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Failure to upgrade travellers’ site is ‘scandal’

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By Marc McLean, local democracy reporter
Front
Failure to upgrade travellers’ site is ‘scandal’

A FAILURE by Dumfries and Galloway Council to drastically improve living standards at a traveller site has this week been described as an “absolute scandal”.

The Collin gypsy/traveller site is in need of significant investment to upgrade living conditions, improve health and safety, and meet Scottish Government requirements.

This remedial work was estimated at £8m four years ago and an options appraisal was to be carried out to consider the best course of action.

However, the council is no further forward – which has angered North West Dumfries Councillor Andy Ferguson.

Speaking at the communities committee on Tuesday, Councillor Ferguson said: “I wonder what would have happened if this development had to be somewhere else other than the gypsy/travellers site. Would we still be dragging our feet?

“This is a long, drawn-out saga. It goes back 30-odd years.

“Total, total disregard for people’s livelihoods, the conditions they live in, and everything else.

“It’s an absolute scandal. It needs to be sorted – and it needs to be sorted quickly.”

Council governance officer Vlad Valiente said: “It’s actually quite a complex matter that we have to look at, with various factors including human rights within that, and ensure that before we take anything back to members, we have a robust options appraisal for members to take decisions upon.”

Mr Valiente explained that the matter will go before the council leaders’ panel and there will also be a councillors’ seminar so that all options can be discussed before it goes back to the committee.

But Mr Ferguson said: “I’m afraid we’ve not got time here. We were almost under special measures (from the government) over it, and we managed to work our way through that by promising to get things done quickly.

“I do know that officers have been on a working group with the Scottish Government, and they changed the goalposts to be fair.

“But they changed the goalposts a couple of years ago, not yesterday.

“We need to move things forward quickly.”

Councillor Ian Blake, the new communities committee chairman, said: “You have raised it now and you have a commitment from Vlad that we will certainly look at the situation, and try to progress it.”

In 2018, the Scottish Government published a report which slammed numerous councils for their poor operation of gypsy/traveller sites.

It highlighted significant failings band called for urgent action to be taken.

Issues identified included problems with walls, roofs, dampness and subsidence, meaning that some pitches were out of use, as well as a lack of smoke/heat alarms.

On Collin, the report said: “The council told us that the blocks currently keep out water but, as there is subsidence on the site, there is evidence of structural problems. A number of pitches are currently out of use because of the subsidence issues.”

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