Communications with RBS continue

I realise it is some time now since our original meeting at the Library with RBS representatives and I just wanted to update you on what has been happening since then.

At the end of June, as requested at the first meeting, RBS agreed to meet with representatives of our three local community councils: Westhill & Elrick, Echt & Skene and Cluny & Midmar. Here is a brief summary of the issues addressed:

15 local managers of Post Office branches will be contacted throughout July (this includes the Stonehaven and Banchory ones as well as Westhill, as they have RBS branches closing as well). The aim is to find out what support they require moving forward and how best to support them in meeting alternative banking needs.

  • A schedule has been drawn up for provision of a mobile branch service. The mobile van will stop at Trinity Church twice a week (to be confirmed). The vans will be upgraded before October.
  • Some charities have not yet received a letter about the branch closure. There is a direct number for clubs and societies accounts – 0345 600 2230 – and individual clubs are advised to make contact
  • Discussions are ongoing between RBS head office and the landlord of the unit at Westhill Shopping Centre over leases. Until these discussions are concluded, confirmation of whether the ATMs will remain in the same location cannot be given.
  • Tech-xperts are in the branch 2 days one week, 3 days the next, available to help customers with their digital questions
  • The Banking Protocol document which we requested will be available in the branch mid to end of August

I will endeavour to give you further updates as they are available but I hope this is helpful in the meantime and grateful thanks to the community council chairs and secretary who attended the meeting to gather this further information.

Places, people and planning

The Scottish Government have now issued a Position Statement following the last round of consultations on review of the Scottish Planning system which closed in April 2017. This statement describes the key changes that Scottish Ministers are now considering taking forward through the forthcoming Planning Bill. Further responses on this Position Statement can be lodged up until 11th August 2017.

Some of the key proposals for the Planning Bill include:

  • The ability for communities to product Local Place Plans for incorporation in to the Local Development Plan
  • Introduction of a statutory link between development planning and community planning
  • Overhaul of the Local Development Plan process – the Main Issues Report stage will be replaced by early engagement and a ‘gate check’ followed by formal consultation on the draft Plan. LDPs will have a 10 year timescale with the opportunity for updates between full review cycles
  • Requirement for enhanced public engagement on planning applications for sites that are not allocated in the Local Development Plan and more proportionate pre-application consultation for allocated sites
  • Measures to strenghten enforcement against breaches of planning control
  • Mandatory training for Councillors serving on Planning Committes or Local Review Bodies
  • Proposals for nationally set housing land supply targets appear to have been rejected
  • Developers to include information on viability of sites and development delivery as part of the development plan process

Local authority planners, councillors as well as community councils and residents input greatly to the various consultation processes previously and it is good to see some of the issues raised being included in this Position Statement. The Statement can be accessed here along with the link for further comment on any of the proposals.

“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.


5-day road closure from Auchronie Hill to Millbuie Farm

Please note that due to CARRIAGEWAY REPAIRS to be carried out by Aberdeenshire Council it will be necessary in the interests of public safety to apply the following restriction to traffic.




Commencing  7 August 2017 for 5 days.

Site notices will be erected in due course indicating the temporary restriction to traffic and the alternative routes where applicable.

The alternative route is B9126 to U98c Kirkton of Skene, B979 Kirkton of Skene to U100c, U100c to C99c Blackchambers, U102c to B9126


What’s behind the headlines as AFC ramps up stadium plans?

Love them or hate them, the No to Kingsford Group (NKS) continue to be painted the villains against the beloved Dandies as determination of AFC’s planning application for a new stadium looms nearer. The story paints a picture of the heroic Reds, struggling to score all things good against one dastardly group who don’t know what’s good for them. For those who don’t read beyond the headlines, any stadium built of course will be first-class if it is in the right location, but the story is a little more complicated than one lone group’s objection against “very localised issues”.

Back in May, the club submitted additional information to Aberdeen City Council to try to address some of the outstanding issues from their original submission some months earlier. Statutory consultees were invited to comment as well as representations being open for the public to comment on the new information. You can read all the new documents online at the AFC link on the right hand side of my page.

Aberdeen City Council’s Roads Development Management team have highlighted a host of outstanding issues not addressed in this second round of documents from the club. New information on trip generation, modal split and trip profiles of the proposed development has emerged with no new scoping details, nor has “the altered methodology been scoped with the Council and agreement has not been sought as would normally be expected.” Police Scotland has not confirmed in writing that they are willing to control the movement of vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists as required as part of the Traffic Management Plan nor to provide police officers in both east and westbound carriageways on the A944 to stop vehicles from entering the pedestrian crossing space.

