Westhill A2B dial-a-bus changes to service

Following a re-tendering exercise of the contract for the A2B dial-a-bus, the following changes are effective from Monday 21st August.

Service Area

It is proposed that the service operating area will be more compact as per the attached map to keep the bus closer to Westhill. Alternative arrangements are being considered for the one existing passenger who will be negatively impacted. It is anticipated that the revised operating area will make it easier for the management of requests from passengers living outside Westhill, e.g. Echt, Garlogie and Kirkton of Skene.

Monday-Friday Service

The finish time is being brought foward to 1615 hrs which matches the usual demand for trips. Due to the revised operating area, mentioned above, from 21st August, residents of Dunecht and Echt will be able to request a trip on a Friday (an option not currently available). The service will be operated by two wheelchair accessible taxis instead of one minibus. The availability of two vehicles should result in an increase in the number of transport requests that can be accommodated and the vehicles will be easier to manoeuvre in narrow streets.

Saturday Service

A timetabled service will operate, as below, using the wheelchair accessible minibus that currently operates the service. This service is similar to the current operation on Saturdays.

Proposed Timetable

All passengers must pre-book to travel via the Council – bookings cannot be made via the driver.

The following times are indicative and the actual times will vary by up to 15 minutes depending on the number of passengers and location of pick-ups on the schedule. The earliest possible pick-up time will be 0930 hrs and the latest possible drop-off time will be 1245 hrs.

Echt                                    0945

Garlogie                              0955

Kirkton of Skene                 1005

Westhill Shopping Centre   1020

Westhill Tesco                    1030

Westhill Tesco                    1140

Westhill Shopping Centre   1150

Kirkton of Skene                 1205

Garlogie                              1215

Echt                                     1230

Passengers will be provided with an estimated pick-up time when they book.

Route

The main route is: from Echt on  B9119 via Garlogie to Carnie roundabout; then B979, A944 and B979 to Kirkton of Skene; then Old Skene Road to Westhill (Shopping Centre); then Westhill Drive, Prospect Road and Endeavour Drive to Westhill (Tesco). Return via outward route in reverse.

The route may be truncated or varied in accordance with the passenger pick-ups on the schedule. (For example, if there are no bookings for Kirkton of Skene the bus can operate from Garlogie to Westhill via the most direct route taking in to account any pick-ups en route).

The service aims to provide door-to-door transport so, in accordance with the schedule, it will divert off the main route by up to half a mile to pick up and drop off passengers as close as possible to the door.

“Use it or lose it” – Scottish farmers urged to make use of Tenants’ Improvements amnesty

Tonight (Thursday 13th July), I attended an event at Thainstone organised by the FAS (Farm Advisory Service) aimed to inform tenant farmers and landowners about important changes to tenancy legislation including the current Tenants’ Improvements Amnesty.

Agreed as part of the 2016 Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, the amnesty allows for certain past improvements carried out by the tenant to be eligible for way-go (end of tenancy) compensation despite missing notices or consents. The amnesty opens on June 13 and will run for three years.

It was a very informative event and a chance to network with the farming community. I occasionally receive casework and queries about tenancy rights from farming constituents, so I took the chance to learn more about these important changes.

The main messages of the evening to tenant farmers and landowners were:

  • It is the tenant’s responsibilty to start the discussion with their landlord;
  • this is a time-limited process – don’t delay;
  • get professional advice

More information can be found in the Code of Practice – Amnesty on Tenants’ Improvements here.

 

Stagecoach confirm changes to local services

Following consultation and input by local residents and councillors, the council’s Public Transport Unit (PTU) have provided a summary of the Stagecoach revisions which will commence on 8th May 2017. They say “the company has implemented a small number of additional changes (highlighted in red) in response to comments and complaints received both at their own public consultation events and at the Council’s Area Bus Forums. Council officers have also requested minor changes to contracted journeys to improve connections for passengers and also respond to public requests. The PTU continues “However, overall, you will see that there are cuts to commercial services on the A947 (service 35), A96 (services 10/37), A944 (services X17/X18) and A90 (south) (services 7/7A/7B/7C) corridors and this is cause for concern. Stagecoach have confirmed that the changes are primarily to tailor levels of service with current passenger demand, which has been falling over the last 2 years, in order to ensure commercial viability, whilst improving service reliability by implementing more realistic journey/layover times.”

I have included all the service changes, not just our local ones, so the full range can be appreciated.

Summary of Stagecoach Bluebird Timetable Changes, 08 May 2017

4A/4C (currently 106)

Stonehaven Town Service

Replaces the hourly Monday to Saturday inter-peak Service 106 (Stonehaven Town Service), contracted to the Council.

