The plight of Deeside tenants caught up in a modern-day Clearances row was brought before the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland yesterday.
The Rev John Brown, of Cromar, Kincardine and Deeside spoke of the "very real situation of human distress for many families in the small close-knit community of Drumoak".
He urged the Kirk to speak out on the issue as it had failed to do in the case of the notorious Highland Clearances -- and the Assembly backed his call for a report.
The local community welcomed the high-profile move last night.
Mr. Brown said John Foster had become owner of the Park Estate on Deeside on the death of his father.
To maximise his assets, partly to pay death duties, he had given notice to quit to 20 families. Some were given as little as two months to find alternative accommodation.
Local authority housing in Deeside was scarce and private housing very expensive, explained Mr Brown.
The parish minister had twice written to Mr. Foster asking him to meet him, along with the local councillor. The meeting was refused and, said Mr. Brown, the minister was referred to as an interfering outsider.
"This, coming from an absentee landlord, was hard to accept," he added.
Appealing for the committee to report to a future Assembly on the legality and morality of security of tenure on country estates, Mr Brown said: ''Many who read Scottish history are shocked and many Church folk ashamed that, at the time of the Highland Clearances, the Church was all but silent.
"Then, landlords cleared tenants off their land to make way for sheep.
"Today, it seems, some landlords want to clear tenants off their land to make way for developers. Surely the Church is not going to be silent this time?"
Last night, Crathes, Drumoak and Durris Community Council chairman Maureen Watt said local residents would be heartened by the support.
"Hopefully this will have pricked John Foster's conscience," she said.
"It is very pleasing that the Church has taken this up at such a prestigious event and we must hope that the politicians will take notice.
"Some people in this community faced the horrific position of having people coming through their property viewing it and facing eviction."
Local minister the Rev James Scott said last night: "The people of Kincardine and Deeside will be absolutely delighted as they were really concerned for people losing their homes.
"They were shocked and appalled that such a clearance could happen at the end of the 20th century --and we would not like any other community to go through what we have gone through."
And local Aberdeenshire councillor Jenny Watson said: "I am over the moon, this is a great step forward and now we can make a movement towards land reform."
A spokesman for Park Estate said last night: "To relate the situation with Park Estate is entirely misleading -- there has never been any attempt to clear people out of their homes.
"It is hoped that, where possible, tenants will have the opportunity to buy. Where more time is required to make other arrangements then leases will be renewed.
"This is not a clearance situation -- the people involved understand
From: The Press & Journal (Aberdeen, Scotland)
22 May 1997