Traveller camps face planning decision

Councillors are set to make a decision on the St Cyrus traveller camp applications
Councillors are set to make a decision on the St Cyrus traveller camp applications

Families could be left with nowhere to go if planning consent for two unofficial traveller camps at St Cyrus is refused.

The two settlements near Esk Farm to the south-west of the village have sparked considerable debate and split public opinion since they were established several years ago.

A total of 19 pitches have been created since 2013 with associated roads, fencing, landscaping, amenity blocks and even a classroom area by separate applicants North Esk Investments Ltd of Brechin and Jim Reid of Glenrothes.

The site has been the subject of a number of planning applications, enforcement notices, interdicts and appeals.

Now, however, Aberdeenshire councillors are set to make a final decision on the applications – some containing retrospective elements – and ultimately decide whether the travellers can stay or face eviction.

The views of Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee, which meets in Stonehaven on Tuesday, are being sought prior to a final decision at full council next month.

Among the main reasons for refusal are SEPA’s serious concerns over the medium to high risk of flooding and the fact that the development site is located within a Coastal Zone area where development does not meet any of the council’s defined criteria for “acceptable development in an area with such special character”.

The committee will be advised that if the applications are refused, then the gypsy and traveller community at the site will be “living with the uncertainty” of whether they will be able to use the site in the long term.

It will also be told that if the application is refused the applicants can appeal the decision, but if the refusals are upheld, the council will need to consider action to remedy the unauthorised development of the site.

In a lengthy, detailed report, Infrastructure Services director Stephen Archer says if direct action was taken to remove the development, it would displace the residents and remove the provision of a touring site for use.

He states: “At present there are no established gypsy/traveller sites in the Kincardine and Mearns part of Aberdeenshire.

“This would potentially leave the community with nowhere to live or limit access to education and local services.”

Councillors will be told that those negative impacts could be mitigated by granting planning permission for the development by the council – subject to formal notification processes to the Scottish Government due to the statutory objection from SEPA or by the grant of planning permission by the Scottish Government on appeal or after any notification and call-in process.

Mr Archer states: “While still accepting that there is an identified need and that there are social and economic benefits to the gypsy/traveller community, in this instance, it has not been demonstrated that the development would provide a secure environment in light of the susceptibility of the site to flood nor can it be properly serviced.”

In the event of planning permission being refused and any subsequent appeal being dismissed, the council could decide to not take enforcement action to rectify the breach of planning control.

But Mr Archer stresses that if the authority takes that  course of action, it would be accepting the retrospective development – contrary to planning policy – in an area that puts the residents of the site, and potentially others adjacent, at risk from flooding.