06 October 2021

Infrastructure Services Committee September 2021 round-up

During its meeting on Thursday, September 30, Aberdeenshire Council’s Infrastructure Services Committee discussed complementary currency, agreed a review of the way the council tackles issues with seagulls and toasted the success of various economic funding programmes during the pandemic.

Complementary Currency – Member Promoted Issue

Committee considered a Member Promoted Issue raised by Garioch councillor Martin Ford into the creation of a complementary currency for Aberdeenshire as a way of ensuring economic recovery following the Covid pandemic. Although not legal tender, such currencies provide a means of exchange which is designed to be used by local people and businesses to keep cash in their locality. These currencies are usually set up by communities or business organisations to address specific issues, most usually to attempt to change people’s spending behavior. As such, although the council is not recommending instigating such an initiative, if a community-backed scheme was to be developed, the local authority will look at it in more detail. Councillors heard an Aberdeenshire-wide e-commerce App is being taken forward by the business community and that an application for funding had been submitted to the Scotland Loves Local Fund and that an invite from Scottish Government to sign up to the Aberdeenshire gift card would be considered by senior management. Welcoming the update, Cllr Ford said the region had suffered a “profound economic shock” and that the impact from that was far from over, so any interventions to help the local economy build back better were to be welcomed.

LEADER partnerships review

There was unanimous support for the continuation of the North and South Aberdeenshire LEADER Local Action Group partnerships for a further two years. Between the North Aberdeenshire LEADER programme, the North-East Scotland Fisheries Programme and the South Aberdeenshire LEADER programme, more than £6.7m has been invested in almost 100 projects throughout Aberdeenshire and coastal Angus. LEADER funding was provided from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Scottish Government. Supported projects contributed to key themes identified in Local Development Strategies such as connectivity, business competitiveness, the environment and people and place. Councillors heard that short-term funding in the form of the Rural Communities Testing Change programme would allow for an extension of the partnerships’ work until March 31st 2022, and that the delivery of pilot projects delivered this year is intended to inform a longer-term and more sustainable approach to community-led local development in future.
Although it is unclear as to whether or not there will be resources available from April 1st to allow the partnerships to continue, councillors agreed the local authority remain within both partnerships for the time being. To mark the achievements of the Local Action Groups and the projects across the region, a series of films have been produced by film company Signal Films which can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCemzoEEjVyt-3VtUfVgHqYA

Presentation: Place and Town Centre funding programmes

Councillors were given a presentation which illustrated the strategic connections of the Place and Town Centre funding programmes, what has been achieved to-date and when and what type of outcomes officers expect moving forward. You can see more at the foot of this release.

Urban gull update

Committee agreed that a review be undertaken into the way the council tackles the issue of gulls across the region. The move comes in response to continuing complaints relating to gulls from communities across Aberdeenshire, despite the Covid restrictions which were in place last year. The matter was also raised by way of a Member Promoted Issue by Fraserburgh councillor Brian Topping who requested that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency be approached to look into current restrictions on councils and the public on removing seagull mess and that the council does all it can to help communities improve the situation caused by seagulls in our communities. Councillors heard that gulls are doing particularly well in many towns and villages - both in urban and rural areas - because people continue to provide food for them. That’s permitting them to thrive in an artificial environment with an artificial food supply which is neither healthy for the birds nor our communities. Problems associated with gulls in both urban and rural areas include noise, aggressive behavior, fouling and the feeding of gulls. The committee heard from a representative of Stonehaven Community Council seeking urgent action to address the issue, but equally elected members shared concerns from their own communities. Chair, Cllr Peter Argyle, commented that while there wasn’t the volume of people discarding unwanted food and containers across Aberdeenshire last year due to lockdown, there had been a distinct and unwelcome increase since we started to return to some kind of normal. He said the public had created both a false environment and false food supply on which the gulls are now thriving which is exacerbated by the unacceptable volume of littering which continues to occur despite the council’s messaging and education. The review will involve discussion with residents, community groups, businesses and local parliamentarians, together with relevant partners including Aberdeen City and Moray councils, RSPB and Nature Scotland.

Planning:

Full planning permission for five houses including demolition of buildings at Lairhillock Inn, Netherley, Stonehaven

Councillors granted full planning permission for five new houses including an affordable unit on the site of the former Lairhillock Inn which is to be demolished. Although the building had traded as a bar/restaurant for 14 years, it ceased operating just as the Covid pandemic struck last year. Planners advised that marketing of the business had been unsuccessful and that it was unviable to retain the existing building as part of any development. They said the former coaching house was of little historical value and that they were satisfied this was an appropriate use of the site. Although there was some debate among councillors over the historic nature of the building, calls for a site visit to assess the building’s heritage and architectural value were outvoted 9-3 in favour of granting permission.

Tourism, leisure, hotel & lodges and 95 residential units and associated infrastructure at Inchmarlo, Banchory

Committee granted consent on the chairman’s casting vote for ten new houses as part of a 95-house development at Inchmarlo and agreed an amendment to the phasing which will allow 70 houses - 30 affordable units and 40 market sale units - to be built within the first phase of the development to help fund a £26 million 5-star hotel. Councillors were reminded that the residential units are enabling development to help finance the tourism element of the wider proposal. The revised proposal signaled significant progress in seeking to deliver the overall development package which had been envisaged and agreed at this location. A housebuilder is now signed up to deliver the housing and talks are also at an advanced stage with a potential financial backer for the hotel development which is forecast to open by April 2024. In addition to hearing from the developer and landowner, committee also heard from Banchory Community Council and a local resident – both raising concerns that the houses might be built but the hotel would not and any economic benefit to the area would be lost. During debate, some councillors shared those concerns and moved that the extant plans proceed unchanged – with the hotel being built before the houses. However others favoured the new approach saying there were solid, cogent reasons for the amendments and it was important to ensure the wider development was taken forward. After councillors voted 7-7, the chair gave his casting vote to supporting the recommendations.

