ISC round up 10.5.18

Infrastructure Services Committee (ISC) began with a presentation on professional qualifications and how they reflect positively on Aberdeenshire Council by Tom O’Connor, Senior Engineer.

He talked about his experience with the council of a four-year graduate apprenticeship scheme for Civil Engineers funded by Skills Development Scotland which leads to a BA Honours Degree, designed to help tackle a shortage of new engineers coming into the profession.

He talked about his subsequent employment with the council in the construction, bridges and quality assurance teams and highlighted what’s available to anyone taking the route, including work experience while you learn and a chance to work on a range of interesting civil engineering projects.

Tom said of the job: “It can vary from a morning to an afternoon, and it’s really exciting. I think we need to get that message across to school leavers.

“One of the things I like about working for Aberdeenshire Council is the variety of the work and the enthusiasm of the staff that I work with.” 

Councillors thanked him for an “inspiring” presentation on what is being done to attract and retain people in what is sometimes an “unseen profession” which has a significant impact on people’s everyday lives.

ISC chair, Peter Argyle, said he hoped people would be inspired to go on the training journey Tom had been on and become the civil engineers of the future.

Following a vote (8-6), the committee then approved the formation of a campsite, erection of a reception building with camping facilities and associated parking and access at Beechglen, Silverstripe, Forglen, Turriff subject to conditions.

Planning Enforcement in Aberdeenshire 2016/2017 – Progress report

The committee received a report providing an overview of the activity of the Planning Enforcement Service in 2016/2017.

The report outlined improvements made in the service following recommendations made by an internal audit in 2015 and the allocation of additional resources.

Councillors heard the service is now seeing the benefits in terms of increased performance, cases being concluded more quickly than before and a significant reduction in complaints about delays.

Aberdeenshire is a busy Planning Authority in terms of Planning Enforcement, corresponding in part with the high volume of planning applications received each year.

Historically, it has consistently been in the top three rankings of busiest Planning Enforcement Authorities in Scotland. In 2015/2016 the Council received 674 enforcement cases – the highest of all Scottish Planning Authorities.

The most common type of breach continues to be development carried out without planning permission (81% of breaches in 2016/2017), followed by non-compliance with conditions (15%) and non-compliance with plans (5%).

Councillor Argyle said: “This is a very interesting and timely report. Clearly a lot has been done in the last few years to get enforcement on a stronger footing.”

Referring to the implications of the emerging Planning Bill in the area of enforcement, also referred to in the report, he said he supported officers’ views that proposed enforcement powers are not as strong as might be desired.

The committee agreed Cllr Argyle should write to the relevant Minister on its behalf, copied to the Local Government Committee, to ask the Scottish Government to consider this matter further.

You can see the progress report, which includes performance statistics for the Planning Enforcement Service in Aberdeenshire, on the council's website.

Bus Quality Partnership

The committee approved the council's participation in the North East of Scotland Bus Alliance Quality Partnership.

The region-wide partnership will be known as the North East of Scotland Bus Alliance. It establishes a new Bus Alliance Board responsible for the establishment of joint objectives and targets, overseeing monitoring, providing resources and committing to the aims of a Passenger Charter.

Councillors heard that by joining the North East Bus Alliance, partners are signing up to a Passenger Charter and Terms of Reference.

The Bus Alliance and region-wide Quality Partnership Agreement form a voluntary partnership with all partners participating on a similar basis.

The Agreement is intended to support delivery of the Nestrans Regional Transport Strategy, Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils’ respective Local Transport Strategies and to lock in the benefits of significant investment in recent and imminent infrastructure improvements.

The overarching objectives of the Agreement are to: arrest decline in bus patronage in the North East of Scotland by 2022; and, achieve year-on-year growth in bus patronage to 2025. A number of sub-objectives have also been developed.

Councillor Argyle said: “I certainly welcome this. We’ve always had a good relationship with the bus service providers in Aberdeenshire and this is a very good way of building on that.”

The committee heard that the partnership will complement local bus forums and councillors will receive regular progress reports on the initiative.

More information is available in the report to committee.  

Mid-Season Review of Roads Winter Services

The committee noted the findings of the Roads Service’s review of winter services in relation to the storm events during December 2017 and February/March 2018.

Councillors heard it had been one of the worst winters in recent histories in terms of the difficulties of keeping the area moving, using up significant amount of resources.

Millions of pounds put aside in previous milder winters was spent, in addition to the £4.3million budget. The amount of salt and labour used was also significantly more than in previous years.

The committee approved proposed developments to winter services and the timescales for their introduction as a result of the review.

You can see more information in the report to committee.

Member Promoted Issue – Dogs in School Grounds and Council Playparks

The committee considered a Member Promoted Issue (MPI) asking for a policy to be developed which would see dogs banned from specific council owned/managed premises.

This could include school playgrounds, school playing fields and enclosed/defined playparks where play equipment is located, councillors heard. 

The concerns raised by the MPI, promoted by Councillor Isobel Davidson (Ellon and District), centre on lack of responsible dog ownership giving rise to issues with dog fouling and lack of animal control.

She told the committee: “I’m proposing that Aberdeenshire Council develops a clear policy on where dogs are permitted.

“Some constituents feel this is a particular problem in school grounds.” 

Councillor Argyle said: “It is an important issue and I think one that needs a lot of thought.

“It is a policy which, if we get it right, will be pretty much self-enforcing.”

ISC asked the Director of Infrastructure Services to work up a policy, to be circulated to Local Area Committees before returning to the committee for discussion as soon as possible after the summer.

The director agreed to a suggestion from Councillor Ian Mollison that the draft policy should include cemeteries within its scope.

You can see the details of the MPI in the report to committee.  

Funds Awarded by Economic Development Schemes and Business Gateway activity 2017-18

The committee endorsed information presented on the distribution of funds from the Support for Aberdeenshire Business Scheme; the First Employee Grant Scheme; the new Social Enterprise Support Fund; and the Business Gateway contract.

It also instructed the Head of Economic Development and Protective Services to explore the introduction of a new grant to encourage the development of new digital technologies, reporting back to the Committee on the outcome.

More information, including details of funds distributed, is available in the report to committee.

Economic Development Action Plan 2017-2021 – Update 2017-2018

The committee noted progress made in 2017-18 on the Council's Economic Development Action Plan 2017-21.

The Action Plan sets out to deliver the Regional Economic Strategy agreed by the Council in June 2016 and a progress report is received by councillors annually.

You can see the report to committee on the council's website.