Gipsies demand for land-grab law sparks fury
MSPs urged to back right-to-buy law
Scottish Daily Mail, 22nd June 2005
Gipsy travellers yesterday demanded a 'right-to-buy' law to force Councils to
help them buy land for camps. The move would see them gain community ownership
of land similar to that granted to crofters in the Highlands and Islands. It
would also let them apply for home improvement grants. More than £1 million of
tax-payers' money has been lavished on gipsies and travellers in Scotland in the
past year. Right-to-buy laws for crofters have proved highly controversial and
paved the way for so-called 'hostile land-grabs'. In such cases, the legislation
has given crofters the right to try to buy the land they farm - even where the
owner does not want to sell it. A similar scheme for gipsy travellers would
prove even more controversial.
Yesterday, gipsy leaders met MSPs to call for new laws that would make local
authorities earmark land for sale to travelling families. However, last night
Tory MSP Ted Brocklebank said the proposals should not result in taxpayers
paying more to fund gipsy traveller sites. He added: "I don't see why society
should pay for or support then in that way. They should be treated with the same
respect and abide by the same rules as other people."
The travellers' campaign is bound to increase fears that communities blighted by
illegal encampments will be helpless to block permanent sites. The proposal also
follows concerns raised last week that police are refusing to remove travellers
from unauthorised sites amid fears of breaching new harassment guidelines.
MSPs last night backed the right-to-buy plan after travellers' groups addressed
members of Holyrood's Equal Opportunities Committee.
Andrew Ryder, of the Gipsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition, said Scotland
should guarantee travellers' rights by taking similar steps to those at
Westminster. Plans have been drawn up in England to designate gipsy lodgings as
permanent homes thus preventing gipsies from being moved on. Mr Ryder said:
"There is a need for an obligation for Councils to identify land travellers can
buy." There are 32 sites across Scotland which Councils have set aside for use
by the country's 2,000 travelling people.
Meanwhile, the number of illegal travellers' camps in Scotland has soared.
Earlier this month, travellers set up an illegal camp in Dollar,
Clackmannanshire. One concerned resident, who had to call police to move them
on, last night expressed horror at the prospect of a gipsy land-grab. He said:
"This opens up the possibility of travellers profiteering at the expense of
legitimate landowners. They could simply pick a prime site, set up camp then
demand public funds to buy it at a knockdown price. And the landowner could do
nothing about it. It's outrageous."
Such sites have doubled in the past three years, with travellers' groups saying
they have no option but to set up unauthorised encampments because facilities on
official Council sites are inadequate.
The Gipsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition is drafting proposed legislation
that could be introduced through a Member's Bill or be attached to existing
proposals, such as the Scottish Executive's proposed housing legislation.
Liberal Democrat MSP Nora Radcliffe who sits on the Equal Opportunity Committee
said it was likely committee members would now table amendments to the
Executive's Housing Bill to give gipsy travellers rights to a permanent home.
She said: "The Bill could be amended to redefine what is meant by a home. Gipsy
caravans could be redefined as permanent home, which would open up the way for
them getting things such as home improvement grants. It would change the way
they are treated, giving them the same rights as any home dweller."
Sandra White, a Nationalist MSP and committee member, said she would support any
moves to give travellers the right to buy land.
Mr Ryder said it was unacceptable that many traveller sites were located next to
motorway flyovers or rubbish dumps. He added: "It is a disgrace that inn the
21st century we are corralling people to live in such marginal spaces. Decent
sites are the key to improved education and healthcare and the key to increasing
MSPs on the committee yesterday heard from gipsy travellers who said that
bullying against young members of the community was not being taken seriously
enough in schools. The committee hearing coincided with the publication of a
report by Save the Children (Scotland) that found 92 percent of young
travellers, some as young as seven, had been bullied because of their cultural
To contact the UK and Ireland Gipsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition
or visit the website:
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