More than two thirds of Gypsy Travellers are not satisfied with Fife Council’s management of their sites across the region, new figures have confirmed.
Frustration is still evident at the three sites which have the local authority as landlord – Tarvit Mill in Cupar, Heatherywood near Kirkcaldy and Thornton Wood near Kelty – despite Fife Council’s commitment to invest £2 million in facilities in recent years.
A report to Fife’s community and housing services committee revealed that just 31.58% of Gypsy Travellers were content with how the council was performing as landlord – far below the Scottish average of more than 78%.
Now the local authority’s head of housing John Mills has vowed that things will improve for the families living at the designated permanent sites, with the council setting an ambitious target of 70% tenant satisfaction come 2021/22.
“I’ve taken personal responsibility to really focus on this issue, and we’re unique in that we’ve got three active tenants and residents associations at these sites,” he said.
“So we’re in regular dialogue with Gypsy Travellers in Fife about the accommodation options that they want to see.”
The council manages 20 pitches at Tarvit Mill, 18 at Heatherywood and 12 at Thornton Wood, and each pitch has hardstanding for parking a caravan and another vehicle, an amenity block with toilet, shower and bath, a kitchen area, hot and cold water, and storage.
There is also a mixture of self-contained caravans and chalet-style accommodation, and users of the site must pay rent and council tax.
Reasons for the poor satisfaction levels include the condition of the pitches, a lack of accommodation, and the fact that site improvements had been few and far between, although £800,000 worth of improvements have been approved per site in recent years.
Mr Mills pointed out that the transfer of Gypsy Traveller sites and services over to the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) instead of the General Fund should make a significant difference moving forward, as the council will have more control in sustaining a suitable level of investment.
“Opening up HRA potential is probably the number one priority for us just now, just shading homeless temporary accommodation,” he said.
News of the situation in Fife comes as the Scottish Government announced strengthened guidance for local authorities to better address the needs of Gypsy Travellers.
The refreshed Local Housing Strategy Guidance requires councils to increase engagement with the Gypsy Traveller community to ensure their voices are heard so that standards can be improved and current and future accommodation needs are met.
Housing minister Kevin Stewart said: “We are determined to work closely with the Gypsy Traveller community and to hear from them so we can better meet their needs, and improve the quality of life for members of the community.”