Round-up of Aberdeenshire Council

In a first for Aberdeenshire Council, the meeting was webcast enabling anyone to view the meeting online. This, and future meetings, will be available through the webcasting portal. and will be archived on the site for people to review for up to six months. A range of business was discussed including a new Business Rates Relief Scheme, the Aberdeenshire Local Development Plan 2017 and planning applications for a 10 pitch travellers site at Aikey Depot in Old Deer, and a new business park at Balmacassie in Ellon.

The meeting began with a presentation from the Young People’s Organising and Campaigning Group. The presentation focused on the campaign by young people to highlight the support and guidance needed by Looked After Young People and Children. They broadcast a DVD designed to raise awareness of the issues experienced by young people in care. Cllr Anne Robertson said she was ‘very proud’ of the young people and their work and encouraged them to keep challenging councillors to ensure they are delivering their responsibilities as corporate parents.

Cllr Alison Evison welcomed their actions to take the campaign across Scotland and stressed the importance to all councillors of their role as corporate parents to support Looked After Children and Young People.

Business Rates Relief Scheme

A Business Rates Relief Scheme was agreed by councillors which will support over 1,200 businesses which are likely to be impacted by the most significant business rates increases. Cllr Richard Thomson introduced the report, recognising that the revaluation had caused great concern and that some businesses were facing large increases and the council had a duty to respond. He said: “We have listened to businesses and examined the evidence. We have a Scheme that is easy to administer and implement, complementary to other relief schemes and will target support where it can do the most good.” He also welcomed comments from the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce who described the scheme as practical, workable and easy to administer.

Co-Leader Cllr Richard Thomson agreed to accept two amendments to the report. The first from Cllr Jim Gifford was: “Instruct the Chief Executive to write to Finance Secretary Derek Mackay MSP asking him to guarantee that the estimated £23 million extra that will be collected over and above the non-domestic rates allocation on the settlement will stay in Aberdeenshire. Further to ask the Minister to guarantee that an adjustment will not be made to the Revenue Support Grant to compensate for the extra revenue raised nor will it be recovered in subsequent years.”

The second amendment came from Cllr Martin Ford: “Agree to support Aberdeenshire businesses in line with the North East Regional Economic Strategy with the balance of enabling funding and to use up to £50,000 to develop the business case to decriminalise on-street parking as a measure that would improve the management and vitality of town centres.”

The Business Rates Relief Scheme was developed following feedback from businesses across Aberdeenshire concerned at the proposed increases following a revaluation by the Grampian Assessor. Councillors agreed to set aside up to £3 million of ‘enabling money’ to support a rates relief scheme when it met in February.

This decision follows a further announcement from the Scottish Government introducing a new national and local relief scheme, which will cap increases in 2017/18 at 12.5% for specific business sectors including hotels, pubs, restaurants, cafes and offices.

Of the 11,000 business rate payers in Aberdeenshire, over 1,000 have received notice of increases in their rateable values impacting on their business rates, some of which have significant cost implications. The scheme will support businesses through 50% relief to businesses with increased liability and who meet agreed criteria, an additional 25% for those businesses already in receipt of the Small Business Bonus Scheme, as well as relief on empty properties.

The issue has been particularly highlighted in the North East as the Rateable Value was based at April 2015 when the local economy was extremely buoyant. The Council has endorsed the North East Regional Economic Strategy and is committed to providing support to the business sector, from signposting to other agencies which may be able to assist and in some cases considering financial assistance. Engagement with both the Grampian Chamber of Commerce and Federation of Small Businesses will be ongoing.

The scheme will be in place for one year, giving businesses the opportunity to appeal their rateable value.

Aberdeenshire Local Development Plan

Aberdeenshire Council agreed a Local Development Plan which provides a new planning blueprint for the area for everyday use. The decision follows an examination of objections to the proposed plan carried out by the Scottish Government Directorate of Planning and Environmental Appeals, on behalf of Ministers.

The plan sets out ambitious long-term and site-specific visions for the area, not including the Cairngorms National Park, and will provide a practical framework within which the outcome of planning applications can be decided with a degree of certainty and efficiency. Approval by the Full Council follows nearly five years of work, involving extensive consultation with stakeholders, communities and the development industry.

Cllr David Aitchison welcomed the report and the flexibility and more efficient use of land that the framework would bring. Whilst recognising that the Plan would never suit everyone, he recognised that it had been subject of significant consultation with communities and members and he urged all members to support it.

