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Residents hold protest against plans to turn old quarry into travellers site

Old Deer residents protested  Aikey Brae as a site for travellers.
Old Deer residents protested Aikey Brae as a site for travellers.

A community picketed an old quarry as part of their fight against plans to turn it into a travellers site.

Dozens of Old Deer and Maud residents gathered at Aikey Brae in a show of force to persuade councillors against creating a halting site for up to 10 travellers at the spot.

Waving placard signs, the group accused Aberdeenshire Council of “railroading” the project through and claimed they had not been consulted properly.

They argued that the cost of developing the stopover site – which would have caravan pitches and electricity hook-ups – would cost the taxpayer more than £250,000 and does not represent value for money.

Residents are adamant the region has nothing to offer the travelling community, and have urged the authority’s own gypsy-traveller sub-committee to hear their pleas.

The committee meets on Wednesday to discuss management options for the site.

Last night, campaigner Bill Gordon warned that the council would be “blowing” money on Aikey Brae.

“The main problem is we don’t have any representation on their committee,” he said.

“Councillors on there have done a good job in stopping a camp coming into their areas, but we have no one. There are no local councillors on it.

“We’ve told them that Aikey Brae floods all the time and that the quarry itself is full of toxic materials, but they’ve said they’ll deal with it at the time any material is found. If that was anyone else, they wouldn’t get the opportunity to start work.”

However, last night committee chairman Allan Hendry insisted the decision would be “democratic” – and assured the community that Central Buchan councillor Jim Ingram had recently been appointed to assure the area had more of a voice.

As part of the scheme to convert the quarry into a camp, the council is considering hiring a traveller to keep the site running and clean.

The controversial plan would pay the employee £6,000 per season for about four hours of work a day.

Mr Gordon said he understood the need for a site, and added: “We want the travellers to have a place to go, but not Aikey Brae.”

Sandy Thom, who also campaigned against the site on Saturday, said he had “various concerns” about the camp.

He said: “Aikey Brae is within a conservation area, yet that doesn’t seem to figure with the council at all.”

He also echoed that the quarry had previously been used as a dumping ground and could be contaminated.

“No one is arguing that they shouldn’t have a place to go, but it has to be a site with provision for them. There’s nothing like that up here for them,” Mr Thom added.

“Sites should be chosen in the best interests of children, but it’s been railroaded through without any consideration for any of that.”

An online petition against the halting site has attracted nearly 300 signatures since it was opened a month ago.

It states: “While we understand the needs of the travellers, this development will be detrimental to Old Deer and the surrounding areas and it is in our best interest to encourage the council to reconsider its proposal.”

However, Aberdeenshire Council is continuing to progress with plans for the site.

Stephen Archer, director of infrastructure services, said the option to employ a traveller has been deployed successfully south of the border, but was in the process of being phased out over concerns.

“Pressures from within the travelling community could influence the decision of resident managers on who has access to the site,” he explained.

“Another area of concern is the provision of cover when the resident manager is on annual leave or away travelling.

“Planning for cover at very short notice could prove problematic.”

One of the other options would involve the site being looked after by the council’s traveller liaison officer.

The third option is to lease or sell the site to travellers.

Last year, three other potential stopover sites across the region – at Ellon, Inverurie and Laurencekirk – were put forward for the committee for consideration but were not taken further.

Committee chairman Mr Hendry said last night that following the death of Banff councillor Ian Gray in August, he nominated Mr Ingram to replace him.

The committee last met in June.

Mr Hendry added: “On Wednesday, we are going to be discussing the management of the site.

“It’s an option to have a traveller looking after the site. Some people will be for it or against it. It will be a democratic decision.”

The committee is made up of Mr Hendry, Mid-Formartine; Mr Ingram, Central Buchan; George Carr, Mearns; Graeme Clark, Stonehaven; Linda Clark, Banchory; Patricia Oddie, West Garioch; John Latham, Huntly, Strathbogie and Howe of Alford; Gillian Owen, Ellon; Anne Robertson, Turriff; and Dave Stewart, Mearns.

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