The fate of a travellers’ site in St Cyrus could be decided later this month.
Aberdeenshire Council will be discussing a retrospective planning application submitted by North Esk Park at the upcoming Area Committee meeting on March 22.
This is the second bid for retrospective planning permission for North Esk Park - built in September 2013 - and was lodged at the end of November,
Residents James McCallum and William Docherty tried to win retrospective planning permission for a permanent halting and touring site at the park in March 2015.
The application was rejected on the grounds that the park was on a flood plain and in a site of special scientific interest and SEPA are standing by their findings.
The planning permission is subject to its satisfying Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) criteria.
A spokesperson said: “SEPA advised the planning authority, in relation to the recent planning application for a travellers’ site at St Cyrus, that the access road and the site in its natural condition are at risk from a flood event of at least a 0.5 per cent chance of occurring in any one year.
“A Flood Risk Assessment submitted on behalf of the applicants concluded that the low lying parts of the pre-development site are at risk from a flood event of this nature.
“We are aware that on December 30, 2015, residents had to remove their caravans from the site when the access road started to flood.
“The cornerstone of sustainable flood risk management is the avoidance of flood risk in the first instance.
‘‘We will continue to advise the planning authority that this planning application may place buildings and persons at flood risk.”
However, Mr Docherty has disagreed, stating: “We were never at any risk.
‘‘We moved the touring caravans because they were easily moved and as a precaution demonstrating our evacuation plan. The police asked us if we could dig two trenches to let the water through a bank to keep the access road open so the emergency services could keep using the road to get further down towards the nature reserve.
‘‘The flood water behaved exactly as our specialists had predicted and the water at no point reached the site. We would really like to see the photographic evidence that SEPA say they have to show the site has flooded in the past.
“Our park is well run and overseen by wardens who remove any troublemakers.
‘‘This will save Aberdeenshire Council millions of pounds building another site somewhere else.”
Close neighbours have mixed feelings about the site. One said: “Our house was on the market when the travellers arrived and feedback our estate agent received from prospective buyers was they were put off by the travellers being there. We took the house off the market but it’s not as bad as we feared. Things are quiet down there.”
Peter Winder, fishery manager at Kinaber Fishing Lodge, added: “We were flooded directly from the river, we had six inches of water in here although it was the mud left behind that did most of the damage.
‘‘The travellers’ site may have had an effect on the volume of water that reached the lodge. The embankment should be removed from the field between the two bridges, that would let the water flow straight back to the river and stop any more flooding here.
‘‘The travellers are keeping this place tidy. Youths from the town are forever parking in the car park under the bridge, chuck their rubbish out of the vehicles and it’s the travellers who pick up the mess.
‘‘They are good to have around, they spend money at the shop and are bringing business to this area.”
A couple who live very close by claim their house value may be reduced by tens of thousands if the travellers stay. They said: “In 2002, the field was flooded where the travellers site is now. Their plans tick none of the council planning guidelines. This would set a precedent and we will be angry if the council decide to back down over the planning permission.
‘‘This is obviously in a flood plain. If the floods had happened at night there may have been casualties.
‘‘The road though to the Nature Reserve has seen a huge rise in traffic, it is deteriorating and house values have dropped with the proximity of the illegal site.”