  • New service is half-hourly Monday to Saturday inter-peak with alternate journeys (4A and 4C) operating in the opposite direction and it will connect with mainline services to/from Aberdeen at Barclay Street.
  • Aberdeenshire Council will continue to financially support 50% of the service.
  • Timing changes of up to 15 minutes.

7, 7A, 7B, 7C, X7

Aberdeen – Portlethen/Newtonhill/Stonehaven

Stonehaven – the mainline service will no longer serve areas to the west of the two railway bridges, with buses only serving the Thomson Terrace and Forest Park areas. To compensate for this, the Town service is enhanced as Service 4A/4C above, serving Farrochie and Edinview areas.

  • 0718 hours ex Spurryhillock – Barclay Street – Aberdeen (Monday – Friday) is re-instated in response to requests received at the Kincardine and Mearns Area Bus Forum.
  • Marywell Park will be served hourly instead of half-hourly.
  • Frequency reduced from 15 mins to 20 mins between Aberdeen and Portlethen, but there will be a consistent route with all buses serving Schoolhill, Asda, Portlethen Academy and Berrymuir Road.
  • Buses will operate hourly between Aberdeen and Newtonhill, instead of every half-hour.

10

Aberdeen – Inverurie – Huntly – Elgin – Inverness

0550 hours ex Aberdeen – Inverness (Monday to Saturday) is truncated to commence in Huntly.

  • 1730 hrs ex Aberdeen – Insch (Monday to Friday) is truncated to commence from Inverurie, A connection is available with Service 37 (Aberdeen – Inverurie).
  • 2220 hours ex Aberdeen – Elgin (Monday to Saturday) is withdrawn. There is a 2150 hours ex Aberdeen – Inverurie (Service 37).
  • 2300 hours last bus from Aberdeen to Elgin (Monday to Sunday) will also serve Blackburn, Kintore and Inverurie, compensating for the withdrawal of a Service 37 journey (see below).
  • 0539 hours ex Elgin – Aberdeen (Monday to Friday) is advanced by 32 minutes to depart at 0507 hours.
  • 1725 hours ex Inverness – Aberdeen (Monday to Saturday) is truncated to terminate in Huntly. There are alternative departures at 1625 hours and 1825 hours.
  • 2025 hours from Inverness – Aberdeen (Monday to Saturday) is withdrawn, meaning that the last southbound bus is at 1825 hours.
  • New Sunday journey: 0947 hours ex Elgin – Aberdeen.
  • Timing changes of up to 14 minutes.

X17

Aberdeen – Westhill – Elrick

Reduced frequency from 12 minutes to 15 minutes Mon – Sat. Stagecoach advises that this will improve reliability with the same vehicle resources, the 12 minute frequency being impossible to maintain due to congestion. No change to Sunday service.

X20/420

Alford – Kemnay – Aberdeen

With the aim of commercially viability, whilst compensating for the reduced frequency on Service 37 (see below), Service X20 (Alford / Kemnay – Aberdeen) will operate via Kintore (School Road) & Blackburn, adding up to 8 minutes to journey times. The contracted Service X20 journeys in the evenings and Sundays will continue to operate direct to/from Kemnay.

  • New Service X20 journeys: 0815 ex Kemnay – Aberdeen (Monday to Friday); 1540 ex Kintore – Aberdeen (Monday to Friday); 1548 ex Blackburn – Aberdeen (Monday to Friday); 0719 ex Aberdeen – Kintore (Monday to Friday); 1410 ex Aberdeen – Kemnay (Monday to Friday).
  • Council officers to review the routeing of contracted Service 420 (Kemnay – Blackburn – Aberdeen) later this year in response to requests received at the Garioch Area Bus Forum for consideration to be given to by-passing Blackburn, to reduce overall journey times between Kemnay and Aberdeen, in view of Stagecoach’s decision to re-route Service X20 as above.
  • 1445 hours ex Aberdeen – Kemnay (Service 420) (Monday to Friday) is advanced by 5 minutes in response to concerns raised at the Marr Area Bus Forum regarding missed connections with Service 421 (Inverurie – Kemnay – Alford) in Kemnay (see also Service 421 below).  

35/35A

Aberdeen – Oldmeldrum – Turriff – Macduff – Elgin

0825 hours ex Aberdeen – Banff (Monday to Friday) is truncated to commence from Oldmeldrum.

  • 2105 hours ex Aberdeen – Whitehills (Monday to Saturday) and 2215 hours ex Aberdeen – Banff (Monday to Saturday) are rationalised to form a 2135 hours ex Aberdeen – Whitehills (Monday to Saturday).
  • 1603 hours ex Turriff – Aberdeen (Monday to Friday) is withdrawn. There are alternatives at 1523 hours and 1623 hours.
  • 1623 hours ex Banff – Aberdeen (Saturday) is withdrawn. There are alternatives at 1550 hours and 1650 hours.
  • New journey 0528 hours ex Macduff – Aberdeen (Saturday).
  • In response to queries, it is confirmed that Service 35A (Oldmeldrum – Aberdeen) is unchanged.

