Taxpayer coughs up after council is forced to clean up travellers’ excrement

George Higgs of Newtown St Boswells who will received a MBE from the Queen this year for his work in equal oppertunities in the Borders.
George Higgs of Newtown St Boswells who will received a MBE from the Queen this year for his work in equal oppertunities in the Borders.

COUNCIL workers were forced to clean up human excrement from an unauthorised traveller’s site in the Borders at a cost to the taxpayer of £750.

The disgusting discovery was made after a group of around 10 caravans stayed on land in Tweedbank Industrial Estate in July 2011.

The cost of the clean-up was revealed in a Freedom of Information response by Scottish Borders Council this month.

An SBC spokesperson said its staff had to wear body spill kits to safely uplift the human waste from the area, which is near the entrance to Tweedbank Sports Centre.

George Higgs MBE, chair of the Borders Equality Forum, said this group’s actions were not representative of the common gypsy or traveller.

He told TheSouthern: “This was a very unusual incident in the years I have been involved with travellers.

“But we did have trouble with this group, which was one of the largest we have seen in the area. They had nothing to do with St Boswells Fair.

“There is a big difference between traditional gypsies and travellers and this group were travellers.

“It was an unpleasant case and a negative experience dealing with them. Thankfully this group has not passed through the region since.

“Sixty per cent of the travellers who pass through the Borders are regular visitors and that helps as we get to know them.”

But Robert Oxley, campaign manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, criticised the use of council cash to pay for the clean-up.

He said: “It is unfair that taxpayers are being stung twice; once to pay for legal pitches and again when travellers pitch their own camp and create mess.

“With budgets stretched, the last thing that local authorities need is the added burden of clean-up costs because of the irresponsible behaviour of some travellers.

“Law-abiding taxpayers will find it particularly galling that they are paying to mop up while those dumping waste seem to go unchallenged.”

Jim Torrance, Melrose and Leaderdale councillor and a former Tweedbank community councillor, believes SBC had no choice but to pay for the removal of the human waste.

He told us: “It seems to be trouble just with this one group. The others who visit the site, although they are not meant to be there, do tidy up after themselves.

“Ideally, they would not be in that area at all as it is not an official site.

“The police do check on them regularly, but the problem is a warrant to move them takes around four or five days to process and is costly, and by that time the travellers have often moved on.

“It is hoped the site can be turned into a picnic area, with plans to put big boulders along the road to stop vehicles driving in. But we can’t do that if this incident is repeated.”

In total, SBC spent £3,740 on gypsys and travellers from 2008 to 2011.

Outwith the lifting of human excrement, the remaining costs were associated with providing toilets for St Boswells Fair.

The council spokesperson told TheSouthern: “The council encourages travellers to the region to use the authorised site in Innerleithen, which has dedicated pitches.

“However, some of the travellers choose to set up other encampments elsewhere for a short period of time as they travel through the region seeking employment and attending the annual St Boswells Fair.

“The council works with travellers to offer support and advice when they visit the Borders. For example, the council provides black bags, and refuse lorries uplift general waste from unauthorised sites whilst in the area on their regular rounds.”