Managing unauthorised camping by Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland: guidance for local authorities

Practical advice for local authorities on how to manage unauthorised camp sites.

Chapter 4: Local Authority Handling of an Unauthorised Site

41. Unauthorised camping is more frequent in some areas than in others, but all local authorities should be prepared to manage such sites if they occur in their area. Each local authority will already have in place its own procedures and policies for handling unauthorised sites. However we have set out in this chapter a suggested process for responding to an unauthorised site, which can be used as a template, or as a point of reference to assist local authorities with considering their own practice.

42. All procedures for responding to unauthorised sites will need to reflect local circumstances, and the way each authority finds works best in their own situation. The Scottish Government appreciate that local authorities have to address and balance the needs of all members of the community, whether from the Gypsy/Traveller or settled communities.

43. As noted above there are two broad types of site: smaller family groups, and larger working parties. We recommend that local authorities consider in advance how they will respond and manage these two different types of sites. This may involve having similar, but different, procedures for each type of site.

44. This chapter also covers some of the other issues that relate to unauthorised sites, such as large gatherings, waste disposal, and regional co‑ordination.

Initial site visit

45. We recommend local authority officials endeavour to visit an unauthorised site within two working days of becoming aware of it. In most local authority areas there is a designated Gypsy Traveller Liaison Officer ( GTLO) and we suggest it is the GTLO who makes first contact for the local authority with the Gypsy/Travellers on an unauthorised site. Whichever official makes the initial site visit it is important that they have the appropriate experience, training, and skills to carry out such a visit effectively.

46. The main aim of the first visit will be to establish a working relationship with the group with a view to successfully managing the unauthorised site, and to gather information about the site's location, the nature and size of the Gypsy/Traveller group, and their needs and future intentions. If the local authority has a code of conduct for those living on an unauthorised site this can also be highlighted and discussed as part of the initial visit. We suggest it would be useful for a local authority to gather relevant information including:

  • the number of caravans and other vehicles;
  • reason for stay;
  • any health, education or welfare requirements;
  • the condition of the site;
  • plans that those on the site have for their future movement, including how long they plan to stay on the site.

We also suggest that those living on the site are given the details for a single named point of contact in the local authority, who they can approach with any queries.

Decision on response to unauthorised site

47. Once a first visit has been carried out, and information collected, a local authority can make an initial decision on how to manage the site.

48. Decisions taken about managing an unauthorised site must take account of various factors. Evidence of any nuisance or damage being caused by the unauthorised site should be weighed against the needs of the Gypsy/Travellers on the site, particularly any health and welfare needs that have been identified. All decisions should be based on the evidence available and in light of the specific circumstances of each site.

49. If a local authority decides to manage an unauthorised site for a period of time that decision should be kept under review. Regular visits should be made to ensure the welfare needs of the families are being met, and to assess whether those on the site are behaving in line with the guidelines in paragraphs 32, 33, and 68 of this guidance. If the local authority has a code of conduct for those living on unauthorised sites it should make the Gypsy/Travellers aware of the code, and its requirements. Many of the unauthorised sites managed using this approach will move on voluntarily at an agreed date, with minimal disruption for all concerned.

50. If the local authority decides to manage the site it should consider providing bags and bins for recycling and disposal of waste, and assess the need for portable toilet facilities. The GTLO should also contact the appropriate services (such as education and environmental health) to inform them of the site and provide any relevant information.

51. We recommend that local authorities provide Gypsy/ Travellers on an unauthorised site with a single named point of contact who they can approach, normally as part of the initial site visit. This will usually be the GTLO, where the local authority has one in place. Annex B of this guidance provides a list of contact numbers for each local authority in relation to unauthorised sites.

52. If a site is on local authority land it may want to consider taking legal action to reclaim possession of the land in the circumstances below. This list is not exhaustive, and local authorities will need to take their own legal advice on any action. The relevant circumstances are:

  • the unauthorised site is in an unsuitable location (see para 32);
  • there is an intolerable or statutory nuisance to the general public by reason of the size, location, nature or duration of a site;
  • the site is preventing the use of the location for another purpose;
  • a suitable alternative stopping place has been identified, and Gypsy/Travellers have refused to relocate.

53. If a code of conduct has been issued to Gypsy/Travellers on local authority owned land any breaches of the code should be brought to the attention of the Gypsy/Travellers, with a warning that if the breach is not remedied, action to repossess the land will be considered.

