Potential Gypsy/Travellers sites discussed by councillors

The investigation of four sites across Aberdeenshire, that could be developed for use by the Gypsy/Traveller community is to be progressed, it has been agreed.

The discussions took place at a meeting of Aberdeenshire Council’s Gypsy/Traveller Sub-Committee yesterday (Wed, Jun 17).

Head of Housing Douglas Edwardson presented a report to councillors which outlined four sites – at Ellon, Inverurie, Laurencekirk and Old Deer – that could be developed for use as short-term stopover sites.

The considerations are separate to provision outlined in the council’s current Local Development Plan, where sites are identified at Blackdog, Chapelton, Ellon and Thainstone. The report follows the adoption of the Aberdeenshire Gypsy/Traveller Site Provision Strategy in March which outlined the need for greater provision for visitors to the area.

The council currently has £126,000 available for the development of stopover sites, with additional funding potentially available from the Scottish Government.

Douglas Edwardson said management of sites, if progressed, could take a number of forms, including direct management by the council, joint management with another local authority, or management by a third party – including the Gypsy/Traveller community.

Commenting on the options, the sub-committee asked for further information on the management approaches so that the implications of each could be fully considered.

Discussing the site identified in Laurencekirk – at council-owned land on Fordoun Road – Cllr Graeme Clark highlighted that a large scale development is planned for the surrounding area and that would be a ‘big consideration’ for the sub-committee.

Cllr Anne Robertson welcomed the suggested approach for all four sites, commenting: “We have got an identified need and demand for sites across Aberdeenshire and I think this is a good starting point for further investigation.”

It was explained that the Inverurie site, near the A96, would be a short-term project if developed, as the land will be required for the development of a road junction in future years.

Mr Edwardson advised councillors that the site identified in Ellon, near the town’s golf course, had drawn an objection from the course owners, although it has been used as an unofficial stopping site in the past.

The fourth site – at Aikey Brae, near Old Deer – has previously been the subject of investigations for use as a stopover site.

Chair of the sub-committee, Cllr Allan Hendry, stressed that all comments submitted by businesses, the public and other interested parties would be considered as part of the formal consultation process.

Cllr Graeme Clark asked that discussions take place with neighbouring authorities in terms of site ownership and management; a view shared by Cllr Ian Gray, who suggested that the sub-committee also visit the council’s existing Greenbanks site.

The committee agreed to visit each of the identified sites, with the addition of a visit to the council’s existing permanent seasonal site at Greenbanks, Banff.

Cllr Jim Ingram, attending as an observer, asked the sub-committee to consider allowing local members to attend the site visits. Following discussion it was decided that such visits should instead take place during the formal consultation with area committees in early 2016.

The visits by the sub-committee are due to take place before September, ahead of the group’s next meeting and with a view to presenting a report to the council’s Policy and Resources Committee soon after.

Some initial consultation with the Gypsy/Traveller community and third parties will also take place during the summer, with formal consultation with community councils and a public meeting scheduled to take place in the spring of 2016 to tie in with the submission of any planning applications.