Garioch councillors oppose stadium site

At Garioch Area Committee today (Tuesday 21st February), councillors were asked to note the contents of their planner’s report here (item 7) to provide a view to Infrastructure Services Committee (ISC) later next month on the Aberdeen City application 170021/DPP and request that Aberdeenshire Council be consulted on any relevant additional information or addendums to the Transport Assessment and Environmental Statement in order that the Council can fully consider any changes to the proposal and assess impacts upon Aberdeenshire.

Westhill and Elrick Community Council as a statutory body requested to speak at the meeting. There were further requests to speak from the “No to Kingsford” group, the “Westhill for Kingford” group and George Yule for AFC. This allowed councillors to hear a range of views and ask questions as required. We were also able to get clarification on particular issues from our own planner and Transport officer.

The full Minutes of this meeting will be available as a public document in about three weeks time but to summarise, after a long discussion, councillors had a number of issues to put forward to ISC. A motion was put forward to recommend to oppose the application due to multiple breaches of policy. An amendment was offered to put forward the concerns highlighted in the report with a view to getting more information. The motion carried 6-5. ISC will now consider in March, Garioch Area Committee’s recommendation to oppose the application. I voted for the motion and I give my reasons for this below.

This has been a very frustrating application for local councillors. We have a major proposal on our doorstep which is going to impact on Westhill and District but we are really at the mercy of Aberdeen City councillors.

We’ve had a huge amount of letters, emails and phone calls from residents about the stadium proposal. We’ve sat through dozens of meetings listening to the local debate. I circulated my own survey some months ago to gauge local views with a 60/40 split against out of 500 responses.

I have also taken time to speak to local businesses in the more rural areas who are in favour as they see business opportunities. I have also spoken to businesses who can see their trade being adversely affected by the development.

I do think that AFC have been a bit unfair to their fans and shareholders by portraying this as a done deal. They should have emphasised more that there is a planning process to go through and planning policies to consider. It’s not a numbers game.

The Garioch Area Committee’s job is to look at planning policy without influence of big business and without being swayed by the popularity of an organisation.

The main planning issues for me are:

Loss of greenbelt, particularly leading to coalescence of Kingswells and Westhill. We love our City neighbours but we are two separate identities. The purpose of the greenbelt is to direct planned growth to the most appropriate locations and protect and give access to open space within and around towns and cities. There have been many references made by supporters of the fact that most residential and business land in Westhill was greenbelt at one point. Not technically so; some was agricultural land, some greenfield, but nearly all planned and consulted on – see comments about the Local Development Plan below.

Traffic issues – the traffic issues have been well documented in the planner’s report. The proximity to the AWPR being used as a positive point by the applicant is actually a myth. The AWPR will take cars from the north and the south on to the A944 which Transport Scotland has reported will see only a 1% reduction of traffic after the AWPR is completed. There is no direct link from the AWPR to the stadium. Some 55.5% of fans according to the Traffic Assessment will travel from Aberdeen City – most using the A944, not the AWPR. For residents as far up as Strathdon, their main route in to Aberdeen is via the A944.

At this stage there are a lot of unanswered questions over traffic management and parking.

The Kingsford site is not in the Local Development Plan. Developers are well aware of the LDP process which allows councils to work with developers and local communities at an early stage to set out a land use plan which everybody should have confidence in.

The reason I voted for the motion to oppose rather than wait for further information about the traffic and parking issues was that the main breach of policy, i.e. greenbelt, cannot be mitigated against unless we pick up Westhill and move it further west. I have real concerns about the traffic management and parking issues but we’ll see what they come up with.

I have no doubt AFC need a new stadium and I really do wish them well, but Kingsford is not the right site.

 

11 weeks until local election polling day

Apply for your postal vote!

I always enjoy meeting people at the polls but for many, a postal vote is the easiest way to get your vote in if you are likely to be out of the area or tied up at work.

Now is the time to apply for a postal vote.

The easiest and simplest way to vote is by post.

If you sign up for a postal vote your ballot paper will be delivered to your house by the postman a couple of weeks before polling day. You can vote in the comfort of your own home, at a time that suits you. Then you put your completed ballot paper in the envelope provided and stick it in the  post – you don’t even need a stamp.  It couldn’t be easier.

This is the link to the Grampian Electoral Registration Office Postal Vote application form:

https://www.grampian-vjb.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/ER1-PostalVote.pdf

Please fill in and return the form today to make sure that whatever happens on polling day you don’t miss out on your chance to vote. 

How good are our local bus services?

 

If you have any issue you want to raise or questions to ask of either Aberdeenshire Council or Stagecoach, please come along to the Garioch Area Bus Forum on Thursday 2nd March at 7.30pm in Westhill Academy.

The Invitation plus Agenda can be accessed below. Please email me separately if you wish a copy of the previous Minutes from September 2016.

Garioch Bus Forum Invitation 02 03 17

Garioch Bus Forum Agenda 02 03 17

 

 

 

 

AFC stadium proposal to be discussed next week

 

Aberdeenshire Council are being consulted on the major development that is the proposed community and sports facilities at Kingsford, near Westhill. Garioch Area Committee will consider our planner’s report on Tuesday 21st February and provide a view to go forward to a future Infrastructure Services Committee. You can read here (item 7) what our planners conclude about the application.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gurudeo Saluja, OBE

I was saddened to hear of Gurudeo’s death at the age of 82. Gurudeo was the Liberal Democrat councillor for Westhill and District until he retired in 2012 having served since 1999.

I first met Gurudeo when he was my local councillor, then again as a Liberal Democrat colleague. Scottish party conferences were all the more fun when Gurudeo and his wife Patricia were there. We also met up regularly through our work on the board of Grampian Housing Association. Affordable housing was an issue close to his heart and he worked hard to champion this.

When he stood down as a councillor, he kept his interest in community issues, being a regular face at local meetings. Gurudeo had a great sense of humour. He was a gentleman and friend to many and he will be missed.

3 day road closure in Westhill

enterprise-drive

Please note that due to RESURFACING AND LINING WORKS to be carried out on Straik Road, Westhill by Nicol of Skene Ltd it will be necessary in the interests of public safety to apply the following restriction to traffic.

CLOSURE

ENTERPRISE DRIVE, WESTHILL

From the junction with A944 Straik Road to the junction with Prospect Place

FOR 3 DAYS COMMENCING 20 FEBRUARY 2017

Access for pedestrians and emergency vehicles will be maintained at all times.

Alternative route here: enterprisedrivewesthill200217

Shopping centre car park to close

shops-1

The agent, on behalf of the owner of Westhill Shopping Centre, has today advised that the car park at the shops will be closed on Sunday 29th January to carry out repairs to the large potholes at the top of the entrance road. In order to minimise disruption these repairs will be done out of hours.

Places, people and planning

As I’ve commented on before, the Scottish Government in 2015 embarked on a “root and branch” review of the Scottish Planning System. An independent panel considered hundreds of consultation responses, many from local residents and community councils as well as developers and other stakeholders. A report was then issued to Scottish Ministers in May 2016 with 48 recommendations for change. The Scottish Government have now outlined 20 proposals which it considers will deliver “a great planning system”.

I recently attended a meeting which gave an overview of the consultation paper “Places, people and planning” (consultation open until 4th April 2017). The Minister for Local Government and Housing, Kevin Stewart summarised the process of the consultation overall. He highlighted the need, outwith the review, for training on planning to be made compulsory for local councillors. This is, in my opinion, a good move. New councillors can find themselves elected one week and not many weeks after, be sitting in their first area committee faced with the daunting task of determining planning applications. Some councillors pick up planning quickly, others don’t. I think what developers and applicants are looking for is consistency in decision-making. On the back of the Minister’s comments on training, the Managing Director of one North East building company commented that some of the same faces on planning committees had been seen for too long – (that sir, would be democracy). He also pleaded for some common sense to prevail in planning decisions. I would argue that one man’s (or woman’s) common sense is another’s departure from policy! It depends on what side of the fence you sit on. The same gentleman did have a good point to make about statutory consultee responses being lodged in good time. Some planning applications are held up by utility companies, council services or other public bodies not responding timeously. He also said that the public need to have confidence in the Local Development Plan. I very much agree. Communities need to be more involved in the development of local plans and equally developers need to stop pushing boundaries by wanting to build on greenbelt or build on land not allocated on the LDP. This would allow everybody to have confidence in the plans and allow consistency in decision-making.

