A DECISION to allow up to 1,000 travelling people and gypsies to gather on the outskirts of one of Scotland's major cities for a religious convention has sparked a furious outcry.
Travellers from all over Scotland are expected to arrive in Aberdeen this weekend for the start of a five-day "outreach mission" being organised by Light and Life, the "gypsy church".
The organisers have been granted permission to camp at the council-owned Calder Park on the southern outskirts of the city.
But the decision by Sue Bruce, the council's chief executive, to give the convention the go-ahead without consulting councillors and the local community was condemned yesterday.
Labour councillor Neil Cooney, one of three councillors for the Kincorth and Loirston ward, said: "To say I am angry is an understatement. I am incandescent. I was never consulted and nor were the local community. The first they knew this was happening was when they were told on Tuesday night by the local police liaison officer.
"They were told it was the only way to control the situation, otherwise there would be encampments all around the city."
The North-east of Scotland has already been at the centre of a series of disputes involving illegal traveller encampments in recent weeks which have affected local residents in Stonehaven and at Loirston Loch, Queen's Links and Dyce in Aberdeen.
"Something of this importance should have gone to a council committee," said councillor Cooney. "Even if you want to run a gala day you have to go through a massive paper trail to get the go-ahead."
Alan Strachan, the chairman of Nigg Community Council, said: "We are disgusted and appalled that this is taking place. I had no idea about this at all until the police liaison officer arrived on my doorstep to tell me. I was told there could be as many as 1,000 travellers."
A spokesman for the city council confirmed that the decision had been taken by the chief executive.
He said: "The decision was taken by her because this unfolded really quickly and we had to act.""
The spokesman added: "The figure of 1,000 people attending the convention is the very top-end estimate. It is more likely to be few hundred."
Shane Lee, a minister with the Light and Life church, told The Scotsman: "It is only a small mission. We have organised toilets and arranged for all the litter to be picked up daily and for the field to be left in the condition that we find it."
He added: "We are trying to preach the gospel to everybody. In our churches we have gypsy people and non-gypsy people. We are trying to preach the gospel and get the people saved.
"We are hoping for successful event and a successful event for us is if people get saved and get delivered from drink or drugs or whatever the case may be.
We want the people to understand that there is a better way."
The Light and Life Gypsy Church tours Britain preaching the Gospel to Gypsies and travellers.
The church was born out of a post-war Gospel revival in Europe and came to prominence in the UK in the 1980s.
There is a network of around 30 churches throughout Britain including three in Scotland located in Montrose, Edinburgh and Cauldercrux in Airdrie.
Worshippers claim the established churches in the UK have yet to attract the Traveller community partly because of the deprecation of their culture coupled with a lack of outreach concern.