Update from the meeting of the full Aberdeenshire Council

Aberdeenshire Council met on Thursday 26th January to discuss a range of issues, including a notice of motion on business rates, appointments to new committees formed as a result of the changes to the Scheme of Government, an office space strategy and planning permission for a caravan park for gypsy/travellers in Kemnay.

Cllr Ross Cassie used the beginning of the meeting to remind colleagues of Holocaust Memorial Day which will be marked on Friday 27th January. He highlighted the film ‘How Can Life Go On’ – a short film produced to mark HMD and urged councillors to view and share the film on their social media accounts.

The Provost congratulated the Aberdeenshire residents who were acknowledged in Her Majesty’s New Year Honours lists.

Notice of Motion

Cllr Ian Tait put forward an emergency notice of motion: “Council will request the Scottish Government to apply the recent Rates rises on a phased transitional basis in order to avoid damage to businesses and employment within Aberdeenshire and absorb the shortfall over the transitional period so that it is not passed on to Councils.”

Following discussion, Cllr Jim Gifford used the basis of his amendment to agree a new joint notice of motion with Cllr Tait. This read:

“Council, as a minimum, will request the Scottish Government to apply the recent Rates rises on a phased transitional basis in order to avoid damage to businesses and employment within Aberdeenshire and absorb the shortfall over the transitional period so that it is not passed on to Councils.”

The Council instructs the Co-Leaders to write to the Finance Secretary Derek McKay MSP to highlight this impact and to:

1. Request that he suspends the planned increases until the ongoing Barclay Review is completed and actioned

2. Request, if it is possible to do so, that the Barclay Review includes a re-valuation of all NE businesses in order to take into account local market conditions for North East businesses.

3. Press the case for transitional arrangements for Aberdeenshire businesses in order to mitigate the impact of future increases.”

Cllr Stephen Smith put forward an amendment which read: “Council notes with concern the reported impact of the current Business Rates Revaluation. The Council notes that it must remain mindful of the impact of the current revaluation on its own finances and limited financial scope to intervene. The council instructs officers to conduct an analysis of changes to the business rates roll across Aberdeenshire with a view to:

1. Identifying the scale of any changes, and to identify any geographical areas or business sectors within Aberdeenshire which appear to be particularly affected

2. Instructing the Co-Leaders to share the outcome of this analysis with the Scottish Government, and to request any appropriate mitigation measures including transitional relief or suspension.” A detailed debate followed with councillors recognising the importance of evidence in fully appreciating the impact on the revaluation on businesses across Aberdeenshire, the large increases affecting business and the impact on the wider Aberdeenshire economy.

Councillors reported receiving correspondence from many concerned business owners who are feeling the impact of the downturn in the oil industry. They recognised the high increases that are expected to hit local businesses, on top of a range of other increases including water, sewerage and wages. Concerns were expressed about the impact on jobs, and the potential for companies to relocate elsewhere in Scotland or across the UK.

Whilst recognising the general consensus across the chamber, councillors felt there were still differences between the motion and the amendment and therefore were unable to reach agreement on a single notice of motion.

Cllr Stephen Smith reflected the good debate that had taken place and recognised that the strongest possible case needs to be put forward, but it needed to be a case built on clear evidence. Cllr Tait highlighted a difference between two positions, with immediate phased transitional relief required for businesses. He also reflected the very good debate and called on the Minister to take positive and immediate action.

Councillors voted 31:31, with the chair using his casting vote to support the amendment.

Appointment of Committees, chairs and vice chairs

In November 2016, Council approved a new Scheme of Governance, resulting in a number of new committees being formed with new roles and remits. Chairs and vice chairs were appointed as follows:

Business Services Committee:

Chair: Cllr Richard Thomson; Vice Chair: Cllr Stephen Smith

Communities Committee:

Chair: Cllr Anne Allan; Vice Chair: Cllr Raymond Christie

Education & Children’s Services Committee:

Chair: Cllr Alison Evison; Vice Chair: Cllr Charles Buchan

Infrastructure Services Committee:

Chair: Cllr David Aitchison; Vice Chair: Cllr Graeme Clark

Audit Committee:

Chair: Cllr Gillian Owen; Vice Chair: Cllr Ross Cassie

Office Space Strategy Councillors agreed to progress plans for the consolidation of two of Aberdeenshire Council’s largest office buildings. A business case was presented for relocating Woodhill House in Aberdeen and Gordon House in Inverurie to a smaller, more flexible and cheaper office built at Harlaw Park, at the same time as enabling more employees to work flexibly in modern fit-for-purpose buildings across Aberdeenshire.

