IF some of the other minority groups faced the same levels of discrimination and inequality experienced by Scotland’s Gypsy/Travellers, it would be deemed unacceptable.

Yet, as a nation, we’ve systematically failed to provide a level playing field for a group of people who should enjoy the same rights as the rest of us – Scotland needs to do better.

PAS is Scotland’s leading place and active citizenship charity. We believe that creating great and well-functioning places, together with communities all across Scotland, is crucial for our physical, mental, social and economic well-being.

For over ten years, PAS has been working with Gypsy/Travellers and local communities across Scotland in a variety of contexts and settings. The core tenet of our approach is to build understanding and empathy, which in turn reduces ignorance and suspicion, which in turn promotes integration and trust.

The exact origins of the Scottish Gypsy/Traveller community remain disputed. However, there is a consensus that this group of people has roots in a Celtic nomad population in Scotland. There is written evidence of the presence of the Gypsy/Traveller community in Scotland dated 1505 in an account written by the then Lord High Treasurer of Scotland.

The Scottish Gypsy/Traveller community is now recognised by the Scottish Government as an ethnic group in its own right. This recognition acknowledges that it is a community comprised of several distinct groups, each with its own cultural origins, histories, traditions and language. The Equality Act (2010) provides the legislative framework which protects this community (and other ethnic groups) from being discriminated against on the grounds of ethnicity.

The modern identity of Gypsy/Travellers has many forms. Some families spend all of their time ‘shifting’ (ie travelling), some only travel during certain parts of the year and others live in bricks and mortar houses. Nevertheless, regardless of lifestyle and upbringing, Gypsy/Travellers share a strong sense of cultural identity. This identity lives on and thrives through traditional crafts and fairs as well as storytelling and music.

Through different projects, volunteers from our network have gained an important understanding Gypsy/Traveller culture which helped to contextualize the unique challenges facing Gypsy/Traveller communities in Scotland today.

The single greatest challenge facing the Gypsy/Traveller community is the adequate provision of appropriate lands for sites. Local authorities are supposed to proactively identify land which can be used for sites through local planning policy, but the truth is that many have shirked their responsibilities in this regard. A well-functioning and inclusive planning system is, therefore, a very important aspect of public life in Scotland for Gypsy/Travellers.

Most applications for planning permission to establish a new site only succeed after an appeal. The usual hostility surrounding an application leads to sites allocated far away from amenities, often at the edge of industrial estates, which contributes further to a feeling of alienation and isolation.

Planning may not be the most exciting issue on the political agenda, but it performs a vital function to ensure equity and equality. As a nation, we have a lot more work to do to increase awareness, promote understanding and create a society that is proud of its diversity.

However, in the context of many Local Authorities demonstrating an inability to deliver their responsibilities, there is an opportunity through the current Planning Bill in the Scottish Parliament to build in more legislative requirements and protections to ensure the voices of Gypsy/Traveller communities are listened to and heard. This is an opportunity we must take.

Petra Biberbach is the chief executive of PAS