Infrastructure Services Committee Round-up 12.5.16

Infrastructure Services Committee (ISC) began with a presentation from Gary Hughes, Business Gateway Manager, who told councillors the mantra for businesses these days is “innovate or die”. He explained that Business Gateway offers free, up-to-date, relevant, impartial advice to local businesses through local organisation, Elevator, which is funded to deliver the support. Mr Hughes outlined some of the hundreds of workshops which took place across the north-east last year, covering a range of topics, from business planning to ICT, to marketing and finance, to give confidence and extra knowledge to business operators. He told the committee: “The last thing we want is a business failing because they lack a piece of knowledge or information.” He said Business Gateway focusses on three areas: “start up services”, “growth services” and “local advisory” and outlined some of what’s offered to the committee. He said more resources were being put into the latter area this year, to help businesses struggling with the oil and gas downturn “survive and thrive”. An expert will look at all areas of a business and make practical recommendations. Mr Hughes gave an example of a local business which has benefitted from the services offered and added: “It’s about making sure businesses out there have the best chance to survive."

He told the committee 1,163 businesses were supported to start up last year, with 12 month local survival rates higher than the national average for those businesses, at 84%, compared to 81%. 

More information about Business Gateway in Aberdeenshire is available online.

Economic Development Strategy 2011-16 – Action Plan progress 2015-16

The committee received an update on progress delivering Aberdeenshire’s Economic Development Strategy over the last year, the final one of the current strategy period.

It is not intended that a new strategy will be produced, instead being replaced by a list of Aberdeenshire Economic Objectives, accompanied by an Economic Development Action Plan covering the next four years.

Councillors heard there have been many changes since the last Economic Development Strategy was drawn up. The City Region Deal has been developed, Opportunity North East (ONE) has been launched, the energy industry has faced a significant downturn and VisitAberdeenshire, a new tourist body for the area, has been formed.

The committee heard these changes will have a bearing on the new Aberdeenshire Economic Objectives and the subsequent Economic Development Action Plan.

The Economic Development Strategy Action Plan progress update, which was endorsed by the committee, can be seen as appendix one to the committee report.

Following representation from Banff and District councillor John Cox, the committee acknowledged the Scottish Government’s changes to the rules on rates relief for business premises and requested that a report be presented to the Banff and Buchan Area Committee on the implications this has for investment and regeneration in Banff.

Programme for Active Travel and Road Safety

The committee noted and agreed in principle a programme of capital works in 2016/17 worth more than £2.7million for a range of projects and infrastructure promoting active travel and road safety.

Councillors heard £1,580,000 of the funding comes from the council’s own Capital Plan, £286,000 from the Scottish Government’s Cycling, Walking and Safer Streets initiative, £250,000 from the council’s Revenue Budget, £370,000 from Nestrans and £185,000 of match funding, which is being sought from money allocated by Transport Scotland.

Developer contributions of £115,000 are to be used for a planned footpath at Sauchen.

The programme of works includes projects such as road widening, provision of passing places, new footways and cycleways, speed signs, traffic calming and footpath improvements.

More significant projects include continuation of the A947 Route Improvement Scheme, further work on Integrated Travel Town (ITT) Schemes, the development of long distance cycle routes, bridge maintenance and an allocation of £150,000 for interventions following accident investigation.

Revenue funded projects include safety roadshows, walking challenges, walking and cycling maps and leaflets, marketing and educational work in schools.

Following approval in principle, Local Area Committees will now be consulted on the detail of the projects. An updated list of projects forming the programme of works will then be reported back to ISC for its agreement.

The committee also agreed to a linked programme of projects for 2016/17 including promotional campaigns, marketing and education, worth more than £506,000.

Committee chair, David Aitchison, said all of the “very significant projects” were very welcome.

You can see the proposed projects by council area in the report to committee on our website.

Funds Distributed by Economic Development Schemes and Business Gateway 2015-16

The committee received an update on the distribution of funds from the Support for Aberdeenshire Business (SAB) Scheme, as well as delivery of the Business Gateway contract, including the First Employee Grant Scheme.

The SAB scheme is for businesses operating within Aberdeenshire, or those moving into the area, which have a proposal to develop their business and meet a range of qualifying criteria.

In 2015 it assisted 40 businesses, helped to create 58 jobs and safeguarded 13.

Funding from the scheme helped to lever in £2,393,735 from other sources to assist the projects being funded by the businesses. Most of the businesses assisted are in tourism or engineering.

You can see a breakdown of the SAB grants and loans awarded in 2015-16 by council area and by industry sector in the report to committee.

More details on the SAB scheme, which has been operating since 1998, can be seen on our website

Business Gateway is the main Scottish Government funded service for providing support to start-up and growth businesses. Aberdeenshire Council has managed it in this area since 2008.

In 2012 the council awarded a five year contract for local delivery of the programme to Elevator.

You can see a summary of the results achieved for the year to 31 March 2016 in appendix 3 of the report to committee.