Councillors were told that maintaining the existing offices in Aberdeen and Inverurie would require a major investment and would leave the council with office buildings far larger than it needs both now, and in the future.

Councillors agreed that officers progress proposals for the consolidation of existing offices in Aberdeen and Inverurie, along with investment in office accommodation in other towns across Aberdeenshire in order to support flexible working arrangements for office-based staff.

Plans include placing a greater emphasis on staff to work in localities closer to the communities they serve; adopting more flexible working practices, reducing travel time and increasing time spent on delivering services. This may result in further investment to council office facilities in towns like Ellon and Stonehaven to provide greater flexibility to staff to work in different locations. It also opens the door to exploring further co-location with public and private sector partners.

Some councillors expressed concerns about the proposal – referencing the cost of the project, the perceived distancing of the council from its communities, and uncertainty surrounding the future shape of local government.

Councillors demanded a strong business case and stated that the financial and economic case needed to be made, as well as the importance of demonstrating the value of the programme to residents of Aberdeenshire. Councillors supported the on-going work of a Member/Officer working group to oversee the progress of the project, intended to continue beyond the May elections and stressed the importance of their role in monitoring the progress of the plans.

Cllr Tait put forward an amendment not to support the proposal around the Inverurie proposal, whilst supporting the proposals for offices in Ellon and Stonehaven.

The motion was carried 50 for the motion, 4 for the amendment and 2 no votes.

Aberdeenshire Sport & Culture Trust

Councillors unanimously agreed that officers should begin the development of a full business case for a charitable trust to deliver sports and cultural services in the area. Co-Leader and chair of the Education & Children’s Services Committee, Cllr Alison Evison, emphasised the importance of the services and how much they add to the quality of life in Aberdeenshire before highlighting that within a challenging financial situation the status quo is not an option if those services are to continue to be delivered.

She also highlighted that the public consultation which took place in December had given support to the recommendation to continue exploring the concept of a trust and stressed the importance of staff engagement as the process continues.

The full business case is expected to be presented to councillors after the summer recess.

Planning Permission for a caravan park for Gypsies/Travellers at Kemnay

Councillors considered planning permission for the formation of a seven pitch caravan park for gypsies/travellers at Quarry Wood, Kemnay. Head of Planning Robert Gray introduced the planning application, stating the council had received 42 objections and 5 letters of support.

Councillors heard from Alan Seath, speaking for the applicant, and from Alastair McKinlay and Sir Archibald Grant, speaking on behalf of the objectors.

Mr Seath highlighted that the application was in line with established and proven need. He stressed the importance of the site to the family who described it as a pleasant and safe site to call home. He stated that the 7 pitches would become home to 15 adults and 15 children if the planning application was granted. He also said that the site would have minimal impact on the area and that there was no reason for refusing the application.

Alastair McKinlay spoke on behalf of the residents. He said that residents were concerned that since moving onto site, over 160 trees had been felled, there have been bonfires and many complaints regarding activity on site, and that now the site has been cleared, a retrospective planning application has been submitted. He expressed concern that all previous planning conditions had been ignored and there was no confidence that this would change in the future.

Sir Archibald Grant, representing Kemnay Community Council and Midmar and Monymusk Community Council, said that the applicant has been able to circumvent the enforcement notices by submitting a retrospective planning application. He expressed concern at the potential scale of the development which he said wasn’t a suitable site and it was in direct conflict with the Local Development Plan.

Councillors debated the planning application and it went to a vote with the motion to refuse the application put forward by Cllr Sheena Lonchay, and an amendment by Cllr Martin Ford to delegate approval of the application subject to conditions attached. The application was refused 27 votes to 24.