Bid to evict traveller camp in Glenrothes

Fife Council has sought the power to remove the latest encampment of gypsy travellers from Bumblebee Park.
Fife Council has sought the power to remove the latest encampment of gypsy travellers from Bumblebee Park.

Fife Council is seeking permission to take legal action to evict travellers who have set up camp on public land in Glenrothes.

The local authority was confident it would be given the go-ahead to start legal proceedings today (Tuesday), after several vehicles pitched up on open land in Caskieberran known locally as Bumblebee Park.

The policy seeks to ensure that gypsy travellers respect the rights of the business and settled communities in Fife, as well as a recognition of their legal rights to roam

John Mills, head of housing services

The site, off Boblingen Way and close to a residential area, is the first illegal traveller encampment in the town since the Council’s announcement in March that it had failed to secure an adequate temporary traveller camp area and was therefore scrapping the plans for the foreseeable future.

Council officers had considered several potential areas in Glenrothes as well as a former Council depot site in Thornton, but none were deemed suitable.

The Council’s site consideration was met with widespread and vociferous opposition by communities and businesses who called for sites to be set up out-with the area.

John Mills, head of housing services, said: “The Council has started legal proceedings to remove the gypsy travellers from Bumblebee Park and should receive removal orders today.

“We will continue to proactively work to ensure that unauthorised gypsy traveller encampments meet the requirements of the Fife Co-operation Policy.

“The policy seeks to ensure that gypsy travellers respect the rights of the business and settled communities in Fife, as well as a recognition of their legal rights to roam.”

The town saw 13 illegal encampments in 2014, costing the council an estimated £45,000 in legal fees and clean up bills.

The traveller community passes through the town between March and October.

Mr Mills, who oversaw previous attempts to find a suitable site as part of the Fife authority’s legal obligation, said the process of locating a seasonal site will take place again and is expected to report to the Executive Committee later in the year.

David Ross, leader of Fife Council, said in March that the Council was bracing itself for a repeat of the problems encountered last year after site plans were scrapped.

But he pledged that he would continue to press the Lord Advocate’s office and the police to ensure appropriate enforcement action is taken over problems caused by unauthorised encampments.

Legal loophole ties the hands of Councils

As the law stands, councils are severely restricted in combating the problem of traveller sites in their area as there is no specific law in place in Scotland to deal with unauthorised encampments.

The 150-year-old Trespass (Scotland) Act 1865 can deem it an offence to set up a site without permission, but police are bound by guidelines issued by the Lord Advocate in 2004 that there is a presumption against prosecution of travellers for such a crime.

That effectively means officers have no legal right or authority to clear illicit sites or move travellers from land and to do so would be unlawful.

It’s a legislative loophole that the now-retired Glenrothes MP Lindsay Roy has long since been calling to be closed.

According to an independent report last year between 2004 and 2014 there had been 2868 illegal encampments set up in Scotland at an estimated cost of around £13.6 million to the tax payer.

However, this cost is thought to be much higher as 10 of the 32 councils in Scotland could not supply records detailing the cost incurred over the decade-long period.