Unauthorised sites on private land

54. If the unauthorised site is on private land we recommend an initial visit to the site by the GTLO, or another officer of the local authority. Following this visit we recommend that the local authority then:

  • identifies the support needs of the Gypsy/Travellers on the site, and informs the relevant agencies;
  • provides appropriate advice to the landowner regarding legal options and awareness of Gypsy/Traveller culture;
  • advises the Gypsy/Travellers on the site of the frequency of any future visits the GTLO will make to the site.

55. The local authority may also wish to make regular visits to the site, in discussion with the landowner, to assess the condition of the site and the needs of Gypsy/Travellers living on the site.

Events and other large gatherings by Gypsy/Travellers

56. Large gatherings of Gypsy/Travellers can also occur, and take place for many different reasons. Sometimes these events are on land that is a temporary authorised site, and take place in the same location each year. Such large gatherings will be for a particular purpose, and for a specific period of time (such as 3 days). We recommend that the local authority makes arrangements with the Gypsy/Traveller organising the gathering in advance to plan the event, and discuss any requirements and issues that may arise from hosting such an event, as would be expected by any person organising a large event.

57. This advance planning helps to ensure that facilities such as skips and portable toilets can be provided. It will also allow the local authority to liaise with local police and to ensure that a suitable traffic management strategy is put in place to accommodate an unusually large volume of traffic. The local authority should also inform the local settled community that an event is taking place.

Waste Disposal

58. Accumulation of rubbish and waste can be a common problem associated with unauthorised sites. This can be unsightly, hazardous, and costly to clean up. Prevention of waste and action to remove it should both be part of a local authority's policy for managing unauthorised sites.

59. Fly-tipped materials should not be present on unauthorised sites. Section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 ( EPA) makes it illegal to keep, treat or deposit waste on land without a waste management licence to do so. Section 89 of the EPA places a duty on local authorities to keep their land and roads clear of litter and refuse. It is up to local authorities to decide how they go about fulfilling their duties and what resources they use, providing that they take account of the guidance within the Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse [2] .

60. We recommend that where local authorities arrange regular collection of material from unauthorised sites they also provide recycling facilities. The use of skips or wheelie bins might be appropriate in some locations. These could be cost effective ways of reducing the need to spend money on cleaning up sites - particularly as the build-up of refuse can sometimes act as a magnet for others to fly tip at or near unauthorised sites.

61. Private land owners are responsible for the removal of waste from their land. However, Section 179 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 enables a local planning authority to require the owner and occupier of land to take specific steps to remedy the land's condition, if they consider that it adversely affects the local area.

62. Guidance produced by the Scottish Flytipping Forum ( Flytipping in Scotland: A Guide to Prevention and Enforcement) for local authority and SEPA waste enforcement officers recognises that the owners of flytipped land are the victims of crime. It encourages local authorities and/or SEPA to investigate flytipping on public and private land and to offer assistance. This may be in the form of advice to prevent the problem in the future or help to uplift or dispose of waste if local circumstances allow.

63. Section 59 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 provides local authorities with powers to require the removal of unlawfully deposited waste.

Regional Co-ordination

64. Management of unauthorised sites should not be seen as purely a local issue, as Gypsy/Travellers will move across local authority boundaries as they travel. Local authorities should therefore consider ways to facilitate cross boundary co‑operation. Such co‑operation should look not only at sharing information but also at closer working on responses to unauthorised sites, particularly in areas that have traditional Gypsy/Traveller routes. This might involve partnership working and sharing of local knowledge, expertise and the costs associated with any new approaches to managing unauthorised sites.

Transit Sites and Designated Locations

65. It is for a local authority to decide if they wish to establish a transit site in their area, to assist Gypsy/Travellers with short stays in their area. If a local authority is considering such a move we would encourage it to engage with Gypsy/Travellers to establish if such a site would be used. Such a transit site would be an authorised site established by a local authority for use for short stays.

66. Another approach that has been adopted is to identify particular locations that can be used for unauthorised sites. These are not sites with facilities, but areas of land that the local authority has determined as being suitable for use by Gypsy/Travellers wishing to set up an unauthorised site. Local authorities may want to consider if such an approach would be appropriate in their area.


Email: Ged Millar

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