Taxpayers facing eviction bill in renewed bid to shift travellers

Travellers occuply a strip of land at Skateraw. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Travellers occuply a strip of land at Skateraw. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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TAXPAYERS face another bill as a council is set to be forced to go to court to shift travellers from an East Lothian beauty spot – the second such action in a month.

Lawyers for the council will today ask the sheriff for an eviction notice after around 12 caravans were spotted in 
Skateraw .

The Evening News reported last month how the council faced clean-up costs after travellers occupied Shinty Field – part of the Levenhall Links in Musselburgh and famed for bird watching.

SNP councillor Paul McLennan for Dunbar and East Linton said travellers have been setting up camp in the area for more than a decade.

“It’s been an issue in these parts for a long number of years and the council does try and engage with people quite actively.

“The council or the police having a chat is the first port of call before they take civil action. They speak to people first and foremost.”

Cllr McLennan said constituents have been raising problems with him of travellers in the ward in his 11 years representing the ward.

“A lot of reports are about the mess – people don’t mind, as such, travellers but there’s quite often mess,” he said.

Cllr McLennan estimated enforcement action and clean-up costs to the taxpayer relating to travellers of up to £50,000 over the last few years.

The authority’s rural coastal setting is believed to be a pull for families within the travelling community.

“Sometimes sites are down by the beaches, we’ve had issues on car parks down there,” said Cllr McLennan. “That and there’s open spaces to access.”

Councillors are understood to have been in talks over recent years with colleagues in Midlothian to set up a permanent site for travellers.

No constituents have complained about the Skateraw site to Cllr McLennan but he was made aware of another camp near Belhaven Bay six weeks ago.

“For me it’s all about dialogue rather than being heavy-handed,” said Cllr McLennan. “But there’s always a case for civil action once you’ve gone down that route.

“If people would like a permanent site, then we’ll try and help with that. It’s an issue across the whole of the UK.”

Labour councillor Norman Hampshire said workers at the nearby Torness Nuclear Power Station had reported the 
travellers at Skateraw. “People working in the power station use it as a cycle way and registered a complaint that they’d parked in the road and they felt a bit intimidated.

“It’s an ongoing thing at different locations across East Lothian as every time they just move to a different location.

“It’s quite costly and it’s frustrating the public blame the council for not dealing with them quicker but there’s a legal process we have to go through before we can take action.”

A spokeswoman for East Lothian Council said: “The group were served with court papers by Sheriff Officer on Saturday. Our lawyer will be seeking a decree for eviction at the court hearing.”

andy.shipley@edinburghnews.com