Infrastructure Services Committee 28.1.16

The first Infrastructure Services Committee (ISC) of 2016 began with the approval of an application for full planning permission for the demolition of steadings and erection of three houses on a site at Donniemaud, Cornhill near Banff, subject to conditions and the conclusion of an agreement on Developer Obligations. It was referred to the committee because in the opinion of planners the proposal was against council-wide policy and the Banff and Buchan Area committee was minded to approve it at a previous meeting. ISC members endorsed the area committee’s decision following a vote.

Infrastructure Services Director, Stephen Archer, gave a verbal update on Aberdeenshire’s ongoing recovery from recent severe weather events and highlighted the effort put in by multiple council teams, including the 185-strong roads team, which worked 8,500 hours in about ten days in some of the worst weather seen locally for many years, with some river levels rising by three metres.

He outlined some of the damage to Aberdeenshire’s infrastructure, including bridges which have been damaged or no longer exist and roads which were affected, and said the recovery process is expected to take around six months, with the council working in partnership with communities.   

Stonehaven Flood Protection Scheme

After hearing from a range of objectors and a supporter for Aberdeenshire Council’s proposed Stonehaven Flood Protection Scheme, councillors made a preliminary decision that it should be progressed with modifications made to address some of the issues raised by objectors.

Head of Roads and Landscape Services, Philip McKay, said it is designed to reduce risk in the lower catchment of the River Carron, which has badly flooded nearby homes and businesses in the past.

Responding to questions on the scale of the design and whether it is necessary, he said the proposed scheme is designed to protect the town from a 1 in 200 year flood at 2080, when river levels are expected to be 30% higher taking climate change into account, a scale of flooding event which Stonehaven has not been subjected to in living memory.

He said: “We are speaking about something of a scale that no one in Stonehaven has seen – that is the level of protection we’re anticipating giving the town.

“I am entirely confident that to provide that level of protection the scheme you have before you is the right way to do it.

“There’s no guarantees in flood protection, however. At some point in the future, whatever we do there, we’ll be inundated – we will have an event that will be more than one in two hundred years plus climate change. Hopefully that’s a thousand years away.”

Recently, the proposed measures have been subject to public consultation, when eleven objections were received.

Officers involved in the project entered into negotiations with some objectors to try to address the issues they raised and if possible, modified the proposals to reach a suitable solution for all parties.

It was hoped the modifications could result in the removal of several of the eleven outstanding objections.

If objections remain unresolved, by law the council can only make a preliminary decision to either: confirm the proposed scheme without modification, confirm the proposed scheme with modification, or reject it.

The committee’s decision to proceed with modifications will now be notified to Scottish Ministers, a step required by law.

They have to decide within 56 days whether to consider the scheme or refer it back to the council.

If Ministers decide to consider the scheme, a Public Local Inquiry will be held, unless all objections are withdrawn.

Should they not wish to consider the scheme, the matter will be referred back to Aberdeenshire Council to convene a Public Hearing.

Design work has been progressing on the £16 million project since councillors gave the go-ahead in December 2013.

Councillors previously agreed the Council should promote a formal Flood Protection Scheme for the town.

The Flood Protection Scheme (formal order) was promoted under the terms of the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009. Consultation as part of this process led to the objections being received.

The Order would provide the council with power to secure entry to the land required to build the scheme.

The council’s Policy and Resources Committee previously gave approval for funding of the scheme at an estimated value of £14-16million.

It also agreed to continue to pursue all possible funding opportunities from the Scottish Government.

You can see the written objections to the Flood Protection Scheme for Stonehaven and officers’ responses to these in the committee report online.  

More information on the process being followed to implement a scheme is available in an online information sheet

Aberdeenshire Forestry and Woodland Strategy

ISC approved a proposed Aberdeenshire Forestry and Woodland Strategy and a related consultation on the document which will run for eight weeks.

The strategy is being prepared as supplementary guidance to the Aberdeenshire Local Development Plan (LDP) 2016 and replaces a joint Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City Council document produced in 2005.

Members heard it sets out high-level objectives for forestry and woodland management and creation, reflecting national policy and regional circumstances for the LDP area.

It is an expression of forestry and woodland stakeholders’ priorities for the area, covering issues relating to climate change, timber and business development, community development and the environment.

It includes issues relating to planning and development, as well as Council-owned and managed woodlands.

The strategy also maps out preferred areas for new woodland creation in Aberdeenshire.

An initial ‘Call for Views’ was carried out in September and October 2015. A written consultation was supported by stakeholder and community workshops during this period.

Following approval by ISC, a further consultation will now be carried out from the start of February, running for eight weeks and covering the strategy and its associated Strategic Environmental Assessment.

The committee also agreed the strategy should be presented to councillors on each of Aberdeenshire’s six local area committees.

After the consultation, a revised version of the strategy will be produced and brought back to ISC for comment and approval.

It is expected that the Forestry and Woodland Strategy will be adopted along with the Aberdeenshire LDP 2016.

Aberdeenshire Council Development Plan Scheme 2016

The committee approved and agreed to publish the 2016 Development Plan Scheme, which sets out Aberdeenshire Council’s programme for preparing and reviewing the Local Development Plan (LDP).