Increased planning fees were given an airing and this developer was in agreement but only if performance was improved. You can’t argue with that.

He wasn’t too impressed with Local Review Bodies; with 50% of appeals being won, elected members are “not getting it right”, he said.

On a more positive note, Robert Gray, Head of Planning and Building Standards at Aberdeenshire Council, who I always enjoy listening to, told us his thoughts on the paper. He spoke about national house-building targets and questioned if councils should be able to exceed them. With regard to regional governance, he said more research is needed to explore – are we talking merger involving SDPA, Nestrans, City Region Deal, councils together? Should we be using Compulsory Purchase Orders more effectively, not just as a last resort? Have we got the length of local development plans right or should they cover a longer period. Robert had fascinating slides from the 1952 Aberdeen City Plan which included what is now the yet-to-be-completed AWPR!

Robert also spoke about engagement in the planning process with schools and communities. He relayed an example from a community in Fife where a public event was held to discuss what the local area would look like in the future – what new buildings should there be and what the infrastructure would look like – adults and planning officers debated for hours on where to best locate a new road. A 9-year old boy went up to the map and drew a line where he thought the road should go. Planners eventually agreed and that was where the road was built! Do 9 year olds know better than us?……

Last summer, I had the privilege of being invited in to Elrick Primary School to speak to senior pupils about my role as a councillor and to speak about new development in the area. We discussed the new hotel being built at the old brick work site in Elrick which had just gone through the planning stage. The pupils were very engaged and asked lots of pertinent questions. As I was leaving, a 9-year old boy tugged my sleeve and said “is it true that Pittodrie is moving to Westhill?”. I replied “I don’t think that is true; I certainly haven’t heard anything”. The rest, they say, is history (or maybe not), but maybe 9 year olds really do know more than us!

As far as planning goes, local councillors are “damned if they do and damned if they don’t”, but planning really does affect all of us. We are all stakeholders in our own communities. I’ve said before that planning can sometimes be a very dry subject, but it is important that we make it less so and get people involved. If you have time, please do have a look at the consultation paper and give your views.

 

Council HQ: does location matter?

woodhill-house

You may recall that last November during a by-election, the SNP were telling voters that a new HQ in Inverurie was more or less a done deal. At full council later that month, the opposition Alliance group (Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and aligned Independent councillors) called for more transparency and clarity around the business case. We felt that we did not have enough information to progress to the next stage. We were not aware of good enough reasons to move our HQ from Woodhill House. We knew that there was an “aspiration” by some to have the HQ in Aberdeenshire rather than in the City. Does location really matter? We are told that over 400 members of staff currently at Woodhill House travel from within the Aberdeen City area (they’ve included Westhill in their figures – but not Elrick which they’ve included in the wider Garioch area?). The ‘cons’ listed by officers of relocating to Inverurie includes cost of relocation and planning requirements for Inverurie Locos to Garioch Sports Centre, current market value of Woodhill House not being achieved and increased traffic flow within Inverurie town centre. Councillors will discuss this further on Thursday. The full report which we will have in front of us then can be read here (item 10).

How is the North East economy doing?

Each month, councillors receive via the council’s Economic Development service a monthly bulletin showing headline news, figures and statistics about the North East economy. The report is compiled by Tony MacKay of MacKay Associated in Inverness. Tony previously was a member of the economic staff at Aberdeen University and retains a strong interest in the economy of the North East. With the author’s kind permission, I attach a copy of the December edition which I hope will be of interest.

monthly-report-north-east-december-2016