37/X37

Aberdeen – Inverurie

Reduced frequency from 20 minutes to 30 minutes (Service 10 continues to provide an additional bus per hour between Inverurie town centre and Aberdeen).

  • No longer operates via School Road in Kintore (covered by Service X20 above) with all buses operating via Hallforest Avenue.
  • New peak limited stop journeys numbered X37: 0635 hours ex Inverurie (Monday to Friday), 1710 hours ex Aberdeen (Monday to Friday) and 1931 hours ex Inverurie – Aberdeen (Saturday).
  • 2310 hours ex Aberdeen – Inverurie (Monday to Sunday) is withdrawn but will be covered by a Service 10B (Aberdeen – Elgin) departure at 2305 hours, serving Blackburn, Kintore and Inverurie.
  • 2125 hours ex Inverurie – Aberdeen (Monday to Friday) is withdrawn. The nearest alternative departures are at 2010 hours and 2210 hours. There is also a 2125 hours Service 10 departure from Inverurie (not via Kintore or Blackburn).
  • 2325 hours and 0025 hours ex Inverurie – Aberdeen (Monday to Saturday) are withdrawn. The last southbound departure is now at 2210 hours, though there are later Nightbird departures early Saturday and Sunday mornings.
  • 2355 hours ex Inverurie – Aberdeen (Sunday) is withdrawn. The last southbound departure is now at 2225 hours.
  • 2125 hours ex Inverurie – Aberdeen (Saturday) additional journey.
  • 1648 hours ex Inverurie – Aberdeen (Sunday) additional journey.
  • Service re-routed to serve Craibstone Park and Ride to provide a link to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
  • Timing changes of up to 20 minutes

41

Insch – Inverurie

0912 hours ex Insch – Inverurie (Monday to Friday) and 1012 hours ex Insch – Inverurie (Saturday) contracted journeys are extended to commence from Beechcroft Road, Insch, in response to requests received at Garioch Area Bus Forum.

66/66A

Peterhead – Mintlaw – Stuartfield – Maud

1730 hours ex Peterhead – Stuartfield (Monday to Saturday) is extended to Maud, in response to requests received at Buchan Area Bus Forum.

  • 1155 hours ex Peterhead – Stuartfield (Monday to Friday) is withdrawn. The nearest alternative departures are at 1100 hours ex Peterhead – Mintlaw – Stuartfield and 1245 hours ex Peterhead – Mintlaw – Maud.
  • 1100 hours ex Peterhead – Stuartfield (Monday to Friday) will serve Torterston instead of Downiehills, in response to requests received at Buchan Area Bus Forum.
  • 0629 hours ex Stuartfield – Peterhead (Monday to Saturday) is extended to commence from Maud, in response to requests received at Buchan Area Bus Forum.
  • 1240 hours ex Stuartfield – Peterhead (Monday to Friday) is withdrawn. The nearest alternative departure is at 1144 hours
  • 1808 hours ex Stuartfield – Peterhead (Monday to Saturday) is re-routed to commence from Maud at 1816 hours and will not serve Stuartfield. There is an alternative departure from Stuartfield to Peterhead at 1852 hours (Council contract).
  • 1100 hours ex Peterhead – Stuartfield (Saturday) is withdrawn. The nearest alternative departures are at 1000 hours ex Peterhead – Mintlaw – Maud and 1200 hours ex Peterhead – Mintlaw – Stuartfield.
  • 1445 hours ex Peterhead – Stuartfield (Saturday) is withdrawn. The nearest alternative departures are at 1400 hours ex Peterhead – Mintlaw – Maud and 1600 hours ex Peterhead – Mintlaw – Stuartfield.
  • 1255 hours ex Peterhead – Mintlaw – Maud (Saturday) is retarded to depart at 1400 hours.
  • 1140 hours ex Stuartfield – Peterhead (Saturday) is withdrawn. The nearest alternative departure is at 1244 hours.
  • 1335 hours ex Maud – Mintlaw – Peterhead (Saturday) is retarded to depart at 1441 hours.
  • 1523 hours ex Stuartfield – Peterhead (Saturday) is withdrawn. The nearest alternative departure is at 1655 hours.
  • 0915 hours and 1725 hours ex Peterhead – Stuartfield – Peterhead (Sunday) return journeys are extended to operate as Peterhead – Mintlaw – Maud – Stuartfield – Peterhead.
  • Timing changes of up to 31 minutes.