Cllr Peter Argyle seconded the motion. He expressed concern at the process, given the Scottish Government Reporter was able to make changes to the plan counter to the views of local people.

Cllr Paul Johnston suggested an amendment to seek a meeting with the DPEA to allow senior officials to engage with the DPEA on how they will facilitate the communities’ aspirations in their considerations.

An amendment from Cllr Allan Hendry to defer the decision was defeated 53 votes to 9, with 1 no vote.

Planning Permission for Travellers Site at Aikey Depot, Old Deer

Councillors considered a planning application for a stopover site for travellers at Aikey Depot, Old Deer with provision for 10 pitches and associated vehicles.

The report was introduced by Planning Manager Mairi Stewart who explained the requirement of the council to identify suitable sites for travellers. She explained that in determining the application, the Planning Service considered key areas including the principle of the development on the site, including compliance with LDP policies and meeting criteria for gypsy/travellers, the visual impact on the area and any other material considerations.

Given the number of unauthorised encampments in Aberdeenshire, she said the proposal demonstrates a proven need and meets the requirement of the Local Development Plan. She said that material considerations included pressures on local facilities but these could be addressed and the Director of Education assured councillors that the area would be zoned within Maud and school places would be made available. It was highlighted that granting of the application would have a positive impact on the gypsy/traveller community.

Lynne Tammy, CEO of Article 12 in Scotland addressed the meeting, she explained how gypsy/traveller women experience significantly greater health inequality and the lack of facilities on roadside encampments can pose a major health risk.

Linda Farquhar spoke in support of the application as a member of the council’s Planning for the Future Tenant Group. She explained that the site is not overlooked by anyone and that local facilities make the site attractive for short-term settlements. She also highlighted that it is well documented that travelling communities have used the site going back hundreds of years. She said that Aikey Brae would result in a reduction of illegal encampments in Aberdeenshire and welcomed the provision of education for children from the gypsy/traveller community.

Alexander Tong speaking against the application said that Aikey Brae not a sensible choice for children and young people, for health, education or from a social integration point of view. He said that the consideration of the needs and welfare of children were vital and that the site was adjacent to a busy, fast road without streetlights. School transport would have to be arranged as they could not walk to school safely. He said there were no services in Old Deer and the small village of Maud was 2.7 miles from the proposed site.

Councillors debated the application. Cllr Norman Smith said whilst recognising the pressures on the council to identify sites for gypsy/travellers, he didn’t feel this was the correct site as it was close to a busy road and the site experienced flooding. Cllr Jim Ingram described the site as ‘disappointing’, and said travellers need access to facilities and services which aren’t locally available.

Chair of the Gypsy/Traveller sub-committee, Cllr Allan Hendry said that consultation with travellers showed they would use the site at Aikey Brae as a stopover site and the distance to local facilities meets requirements. Although the site is within a designated conservation area, it does not preclude it as a site. Effective drainage will deal with any water issues and there is no flood risk. He urged councillors to approve the application.

He was seconded by Cllr Martin Ford and addressed concerns that the site was not the complete answer to the challenges of addressing gypsy/traveller provision. Recognising it wasn’t he said it was a provision that the council needed to address. He explained that there are no immediate neighbours, it is an appropriate distance local services and facilities. He said: “This site meets requirements. We have to start somewhere and this is the place to start.”

Cllr Anne Robertson described the application as ‘a good start’. She said it was an opportunity to make a positive change and impact on both the settled community and the gypsy/traveller community with a properly constructed halting site that meets their needs.

Councillors voted 18 votes for the amendment (to reject the application) to 36 (to support) with no vote.

Planning Permission in principle for a Business Park at Balmacassie, Ellon

Councillors considered a planning application in principle for the development of a commercial/industrial development on land to the north of Ellon, consisting of office space, industrial, storage and distribution and other uses. The allocation also requires land to be made available for a gypsy/traveller transit site, which would be subject to a separate planning application.

Chair of Formartine Area Committee Cllr Rob Merson said that the area committee had debated the application on several occasions and that at its meeting in January it was agreed by majority that the application be granted subject to conditions. Local members are aware that industrial land has become a premium in the town and the options of such sites were becoming more limited. He moved to support the application, which was seconded by Cllr Gillian Owen who said there was no question of the need for more development land in Ellon.

Cllr Martin Ford moved an amendment to defer the application – expressing concerns about the proposal to move the travellers site as the development grows, preferring a permanent halting site to be made available for travellers. It was supported by Cllr Jim Gifford.

Councillors voted 24 votes for the motion and 25 votes for the amendment – the application will be deferred.