The First Employee Grant (FEG) Scheme is funded by the Business Gateway budget and was launched in March 2011. There were 49 grants approved (32 in Aberdeenshire) in 2015-16 for Aberdeenshire businesses. Each grant is for £1,000 and support businesses in taking on their first employee.

It ceased in February 2016 because the budget used to fund it had to be used to fund the annual increase in the cost of the Business Gateway contract.

The committee noted that the scheme had ceased, but asked officers to consider whether there were any other funding streams available to continue it, given its popularity.

More information on the Business Gateway support offered to businesses can be found at: www.bgateway.com

Health and Safety Service Plan

The committee approved and agreed to adopt a Health and Safety Service Plan for the coming year, for implementation by the council as a Health and Safety Enforcement Authority.

The Service Plan takes account of local needs while addressing national priorities as set out by the Health and Safety Executive in its current Strategic Plan.

The plan includes both reactive and proactive work and includes details of planned promotional and educational activities for the current year.

The main aim is to raise standards of compliance in businesses, ensuring the self-employed, employees and members of the public’s safety, health and welfare are protected, as well as increasing awareness and understanding of health and safety issues in the local community.

You can see the see the details of the service plan in the report to committee on our website.

Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Ellon to Aberdeen Strategic Transport Study

A “hybrid” option to improve transport connections in the North-east was backed by the committee.

Councillors supported the development of both fresh road AND rail links from Ellon to Peterhead and Fraserburgh.

The committee was clear it is not a case of deciding on one or the other, but that a combination of travel modes was preferable to improve connectivity.

They received an update on the outcomes of Nestrans’ Fraserburgh, Petehread and Ellon to Aberdeen Strategic Transport Study, which also sought their views on the key findings of the work to date, and the proposed further development of the study, as requested by the Nestrans board.

The purpose of the study is to identify and examine options for improving strategic transport connections along the corridor, taking into account rail, bus, road, and active travel.

The committee welcomed the progress made so far in developing the study for the corridor.

Officers from Nestrans, Aberdeenshire Council and Aberdeen City Council are of the view that, based on the outcomes of the initial appraisal, packages of options are likely to produce the most effective and value for money solution towards the six transport objectives previously identified.

These are:

(1) Reduce journey times between North-East Communities and the Aberdeen conurbation;
(2) Increase journey reliability and predictability between North-East Communities and the Aberdeen conurbation;
(3) Reduce accidents on the A90(T) and A952;
(4) Increase strategic travel choice between North-East Communities and the Aberdeen conurbation;
(5) Increase direct public transport connectivity between North-East Communities and the main trip attractors within the Aberdeen conurbation; and
(6) Increase mode share for non-car based modes between North-East communities and the Aberdeen conurbation.

Seven broad options for solutions have been identified from the work done so far and they are being assessed to see which should be taken forward to the next stage.

Having considered the outcomes of the study to date, Aberdeenshire Council believes no single intervention is likely to achieve the objectives, and that a packaged approach is likely to be most appropriate for the corridor.

Councillors noted that further work would be undertaken to further develop the packages of potential measures for further appraisal and noted that officers will undertake further consultation with Transport Scotland, bus and rail operators, alongside Nestrans officers, to refine the options, before taking them to the next stage.

The committee also referred the report to the Formartine, Buchan and Banff and Buchan Area Committees for their comments and instructed officers to report those back to a future meeting, prior to responding to Nestrans.

More information, including the key findings of the study so far, is available in the report to committee.

Local Flood Risk Management Plan for North East Local Plan District 2016-22

The committee approved the content in the draft North East Local Flood Risk Management Plan for the period 2016-22 for those Potentially Vulnerable Areas (PVAs) within Aberdeenshire.

Under the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009 there is a strategic framework for considering appropriate mechanisms to manage flood risk.

SEPA published the Flood Risk Management Strategy for Scotland, including the North East District, which was approved by the Environment Minister in December 2015.

It sets out the objectives for tackling flooding in high risk areas. Actions that will then deliver these objectives are described and prioritised in six year planning cycles.

Aberdeenshire Council as Lead Local Authority for the North East District is developing the North East Local Flood Risk Management Plan (LFRMP) to deliver the aims of the strategy in the area.

This will present a summary of the objectives and measures to manage flood risk and details of how the measures will be implemented, as well as timescales for delivery, funding arrangements and details of partnership working to deliver these measures.

Councillors also agreed that officers should develop the presentation of the plan for publication in June.

The committee further approved a Flood Protection Study for Ballater to be progressed outwith the North East Local Flood Risk Management Plan in the period 2016-22, to address local concerns following flooding in the area at the start of the year.

Councillor Sheena Lonchay sought assurances that a review being undertaken by Sepa would see Kemnay identified as a PVA after it too was affected by flooding this year.

The council’s Projects Manager, Gavin Penman, told her that officers will have discussions with Sepa and look to secure the status for the town.

He also said that as part of those discussions he would raise concerns regarding the construction of houses in the area which could make them more vulnerable.

ISC Chair David Aitchison said he had had recently read a Sepa press release which indicated the possibility that Kemnay would be designated as a PVA.

The Flood Risk Management Strategy for the North East can be viewed online.