Confirmation previously sought on the 600 spaces at the Arnhall Business Park being available during matches with an evening kick-off has not been forthcoming in the additional information either. Aberdeen City notes that these aspects have not been identified in the Transport Assessment Addendum and are requesting clarity in this regard. They also re-iterate that an off-site parking arrangement with a third party and out with the redline boundary of the site is not enforceable within the planning system. You will see many other issues on their response online; too many to document again.

Aberdeenshire Council’s Infrastructure Services response is not available online at this minute, so I will not make comment on that here. Westhill & Elrick Community Council’s response is awaited too.

On reading the many documents submitted from the club this time around, not only have they thrown in some new quanderies over the Fanzone with no backing information on noise assessments, economic implications, but also a new supporters survey compiled by Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce.

After ploughing through these additional late papers, for me, and I know for many others, the fundamental planning issues remain. The greenbelt issue has not gone away. The site remains outwith the Local Development Plan. The stated preferred method of transport is by car, going against both councils’ sustainable travel policies. There is no direct route from the AWPR to the stadium; therefore the AWPR is not the magic bullet for this development. There remains no genuine community use available.

The “Dons executive” has a lot more talking up to do to satisfy not just the baddies of NKS, but the raft of statutory consultees including both councils, local community councils and members of the wider public who have read between the lines and have delved in to the reams of information to come forward with real, not perceived concerns. The plot will no doubt thicken as we turn the pages towards the pre-determination hearing and ultimate determination in October. And of course, what will the decision-makers make of it all?





Women in Farming and the Agriculture Sector

I wrote previously about the Scottish Government’s research project, the aim of which is to investigate the role of women in farming and the agriculture sector in Scotland under five headings: daily life, aspirations, career paths, leadership and comparative analysis with women in other family businesses. During the research, the importance of inheritance, training and farm safety also emerged as important issues. I have copied the findings below.

Executive Summary

In 2016, the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS) commissioned research on ‘Women in Farming and the Agriculture Sector’. The overall purpose of this research was to establish a baseline position on women in farming and the agriculture sector, which then will inform future policies to enhance the role of women in these sectors.

The specific aim of this research project is to investigate the role of women in farming and the agriculture sector in Scotland under five headings: daily life, aspirations, career paths, leadership and comparative analysis with women in other family businesses. During the research, the importance of inheritance, training and farm safety also emerged as important issues.

The research was comprised of literature review, 9 focus groups, 30 interviews and two on-line surveys: in total, over 1300 women and 12 men from across Scotland participated. The research was undertaken from June 2016 to March 2017.

Key Messages:

Women play a major role in Scottish agriculture, participating in the full range of farming activities.

The cultural practice of passing on large farms intact to one son is the single biggest barrier to women’s entry into agriculture. This means land transfer is institutionalised culturally (i.e. it is a hegemonic practice) but not legally (i.e. there is no legal restriction against multiple inheritance or bequeaths to daughters).

Women are very under-represented amongst the elected leadership of national-level farming organisations (e.g. although over 1/3 of farm operators are women, the NFUS has no women amongst its national office holders, regional board chairmen or committee chairmen.

However, about half of NFUS staff are women). Women have more proportionate elected representation in the Scottish Crofting Federation (where 3/9 board members are women).

Most survey respondents would like to see more women involved in leadership of farming organisations, but only about 1/3 were personally interested in becoming more involved in leadership themselves.

Lack of time is a major barrier to advancing women’s roles on-farm and in farming organisations, and to accessing training (including continuing professional development, knowledge sharing, farm visits and industry events). Women in agriculture are very busy, juggling family responsibilities, farm work, housework, off-farm employment and volunteer work.

Some respondents reported exclusionary practices that take place in farming organisations (e.g. the unlikeliness of women being elected to committee positions; women being asked to leave meetings once the social elements were finished).

Approximately 18% of main survey respondents identified ‘Not welcome by existing male leaders’ as a barrier to their participation in leadership of farming organisations.

The Scottish Association of Young Farmer Clubs (SAYFC) was the most common provider of leadership experience to women in Scottish agriculture.

There is a clear need for more access to, and uptake of, vocational, practical training for women entering agriculture, across a range of topics.

Enabling new entrants to establish farms also enables more egalitarian gender relations. This and other research shows that when men and women enter agriculture together (through buying/ renting together at the outset) more equal gender relations exist.

Approximately 29% of survey participants expressed an interest in developing farm diversification activities in the next five years. This interest was particularly marked amongst crofting respondents (38% expressed interest in developing diversification activities).

Women and men engage in many unsafe farm behaviours as a result of different demands and activities not accounted for in recommendations on safe practices.

Women in family businesses outside of agriculture face far fewer barriers to business involvement and leadership.

Scottish Government’s concerns about recognising the role of women in agriculture are similar to those shared by the European Union and national governments (e.g. Australia, Northern Ireland).

