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Contentious Port Erroll cafe plan site visit carried out

By Kirstie Topp - Local Democracy Reporter

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Buchan councillors have this week attended a short but tense site visit in Cruden Bay to check out the location of a proposed cafe at Port Erroll Harbour.

They considered the application earlier this month but agreed to visit the site before making a final decision which will go back before committee next week.

The applicants – a family from Cruden Bay – are hoping to get the go-ahead for the new facility to be named the Harbour Dunes Cafe.

It would be located on the ground at the end of Harbour Street which was previously used to dry salmon fishing nets.

Port Erroll Harbour Ltd have agreed to lease the land if the plan gets the green light.

It is hoped the lease would provide much-needed funds to repair the historic harbour.

It has been estimated that the required work would cost more than £2 million.

During the site visit, which lasted just seven minutes, councillors were able to see how the cafe would fit in to the surrounding area.

Those involved with the application also attended and were joined by some members of the public.

Project architect Steve Brown, who took along his dog Geordie, said the application had “met all of the planning criteria”.

He added: “The design is entirely appropriate for a harbour, it’s based on shipping containers with timber cladding.”

Mr Brown noted six of the former net drying poles would need to be moved elsewhere on the site but stressed they would not be taken away.

He added: “It will give the harbour board some financial return and as part of that, it gives them more access to funding for repairs.

“The pier is in a really bad state and if they have a regular source of funding by rental from here it gives them an opportunity to access more grants.

“It’s a harbour first, conservation area second.”

Local historian Mike Shepherd attended the site visit on behalf of the Port Erroll Heritage Group.

He said: “What is proposed, at the heart of it, is a cafe to be built out of modern steel shipping containers which is not in keeping with the area’s heritage.

“Apart from the planning process itself, the people in the village have not been asked about these plans.

“There is a disconnect between the people here at the harbour and the rest of the community.

“A cafe would encourage tourism and would be an amenity for visitors but why would they want to put it here when there is other space within the harbour area?”

Last month the village welcomed Dracula fans from across the globe to mark the novel’s 125th anniversary.

Irish author Bram Stoker wrote much of the classic tale while staying at Cruden Bay.

As part of the celebration, visitors were taken on a tour around the village to show them the areas connected with the writing of Dracula.

Mr Shepherd, who himself has written books about Bram Stoker, Cruden Bay and Dracula, was involved with the tours.

He said operators Experience Transylvania were “so impressed” with the pilot tour that they intend to come back again in the future.

Mr Shepherd added: “This is the start of international tourism, exactly the kind of thing that Aberdeenshire needs with oil winding down.

“Aberdeenshire has a lot to offer and Cruden Bay and its connection with Bram Stoker and Dracula is increasingly getting international attention.

“The drying green is an authentic part of the heritage here linked to the harbour.

“Bram Stoker would recognise this place, he’s written about it in one of his novels.

“A vital part of the tourism industry here in Cruden Bay and Aberdeenshire is preserving the heritage of places like this.

“International tourists want to come here to see the harbour that Bram Stoker wrote about and the beach over there, not a modern cafe totally out of place blocking the view and destroying the authenticity of the village.”

He added: “Is it worth destroying the heritage and the authenticity of the place? No, not at all.

“The Port Erroll part of Cruden Bay is one of the best-preserved Victorian fishing villages on this part of the coast and for tourism reasons we want to keep it that way.”

Meanwhile, local resident Margie Davidson, who has lived in Cruden Bay for 40 years, said she was “all for it”.

The village regularly welcomes bus tours and visits from local groups but Ms Davidson said there was nothing on offer for those stopping by.

She said: “A cafe there is desperately needed, there’s all these folk and nowhere for them to go.

“I’ve got grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the village, and the feeling with the mums at the school is that they would love a cafe”.

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