217, 218 and 220 (currently X18)

Aberdeen – Westhill – Elrick/Alford

Service X18 is renumbered and split into three separate services as follows:

217: Echt – Elrick – (Aberdeen)

Peak hour weekday connecting service, operated under contract to Aberdeenshire Council.

218: Aberdeen – Westhill – Alford (via Lang Stracht)

The hourly daytime service (Monday to Saturday) which has been trialled since August 2015 will be reduced to 5 return journeys (Monday to Friday) and 3 return journeys (Saturday) on the basis of extremely limited passenger demand, effectively reverting to the Council’s contract specification which maintains peak and inter-peak provision and includes boarding/alighting restrictions between Elrick and Aberdeen to enable faster journeys. Connections with Service X17 (Elrick – Westhill – Aberdeen via Queens Road) are available at Kingswells Park and Ride.

First a.m. weekday peak journey from Alford to Aberdeen is advanced by 7 minutes to ensure workers arrive at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary in time for 0800 hours. This was in response to requests received at the Garioch Area Bus Forum.

220: Aberdeen – Westhill (Hillside and Broadshade)

Most journeys on this Aberdeenshire Council contract will commence/terminate at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, where connections are available with frequent services to/from the City Centre, with 3 return journeys per day going to/from Union Square. Operates via Kingswells Park and Ride (connections with Service X17 for Queens Road) and Kingswells Village.

421

Inverurie – Kemnay – Alford

1516 hours ex Inverurie – Alford (Monday to Friday) on this Council contract is retarded by 5 minutes in response to concerns raised at the Marr Area Bus Forum regarding missed connections with Service 420 (Aberdeen – Kemnay) in Kemnay (see also Service 420 above).

422

Insch – Alford

2356 hours ex Alford – Insch (Monday to Saturday), which is essentially a positional journey back to Insch depot, is re-routed via Whitehouse instead of Montgarrie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The future of A2B bus service in Westhill – what do you think?

Following discussions at the recent Garioch Area Bus Forum meeting, the Council’s contract for Westhill A2B dial-a-bus currently operated by Stagecoach expires in August 2017. The service, which is open to the general public, operates door-to-door within Westhill and outlying areas as per the schematic map on the Council’s website – http://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/roads-and-travel/public-transport/a2b-dial-a-bus/westhill/ .

Officers are currently reviewing detailed usage of the service in order to determine whether the service specification should be revised prior to tendering in April.  Initial ideas include the following:

  • The Mon-Fri service currently operates 0900-1700 hrs.  We are considering bringing forward the last drop-off time to 1600 hrs as there is little use of the service between 1600 hrs and 1700 hrs.
  • The Sat service currently operates 0930-1400 hrs, primarily serving Echt and Westhill.  We are considering tendering a more fixed route/timetabled service based on current usage to try to reduce the operating costs.
  • Amend the operating area to “withdraw” from the Leylodge and Schoolhill areas – this will match what is happening on the ground as we have no transport requests from these areas.

If you wish to provide comments or suggestions for the council to consider please email a2bdialabus@aberdeenshire.gov.uk or call the A2B general enquiries number on 01224 664747 by Thursday 23 March.

 

Scottish Liberal Democrats re-affirm support for Frank’s Law

The Scottish Liberal Democrat conference in Perth yesterday unanimously passed a motion re-affirming the party’s support for Franks Law.

The motion also went on to urge the Scottish Government and the SFA to examine what support can be given to ex-football players suffering from dementia. The commitment follows fresh calls from former professionals and their families, including from Liz McNeill, the wife of former Celtic captain Billy McNeill who suffers from dementia.

Frank’s Law is named after former Dundee midfielder Frank Kopel who was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 59. At present, anyone under the age of 65 who requires personal care for conditions such as dementia, motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis has to fund the cost of the care themselves. However, for those over the age of 65, that personal care is free.

Commenting after closing the debate, North East MSP Mike Rumbles said:

“I am delighted that conference has unanimously voted in favour of re-affirming our support for Frank’s Law.

“While Liberal Democrats were instrumental in introducing free personal care for the elderly, it is absolutely essential that action is now taken to ensure people under the age of 65 with a degenerative illnesses have access to the personal care and support they need.

“Frank’s widow, Amanda Kopel deserves great credit for forcing this issue on to the political agenda and keeping pressure on the Scottish Government to act.”

Mr Rumbles, who represents the North East, added:

“What’s more, today party members recognised the number of ex-footballers who go on to suffer from dementia in later life.

“That is why Scottish Liberal Democrats are urging the Scottish Government and the SFA to examine what support can be given to ex-football players suffering from dementia and support research into the potential link between brain injuries, dementia and football.”

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. 

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).