Key Recommendations:

The cultural practice of passing on large farms intact to one son needs to be challenged. Other models should be explored (e.g. in the rest of Europe it is not possible to disinherit other children). Increasing the discourse on inheritance practice (e.g. in farming organisations and the farming press) can lead to change in practices.

Succession planning is poor and families are reluctant to discuss it together. Access to professional advice on succession planning, as well as awareness raising and support, should be offered to all members of farm families.

The practice of only having one named tenant on a croft should be revisited to critically evaluate the gender implications. In an instance of divorce, spouses can lose access to the family home on the croft.

Conscious and unconscious bias needs to be addressed in farming organisations. A programme of measures is necessary and the following are recommended:

  • A 30% quota system for farming organisation boards and committees
  • Mechanisms to enable progression from the SAYFC to the National Farmers Union of Scotland Council (e.g. mentorship, establishment of a ‘young farmer’ or ‘new entrant’ council position).
  • Establishment of a ‘talent bank’ of suitably qualified women for farming positions (identifying their skills and interests, offering training opportunities, and encouraging farming organisations to recruit from this pool when positions became available).
  • Identifying women mentors to support male and female apprentices

If women-only networks and activities are supported, this should be through mainstream farming organisations, and not as separate fringe events.

Practical, hands-on training programmes need to be developed and made accessible to women through flexible scheduling, childcare availability and on-line components. Topics of primary interest to study participants included: livestock husbandry, animal health, accounting, business entrepreneurship, large vehicle driving, environmental protection and legal compliance.

Women should be supported to pursue a range of farm diversification opportunities, at a variety of scales.

More land should be made available for new entrants (e.g. on Crown Estate Scotland land, from large estates (of all ownership types), and through a ‘matching service’ with older farmers).

To increase farm safety, financial incentives, for farmers to purchase equipment appropriate for women and to encourage the use of childcare facilities, should be developed. Further research is needed to consider how to plan a farmyard for women and ageing farmers.

Recommendations for NHS dispensing services to go before Board

You will recall that NHS Grampian carried out a consultation last year on a number of GP practices on prescription dispensing. Skene Medical Group was one of the practices consulted on. You can read the full background on the review here.

You will note that for Skene Medical Group, the review group concluded that as there is a community pharmacy co-located with the medical practice and the fact that there are pharmacists within the surrounding areas, that there are no individual patients or a qualifying class of patients who will have serious difficulty in obtaining from a pharmacist any drugs, medicines or appliances other than scheduled drugs required for treatment, the group therefore recommends that Skene Medical Group is no longer required to dispense from the practice.

NHS Grampian will discuss this recommendation at their next Board meeting on 6th July.




Garioch Area Committee Round up

Today, the Garioch Area Committee met for the first time since the May elections in our home ground at Gordon House. Our last area committee meeting three weeks ago was held in Woodhill House because the chamber in Inverurie was being used for General Election work (what it really just three weeks ago??!).

Ward 13 (Westhill and District) items included an application for alterations and extension to the Milne Hall at Kirkton of Skene. After some discussion and hearing from hall committee member, Kenny Freeman, members agreed to defer the determination until a site visit which will take place on September 5th. You can view the report here.

I was delighted that we all agreed the recommendations to award £8,202 to Westhill District Amateur Swimming Club to purchase equipment which will enhance training across the district and a grant of £599.16 to Millbank & Tillyfourie Playing Field Committee to purchase an electricity generator. Millbank is one of the smaller communities in my ward who has a very active team of volunteers who don’t ask for much, so I was particularly pleased that Garioch Area Committee was able to agree this.

There was an application under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 to grant the extension of the hours of operation of a funfair at Echt Show from 1800 hrs – 2330 hrs on Friday 7th July, 2017 and from 1000 hrs – 0000 hrs on Saturday 8th July and this was duly granted.

Chief Inspector Murray Main presented us with a local area update with a verbal update on the local trends and issues. I was particularly pleased to hear that CI Main will be leading a Rural Crime working group to look at the incidents of crime unique to some of our more rural areas such as sheep-worrying, cattle rustling, theft of plant and hare coarsing; all crimes which have been reported in the press recently. I asked CI Main about how we can effectively report back to communities about the preventative work done in our area with regard to speeding and asked about the campaign targeting motorcycle safety. I was pleased to hear that the great work done by Police Scotland (and formerly Grampian Police) over a number of years on Operation Zenith is being carried forward.


RBS agree to further engagement with community

I was pleased to meet with the local CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland last week along with their senior management to discuss further the branch closure at Westhill. Also attending the meeting were local business and personal account holders, charity account holders, a Post Office representative as well as representatives from each of our three Ward 13 community councils; Westhill & Elrick, Echt & Skene and Cluny, Midmar & Monymusk.

