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Local Authority Sites for Travellers - Research Findings

DescriptionThe survey described in this report was commissioned to provide an up-to-date picture of sites across Scotland from the public providers' local authorities' perspective.
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateJanuary 27, 1999
Development Department Research Programme Research Findings No 33 (1997)
Local Authority Sites for Travellers
Anne Douglas
ISBN 0-7480-6207-6Publisher The Scottish Office
Since 1971 The Scottish Office has made available grants to local authorities to establish or upgrade sites for Travellers. The Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on Travelling People in Scotland has provided guidance to local authorities on site provision and management. Also on the advice of the Advisory Committee, the Secretary of State has set targets for the number of pitches to be provided in each local authority area, either on sites owned by local authorities or on those owned by private operators. Local authority sites now provide about two-thirds of all pitches available to Travellers in Scotland. The survey described in this report was commissioned to provide an up-to-date picture of sites across Scotland from the public providers' Local authorities') perspective.
Key Findings
  • There are a total of 34 local authority sites for Travellers in Scotland; 3 of them are seasonal and the remaining 31 are open all year Sites have been developed and opened since 1980 with 14 of the original sites upgraded and 2 replaced.
  • Most sites have achieved a high overall standard; about one-third of site managers rated the overall standard of their sites as very good, and a further one-third as good.
  • The level of site occupancy was generally good; three quarters of sites were more than 50% full all year, and two thirds were at east 90% full all year. On the 31 all-year sites most of the residents only leave the sites for limited periods associated with holidays or economic activity.
  • Site management is generally most effective when the manager is located on the site and is either full time or there is 24-hour cover. The majority of managers do not live on site; most have duties off-site, generally also concerned with travellers
  • Allowing individual managers discretion in the letting of pitches is thought essential to successful site management; this flexible approach is already the norm.
  • 60% of site managers expressed concerns about possible threats to their own personal security on the sites.
  • 60% of site managers described relations between site residents and the local communities as good or very good.
Site Characteristics
The number of pitches on sites varied from ~ to 36; just under a third had 20 pitches. The majority of sites allowed residents up to two trailers per pitch.
Pitches were surfaced with a variety of materials. Problems were reported at all sites where chips or gravel were used. Hard surfaces such as concrete or monoblock were seen as easier to maintain and to contribute to a tidy site appearance.
Many sites combined natural features such as hedges and bankings with fencing to provide site boundaries. Individual pitches were most commonly separated by low level tubular steel fencing but thus was often associated with difficulties of litter movement between pitches.
The Table below shows which were the most common uses of land adjacent to sites (more than one use was common).

