WORK to clear vegetation from the Bervie Braes in Stonehaven has begun this week ahead of planning consent being granted for stabilisation work to begin on the cliffs.
The work is being carried out to avoid any potential delay in the implementation of the project.
Proposed soil nailing measures to stabilise the slopes, the scene of previous landslips, also require the return of waivers from local residents before they begin.
And council officials have warned that the project might be called off if residents continue to refuse to sign the waivers.
The clearance work is being undertaken now to discourage birds from nesting in nearby trees and dense scrub and is expected to take around three weeks.
If this is not done now, construction could be disrupted if and when stabilisation works get the go-ahead, as wild birds are protected by law during the nesting season from March until August.
Aberdeenshire Council’s project manager, Willie Murdoch, said: “It is necessary to clear the vegetation at this time to avoid disturbing nesting birds later, but this should not be seen as a signal that the soil nailing works will go ahead regardless of the number of waivers returned.”
The council also has to take into account tenders received from contractors to carry out the work.
The budget for the overall project to stabilise the Braes is £3m, of which £2m has been pledged by the Scottish Government and the remainder by Aberdeenshire Council.
The affected land is owned by the Dewars Children’s Trust, a charity which is believed to have little income and few assets, and there has been increasing concern in the town about the long-term stability of the slopes.
Aberdeenshire Council recently held public information sessions in Stonehaven, distributing new waiver forms to owners of properties at the base of the Bervie Braes.
The new waivers ask owners to accept Aberdeenshire Council will not be held liable for any damage which may occur either now or in the future through its intervention in facilitating remediation works which it has no statutory obligation to undertake.
The deadline for the return of waivers is Friday, March 25 and these and the tender returns will be considered by Aberdeenshire Council’s Policy and Resources Committee on April 21.
The decision made by councillors at that meeting will determine whether or not the soil nailing works proceed.
Meanwhile, the owner of Invercarron Cottage, which was hit by a landslide last year is continuing his fight to get the property included in the stabilisation scheme.
Richard Barnes has accused the local authority of acting in a discriminatory manner by refusing to extend the scheme to protect his home and is threatening the council with legal action.
In a letter to Aberdeenshire Council’s head of legal and governance, Mr Barnes writes: “I further note that in your Liability Issues - Frequently Asked Questions which was handed to me at last Saturday’s public meeting, this states, ‘Although the council has no statutory duty to act, or in other words it doesn’t have to do anything, it does have powers to help. The council are simply organising and partly funding the work as a gesture of goodwill given the numbers of affected households at this location and the willingness of the Scottish Government to commit funding to the problem.’
“I will remind you once again that the Scottish Government were willing to commit funding following a visit to the Invercarron slip. It is quite clear from this information sheet that the council has been selective in its gesture of goodwill - therefore discriminatory.
“It appears to me that all the properties around Aberdeenshire not helped in similar circumstances are also being discriminated against when residents of Pennan and certain residents of Stonehaven are to be helped.”