Aberdeenshire council progressing gypsy proposal

ABERDEENSHIRE Council is set to press ahead with controversial proposals to locate a halting site for gypsies and travellers at a rural hamlet where a country fair has been held annually for more than 100 years.

The issue of travellers halting in unauthorised areas has been an issue. Picture: TSPL

Aikey Brae in the parish of Old Deer regularly attracts thousands of visitors every July for its summer fair. And the hamlet is now poised to be earmarked as the council’s first stop over site for travellers under proposals to go before a meeting of Aberdeenshire Council’s policy and resources committee next week.

Last month a group of travellers set up an unauthorised camp at the disused quarry where the halting site would be established – despite tonnes of earth and rubble being dumped in a bid to block the entrance. Council officials claimed the attempted blockade had been “done by someone from the local community.”

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A 375 signature petition, opposing the proposal to establish a halting site at Aikey Brae, has already been received by the council.

But Ritchie Johnson, the council’s director of Housing and Social Work, is now urging councillors to “progress” the plans for a halting site at the former quarry. The proposals for Aikey Brae would see the creation of 14 pitches and a water access point. When in use, the council would provide one portable toilet per family and collect waste on a weekly basis.

He states in a report to the committee: “Unless Gypsy/Traveller sites are developed across Aberdeenshire, issues associated with unauthorised encampments will continue. Well-managed authorised Gypsy/Traveller sites will reduce tensions between settled and travelling communities encouraging social integration.

“Feedback from those surveyed suggests that members of the Travelling community would use Aikey Brae if it was developed as a stopover site.”

Mr Johnson states that more than 60 people attended a consultation meeting held in Old Deer back in May. And he reveals: “Concerns relating to crime and the clear-up of sites were raised several times during the meeting, as well as queries as to how the length of stay could realistically be managed. Residents intimated that they failed to see any benefit from a stopover site being developed. At the request of the audience, a ‘show of hands’ was conducted which highlighted that a significant majority - most of those present - were opposed to the proposal, with one member of the public showing support.”

He continues: “It is recognised that provision of a Gypsy/Traveller stopover site is a sensitive issue, and the response to the public consultation exercise is acknowledged. However, Aikey Brae is already used as an unauthorised site by Gypsies and Travellers, and it does offer an opportunity for the council to put in place better management arrangements by designating it as an official stopover site.”

The council has already allocated up £128,000 in its capital plan to progress the establishment of a stop over site.

A council spokeswoman said: “If a planning application is submitted for a stopover site at Aikey Brae, the local community will be given a further opportunity to comment on the proposal. A planning application is likely to be heard by a meeting of the full council, as the establishment of a Gypsy/Traveller site has regional implications.”

She added: “If the proposals for the site are not progressed, the police powers to enforce the trespass law will remain limited.”