Aberdeenshire Council votes to support applications for North Esk Gypsy/Traveller site

Two related planning applications for the North Esk Gypsy/Traveller site near St Cyrus have been supported by Aberdeenshire Council following a vote.

The decision, taken against a recommendation by planners that the proposals be refused, will now be referred to Scottish Ministers.

The plans were considered at a full meeting of Aberdeenshire Council at its Woodhill House office in Aberdeen on Thursday (Thu, Jun 27).

The first application, by North Esk Investments Limited, sought permission for a nine-stance touring site for Gypsy/Travellers, along with related works.

The second application, by Jim Reid, sought permission on an adjoining section of land for a ten-stance permanent site for Gypsy/Travellers, also with some related works.

The applications were previously brought before the Kincardine & Mearns Area Committee in May for comment, leading to additional information being prepared for the full council.

The report was introduced by Head of Planning & Building Standards Robert Gray, who outlined the planning service’s reasons for recommending refusal of both applications. 

He referred to the outstanding objection in principle to the development submitted by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), concerns over the flood risk on site and the issue of safety of the residents.

The site also lies in a coastal area where permission would not normally be given unless there was a clear need for development, he said.

The council then heard from Jim Mackay, SEPA’s planning manager for the north of Scotland, who explained the organisation’s reasons for objecting in principle to both applications.

He said the proposals were contrary to both national policy and the Aberdeenshire Local Development Plan and commented that ‘all parties are agreed’ that the site and access to the site are at risk of flooding, meaning SEPA could not offer support.

The council also heard from the agent for the applicants, Ian Walton, who disputed SEPA’s assessment of the severity of the risk of flooding at North Esk.

Mr Walton said that with forecasting systems offering a three-hour warning of flood risk that residents would be able to evacuate the site within an hour, commenting that an exercise undertaken last week saw the site cleared in just 18 minutes.

He said that while the flood risk meant the site was not ‘ideal’, no alternative sites had been identified and that there would be a greater risk to the residents if they had to leave the site and park on the roadside. 

Two neighbouring residents spoke of their experiences before and after the development was built, saying that since the site’s construction they have both experienced an increased impact from flooding. 

Having heard from the various speakers, councillors had an extensive debate about the proposals, with strong arguments being made both for and against the proposals.

Cllr Leigh Wilson opened the discussion by formally moving that the council support the applications. He, too, highlighted a lack of alternative sites and outlined the mitigation measures being taken to manage risk. 

Cllr Wilson said: “We have heard a lot about risk, a lot of really compelling arguments, but I think it is an argument for me for proportion, for balance, for weighing up the options that we have to grant this against weighing up the alternative options . . . “

His motion was seconded by Cllr Sandy Wallace, who said he supported approval ‘on balance’ and that the risk to life was manageable.

Calling for refusal, Cllr Wendy Agnew spoke of her experiences of providing support during flood events and stated that ‘nothing has changed’ since the council previously considered plans for the site.

“In respect of these issues, nothing has changed,” she said. “The landscape hasn’t changed and significantly SEPA has maintained its objection and refusal of both applications is indicated.”

Cllr Agnew’s amendment was supported by Cllr Jeff Hutchison, who said that photographic evidence of the site proved it was the wrong location for the development.

Other councillors speaking in support of the applications highlighted the lack of alternative provision, the efforts being made to manage the risk of flooding, and called for an ‘on balance’ decision.

Councillors supporting refusal of the applications said it had not been proved that the site could provide a secure environment for residents, highlighted the safety risk posed by the potential for flooding, and recapped that the plans were contrary to national policy and the local development plan.

Moving to the vote, Cllr Wilson’s motion for approval was supported by 46 votes to 17, against Cllr Agnew’s amendment for refusal. There was one ‘no vote’.

The decision means approval of the applications will be delegated to Aberdeenshire Council’s planning service, subject to notification to Scottish Ministers and a number of conditions, as well as the development of an agreement concerning health care.

It was explained to the council that Scottish Ministers may decide to ‘call in’ the applications and make a final decision on whether to grant planning permission.

The full discussion, lasting around two hours and 20 minutes, can be viewed on line via: https://aberdeenshire.public-i.tv/core/portal/home