23 March 2021

Infrastructure Services Committee March round up

During its meeting on Thursday, March 11, the Infrastructure Services Committee of Aberdeenshire Council discussed the allocation of future Crown Estate monies, a Carbon Budget update, improving access to digital infrastructure and strategic transport proposals.

Directorate Plan
Councillors approved the Directorate Plan 2020-2022 which details the actions Infrastructure Services will undertake through a ‘whole-service approach’ in support of the strategic priorities set out in the Council Plan 2020-2022. The Plan sets out three themes – Economic Development, Environment and Connectivity – which will interconnect across all service delivery. The Plan is being viewed as a ‘living document’ which can be amended as circumstances change and forms an essential element of the council’s performance management and improvement framework. It also sets out key issues for delivering services in support of the council vision and priorities, providing a focus on performance improvement and describing directorate specific risks which may impact on the delivery of the service. Members were unanimous in their praise of officers for preparing such a substantial but very important paper.

Strategic Transport Update
An update was provided on the Strategic Transport Strategy and while there continues to be an impact on many projects as a result of the ongoing Covid emergency, there is still a lot of good work progressing. Within the update, members were reminded of the introduction back in January of charges across the council’s electric vehicle charging network. There was general discussion around the need to continue progressing cross-border links between the Shire and the City, with an update to be provided in due course. Committee was advised that there had been a strong response to the Modal Transport Survey. The council is looking for six households from across Aberdeenshire - in either towns, villages or rural locations - who would be willing to replace some or all private car journeys with more active or sustainable modes of travel. As part of the pilot, those taking part will be asked to consider using public transport, walking or cycling for all or some of their daily journeys. Councillors also congratulated the council’s parking enforcement team which was recently recognised nationally for their work in supporting communities during the Covid pandemic. The six-strong team recently received the coveted Staff Choice accolade voted for by members of the British Parking Association at this year’s virtual People in Parking Awards. They have been delivering PPE to community hospitals, sheltered homes housing and care homes, while also transporting vital IT equipment to health and social care staff and to vulnerable members within the community. They are also preparing to help with the distribution of PPE and equipment relating to the Covid-19 vaccine.

Carbon Budget
A six-monthly update outlining Infrastructure Services’ Carbon Budget was discussed by councillors which highlighted lessons learned across the directorate relating to sustainability and climate change during the Covid-19 emergency. During the first six months of 2020/21 the pandemic had changed working practices significantly and this had led to a significant shortfall in identified projects and delivery. Members heard that this has continued into the second half of this financial year. With many projects having been delayed or stopped as a result of Covid-19, there has been limited carbon reduction associated with those projects. Back in 2020, the council set a target of removing 1,700 tCO2e from Infrastructure Services, however in light of the pandemic, the forecast carbon reduction in 2020/21 for the directorate is 224 tCO2e with a further saving of 190 tCO2e from reduced travel, leading to an overall saving of 414 tCO2e. Despite the shortfall against the target, councillors heard that teams within Infrastructure Services were continuing to look at developing short, medium and long-term approaches that will tackle the issue around the Carbon Budget and reduce the amount of carbon built into its processes and how its delivers services.

Bus Partnership Fund
Aberdeenshire Council will participate in a ‘hugely exciting’ Bus Partnership Fund bid to be submitted by Aberdeen City Council on behalf of the North East of Scotland Bus Alliance after councillors approved the funding approach. If successful, the £200 million in funding will enable a ‘step change’ in public transport across Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire, which
will help support delivery of the council’s priorities including climate change objectives. In November last year, the Scottish Government announced the launch of a £500 million programme of investment in ambitious bus priority infrastructure, the aim being to support local authorities, in partnership with bus operators, in tackling the negative impact of congestion on bus services so that journeys are quicker and more reliable, thus encouraging more people to travel by bus.

Crown Estate Funding
A new framework focusing on the longer-term future use of Crown Estate Scotland funding was agreed by councillors. Half of Crown Estate Scotland allocations will be shared equally between the four coastal administrative areas of Banff and Buchan, Buchan, Formartine and Kincardine and Mearns. The remaining half of future monies will be allocated to the Aberdeenshire Coastal Communities Challenge Fund which was created last year. Crown Estate Scotland generates income from marine assets including aquaculture, offshore renewables, moorings and other coastal income. The council receives a proportion of this income annually to be used for coastal benefit such as support for local projects or initiatives and, while the level of funding varies by year, an average of £385,000 has been received to-date.

Digital InfrastructureIn a bid to create additional broadband capacity to support improved digital connectivity in areas of limited coverage across Aberdeenshire, committee approved the use of up to £110,000 of the council’s contribution to the City Region Deal digital workstream to create additional staff capacity to improve take up of digital infrastructure services and voucher schemes. Members heard that in spite of the significant investment made by Aberdeenshire Council and the UK and Scottish governments through the Digital Scotland programme, only 82% of the region can achieve superfast broadband - 30Mbps download speed - against a Scotland average of 94%. Across the UK, on average 55% of premises can receive ultrafast
broadband - 300Mbps download speed – but in Aberdeenshire, that figure is just 3.2%. It is believed around 21,800 premises in Aberdeenshire do not have a superfast broadband service.

Planning Matters
Committee awarded a delegated grant of approval for the erection of a house at Sapphire of Blackhills, Lonmay, near Fraserburgh. After hearing from both the planning service and a representative for the applicant, members viewed the proposal as an acceptable departure from policy on the grounds that the plot was considered to be part of a cohesive group and also took into account the previous planning history of the site which leant material weight to the setting aside policy.

Councillors refused planning permission for a new house to the north of Fetterangus near Mintlaw on the grounds that it failed to meet the policies contained within the Aberdeenshire Local Development Plan 2017.

Other Matters:

• Committee discussed plans for a Review of Policies falling to Infrastructure Services and agreed that only prioritised Fees and Charges requiring committee decisions, are presented in the current year and that the formal Fees and Charges Review, covering all routine fees and charges levied by Infrastructure Services, be postponed for consideration by committee until January 2023.

• Members noted the content of the Annual Procurement Report 2019/2020 and heard there had been efficiencies totalling £600,000 working in collaboration with Aberdeen City and Moray councils and Scotland Excel, with a very welcome increase being seen in local supply chains.

The agenda and documents for the meeting can be found here:

The full recorded webcast can be viewed here: