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Council’s plan for north-east travellers site could be blocked by its own policy

Travellers at Aikey Brae
Travellers at Aikey Brae

Aberdeenshire Council’s plans to create a controversial travellers site near a north-east village could be blocked – by its own conservation policy.

An official traveller halting site at Aikey Brae, near Old Deer, has been on the table for years.

But residents are adamant the historic site is not suitable, and have been backed up by local councillors who have now succeeded in getting the village’s conservation zone extended to cover the braes.

The move means it will be much harder for the council to push on with the plans, as the cost of creating the camp within the guidelines of a conservation zone will spiral.

The proposals for Aikey Brae were first tabled two years ago but were shelved after a backlash from local residents.

In 2015 four site across the region – at Aikey Brae, Ellon, Inverurie and Laurencekirk – were chosen for the council’s gypsy sub-committee to consider.

But the group – which has no representatives from the Buchan area – fell back on the Old Deer site as the only viable option.

Early estimates from council officers suggest the cost of developing a permanent encampment for 14 caravans at the site – including the necessary toilet and sewage facilities, would be around £350,000.

But the conservation area regulations – which limit the style of buildings and materials that can be used to preserve the character of the area – mean that cost could now soar, and make the project untenable.

Independent councillor Norman Smith has welcomed the extension of the conservation area to cover Aikey Brae, which is near where Robert the Bruce fought a battle against the Earl of Buchan in 1308.

Mr Smith said: “It was the community when they did the consultation – that’s one of the things they asked for.

“It’s what the community wants and I fully support the extension of the boundaries. It will safeguard Aikey because there is a lot of history there.”

Mr Smith stressed the new regulations were “unanimously agreed” by the area committee, and that councillors are acting in the best interests of their constituents.

The Central Buchan member added: “Anything that happens on Aikey will have to be done with regards to conservation policy.”

One Buchan councillor, who did not wish to be named, said they were confident the new rules would scupper the traveller encampment.

But last night the local authority insisted there were no plans to abandon the project.

A spokesman for Aberdeenshire Council said: “We expect to submit a planning application for a gypsy travellers site at Aikey Brae in September, with work to begin on site in the New Year if it is approved.

“We will liaise with planning colleagues to ensure the application is in keeping with the conservation status of the area.

“The local community will have further opportunity to comment on the formal planning application as part of the statutory planning process.”

The new Old Deer conservation area regulations came into force last week and now cover Aikey Brae as well as Pitfour Lake and parts of Aden Country Park.

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