Council urged to find new travellers’ site

Demands are being made for Scottish Borders Council officers to identify an alternative site for travellers to the one currently occupied at Selkirk’s Victoria Park.

By Paul Kelly
Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 3:47 pm
Victoria Park caravan site at Selkirk.
Victoria Park caravan site at Selkirk.

On guidance from the Scottish Government, the council has provided use of the caravan park free of charge to a group of travellers since the coronavirus lockdown began in March in an attempt to persuade them not to move on and potentially risk spreading the disease.

That’s a decision unsettling some townsfolk, though, and they are questioning why travellers are able to stay on the site, equipped with a currently-closed indoor swimming pool, but holidaymakers are not.

Concerns have also been raised over litter at the park, in addition to some locals suggesting the recent arrivals might be to blame for alleged thefts and burglaries, though no evidence has been produced to back up that claim.

At a meeting of Selkirk Community Council held this week via video-link, community councillor David Deacon argued that the caravan park is too close to the local population and that the regional council should identify a more appropriate site for travellers.

He said: “What have Scottish Borders Council done to avoid the recurrence of this issue with the travelling community?

“Have they identified a new site that is not in the community and that is not affecting services such as the swimming pool and is not affecting the youth club getting back on the pitch.

“This was meant to be temporary, but it has been going on a long time now, and we don’t seem to be going forward.

“I think Selkirk deserves a bit better than that from the council. If this ever happens again, which it probably will, the council needs to identify areas that are not in the general public population because we have seen the problems that it is causing.”

Selkirkshire councillor Gordon Edgar said no alternative location was currently available, explaining: “Victoria Park is the only site the council has any control over in the Borders, and the Scottish Government determines that the local council must provide facilities to keep them stationary. That’s electricity, water, showers.

“It is paid for by the Scottish Government because they have legislated that has to be provided.

“It was a temporary measure as long as Covid regulations were in place. Once the Covid regulations have been lifted, the management will get back into the swimming pool and they will open the caravan park for members of the public.

“The council does not provide another site anywhere in the Borders. There is one in Innerleithen which is attached to a private site, but it’s a wee bit out of date and not designed for the large caravans that are being used at the moment, and it is also full.”

Mr Edgar added: “The travelling community have specific problems and by monitoring them in the present position, we have managed to sort out a few of the problems and get them to comply with our living conditions, if you like.”

Community councillor Sue Bremner said: “At no point has the Selkirk community been involved. I thought, perhaps idealistically, we could maybe have some say or have a reciprocal arrangement, so if the travellers were going to settle with us for an undetermined time, they would have a social responsibility to the town.

“That means they could be held responsible for what some of them are doing because obviously there is good and bad in every form of community.

“They choose to live the way they do, but can’t they choose to live by our rules when they are living in our community?”

Mr Edgar said: “I get complaints all the time about the mess and I go along and I ask them to tidy up, and they tidy up, but it’s not always the travelling people who distribute the litter.

“Burglaries are a matter for the police, but there’s an understanding that travelling people will not carry out such activities in the area they are in. If you have evidence, it should be passed to the police.”

Community council secretary Kirsty Lovatt urged caution over stigmatising the travelling community, saying: “I am very concerned that a lot of the information we are receiving is second and third-hand, and I am well aware that the travelling community faces a lot of stigma and backlash.

“I’d be wary of blaming them for every theft or burglary.”