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£14m agreed for Travellers’ site

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By Marc McLean, local democracy reporter
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£14m agreed for Travellers’ site

A LONG-awaited redevelopment of a run-down traveller site in Dumfries and Galloway was finally approved last week — at a cost of nearly £14m.

The Collin gypsy/traveller site is to be completely rebuilt at its current location to upgrade living conditions and meet Scottish Government requirements.

However, the issue caused a split between councillors because there is no money available for the £13.8m project.

It will also mean finding temporary accommodation for the residents living in the Thistle Grove part of the site for potentially two years while works are carried out.

At last week’s full council meeting, opposition Labour and SNP elected members teamed up to outvote the Conservative administration and vote through the much-needed rebuild.

Nith Councillor John Campbell, who lives in the village, said: “It’s the right thing to do. We should stop kicking the can down the road. We’ll find the money somehow.”

Discussions over the future of the Collin site have been dragging on for over 30 years, but there has been an urgent need for action in recent years due to the council being flagged for numerous failings there.

In 2018, the Scottish Government published a report which slammed Dumfries and Galloway Council for serious issues of subsidence, structural problems, and dampness in the travellers’ homes.

And residents have made it clear they want to see the whole area properly redeveloped.

So, four options were put forward last week: redevelop the current site for £13.8m, plus decant costs; develop a new site on alternative land (£6.73m); ownership transfer to residents, which all residents opposed; or phased closure of unsafe and unsuitable individual pitches, with continued safe occupation by current tenants (£330,000).

Councillor Maureen Johnstone put forward option four, which was backed by her Conservatives colleagues.

She said: “Residents would continue to live at Thistle Grove and their children would be able to continue going to Collin Primary, and with the proviso that we update the site and modernise facilities that exist on the site, as has been requested by residents.”

However, this did not go far enough for Labour, SNP, and some independents, who insisted it was time to finally address the conditions.

Labour’s Linda Dorward tabled a motion for a full redevelopment, saying: “The benefits are social – and actually benefitting the residents of the site.

“If you look at option four, the benefits are financial savings for the council. There’s nothing there about the residents. There’s no mention of the residents or their welfare.”

SNP Councillor Andy Ferguson said: “If officers had actually talked to the residents formally first, then options two, three, and even four wouldn’t even be on the table.

“It’s as simple as that. They’re very clear that they want option one.

“They are the ones who actually reside in this site. Can we just not forget that this is their home we are talking about.”

Councillors voted 21-18 in favour of redevelopment. Finding the money will now be part of the budget-setting process in 2024/25.

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