Demands for the Scottish Government to call-in the North Esk Park planning approval have begun in the immediate aftermath of a controversial green light for the Travellers’ site on the Aberdeenshire/Angus border.
After councillors voted in favour of retrospective applications for the St Cyrus site, which sprung up virtually overnight in 2013, one critic who witnessed the “chaos” created there by Storm Frank at the end of 2015 said ministers must again take heed of expert warnings over the risk floodwaters could pose to residents there.
Despite an objection from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), a full Aberdeenshire Council vote of 46 to 17 in favour of two retrospective planning bids for almost 20 touring and permanent pitches triggered tears of joy among North Esk Park residents.
The Sepa opposition requires the authority to notify Scottish Ministers of the decision and Mearns Conservative councillor George Carr said he believed the council was now “back on the merry go-round” which has revolved around the site for almost six years.
North East region Conservative MSP Liam Kerr has officially written to Scottish local government, housing and planning minister, Kevin Stewart demanding a call-in of the “illegal” development.
Mr Carr said: “It is in the gift of the Scottish Government, but I suspect if you are a minister you have to respond to the concerns of Sepa as a statutory consultee, and they were quite clear in their view there is a risk.”
Mr Carr himself witnessed rising Storm Frank floodwaters threatening the site.
“I was on the bridge the night of December 30 2015. I saw the chaos and all of the emergency resources tied up in that incident that were not available to other communities when the conditions were so bad.
“That tilted my mind somewhat when I saw the situation and Sepa are clear that things have not been satisfactorily mitigated to avoid the risk.”
In his letter to the minister, MSP Mr Kerr said: “I respect the decision of many Aberdeenshire councillor to grant retrospective planning permission at North Esk Park in St Cyrus. However, I do not agree with it for two reasons.
“The first is arguably subjective and deals with the anguish of the St Cyrus residents who believe that the illegal – to call it what it is – development represents a two-tier system at the heart of planning legislation.
“The second is an objective fact. Scotland’s own environment body has said that this unauthorised development represents a needless flood risk, to the people who already live along the banks of the North Esk and the Travellers themselves.
“Sepa’s level of engagement and warning is almost without precedent.
“Who will be held responsible if there is a future calamity on the river?
“While I appreciate the amount of soul-searching which has no doubt gone on among councillors, this decision must be called in by Scottish Ministers,” Mr Kerr finished.
It is expected to take at least three months before Scottish Ministers decide whether to call in the application.