A proposal to submit a planning application for a gypsy/traveller halting site in the Buchan area of Aberdeenshire has been refused by councillors.
After a vote, the full council decided instead to instruct officers to come forward with a strategy for the provision of a number of sites across Aberdeenshire.
Councillors were asked to discuss options for the development of Aikey Brae as an official stopover site.
Unauthorised gypsy/traveller encampments are a growing problem in the North East of Scotland, largely attributed to the lack of private and public sites available.
An area of land at Aikey Brae, Old Deer was identified as a potential stopover site.
The plans provoked a storm of protest from local residents who claimed it was the wrong site for such a facility.
The site has been used for fairs for hundreds of years, with week-long fun fairs and horse fairs held until the 1950s. More recently the site has been used as an unauthorised encampment by gypsy/travellers working in the area.
Consultation with gypsy/travellers in Aberdeenshire took place and they indicated they would use the site.
Officers recommended a planning application be submitted to use the land as a stopover site and that the area should be controlled and managed by the council.
Councillors were asked to consider three options for the development of council-owned land at Aikey Brae, from minimal improvements to a 14-pitch site.
A motion to submit the planning application was defeated by an amendment to submit no application and develop a wider strategy, by 34 votes to 32.
Director of Housing and Social Work Ritchie Johnson had told councillors an official stopover site would help start to deal with increasing numbers of unauthorised sites.
He said if successful, it would quickly be followed by other official sites in central and south Aberdeenshire.
Chair of the council’s Social Work and Housing Committee, Karen Clark, moved to submit the planning application for Aikey Brae in line with the report’s recommendations.
She said: “This to me is the way forward and I propose officers take the next step and submit a planning application.
“We have an opportunity to show political leadership on this issue; it’s difficult, it’s sensitive but this is a significant opportunity.”
Local councillor and Deputy Provost Norman Smith (Central Buchan) proposed that no action be taken and no planning application be submitted.
Instead he moved that a wider strategy be brought back to full council identifyingsites acorss Aberdeenshire, while acknowledging the need to address the issue of unauthorised camps.
“Having Aikey Brae in isolation in my view won’t work,” he said. “We need at least sixsites in Aberdeenshire.
“Aikey Brae on its own is at this moment a half-hearted attempt to cure a long standing problem.”