Plans to build a controversial traveller stopover site near a Buchan village could hit a major stumbling block – if local councillors succeed in making it a conservation area.
Aberdeenshire Council has earmarked Aikey Brae, near Old Deer, to become the region’s first official encampment site, despite huge public opposition.
Proposals to formally open the site to travellers were announced back in 2014, but a backlash from local people forced the council the shelf the plans and look elsewhere.
Last year, four sites across the region – at Aikey Brae, Ellon, Inverurie and Laurencekirk – were put forward for the authority’s traveller sub-committee to consider.
But the group – which has no Buchan representatives – agreed the Old Deer site was the only viable option.
Now the Press and Journal has learned members from the three Buchan wards could push through conservation regulations in an attempt to block the camp.
The local area committee is currently considering plans to renew the conservation area in Old Deer, and has unanimously backed calls from residents to widen the boundary to include Aikey Brae as a site of historical interest.
If implemented, the conservation regulations – which place strict controls on the style of buildings and materials used in developments within the boundaries – could bring an end to the encampment scheme due to costs.
And although members denied using conservation legislation simply to block the unpopular camp, they admitted it would “certainly strengthen the argument against it”.
Early estimates from council officers suggested the cost of developing a permanent encampment for 14 caravans at Aikey Brae, including the necessary toilet and sewage facilities, would be around £350,000.
However if the conservation status is approved, the requirements of adhering to conservation status could force the cost of the project to spiral out of control.
One councillor, who did not wish to be named, said: “It would certainly strengthen the argument against the development. The views of the local community must be given preference. They are the local rate payers, they are the people who elect us and who we’re required to represent.”
Another Buchan area committee member added: “Aikey Brae has been a problem for years. We have to protect our heritage, and we have to listen to what the local community is saying.”
Independent councillor Norman Smith is backing the extension of the conservation area to cover the historic Aikey Brae site, which is near where Robert the Bruce fought a battle against the Early of Buchan in 1308.
Mr Smith insisted his support for the move is not to block the traveller camp, and said: “It might make it a bit more difficult. But my reason is that Aikey Brae has more history than some of the other parts. The Bruces fought there in the 14th century, there is a stone cairn on the hill, and the local people are adamant about it.
“We should protect the heritage of the area. It’s what the people have asked for and I think it’s only right that they at least get the chance to have what they ask for.”
Last night Mid-Formartine councillor Allan Hendry, chairman of the traveller sub-committee, admitted that any move to extend Old Deer’s conservation area would “open a can of worms” for the future of the traveller camp.
Mr Hendry – who has repeatedly stressed that no camp would be approved without lengthy public consultation – said: “Obviously if the area committee decided to extend the boundaries to include Aikey Brae into the conservation area, then that would have some sort of impact on the planning application.
“It’s going to be a can of worms. We’ll just have to wait and see where it goes, if they extend the conservation area.”
Mr Hendry stressed that no plans for a traveller site would be “rushed through” and said that the ultimate decision could be made by a meeting of the full council.
He added: “Last time we had consultations up at Old Deer, speaking about Aikey Brae, it was 100% of people there who voted against it. They don’t want a gypsy traveller camp on that site.
“But gypsies have to go somewhere. It’s in the lap of the Gods as they say.”