Infrastructure Services Committee met today, as planned, to discuss (amongst other things) their response as consultees to Aberdeen City Council regarding the AFC stadium proposals for Kingsford. I sat in as an observer at the public meeting and share notes of my observations here. Please note that this is my take on the meeting and I’m happy to be corrected on any glaring mistakes by those who were there.
If you don’t want to know the score without reading the summary, look away now. 7 councillors voted to agree with the views of the Garioch Area Committee in February, i.e. to lodge an objection and 7 councillors voted to place a holding objection on the consultation on the grounds that further technical information be sought. The Chair had the casting vote and agreed that the views of ISC were aligned to those of the Garioch Area Committee. The formal view of Aberdeenshire Council is now to oppose this application.
The planners firstly outlined the application for members as well as summarising the consultation process so far. Councillors asked an array of questions about parking, pedestrians, traffic flow and economic impact. No-one at the meeting including the applicant could offer any definitive information about a proposed Controlled Parking Zone. This is a very integral part of the traffic assessment and surely both councils should be aware of what is planned. As parking has yet to be decriminalised in Aberdeenshire, who would foot the bill for policing of it and who would administer the permit system? It is likely that with the CPZ now being extended to a 30 minute walking radius, a large part of Westhill and Elrick could be included.
George Yule, AFC and Ally Prockter from the Community Trust addressed the committee and gave a brief timeline on why the application was lodged and made reference to having worked with Aberdeen City Council previously to find a site for the club with Loirston being acceptable and within the Local Development Plan (LDP) but now Kingsford was their plan C. When asked about the arrangements with Arnhall Park businesses for extra parking, George explained that the club now have 3 companies agreeing in principle. There will be a cost for parking at Arnhall and it has been said before by AFC that this would be reflected in the match ticket price. Today we were told that any funds raised from parking would go to the Community Trust.
Mike Forbes spoke next to the committee. Mike is a Westhill resident supporting the stadium. From speaking to his friends he feels there is a groundswell of support although he said this was difficult to quantify. He has spoken to people who are not football supporters but who welcomed the stadium. He spoke about the economic impact on local shops and restaurants. This conflicted with other views of local businesses who feared that rogue parking would keep their customer base away on match days. He mentioned that the stadium would be an inspiration for children. I cannot disagree with his point per say but children would be inspired wherever the stadium was built.
The No for Kingsford group were up next to refute some of these claims. John Simpson and John Thornton spoke about their independently-commissioned Transport Assessment from Waterman’s which concluded that this application does not comply with policy and is unsustainable. The TA from the applicant underestimates car travel. They said there will be little economic benefit to the local area and certainly would not mitigate the downtown in oil and gas as suggested. Concerns were raised about the impact on the Seaton area by removing the stadium from Pittodrie. Scottish Planning Policy states that a major development such as this should be close to the city centre and this application ignores the Strategic Development Plan. The applicant was accused of riding roughshod over planning policy.
Last but not least, Audrey Findlay, Acting Chair of Westhill & Elrick Community Council addressed committee saying that her group took time to form their opinion, poring over the some 160 pages which accompanied the application, basing their representation on planning policy and practical issues. Greenbelt is one of the main concerns with a huge building planted on the Kingsford site changing the landscape forever. The community does not want coalescence with Kingswells. She said planning policy is there for a reason and this breaks too many policies. She also highlighted recent articles in the press about congestion hot spots being likely after the AWPR is complete – without any new development and the A944/Kingswells junction being one such hot spot.
The planning policy concerns are well documented in reports from both councils so I won’t reiterate them – all are available on Aberdeen City planning website.
The recurring theme today at ISC was “great idea, wrong site” with AFC being applauded for their vision of the stadium (not the location). David Aitchison, the Chair, who is also a Westhill councillor summed up by saying that no-one can deny AFC need a new stadium but it will affect Westhill forever and ultimately people live here. He was not impressed by the transportation assessment and said the proposal was so far out of town it’s in another town!
Now it’s over to Aberdeen City councillors in the summer to consider whatever report comes in front of them from their planners, based on planning policy and taking consideration of the many consultees’ responses, including Aberdeenshire Council. It won’t be a numbers game or a popularity contest which brings me to Mark McDonald, MSP’s very recent statement in the press where he urges the council to provide planning training to newly elected councillors and cited the AFC stadium application. The vote is expected to take place in June – a few short weeks after the local government elections. Although Mark has openly supported the proposals he says “It is absolutely vital that our city council’s planning processes are respected and newly elected councillors make that vote, adhering to the regulations and rules which govern the planning system.” He added that new members must be “absolutely clear on declaring any interest in the project”. As an ex-councillor himself, Mark will be very much aware that councillors must stick to planning policy when determining an application. I’ve had calls from residents to break planning policy for this one application. I am sure we would see a deluge of legal claims if we did! I am disappointed to see some online comments from supporters who have no regard or insight of the planning system dismiss those who have taken the time and made the effort to study the proposals so that they can at least make an informed representation based on planning considerations. “Get it built” and “COYR” are not material considerations and online letters of support left blank giving no material reasons for that support count for very little. I’ve spoken many times about the need for residents to get involved in the planning system earlier and this is a perfect example of why. We all have work to do to make this happen. Councillors have work to do to explain to their constituents what our roles are in the planning process if only to counteract the reactive “nugget”, “dinosaur”, “NIMBY” etc labels when we vote the “wrong” way!