Byline: Graham Grant and Mark Howarth
GIPSIES are to be given legal permission to set up campsites anywhere in Scotland - without fear of police interference.
Ministers have sparked fury after ruling that the 'human rights' of travellers must take precedence over those of ordinary Scots.
Scores of communities are blighted every year by illegal camps that spring up in open defiance of the law.
But Stewart Stevenson, SNP Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, has now decreed that gipsies must be allowed to set up home wherever they choose - even if their camps pose a risk to public health or the environment.
Critics last night warned that the move could lead to a 'proliferation of illegal campsites' across the country.
Matthew Elliott, of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'This is an absolute outrage. The SNP is putting the needs of gipsies before those of ordinary taxpayers who pay to keep their communities in good order.
'To flout planning, public health and property laws simply because limiting their movement may not comply with ridiculous human rights legislation is misguided, aggravating and could end in disaster.'
Councils are due to be handed new 'rapid reaction' powers next month to stop illegal encampments taking root. Temporary Stop Notices (TSNs) will allow councils to put an immediate halt to any home-building which has begun without planning permission. They will prevent activity on a plot of land for 28 days while officials investigate.
The TSNs are coming into force after lying dormant on the statute book for two years - but ministers have made gipsies effectively exempt.
Illegally parked caravans will now be untouchable, even if the camp puts the local community at risk of disease, rips up Green Belt land or puts playing fields beyond use.
A memorandum attached to the new legislation by Mr Stevenson reveals: 'The draft regulations included a provision that, where it was considered that there was a "compelling" need to require the removal of the caravan in the interests of public health or preventing damage to the environment or amenity, a TSN could be served.
'This provision has been dropped following further consideration and concern that it may not be compliant with human rights legislation.' TSNs were introduced by the UK Government specifically to combat travellers' abuse of planning law.
Introducing the legislation in 2004, Housing Minister Keith Hill said: 'We must act to stop the scourge of unauthorised sites which can blight local communities. Local councils have asked us to empower them to deal with this problem, so that's exactly what we are doing.'
In England and Wales, the law was modified to exclude caravans in 2005 - because gipsies claimed they were being unfairly treated.
But caveats were built into the legislation to protect local communities. A TSN can still be served on a caravan if poor sanitation threatens to pollute water supplies or if the camp poses a danger to traffic, protected habitats or historic sites.
The SNP's dilution of the scope of TSNs means householders here will be afforded no such protection.
Edinburgh Pentlands Tory MSP David McLetchie said: 'It is very odd that the way in which the human rights of travellers take precedence in Scotland doesn't seem to apply in England and Wales. …