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Conservative Councillor’s Comments on Potential Gypsy/Traveller Site Deemed Not Fit for Public

Publication: The Bellman

Conservative Cllr Wendy Agnew persisted in a line of comment about a planning application related to a potential Gypsy/Traveller site, in the face of repeated indications it was inappropriate.

Portlethen | photograph by Richard Slessor, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

The status of the chair of the Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee is in question following comments she made at their previous meeting – which Aberdeenshire Council lawyers deemed unsuitable and to be edited from the published recording.

Conservative Cllr Wendy Agnew reduced the November 21 meeting of the Area Committee to a state of consternation and disarray after persisting in a line of comment about a planning application in the face of repeated indications it was inappropriate.

In an unprecedented move, the recording of the meeting published online was edited and sent for review by the local authority’s legal service manager.

An Aberdeenshire Council spokesperson said: “Following a review of comments made following the conclusion of a planning item at November’s meeting of Kincardine & Mearns Area Committee, it has been decided not to reinstate the short section of video concerned to avoid potential offence to viewers.’’

The agenda for next week’s meeting has just been published. Item three on the agenda is: ”Notice of motion by Councillor Black – TO FOLLOW admissibility being considered.”

The Bellman understands the motion proposed is one of no confidence in the Kincardine and Mearns Committee chair and calling for a new chair to be appointed.

Councillor’s move follows unprecedented scenes

At the last meeting, councillors were considering a planning application for the change of use from recreational ground to form a five-stance private permanent caravan park site for Gypsy/Travellers, along with the erection of five sheds, kennels and associated works (Retrospective) at Findon Park, Hillside, Portlethen.

As the application has regional significance it will be determined by Full Council – following consultation with the Area Committee who were asked provide comments / confirm their support.

There was a full discussion of the planning matters relevant or to the application – and clarification of concerns which were not relevant. During councillors’ debate, Cllr Agnew noted the retrospective element of the application saying this gave her ‘alarm bells’. And she voiced concerns about the possibility of additional vans being put on the site.

”It is a very big area for five. They’ll maybe be taking in travelling people,” she said.

To crystallise the will of the committee, a vote was taken, with the majority of councillors supporting the recommendation. The public recording ends at this point.

Chair refuses to accept advice

For those present at the public meeting, the matter did not conclude. Mrs Agnew, who had voted to oppose the proposals, asked for confirmation that her comments about the retrospective aspect of the application were noted – and suggested it was time for a break.

But Committe vice-chair Cllr Sarah Dickinson interceded. She said: ”I wanted to ask if that is actually appropriate bearing in mind that we see retrospective planning applications quite frequently and that we are advised that they have to be treated as if they are new applications.”

Mrs Dickinson added the application should be treated equally.

Mrs Agnew refused to back down, restating her concerns. She said: ”I don’t want it refuted. If they’re ignoring this they may ignore other things and let travellers in.”

This was received with clear dismay around the table. Area manager Tim Stephen called for legal and planning officer advice – both confirmed the retrospective nature of the application was irrelevant.

Despite this Mrs Agnew remained unwilling to change her stance.

Councillors rebuke chair

Mrs Dickinson distanced herself from the chair. She said: ”I have expressed my reservations.”

And she found echoing support from Cllr Dawn Black who also reminded Mrs Agnew the committee had agreed an equality statement – and, making clear reference to the Under the Equality Act 2010 (the Equality Act), she reminded Mrs Agnew that Gypsy/Travellers had protected characteristics.

”It is not acceptable to suddenly make comments about retrospective applications and refer to the people as ‘they’,” she said.

”You are clearly speaking about Gypsy/Travellers who have protected characteristics. It is not acceptable to be putting forward these views in this forum.”

What followed was very uncomfortable for all present. Mrs Agnew continued with determined efforts to have her comments on the record despite intervetions, including one by Mr Stephen. Councillors were seen shaking their heads or even holding them in their hands in apparent despair. Others just looked down as if unable to witness the unedifying spectacle.

The committee’s only independent representative, Cllr Alison Evison, finally steered the matter to a conclusion.

She said: ”We have reached a majority view and the reasons being put forward in that decision. That is what we’ve come to conclude as a committee and that is the view we need to put forward to full council.

”Anything else is an individual, a minority view and therefore does not apply to all of us – and that is why a vote was important.”

Mearns councillor Kevin Stelfox voiced his support for Ms Evison’s conclusion.

At this point, finally, Mrs Agnew allowed the matter to conclude – and broke the meeting for a much-needed break.