An environmental watchdog has demanded a box seat when councillors debate retrospective plans for an illegally-built Travellers site in St Cyrus.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has objected to a retrospective planning application for North Esk Park, which is already heavily developed, before it is considered by Aberdeenshire Council, whose own environmental officers are also against it.
Retrospective plans were lodged for a 10-stance caravan park and halting site in the latest stage of a bitter six-year fight for approval.
SEPA has now told Aberdeenshire Council they want to speak and answer questions at council meetings which will be held to determine the applications.
Planning manager Jim Mackay said: “SEPA requests to be allowed to speak in relation to the planning applications for land south west of Eskview Farm.
“We intend to have one speaker and up to three in the team to address any technical questions.”
SEPA has objected to the planning applications in principle on the grounds of flood risk to people and property.
The watchdog said it does not consider that any additional information can be provided to alter its position on flood risk at this site.
Despite a protracted legal battle between the Travellers and Aberdeenshire Council, development on the unauthorised site has continued since the first homes appeared on farmland, close to the River North Esk, in 2013.
Aberdeenshire councillors voted overwhelmingly to grant retrospective permission for the creation of an official halting site in 2016.
However, the application was called in by the Scottish Government when SEPA objected, revealing the site had flooded in 2002, 2012, 2013 and 2015.
Scottish ministers overturned the retrospective permission and the Travellers were given until July 31 to clear the site.
The local authority then agreed to extend the deadline by six months and has been involved in “continued dialogue” with the North Esk community.
Enforcement action has now been put on hold until the two fresh planning applications, which were received in December, are considered by the Kincardine and Mearns area committee in May, before determination by Aberdeenshire Council in June.