By law the council is required to publish a development plan scheme at least annually. It must contain information on proposed timetabling and details of what is likely to be required at each stage of plan preparation, along with a “Participation Statement” setting out when and with whom consultation is likely to take place and its likely form.

Councillors heard that consultation and engagement activities are limited by the fact that the current Proposed Plan has been submitted for examination by a Reporter appointed by Scottish Ministers.

The council’s Head of Planning and Building Standards, Robert Gray, agreed to circulate statistics on the percentage of objections to the emerging LDP which had been resolved, after a request by Councillor Bryan Stuart (Inverurie and District).

You can see the approved Local Development Plan Scheme and the report to committee on our website.

Creation of a new property investment fund

Councillors approved the creation of a Property Investment Fund with the aim of taking a consistent approach to intervention in property issues in the northern Aberdeenshire towns of Banff, Macduff, Fraserburgh and Peterhead.

The committee heard the proposal was brought forward by the Regeneration Member Officer Working Group, mainly after witnessing the scale of dereliction in Macduff and on some streets in Banff, such as Bridge Street.

Given that similar issues are prevalent in Peterhead and Fraserburgh, the creation of a property investment fund for these four towns is expected to enable the delivery of town centre improvements and bring vacant buildings back into use.

It is designed to encourage owners to invest in their property and bring it back into commercial or housing use.

Councillors heard the scale of the problem facing some sites was made clear in work commissioned by the property service into six sites in Banff and Macduff looking at potential housing solutions. None of the properties would have given a commercial return without various levels of public subsidy.

Council officers acknowledge that in proposing to address the problem by encouraging investment in problem sites and buildings, a mix of developers is required including community organisations, private developers and as a last resort, the local authority.

A grant would help bridge the gap between what has been invested in the building and what it is worth after improvements.

Councillors heard this gap will vary from property to property, and on reuse value. It is therefore difficult to gauge the amount of funds that may be required, as this will vary from case to case.

The committee heard that the Property Investment Fund will be a tool to assist in the delivery of the council’s new Regeneration Strategy, incentivising redevelopment of town centre property to encourage investment, attract interest and resolve medium level problem blight. Improvements to streets will increase the confidence of other investors and boost the local commercial property market.

IS Director, Stephen Archer, said the council did not want to go down the route of using Compulsory Purchase Orders to take over “problem” properties, instead preferring a collaborative approach.

“We want to use it as a pilot to see how that would work and if it brings added value and change,” he said. “If we don’t put some sort of input in, nothing is going to happen.”

ISC chairman, David Aitchison, said: “To encourage people to help themselves is what we should be doing. I’m happy with what’s being proposed and think it is a good move forward for the regeneration areas.”

Michael Roy (Banff and District) said: “It’s a breath of fresh air as far as I’m concerned and I can’t wait for the process to be implemented, I hope it’s done very quickly.”

Initially the Property Investment Fund will run for two years before it is reviewed and the results reported back to councillors.

It is hoped the trial will demonstrate what is achievable and what is required to entice private and community developers to invest in their town centres. This is also expected to give an idea of the amount of budget needed on an ongoing basis.

Initially, £400,000 will be allocated to the fund from town centre regeneration money, subject to approval by the council’s Policy and Resources Committee.

The committee also approved proposed criteria and management of the fund, as outlined in an appendix to the report to committee.

Mr Archer added: “It will be hard work to get people to the table, because if it was easy the properties would already be back on the market – there will be some problem in there that is causing things not to move forward.”

To see more of the background and reasoning behind the decision, please see the report to committee on our website.

ISC will receive a report reviewing the scheme at a future meeting.

Review of European Partnerships

Councillors considered a review of the council’s involvement in European Partnerships and agreed to withdraw from the East of Scotland European Consortium.

The committee agreed to remain a member of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CMPR), the North Sea Commission (NSC) and Local Authorities International Environmental Organisation (KIMO).

Members heard the council participates in a number of external European partnerships. Membership of these is reviewed in line with the Council’s Partnership and Joint Working Policy, requiring evaluation of the continuing value of participation every three years.

The CPMR aims to tackle the disadvantages faced by Europe’s periphery; promote Europe’s maritime dimension; exploit the benefits of being close to European citizens; and make the voice of the regions heard in a global world.

The NSC is a sub-organisation of the CPMR and aims to promote the North Sea Basin as a major economic entity within Europe by encouraging joint development initiatives and political lobbying at European Union level.

KIMO, is designed to give municipalities a political voice at the international level, to share best practice and to find solutions to marine political problems that affect coastal communities.

The ESEC aims to establish EU policy knowledge and information on EU funding; lobby and petition on behalf of the East of Scotland to influence EU policy change; and ensure EU policy engagement.

Councillors were given an overview of the costs and benefits of each partnership and decided to withdraw from ESEC due to budget pressures and the fact that other organisations, such as the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and Scottish Local Authorities Economic Development (SLAED), provide similar services.

They heard that given budget pressures, it may not be possible to maintain the current level of involvement with external partnerships in coming years.