Infrastructure Services Committee round up - 24th August 2017


Contribution towards the Aberdeen Harbour Project, Road Safety, the Design Awards, a new bus quality partnership and road signage and markings were amongst the items discussed at a meeting of the Infrastructure Services Committee on Thursday 24th August at Woodhill House in Aberdeen.

City Region Deal Aberdeen Harbour Project.

Infrastructure Services Committee approved the Council’s contribution of up to £5.5million to deliver the City Region Deal Aberdeen Harbour Project at a meeting today. 

The overall cost of the core harbour project is expected to be around £350m. Most of this will come from private funding, but in order to support the overall funding position, the Aberdeen City Region Deal includes a commitment of up to £11m funding from the two local authorities.

The Committee was asked to approve Aberdeenshire Council’s contribution and approve the Aberdeen Harbour Business Case.

Chair of the committee Cllr Peter Argyle proposed a motion that the committee accept the recommendations. He said the City Region Deal was essential for the north-east economy and the Aberdeen Harbour development was a major part of the deal. He added that Aberdeen Harbour has always been important to the north-east and there was undoubted benefit for Aberdeenshire in this proposal.

Vice Chair of the committee Cllr John Cox seconded the motion and added that there were significant opportunities for businesses in Aberdeenshire. Cllr Cox sought assurances that businesses, especially those in the Food and Drink sector, would be considered for supplying cruise ships with local produce.

Cllr Martin Ford said he had reservations and that he found this a difficult decision. He said there were benefits to the region but the committee had to decide if spending £5.5m on this project was a priority for the council. Cllr Ford added that he had always been supportive of a City Region Deal but just not the one that was signed.

He argued that the council would not be putting money in to this if it wasn’t for the City Region Deal and that it wasn’t appropriate use of council spend.
Cllr Ford moved an amendment to oppose the recommendations. This was seconded by Cllr Jim Ingram who argued that the council should not be spending money on an Aberdeen City project.

Cllr Peter Argyle responded that this was not an Aberdeen City project but an Aberdeen Harbour project, which would benefit the whole of the north-east.
Several councillors raised the potential impact on Peterhead and Fraserburgh ports and it was agreed to invite them to a future meeting of the committee. Cllr Peter Argyle, Cllr David Aitchison both said they had met with Peterhead Harbour and they did not have concerns about Aberdeen Harbour project.

Cllr Robbie Withey added that the Food and Drink, Hospitality and Tourism industries were facing huge pressures and anything which gives them a chance to grow should be a priority.

Cllr Ian Mollison was worried about the reputational damage to the council of not investing in this project.

The committee approved Aberdeenshire Council’s contribution and the business case by 12 votes to 2.

Road Safety

Councillors approved a new Road Strategy for Aberdeenshire with the ambitious aim of cutting the number of fatalities on Aberdeenshire roads to zero.

The committee were told that the number of fatalities and injuries from road traffic accidents in Aberdeenshire had gone down in the last 10 years and was in line with trends across Scotland. Ewan Wallace head of transportation, added that the number of serious injuries remained stubbornly high and relatively unchanged. 

Based on nationally accepted figures and values, collisions in Aberdeenshire are estimated to cost the local economy in the region of £80 million per annum.

Cllr Peter Argyle described the report as hugely important work. He added that the aim of the new strategy was to prevent police turning up on doorsteps to give family members the worst news possible. 

Speaking as a former police officer who had to go and speak to relatives of those killed on Aberdeenshire roads, Cllr Ross Cassie echoed the comments of Cllr Peter Argyle. In his view education is key and was the missing part of the new strategy.

Transportation Strategy Manager Mark Skilling highlighted the work of two education officers in Aberdeenshire and said there was increased engagement from Police Scotland and other partners.
Councillors were supportive of plans to look at increasing the number of 20MPH zones in Aberdeenshire. There was also calls for greater enforcement as “people think they can drive as they wish because they are unlikely to be caught.”

There was strong support from councillors for plans to reinvigorate Operation Zenith. This was a Grampian wide initiative on working with road users to reduce the number and severity of accidents among motorcyclists. Cllr Peter Argyle said the initiative had a positive impact in the past but recently the trend of accidents involving motorcycles was going in the wrong direction.

Finally councillors discussed the A947. Cllr John Cox, said there was a perception that not a lot was happening on the road. Mark Skilling said he shared the councillor’s frustration and there was no doubt the A947 was the most dangerous road in Aberdeenshire. Mr Skilling said work was going on in the background and the route improvement plan previously approved by the committee was progressing. He added that there was no clear trends or definite blackspots on the road and education was key to reducing accidents.

Ewan Wallace pointed out that following targeted work in 2014/15 the number of accidents on the road had fallen by 14%. 

Road Markings and vehicle activated signs

The Infrastructure Services Committee approved a new draft road marking plan, a draft variable and vehicle activated signs policy statement and endorsed the outline programme for reviewing and updating existing policies and for developing new policies relating to the functions of roads and transportation. 

Road markings are subject to wear and need to be refreshed periodically to keep them in good order. This is a significant element in the road maintenance budget and with the continuing pressure on Council resources it is important that this funding is deployed where it will give maximum benefit. Clear and consistent policies and procedures will help to achieve this.

Variable message signs are widely used outside schools to sign part time 20mph speed limits in line with Scottish Government Policy. In addition, there is now a widespread use of vehicle activated signs to warn road users of potential hazards or remind them of speed limits. Over the years, various different types of equipment and different applications have been tried out. This has led to a lack of consistency across Aberdeenshire and to reliability issues and maintenance problems with some of the equipment used.

