Early Start!

I was delighted to be asked to be unofficial photographer for Sir Robert Smith, MP last week during his pre-Christmas visit to Royal Mail’s sorting office in Westhill even though it meant an earlier than usual start for me in the morning! It was great to see behind the scenes and meet the staff who were already two hours into their busy day. Manager Derek Angus explained that Royal Mail customers seemed to have ordered online gifts earlier this year after suffering delays in the midst of adverse weather in the run up to last Christmas, so for staff the parcel rush had come a little earlier on in December than usual. The staff were in good spirits and Sir Robert spent some time finding out more about their work. He said  “The Royal Mail posties play a crucial role in ensuring effective delivery of the mail. No other organisation has the local knowledge and network to reach every door in the country.  The regulator needs to ensure that rival companies do not put that network at risk as they compete for the easier parts of the process.”

Shelter Scotland Empty Homes Conference

I can’t believe a whole week has passed since I travelled to Edinburgh to attend Shelter Scotland’s Empty Homes Conference! “Tempus fugit” as one of my more educated friends reminded me this morning.

Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland welcomed delegates to a somewhat draughty St Paul’s & St George’s Church. The keynote speech was from Keith Brown, Minister for Housing & Transport. It was interesting to note that only a short while back in September at the SFHA Conference in Glasgow, he assured us that of the 30,000 homes promised in the SNP manifesto, at least two-thirds would be for social rent. Now, after their housing policy came under scrutiny in Parliament a few weeks ago, he is backtracking saying they will honour their commitment to provide “affordable” homes, the definition of affordable being very much up for debate.

 The Empty Homes initiative would certainly play a part in providing much-needed homes and is a step in the right direction, but again it is all down to funding and a willingness by local authorities to work in partnership with other agencies.  The idea of reducing VAT on all home repair and improvement work to 5% would certainly drive projects forward and is one which the Liberal Democrats support.

 For full details of the Empty Homes initiative click here:

 http://scotland.shelter.org.uk/housing_issues/more_homes/empty_homes

 Throughout the day, we participated in a wide range of workshops discussing finance strategies used in other areas and how to engage with empty home owners. We heard from South Ayrshire Council on their Empty Homes Loan Fund.

 The conference ended with a debate on proposals to introduce a Council Tax Levy on long-term empty properties. While Keith Brown earlier claimed that £30 million could be made from the levy, his figure disregarded exemptions that would have to be made on council and RSL properties or those properties earmarked for demolition. Although the levy is still at the consultation stage, it is likely that local authorities will decide on the level to be implemented in each case. The consultation ends on 10th January 2012 and can be accessed here:

 http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/10/17105007/0

 On leaving the conference, a short walk took me to a very festive, though chilly, Princes Street. I was looking forward to a cosier evening in Hispaniola (what used to be Robert Louis Stevenson’s favourite drinking haunt before it was made into a restaurant, so I am told) and I was not disappointed.

As I looked up towards Governor’s House en route though, I couldn’t help feeling a nip of irony in the air at the disparity in housing options for Scotland.

A busy Saturday!

Westhill was buzzing today with lots of activities going on. My day started on a festive note right from the start; as I drove  home at 8 o’clock after dropping my son off at work, on passing the Broadstraik Inn I saw Santa coming out of a car. Perhaps he had ditched his sleigh there last night. I then went to the Farmers’ Market which, despite the bitterly cold day, was bustling with shoppers taking in the festive spirit and browsing the stalls. There is a range of local food produce stands each month with local craft stalls as well. The market is a great chance to have a blether with folk and of course I cannot resist stocking up on fresh duck eggs. Then it was on to the Lions’ book sale next door in the Trinity Church. The Lions hold a monthly book sale and all proceeds go to local good causes. Trade was good today and I just had time to grab a coffee there and run to Denman Park (duck eggs intact) for the litter pick. Aberdeenshire Council Landscape Services have been tidying up and cutting back shrubs in the park, so it was a bit easier to reach some of the litter this time. An hour in the Denman made a difference then it was back home to Leddach Grange to see who would turn up to the inaugral litter pick on this side of town.  Many thanks to Ivan, Cameron, Jacqueline and special thanks to Holly (5 ) and Fraser ( 2) – who were wee stars – for turning up and making a difference.

Graffiti removal

Aberdeenshire Council and its community planning partners have secured funding to continue a free graffiti removal service to ensure it is removed as quickly as possible. They encourage members of the public and businesses to use this service.

I was delighted to work with Councillor Gurudeo Saluja earlier this year to arrange to have graffiti removed from various locations around Westhill. Once the locations had been identified and reported, the work was carried out within days.      

I’m looking forward to travelling to Edinburgh on Tuesday to attend the Scottish Empty Homes Conference being run by Shelter Scotland. There are over 23,000 long term private sector empty homes in Scotland. Each one is a waste and a lost opportunity for the thousands of people who cannot access decent housing. I am hoping to learn more about the funding strategies being used for this initiative and to hear all about a case study from West Dunbartonshire Council.

I’m not averse to a wee night out in Edinburgh either and hope to spend some time in the capital. I will share my thoughts when I return.

Litter Pick Saturday 3rd December

A litter pick is planned for Leddach Grange on Saturday 3rd December at 1230 hrs – just for one hour. The Community Council litter initiative is run by Aileen and Raymond Swaffield who have kindly agreed to loan us the kit and hopefully we can make it a regular clean-up. We usually meet in the Denman Park on a monthly basis to help keep it tidy. With the small amount of volunteers, there is never enough time or bodies to cover more of the area, so it would be great if Elrick could become a regular tidy-up spot too. Meet at the all-weather football pitch beside Carnie Woods next Saturday 1230 hrs. See you then!

Damaged lamp standard on Carnie Crescent

The lamp standard at the entrance to Leddach Grange on Carnie Crescent has, I am sure, been in this state for some time. I contacted Aberdeenshire Council today who recorded my complaint. I am not particularly pedantic about how straight our lamp posts should be, but more concerned for the safety aspect. I suspect a vehicle has been in contact with it as the bottom of the post is buckled and obviously the structure is weakened as a result.  As the road has not yet been fully adopted by Aberdeenshire Council, it may be that the developer still has responsibility for maintenance of street lamps here and Aberdeenshire Council have promised to clarify this. I do hope that whoever has responsibility for it takes it and that we will see a speedy repair.

Damage to fencing

There are a number of ongoing issues in Leddach Grange at the moment. One is the recurrence of damage done to the fencing which cordones off the burn running between Burnland Place and Carnie Avenue. Apparently strips of fencing has been removed by residents to provide a short-cut! Yesterday I spoke to Greenbelt Group who are responsible for the maintainance here and was assured that they are dealing with this issue. The hold-up seems to be a lack of response from home owners to correspondence sent by Greenbelt regarding repairs. I will keep you updated.