I called for this meeting after RBS made a public announcement to close local branches including Westhill, Banchory and Stonehaven. The strength of feeling about the closure is clear by the amount of emails and calls we have received on this issue. A high number of residents have signed a petition against the closure, but we must not build up hopes of any reversal of the decision to close these branches and we must take a proactive stance to get the very best alternatives for local customers. At our meeting, it was reiterated by the bank that this is a commercial decision. What we did ask them to do is bring back more in-depth analysis of the figures they first presented to justify the closure and to produce a “Customer and Community Engagement” document in early course so that we can see clearly the statistics behind the closure and their plans for future engagement.

We were able to start a dialogue with them about the alternative banking methods they expect their customers to use. At our meeting, RBS agreed to consult further through community councils as well as other partners including Aberdeenshire Council. These discussions will shape when and where a mobile branch can be located in Westhill. There was a recognition that the mobile branches are not fit for purpose and we were assured that the vans will be upgraded with the technology required to serve customers.

We were also successful in our request that RBS sit down separately with local Post Office managers to ensure that they have the capacity to provide alternative banking facilities rather than take it for granted that all post offices will be able to accommodate the additional transactions.

Many customers are concerned about the lack of privacy at both the local post office and in a mobile branch and I am making enquiries about the possibility of RBS holding local surgeries.

All in all, this meeting was a useful starting point and I hope that we can explore all avenues to secure the very best alternatives over the coming months. When RBS and our community councils have arranged their next meeting, I will provide details here.

As an update, RBS have today provided the following:

  • An average of 49 active customers use the branch every week to undertake transactions
  • Of the 49 customers, 28 of them already use other branches
  • 13 of these customers are Personal/Private banking customers, 36 are Business customers of which many use alternative banking services e.g. online and mobile app.
  • This data has been derived from customer transactions over a 26 week period from October 2016 to January 2017.
  • Locations of free to use ATMs in and around Westhill include the two at the RBS location in the shopping centre, one at Costco, two at Tesco, one at TACO in the Westhill Business Park and one at Westhill Service Station.
  • For local Clubs and Society account holder enquiries, the Account Management Team can be contacted on 0345 600 2230. I know this is a concern for local account holders left with no local facility as residents who run groups such as brownies, guides and indeed community councils are volunteers and use their own time to keep their accounts in order. Any queries should be directed to the above number but we will endeavour to get more answers as questions crop up in further discussions.
  • The “Access to Banking” protocol which RBS adheres to requires them to publish the “Community & Engagement” documents a minimum of 4 weeks prior to closure and they currently work to get this live 6 weeks before closure. However, further to our discussions, the local CEO has requested that this can be looked at given the 6 months notice period.
  • A Business Growth Enabler along with a technical expert (TechXpert) will start to visit all outlying Post Offices in the area during May.

Local shopping centre issues discussed

I recently met with the agent (M J Mapp) for the privately-owned shopping centre in Westhill, along with representatives of the Westhill and Elrick Community Council; Audrey Findlay, acting Chair and Becky Ferguson, Secretary. For many months now, there have been issues raised at local meetings and this was an opportunity to bottom out some of these issues.

I have summarised some of the issues we spoke about and action points taken from our meeting:

  • concerns have been raised about the safety of the car park. We discussed the request from some residents to make the car park a one-way system. It was confirmed that the layout of the car park will not be changed but the agent agreed to get the car park arrows re-painted. We discussed how there used to be a zebra crossing in the old layout but this had been removed when the shopping centre expanded the car park. M J Mapp are to look at the options for providing a pedestrian crossing.
  • M J Mapp have allocated funds for new landscaping planting and will be speaking to the contractor as the work was felt to be falling below the standards expected.
  • We discussed community notice boards and WECC will update in due course.
  • We discussed the RBS closure and although the marketing and eventual new tenancy agreements would be a commercial decision between the parties involved, we did make it clear that we would like to see something that would enhance the shopping centre and retain the vibrancy of it.
  • colleagues had previously discussed concerns raised about the safety of the area at the back of the shops when exiting the archway on to the crossing on Westhill Drive across from the Holiday Inn. It was felt (and confirmed by Roads service) that the pavement on the shopping centre side of the road was of sufficient depth and coupled with tactile paving, there would be sufficient space to see the road ahead. It was felt there was more a problem with drivers rather than pedestrians. I have contacted Aberdeenshire Council Roads service again who have agreed to repaint the white lines on the crossing and look at the possibility of improving the visibility of the crossing by using illuminated columns, brighter lighting and improved signage.
  • I enquired about the possibility of community groups utilising the old vets building on a short term basis and although M J Mapp was positive towards this idea, we need more clarity from them about the terms and conditions of any proposal and I will keep you updated as we explore options.