised stopover sites would make it possible to move travellers on once they were full.
At the Crail meeting, opinions seemed to be largely against establishing a stopover site, although it was tempered by the view of others that a controlled and secluded area - well away from the coastal path and SSSI - would be an alternative, but with adequate facilities and properly managed.
Speaking after the meeting, Dr Jarvis said:”It was helpful and the officials informed us fully. It is fair to say that most people present were opposed to travellers being at Kilminning and felt that the law had to be strengthened. It is possible, however, that an authorised temporary stopover site might allow Fife Council slightly more power to manage the site effectively.”
A report by officials will come before the Housing and Communities Committee in August when the options for all four areas being consulted on will be debated.