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Police could get more power to move on nuisance traveller camps

Travellers at Lido Car Park, Peterhead
Travellers at Lido Car Park, Peterhead

Police could be handed greater powers to move on nuisance traveller camps – if controversial plans for a halting site in the heart of Buchan are approved.

Aberdeenshire Council wants to create 10 pitches at historic Aikey Brae near Old Deer.

And the local authority hopes the move will steer travellers away from private land.

Among the documents lodged in support of the proposals is a letter from the Crown Office detailing what the site could mean for illegal encampments in the future.

At present, travellers often occupy private-owned sites without permission.

It leaves them open to legal action, and being charged by the police under the Trespass (Scotland) Act 1865, which carries a maximum penalty of £200.

A Crown Office spokeswoman says in a letter commenting on the council’s plans: “What I would be prepared to say is that an authorised site within Aberdeenshire is more likely to be considered a suitable alternative stopping place than another unauthorised site.

“That is, of course, not to say that refusal to relocate to this site would automatically result in prosecution action.”

In its own supporting statement for the proposal, Aberdeenshire Council says the Aikey Brae development would make it easier for travellers to integrate with the settled community.

A spokesman added that police would also be able to act with greater urgency on illegal camps.

It could lead to camps being moved on more quickly, or legal action being taken sooner.

The spokesman said: “Police Scotland have stated that, where appropriate, under the direction of the procurator fiscal, action will be taken to progress trespass legislation on unauthorised encampments.”

However, local people remain furious that the historic site – near an ancient abbey and stone circles – has been backed despite their complaints.

One woman even took the fight to block the camp online, launching a petition to get council chiefs to reconsider their decision.

It has been signed more than 100 times.

And at a full meeting of Aberdeenshire Council last month, councillors raised concerns that the £230,000 needed to develop Aikey Brae into a travellers’ camp was being spent “in the wrong area”.

Last night, Old Deer councillor Jim Ingram said he was aware of the petition.

He added: “The project is quite controversial in the area and I think it would be difficult to find supporters for it.

“The application will obviously have to go out for consultation now and we’ll just have to see how it goes.

“It’ll be interesting.”

Proposals for Aikey Brae were first tabled two years ago, but had to be shelved following a backlash from residents.

Aberdeenshire Council estimates that between July and September this year, there were more than 30 unauthorised encampments in the north-east.

This included more than 50 children with varying levels of educational and support needs.

A spokesman said: “There were also occasions where babies only weeks old did not have access to health professionals.

“Examples include a five-week old baby living on an encampment with no running water or electricity who had not been seen by a health professional since discharge from hospital as they were moving from site to site every few days.”

When complete, it is hoped that the site will provide space for 10 caravans which will have access to electricity points and toilet facilities.

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