Hundreds of Travellers are likely to be given at least a six-month extension to their occupation of an unauthorised site in the Mearns.
Just weeks before the end of the July date set by Scottish Ministers for residents to get off the North Esk Park site which sprang up without planning permission almost five years ago, Aberdeenshire councillors will this week be asked to delay the eviction to avoid the authority having to take “direct action”.
Kincardine and Mearns area manager, Willie Munro has detailed ongoing talks with the Travellers, as well as efforts to identify possible alternative sites, but admits there is no way the July 31 deadline for departure will be met.
The Travellers appeared on farmland close to the River North Esk and St Cyrus nature reserve in 2013.
After refusing planning permission and instigating enforcement, Aberdeenshire councillors voted to grant permission for the creation of an official halting and touring site in April 2016.
However, the application was called in when Sepa objected because the site had flooded on a number of occasions, including the aftermath of Storm Frank in 2015 which forced residents from their caravans.
Scottish Ministers then overturned the retrospective planning permission and the Travellers were given until July 31 2018 to leave.
Thursday’s full council will be told a series of meetings have taken place between officers and North Esk representatives with indications there are around 40 residents on permanent plots and usually 50 to 150 in the stop-over part of the site.
Mr Munros states:“Initially the residents’ representatives made it clear that they did not intend to move from the site, however, this position has altered over time through discussion and negotiation.
“Two strands of work have been followed up through these meetings: the possibility of submitting a fresh planning application; and the possibility of identifying and moving to a new site.
“In terms of a fresh planning application, the council is not obliged to consider a fresh planning application within two years of the Ministers’ decision unless it is materially different from the previous planning application for the site.”
The report adds: “There has been a period when there has been nothing new to report given the ongoing work.
“It is worth noting, however, that there have been a number of approaches from other people asking what is happening as they have an expectation that the site will be removed and reinstated to its previous use.”
The authority has admitted there is no chance the July 31 enforcement notice deadline will be met, putting residents in the “serious situation of non-compliance”.
Mr Munro’s report continues: “Action will be taken by officers to ensure that the enforcement order remains valid and robust in terms of its intent, content and timescale for compliance, so that the ultimate aim of the site being vacated and reinstated can still be achieved if necessary.”
“In terms of the identification of a new site, the original promoter of the site said that it would need to be located in an area within the southern Mearns, no further north than Laurencekirk or Inverbervie.”
The report reveals that 16 potential sites have been looked at, with only four identified as possible alternatives.
“These sites are the subject of a report to the Gypsy/Traveller sub-committee at its next meeting.
“It is worth nothing that, although the sites are within council ownership, there is no budget provision for the promotion of a Gypsy/Traveller site at the moment,” states the report.