Give Gypsy Travellers transit sites in Perthshire urges author

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The sell-out speaker at the recent Bookmark festival in Blairgowrie said she had decided to speak out following the stand-off between the authorities and Gypsy Travellers at Broxden in Perth.

Author Jess Smith at the BOOKMARK festival in Blairgowrie
Author Jess Smith at the BOOKMARK festival in Blairgowrie

Blairgowrie Advertiser

A leading Gypsy Traveller spokeswoman has called for the creation of designated sites near Perth for families in transit.

Alleging nimbyism and a lack of “frank communication” with her people, author Jess Smith called for “better mediation and more honesty” from councillors and officials when Gypsy Travellers make temporary encampments in the Big County.

Ms Smith – a sell-out speaker at the recent Bookmark festival in Blairgowrie – said she had decided to speak out following the recent stand-off between the authorities and Gypsy Travellers at Broxden in Perth.

And she claimed current Perth and Kinross councillors are not aware of the deep connection Travelling people have with Perthshire.

Ms Smith, the author of Way of the Wanderers and other books on her Traveller heritage, declared: “I didn’t get to speak to the people who stopped at Broxden, but I read about it.

“I know they would have been aware of the hostility to their presence, but they were only there because there are not other sites they can use.

“Camping at Broxden and under the Friarton bridge is depressing and dangerous but they are faced with little alternative. It saddens me that nowadays people see Gypsy Travellers and immediately think of untaxed cars, stealing and litter. How do you break down this blinkered outlook?

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“The council should send in someone level-headed to speak to them and be honest – tell them there isn’t the money or the will to give them sites.

“Or better, be responsible and offer recognised transit places where Travellers stopping for a week are not behaving ‘illegally’.”

Last month Gypsy Travellers staying in an unauthorised camp at Broxden, on the outskirts of Perth, left after a week.

Perth City Centre councillor Willie Wilson led the drive to get the Gypsy Travellers evicted quickly. He said at the time: “The site is right next door to some of our most prestigious office facilities in the Fair City. I am concerned at the damaging impression the encampment creates and its impact on attracting business to the area.”

The Travellers were served a notice to quit and left without commenting. Security around the area was reinforced after their departure, and satisfaction was expressed that the move would deter them in future.

Amnesty International has also criticised Perth’s politicians for their response.

Mark Bevan, Scotland programme director for Amnesty International, said: “Councillor Wilson’s recent quotes are disturbing as they suggest the settled community has a superior position to the Scottish Gypsy Traveller community.

“This is against the very essence of human rights protections that we are all equal and is, frankly, bordering on discrimination which should have no place in a modern democratic society.”

International headlines reporting the discovery of a young blond old girl with a Roma Gypsy group in Greece have re-opened debate about prejudice towards Gypsy Traveller people.

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However, a PKC spokesperson said: “The council provides a range of assistance to Gypsy Travellers living locally.

“Gypsy Travellers already make use of transient sites across Perth and Kinross and we are in discussion with the Gypsy Traveller community on how we might best support the continuation of that practice, including looking for potential transient sites in and around Perth itself.

“We would encourage any Travellers visiting the area to stop at existing sites rather than making unauthorised encampments.”

Separately, a decision made earlier this month by the council to allow five Gypsy Traveller pitches to be established at Crook of Devon has provoked a backlash from residents.

Members of Fossoway Community Council have sent a letter to senior officials asserting their ‘anguish and disgust’ that 40 letters of objection failed to persuade PKC to stop the planning bid.

The letter said the Gypsy site is not wanted by locals living near the former rubbish tip at Crook Moss, who have previously cited a lack of need for such a development, ground contamination, flood risk and a full primary school as reasons for councillors to think again.

Traveller families who own the land have been living there for around 18 months without a drinking water supply or provision for waste drainage.

Fossoway CC chair Sandy Morrison claimed Gypsy Travellers had been given unfair preference.

Credit:  Melanie Bonn

Written by:  Melanie Bonn

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