A renewed planning application to keep an illegal Travellers’ site in St Cyrus should be refused, councillors are being told ahead of a crunch vote.
However, in a report to be considered by members of Aberdeenshire Council on Thursday, Stephen Archer said the authorities do not necessarily have to take enforcement action, even if they accept his recommendation.
The council’s director of infrastructure services highlights such a decision would contain a risk – in the event of serious flooding there could be harm to the Travellers and those living nearby.
Mr Archer said: “If the applications are refused the Gypsy/Traveller community at this site will be living with the uncertainty of whether they will be able to use the site in the long term.
“If the application is refused the applicants can appeal the decision. If the refusals are upheld at appeal the council would need to consider action to remedy the unauthorised development of the site.
“If direct action was taken to remove the development, this would displace the Gypsy/Traveller residents and remove the provision of a touring site for use.
“In the event of planning permission being refused and any subsequent appeal being dismissed, the council could decide to not take enforcement action to rectify the breach of planning control.
“However, it should be noted that if the council takes this line of action, it would be accepting the retrospective development (contrary to planning policy) in an area that puts the residents of the site, and potentially others adjacent, at risk from flooding.
“This is against both council and national planning policy.”
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has asked to appear before the committee after maintaining its objection with the clock ticking towards determination.
Planning unit manager Jim McKay said: “The level of risk to the site remains unchanged.
“Flooding should be avoided in the first instance by not developing the site for occupation.
“This removes the need to have a plan as there is no risk to human life at the site from flooding.”
The developer’s consultants, however, urged members to weigh up the risk of flooding against the impact of leaving the travelling community without a home in St Cyrus.
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 determined by Aberdeenshire Council.
The applicant’s submitted drainage report advises that there could be 72 people on the halting site and 48 people on the permanent site.
The total therefore could be 120 people although due to the transient nature of the halting site and the capacity of the permanent site to accommodate additional mobile homes or caravans this number could vary.