SEPA accused of discrimination against travelling community

Concerns the North Esk Park could be flooded during Storm Frank led to several caravans being removed.
Concerns the North Esk Park could be flooded during Storm Frank led to several caravans being removed.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has been blasted by the planning consultants leading the application for a camp at North Esk Park.

Alan Seath, of Seath Planning Consultancy Ltd, has now called for an investigation into the conduct of the agency on behalf of the residents.

He claims that throughout the planning process, SEPA has been “unco-operative” and has exceeded the roles and responsibilities of the organisation. The agency – a non-departmental public body of the Scottish Government – is further accused of providing incorrect and outdated information and breaching informal agreements.

Mr Seath has suggested that the agency is guilty of indirect discrimination against the travelling community and has copied his detailed letter of complaint to MSPs, the Coalition of Racial Equality, Rights and the Equality and the Human Rights Commission.

A spokesperson for SEPA said the organisation had treated the case as it would any other application, commenting: “Every day SEPA works to protect and enhance Scotland’s environment and communities. One of our roles in the planning process is to provide expertise to ensure people and property are protected from flood risk.

“The cornerstone of sustainable flood risk management is avoiding risk in the first place. We were asked by the planning authority for advice in relation to flood risk at the North Esk Park site and we provided it.

“Based on the information and evidence we hold, the majority of the site is a flood risk.

“This application has been treated the same way as any other planning application where a site may be vulnerable to flooding.

“SEPA provides objective information on flood risk; it is then up to the planning authority to make a judgement on whether the site is suitable for people to live on, taking flood risk as one factor.”

But in his letter, Mr Seath states: “Experiences throughout the planning process – including pre-application engagement – are evidence of a breach of SEPA’s adopted roles and responsibilities with poor relationships fostered contrary to the Equality Act 2010 achieved through the behaviour of staff.

“The residents and the consultancy team have adopted a dignified stance during the application process despite the stories placed in the press and other means of communication adopted by SEPA who have wilfully misrepresented the facts of the case.

“Regrettably, we now have no choice but to clarify our position in the public domain.”

Among the allegations made, Mr Seath says that SEPA has promoted and accepted a flood evacuation plan at the tourist caravan site in Stonehaven, but not at North Esk which, he submits, appears to be acceptable for tourists but not for travellers.

Recently, Aberdeenshire councillors called for more information on the potential flood risks associated with the unofficial halting and permanent site at St Cyrus.

The views of the local authority’s Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee had been sought prior to a final planning decision on the camp at full council later this month.

A total of 19 pitches have been created since 2013 with associated roads, fencing, landscaping, amenity blocks and even a classroom area by separate applicants North Esk Investments Ltd of Brechin and Jim Reid of Glenrothes.

At present there are no established gypsy/traveller sites in the Kincardine and Mearns part of Aberdeenshire, which the council has accepted would potentially leave the community with nowhere to live or limit access to education and local services.