Ambitious plans to create a new business park and hotel in the north-east have been thrown out by councillors angry that travellers were overlooked in the proposal.
Property agents Knight Frank tabled plans on behalf of a local landowner to build 18 commercial units at Balmacassie in Ellon.
But planners called for councillors to block the scheme because no space has been allocated for a traveller stopover site – despite it being in the local development plan.
Addressing the committee, planning officer Elizabeth Tully said there is “an acute need” for traveller sites in the region and
that the authority is not prepared to back proposals which ignore the demand.
She added: “Formartine is the second highest area with unauthorised gypsy transit sites with 22% of those in Aberdeenshire. It’s second only to the Kincardine and Mearns area.”
Landowner Stuart Davidson said the decision not to allocate space on the site for travellers was made after public consultation.
“Not including a gypsy traveller site is purely on feedback of the local community and potential end users,” Mr Davidson said. “We have three firm end users who said they would pull out.
“We have aspirations to make this a world class development. It’s not a personal view – it’s purely on feedback.”
Local councillor and co-leader of the local authority Richard Thomson said the project would be good for the “fast-growing settlement”. He added: “There is a real need for more employment land.”
Committee chairman Rob Merson echoed his SNP colleague’s comments and said there is a great deal of interest in the development of the site”.
But other councillors reacted angrily and said the council has a duty of care and equality towards the gypsy community.
Councillor Paul Johnston said: “If we are being asked to take sides directly against the equality act that is wrong both morally and potentially legally. It could open us up for a challenge.
“That is irrespective of your views on the particular merits of the development.”
And Turriff councillor Anne Robertson added: “I completely agree with Councillor Johnston which is why I raised the issue at the start. We agreed the public sector equality duty and now we’re going to ignore the ethos of it.”
The committee voted by majority to block the application. A final decision will be made by full council later this year.