The use of these signs is now sufficiently widespread that consistent policies and operating procedures are required to ensure the optimal deployment of resources and to assist in the efficient management and maintenance of the equipment.
The anticipated benefits arising from the adoption of the policies and procedures include the following: 

Consistent use of road markings should make it easy for road users in Aberdeenshire to understand what to expect;

Priority will be given to providing markings at locations where they will give the greatest benefit; 

Where markings are provided, they will be maintained to a good consistent standard; 

Use of budgetary resources will be optimised by concentrating on high priority locations;

A clear and consistent method of assessing sites for vehicle-activated signs taking account of accidents, speeds and vulnerable road users; 

Simple and consistent signing of part time 20mph limits at schools using components that can be assembled and replaced by Aberdeenshire Council staff;

Less down time when faults occur as greater consistency in equipment types will make management and maintenance more straightforward.

Cllr Martin Ford said that vehicle activated signs were a great innovation, they have community backing and reduce speed. He would like to see more of them in communities across Aberdeenshire.

At present sites are considered for a vehicle activated sign where the 85th percentile (the speed that 15% of vehicles exceed) speed exceeds speed limit + 10% + 2mph. Cllr Ford suggested deleting +10% and +2mph so more sites could potentially get a sign.

In response David Armitage said he was worried that the proposal might lead to all communities being eligible for a sign which would diminish their effectiveness.
Following discussion Cllr Ford formally proposed a motion that the +2MPH be deleted which Cllr Ross Cassie seconded. Cllr Peter Argyle proposed an amendment to keep formula as it is. This was seconded by Cllr George Carr.
The amendment was carried by 11 votes to 3

Councillor Ford asked if Communities raised money themselves could they get a sign? David Armitage said that higher rates of accidents tend to be in high areas of deprivation so he would be concerned that those who need it most would not be able to afford them. This was not put to a vote.

Cllr Ford further argued that if a community has a request turned down there should be an appeal process involving ward councillors. Ewan Wallace said they could look at a system where ward councillors were consulted. Mr Wallace’s suggestion was accepted by all councillors.

Bus Quality Partnership

Discussions are being held through the Local Authority and Bus Operator Forum (LABOF) on the options for refreshing the current structure of the Quality Partnership for Public Transport and to seek agreement in principle on proposed revised arrangements.

A similar report was considered and agreed by the Nestrans Board at its meeting on 26 June 2017 (http://www.nestrans.org.uk/wpcontent/uploads/2017/06/5a-Bus-Quality-Partnership.pdf) and will be considered by Aberdeen City Council’s Communities, Housing and Infrastructure Committee on 29 August 2017.
The concept of Enhanced Partnerships is now something that is contained within the Bus Services Act in England which received Royal Ascent in April 2017. The Scottish Government are currently considering their approach on bus services and regulation, however it is unclear at this stage whether any Scottish legislation will reflect the approach in England and Wales.

It is anticipated that the Enhanced Partnership provisions would encourage partnership working to go further than current voluntary arrangements by allowing the Local Transport Authorities (LTAs) to expand the areas that statutory partnership measures can cover, specifically providing for more joined-up network planning and allowing local implementation and enforcement. 

Enhanced Partnerships could also provide the opportunity to include aspects within a formal agreement that are not covered by current legislation e.g. issues relating to ticketing.

The LABOF partners agreed that Enhanced Partnerships may provide a good solution for this region and this option should be reviewed as the legislation progresses in Scotland.

LABOF has proposed that a more ambitious voluntary region-wide agreement is established which sets the objectives, standards and targets for the region, governance arrangements and a programme and timeframe for delivery.
It is further proposed that the region-wide voluntary agreement would replace and update the current voluntary Quality Partnership agreement which was signed in 2010.

It would also specify at a region-wide level the commitments from all parties to improving bus travel and set standards and targets to be met region-wide.
The Infrastructure Services Committee approved a proposed two tier approach for a region-wide voluntary bus partnership agreement and subsequent corridor specific agreements such as statutory or enhanced partnership agreements.

Elected members also approved the involvement of Aberdeenshire Council in the establishment of a Quality Partnership Board and development of the Terms of Reference of a future Quality Partnership Board.

Vice Chair of Infrastructure Services Committte Cllr John Cox welcomed the approach. He added that there were concerns about the quality of service in some areas and hoped this would be addressed.

Chair of Infrastructure Services Committee, Cllr Peter Argyle mentioned that other areas of Scotland had seen a big decline in bus passengers but that hasn’t happened in Aberdeenshire. He praised the partnership working for this and said reliability was key to keeping public confidence in the service.

Biodiversity Champions

Elected members agreed to expand the Biodiversity Champions initiative in Aberdeenshire by adding Peatlands, Swift Fresh Water Pearl Mussels, Farmland birds, Hedgehog,  Bottlenose Dolphin and Community tree planting to the list of those who will have champions. The champions will be announced shortly.

Design Awards

The Committee agreed to continue and make improvents to the Design Awards which are held every two years. The next Awards will take place in 2018 and include both conceptual and built categories are suggested to encourage a mix of entries. There will once again be a Student Award with a public vote for this category.

To see all the reports that were discussed at August meeting of Infrastructure Services please go to:
http://committees.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/committees.aspx?commid=495&meetid=18738