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

Should council tax be raised this year to fund local services?

Aberdeenshire Council will set its budget for 2017/18 on 9th February.

Recently, I have written about how the Scottish Government made a decision to increase council tax in only bands E-H from April outwith any locally-decided change. The changes made by the Scottish Government in these bands are below:

Band                        Current rate             New rate

E                              £1,394.56                £1,499.15

F                              £1,648.11                £1,854.13

G                             £1,901.67                 £2,234.46

H                             £2,282.00                 £2,795.45

These figures of course exclude any water and sewerage costs which are automatically added to our annual bills, if we are eligible to pay them.

There is an option for Aberdeenshire Council when considering the new year’s budget to raise council tax on all bands A-H by up to 3% over and above the Scottish Government’s imposed rise on E-H bands as above.

Cuts will have to be made anyway as central government funding has decreased. What are your views on Aberdeenshire Council raising council tax to prevent even more cuts in services?

 

Cluny, Midmar & Monymusk meeting dates 2017

The following dates and venues have been received from Cluny, Midmar & Monymusk Community Council for their meetings in 2017.

Meetings will start at 7pm, except for those held in Cluny Church Hall, which will start at 7:15pm.

26 January                              Midmar Hall

16 March                                Cluny Church Hall

20 April                                   Monymusk Hall

1 June                                     Midmar Hall

20 July                                    Cluny Church Hall

31 August                                Monymusk Hall

12 October                              Midmar Hall

23 November (AGM)               Monymusk Hall

WANTED: Your views on how Aberdeenshire budget is spent

Each year, Aberdeenshire Council carries out a consultation on budget plans.

It is an essential part of local democracy, ensuring that the voice of communities comes through in any and all budget setting decisions.

This year, we have launched a brand new approach, in order to try to simplify and illustrate the challenges faced.

In place of traditional surveys and written text, the team have developed a suite of infographics, each of which paints a different picture of a different part of council budget setting. For example, there is a section on the pressures that councils are under, one which focuses on council tax, and one which lays out some of the future opportunities.

Attached to each infographic is a short set of questions, in some cases just two questions, to give people the opportunity to make their voices heard.

The engagement process is open now and will close at the start of January, giving enough time for the results to be passed to councillors who, in turn, will use them to inform their decision making for the coming financial year.

Highlights:

  • All the infographics and associated questions can be found at www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/budgetengagement
  • Surveys are all open now and will close on 3rd January.
  • Reports will be submitted to elected members in January to give them time to consider all views in time for the budget setting in February.
  • The 7 topics are as follows: Pressures on our services; Investing in our communities; Increasing efficiency; Identifying savings; Council Tax; Income generation; The future of sports and cultural services in Aberdeenshire

The new approach has been taken to allow people have their views on as many topics as they feel passionate about. So views on all seven areas are being sought, however those with a particularly strong opinion on a particular subject can ensure that they get that message across loud and clear.

The infographics themselves are also being issued for use in community forums and discussions right across Aberdeenshire, to make sure everyone gets the chance to participate.

Council Co-leader Cllr Richard Thomson said: “It is important for us to embark upon our budget setting discussions with our eyes open. To get a feel for what people in our communities want and need from us, and to make sure they feel empowered to know what they can do for themselves. We want to maintain high quality public services while at the same time making sure we are as efficient as possible. We also want to minimise the impact any reductions have on residents and service-users.

“The views you share will help us as we come together as a council to debate how to make the best use of the funding available to us, and we value the feedback.”

Co-leader Cllr Alison Evison said: “Aberdeenshire Council is embarking upon a year of change and challenge. Local elections coming up will change not only priorities but faces around the chamber. Some significant projects will be delivered this year and others will be progressed. Ensuring we have had robust and extensive consultation will play a part in everything that we do.

“I encourage people across Aberdeenshire to let us know what their views are and look forward to getting the results.”

All the infographics and attached questions can be found at www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/budgetengagement

 

Councillors agree to consultation on future delivery of Sport and Culture

A consultation which will ask members of the public for their views on the concept of a charitable trust delivering sport and cultural services on behalf of Aberdeenshire Council will take place in December following discussions by councillors today.

At the meeting of Full Council, Aberdeenshire councillors were asked to consider a series of options for the future delivery of those services, including:

Outsourcing the delivery of the services to a private company;

  • The creation of a public-private partnership;
  • Continuation of the status quo;
  • An enhanced version of the status quo, through which the services would continue to be directly delivered by the council;
  • The creation of a charitable trust, wholly owned by the council

Councillors agreed that the creation of a trust is their preferred option for further consideration and that public consultation on the principle of a trust delivering the services should take place next month as part of the council’s budget engagement process.

The results of the consultation will inform a further decision by councillors in January as to whether a detailed business case for a charitable trust should be developed.

Co-Leader of Aberdeenshire Council, Cllr Alison Evison, said: “Today we have agreed that officers should continue to explore the idea of a charitable trust to deliver sports and cultural services in Aberdeenshire and come back to us with more information on how it might operate.

“The quality of the debate we have had so far gives me confidence that we are now on the right path, a path which could open up huge opportunities to sustain jobs and services.

“This path must include discussions with staff as well as public consultation and I’m pleased to see both happening.”

Co-Leader, Cllr Richard Thomson, said: “We know that alternative ways of delivering services have worked successfully elsewhere and it is time for us to consider why we aren’t doing it as well.

“The public consultation will help inform us when we meet again in January to decide whether to proceed to a more detailed, full business case for the creation of a charitable trust.

“We’ll be looking for views from sports and community groups, as well as individual residents who have both used and have never used our sports and cultural services.

“Our budget engagement will begin next month and will be promoted across Aberdeenshire so that is your chance to have your say.”