Infrastructure Services Committee Round-up 6.10.2016

The latest meeting of Aberdeenshire Council’s Infrastructure Services Committee (ISC) began with a presentation from Building Standards Manager Kenny Simpson, who gave a summary of the work of his team.

Part of their role is to inspect building works to discourage non-compliance with approved plans, checking elements of construction such as fire protection, means of escape, fire hearths and flues, sound insulation, ventilation, drainage, electrics and disabled access.

He also spoke about the role his team plays in relation to dangerous buildings, such as the Highland Haven Hotel in Macduff, Ballater Station and Kinellar School, all of which were destroyed by fire and left in a potentially dangerous state. Building Standards inspects such buildings after an incident, to assess any risk they may pose and help protect the public.

Councillors heard the current Building Standards system is established by the Building (Scotland) Act 2003 and aims to: secure health, safety, welfare and the convenience of persons in or about buildings; further conservation of fuel or power; and further advance sustainable development.

Mr Simpson outlined to councillors an ongoing Scottish Government review looking at how Building Standards Services are provided, which prompted a call from councillor Peter Argyle (Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Donside) for the committee to write to the Minister for Local Government and Housing outlining how good the in-house service is in Aberdeenshire, and the risks associated with taking away that service. ISC chairman David Aitchison agreed that a letter should be sent in his name.

Local councillor Mark Findlater (Troup) requested an update on the situation regarding the Highland Haven Hotel, which it was agreed will be brought back to local councillors in due course. He pointed out that the council spent a substantial amount making the private building safe following the devastating fire, which would have to be recovered.

Tobacco Enforcement Action Programme

The number of undercover enforcement visits to local shops will increase this year, after a “disappointing” rise in non-compliance with tobacco sales laws, councillors heard.

In percentage terms, the number of retailers in the area who sold tobacco to children during enforcement activity by Trading Standards officers increased last year.

Local authorities have a duty to work under the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Act 2010 to prevent the sale of tobacco to children.

This involves investigating complaints about alleged offences and taking measures to reduce the number of offences.
The law prohibits the sale of cigarettes to under-18s and buying cigarettes on their behalf.

It also requires the registration of tobacco retailers and includes a ban on tobacco displays in all premises selling related products.

Scottish Trading Standards services are working with the Scottish Government to increase enforcement activity to help reduce availability to young people.

ISC heard that in the year up to March 2016, officers in Aberdeenshire conducted 12 test purchase visits throughout the area using 16-year-old volunteers.

A total of 4 sales were made, 33% of the test purchases, resulting in warning letters being issued to retailers and their staff, with follow up visits to be made.

The previous year, 64 test purchases were carried out, resulting in 5 sales (7.8%).

Speaking after the meeting, ISC chair, David Aitchison, said: “These figures show a disappointing increase and so more visits will be carried out in the coming year to emphasise the importance of taking adequate steps to prevent tobacco sales to young people taking place.

“Good progress had been made in the previous two years, so we hope our planned enforcement activity will help to return to a more positive position.

“Ultimately the aim here is to reduce the number of young people who smoke and we need retailers to understand why that’s important and get behind it.”

Vice chair Graeme Clark added: “We have to work together as a community, enforcing national legislation locally so that we support efforts to prevent young people from taking up smoking. This is an important issue.

“Selling cigarettes to young people purely to make a profit at the expense of their health cannot be condoned and I’m glad the vast majority of local retailers are taking that message on board.”

Trading Standards staff carried out 71 visits to tobacco retailers over the last year to inspect premises and provide help and advice on complying with legislation, councillors heard.

Advice was issued to ten found not to be displaying statutory notices regarding underage sales. This is a 5% increase on the previous year.

Following a campaign launched in March 2012 in conjunction with Aberdeen City and Moray councils to highlight the issue of illegal tobacco sales, 19 reports were received during the year providing information about alleged sales of counterfeit cigarettes.

Several of these were in relation to the same premises and further action is being pursued against the business.

In addition, monitoring of social media sites identified 15 potentially illegal tobacco traders in and around Aberdeenshire – appropriate action is being pursued.

ISC agreed a continued programme of enforcement and advice for the coming year, including further test-purchasing by 16-year-olds.

Activity will also include inspections of premises where tobacco is sold and surveillance of premises where complaints or other intelligence indicates tobacco products may be being illegally sold, including the use of social media sites.

This year the trading standards team will also try to raise awareness of the legislation as it applies to purchases of tobacco products by and for under-18s at and around schools and further education institutions.

Roads Winter Maintenance Operational Plan 2016 – proposed improvements

A range of changes were agreed by the committee to improve the approach taken to dealing with winter in Aberdeenshire’s communities.

In recent years, the Council has reviewed its delivery of roads winter services to ensure it meets the expectations of the travelling public in line with the standards contained within council policy.

Following this review, further changes were proposed to make best use of available resources and the committee approved them.

Planned footway gritting has been increased and re-focussed to ensure the busiest paths are treated first, with those which are top priority all to be completed by 8am.

In comparison to the current arrangement, 100 kilometres of paths will now receive immediate treatment on the first day of frost, as opposed to around 87 kilometres.

This includes links to transport interchanges, academies and medical facilities.

By focussing on delivering an equitable service across the whole of Aberdeenshire and concentrating efforts at locations in settlements with higher pedestrian numbers, some communities with low pedestrian numbers may see a reduced footway gritting service following the reprioritisation, councillors heard.

To allow communities to help themselves more during winter, Aberdeenshire Council is also proposing a snow warden scheme.
This would see volunteers provided with training, warm clothing, insurance cover and safety equipment to help make a difference in their communities.

It is also intended to double the number of large grit bins at council recycling centres to improve public access to salt and grit.

Last year, the council’s winter maintenance service was achieved within its allocated budget of £4.28 million. This is significantly less than in previous years.

Local councillors were asked for their views before the proposed improvements went before ISC for approval.

The committee also agreed that a Member-Officer working group should be convened to review the plan, and as part of that it will look at anomalies in the plan and the issue of grit bins.