Land Uses

% of Sites









Railway Lines


Council Refuse Tip






Relations between site residents and the local communities were described (by site managers) as good or very good at 60% of sites. Where relationships had changed over time, improvements were reported in three quarters of cases.
Information was collected on the amenity units, that us the buildings on sites which house facilities for washing and bathrooms for residents' individual use. Only two sites have units of non-traditional construction. The most common arrangement was semi-detached units but half the sites had at least some detached units and six sites had larger groupings.
Units typically included a W.C., a bath or shower a wash-hand basin, and a sink. A number of sites also had some or all of the following in their units:
worktops, cupboards, heating, washing machine, and a drainage link for connection to trailers.
All pitches had facilities for connection of electricity to trailers and the vast majority had outside taps at the units. Three sites had communal telephone lines to which residents could link up and two of the sites had drainage connections for trailers.
The survey revealed 29 different arrangements for fire fighting facilities on sites but all sites had been approved by the local Fire Authority. Facilities such as hose reels and extinguishers were often subject to vandalism.
Social/community facilities on sites were limited. Only 18% of sites had play equipment arid 15% had play caravans or similar accommodation.
Just over half of the sites had pay phones set at British Telecom rates. Two sites had had pay phones removed with residents' agreement and two sites were planning to install pay phones. The majority of sites had at least some residents with private phone lines and 85% of sites had some residents with mobile phones.
Residents had access within walking distance to a normal bus service at nearly 9 in every 10 sites. Distances to local amenities including shops, doctors
surgery and post office ranged from 200 yards to 5 miles. Almost a third of sites had access to a local library or were visited by a mobile library on request.
On the whole, primary school attendance by residents' children was good and secondary school attendance was poor. Special links with local schools were reported at just under half the sites but there was no correlation with school attendance. The activities of the site manager in promoting school attendance seemed to be the most influential factor.
Only a minority of sites had involved local Travellers in site development although almost a third of respondents said that they had involved Travellers by consulting representatives from the Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on Travelling People in Scotland. Three sites had succeeded in establishing residents' groups and the majority of managers reported regular informal discussion with residents.
In contrast to the letting of council dwellings the policies on letting of pitches were generally flexible and allowed managers considerable discretion. There was a strong consensus amongst managers and senior officers that this approach was essential to successful site management.
Almost half of the sites had an active waiting list but less than a third had high turnover of pitches. Three-quarters of sites were, on average, more than 50% full all year and two-thirds of sites were at least
90% full all year. However the average occupancy level per annum at 3 sites was below 10%. In general the number of Travellers housed in council housing from local authority sites was low.
Only 5 of the site managers lived on the sites. Managers' duties typically included lettings, repairs reporting, and estate management. Many were also responsible for rent collection, sale of electricity, and liaison with other departments or agencies. A minority also had responsibility for site budgets, staff supervision, or site maintenance. The majority of managers also had duties off site, usually related to Travelling People within the council boundaries.
60% of site managers expressed concerns about possible threats to their own personal security on the sites; existing security provisions varied from no arrangements to personal alarms linked directly to the local police.
An entrance barrier to the site was the most common security measure on sites but their effectiveness varied greatly. Relations with the local police (which ranged from poor to excellent) strongly influenced managers' views on personal security.
Back-up was generally available from a senior officer. Arrangements for out-of-hours cover included the Council's emergency phone number, on-call services, relief managers, and 24 hours staff presence on site.
Evictions were relatively rare. Although proceedings had been started on 18 occasions there had only been 3 evictions in the past 3 years. Almost three quarters of sites had some form of complaints procedure.
The average pitch rent was £36.42 per week, compared to the average council house rent in those authorities of £31.87 per week. Housing Benefit was being paid to all residents at nearly three-quarters of the sites. (The proportion of these councils' tenants on housing benefit ranged from 40% to 81%.)
As well as obtaining details of the sites through interviewing site managers and council officials (and through personal observation), the researcher also sought from the same sources some details about the residents; residents were not themselves interviewed.
On the 31 all-year sites, most of the residents only leave the sites for limited periods associated with holidays or economic activity. Changes in residents' characteristics over time were attributed either to people leaving sites after severe vandalism or alleged intimidation of residents by non-resident Travellers. (At a few sites vandalism had been so extensive that sites had been completely destroyed.)
Most sites had a mix of larger and smaller households; none were overwhelmingly made up of
single persons or of large families. Children under 16 made up nearly two-fifths of all residents. Many residents are related across and within generations.
More than half of the permanent residents on local authority sites were thought to be unemployed. The most common traditional occupations of site residents included scrap-metal trading and landscape gardening; hawking and seasonal farming were thought to have become less common. Almost all of the sites did not allow residents to work on the site.
At four-fifths of sites, managers thought that residents viewed the sites as good or very good. They thought that only 2 sites were regarded as poor (one because of its location, the other because it needed upgrading).
Site managers' rating of the overall standard of sites was high.
13 sites were rated Very Good
11 sites were rated Good
6 sites were rated Adequate
4 sites were rated Poor
Upgradings were also successful with only 2 upgradings rated as poor.
Particularly good site features included locations which were pleasant and quiet and gave residents privacy, and good site layout.
A flexible management style, where managers had discretion to apply individual solutions to the problems they faced, was identified as contributing to successful management. Residential management or 24 hour staffing was seen as a major factor in good management at 8 of the sites.
Weaknesses in site characteristics were more varied but included the use of gravel or chips as a surface material, problems with ground conditions, lack of local amenities or facilities on site, and poor access roads.
In management terms, the main weaknesses related to concerns over personal security for managers, particularly where local office back-up was not adequate or where the local police response to requests for assistance was not good enough.
About the Study
The survey was conducted between May 1996 and September 1996 by Anne Douglas of Douglas Consultancy, Housing and Social Policy Advisors.
The study methodology consisted of a series of face to face interviews with site managers and senior officers from each of the 34 local authority sites. In addition, each site was inspected and photographed.
"Local Authority Sites for Travellers", the research report summarised in this Research Findings, may be purchased (price £5 per copy).
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This Research Findings may be photocopied, or further copies may be obtained from:
The Scottish Office Central Research Unit
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