By Kirsty Topping
A ROW has broken out in one of Scotland’s most picturesque villages after officials voted to spend £5000 building a gypsy camp on its outskirts.
The Fife fishing village of Crail, which has been described as “one of the glories of Britain”, has been plagued by illegal encampments at a tranquil picnic area traditionally used by respectful dog walkers and tourists.
And residents of the stunning village, where the average home costs £350,000, are furious that instead of evicting the unwelcome visitors, the council plans to turn the idyllic coastal retreat into a permanent home for travellers, complete with a fence and hard standings.
Locals, who say they have suffered thefts and menacing behaviour in the past, say the plot has already become a squalid mess, filled with rubbish and human waste.
They also fear that the tourists the village relies on could be scared away.
Rich holidaymakers flock to soak up the area’s charm and the pretty harbour is one of the most photographed in Scotland.
Villagers claim the existing encampment is already affecting their lives..
Robert Watson, 49, a Crail resident who runs a haulage company near the camp, said he had suffered thefts from his business and anti-social behaviour from travellers in the past.
He said: “I’ve had diesel stolen from a refrigerated trailer in my yard but the police don’t know what to do because they can’t prove it’s them.
“I think it will affect house prices, who would buy a house near them?”
Robert’s niece, who did not want to be named, is behind the petition against the camp.
She claims dog walkers have been menaced by the travellers for daring to go near the site.
“If you go down there they watch you,” she said. “I walked my dog down there and there was a man next to a black van who watched me the whole time, which was really scary.
“Once an old man went down in his car and one of them got an axe out of his van and just stood there holding it.”
Jason Hutcheson, 32, a long-distance lorry driver who lives near the site said he had also suffered thefts from his property and said he was now thinking of moving.
He said: “The council is pretty much rewarding them.
“I’m in a rented cottage but my girlfriend wants to move out and one of the reasons is the travellers.
“She doesn’t like being on her own in the house when I’m away driving.”
He added that the camp could spell the death-knell for the village’s tourist trade.
“It’s going to have a detrimental effect on the village; visitors will stop coming and that’s what keeps the village alive,” he said.
Pensioner Jean Sinclair, 80, said she now keeps all her doors locked.
“I just feel that they do nothing, they go in there and they make the place like a midden and they don’t really appreciate anything,” she said.
“When they are out there, they don’t look after it and it’s going to be the ratepayer’s money that’s going to get used to clean it up.”
But the council has defended their decision to establish the camp, claiming in an official document: “The failure to establish stopover sites may have a negative impact on the council’s ability to seek an eviction order from Sheriff or High Courts to remove gypsy travellers from unauthorised encampments.”
John Mills, a senior manager at Fife council, said: “The creation of these stopover sites is extremely important and throughout the process we’ve listened to the local community in Crail and taken on board concerns they’ve raised.
“The council has also agreed to set up a local liaison group involving the local community to oversee the management of the stopover site. The next step is to seek a temporary planning consent to move the proposal forward.
“There will be a further opportunity for local people to raise concerns through the planning process.”
Gypsy representatives said authorised sites were vital to give travellers somewhere to stay.
Joseph Jones from the Gypsy Council said: “What people need to remember is that gypsies and travellers need somewhere to live.
“If the people of Fife don’t want to see people living by the side of the road, or elsewhere, then they don’t have any moral objection to a proper site. They can’t have it both ways.”