Other Matters:

• Councillors approved a new Road Safety Plan and associated actions to 2030. It was agreed that any significant changes to the National Framework or legislation should be reported back to committee to ensure the Road Safety Action Plan was updated before 2030. There was also unanimous thanks to the Transportation Service for its work over the years as this was its last report to committee before the remit transfers to another service. The committee thanked officers for the professional support given to them over the years and welcomed working with officers for years to come.

• Councillors welcomed the latest update on the council’s strategic Transportation projects which saw discussion around various elements including the need to progress strategic routes between Aberdeenshire and the City, the successful commissioning of new EV charging points across the region and the forthcoming appointment of an officer to take forward the Access for Bikes in schools initiative funded by Sustrans.

• Committee also welcomed the good progress being made on both the Corporate Improvement Plan and the Draft Risk Management Policy.

The agenda and documents for the meeting can be found here:
https://committees.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/committees.aspx?commid=495&meetid=19811

The full recorded webcast can be viewed here:
https://youtu.be/6roeXECOrFo


Presentation: Place and Town Centre funding programmes

Councillors were given a presentation which illustrated the strategic connections of the Place and Town Centre funding programmes, what has been achieved to-date and when and what type of outcomes officers expect moving forward. Place funding is about addressing the needs and opportunities of our towns and communities and focuses on the change themes of the Scottish Government:

• Equality - equitable outcomes across geography & where inequality drives us to focus our interventions)
• Town Centres - essential for the provision of services, community meeting points etc., sustainability
• Communities - community led regeneration and empowering communities to be partners in change
• Climate Emergency - Living Local / 20 min neighbourhoods, carbon reduction, energy transition

Increasingly, the Place principle is dominating the policy arena as it is recognised in both Scottish and UK contexts that not every geography is equal, and that weaker places require greater intervention than stronger places where markets operate efficiently in their own right.  More than that though, it is recognised that the common ground between public authorities private enterprise and community interest is around our joint passion and interest in the places we live in, the places we spend time in and places we work in. 

The four funds looked at within the presentation have been used and delivered throughout Aberdeenshire and are in addition to our regeneration work and regeneration strategy.  All of these funds have been strategically assessed and project outcomes matched to programme requirements and to a local plan where one exists. 

Scottish Government Regeneration Capital Grant Fund

RCGF projects from 2016 to October 2021 while the names and values may give an impression that these are all about physical change and for many they epitomise their view of regeneration, which of course they are in part, they are so much more.

• South Links, Fraserburgh (£455,209) is about free access to facilities that promote health outcomes in one of the areas Aberdeenshire experiences the worst poverty and least progressive health outcomes. 
• The Faithlie Centre (£601,034) is about town centre confidence, about enterprise and connectivity, community space, as much as council office space. 
• The Smiddy in Banff (£295,000) is about seeding a creative industry, allowing Banff to find a purpose, a function for which it stands out in its distant corner of Scotland all the while delivering aspiration and opportunity to our young people for a career and developing social enterprise. 

The first three projects were submitted in 2018 to the RCGF programme. The Faithlie Centre opened in January 2020, The Smiddy in 2019. Outcomes can now be monitored from these projects over time. No. 30 The Square, Huntly project (£2,490,903) will deliver the transformation of two buildings, over 270 sqft of floor space, it will improve the learning outcomes for Huntly, improve enterprise creation, it will be the coordination space for a circular economy, for a green transport system and it is owned by the community it benefits, ensuring that it always serves the best interests of the place and its people and that they have control over its destiny.

For the first time in many years, the Programme for Government has set out 5-year investment in the Place Based Investment Programme. The challenge now is to build our pathway to what changes we need in our places, what projects will deliver the biggest value in terms of progress, seeding the right things with our communities and enabling them to become leaders, and being organised to be able to deliver these in timescales required.

Scottish Government Place Based Investment Programme

The aim of the Place-Based Investment Programme (PBIP) is to ensure that all place-based investments are shaped by the needs and aspirations of local communities and accelerate ambitions for place-making, 20-minute neighbourhoods, town centre action, community led regeneration, inclusive growth, community wealth building and net zero at the local level.

The PBIP is expected to be a 5-year financial commitment from the SG starting in 2021/22.  Aberdeenshire received £2,040,000 for the current financial year and we are expecting an announcement on future allocations soon.

Following targeted calls for project proposals in the Spring, 13 projects have been selected for 2021/22.  Some of these projects are existing commitments requiring additional support to be fully deliverable as set out in the process agreed by the Committee in May. Others are totally new projects. These projects will share £1.9m with the balance held in reserve until it is clear that all of the projects are deliverable.  This year’s cohort of projects cover activity in Aboyne, Alford, Ballater, Banff, Ellon, Fraserburgh, Huntly and Peterhead and details of each project was issued to all Members on 7th July.

Scottish Government Town Centre Fund

A total of £4.4m was allocated to Aberdeenshire Council as part of a wider package from the Scottish Government for town centres between the two years 2019 and 2020. The purpose of the grant was to enable local authorities to stimulate and support place based economic investments to encourage town centres to diversify and flourish and to create footfall through local improvements and partnerships. 

The aim was for transformational investments which drive local economic activities and re-purpose town centres to become more diverse, successful and sustainable. The 2020 grant fund had the additional criteria of covid response for the construction industry. Due to tight timelines, consultation was carried out through elected members, services, area offices, town centre business groups and constituted town centre organisations. Expressions of interest allowed projects to be identified which merited an application and in both years the fund was significantly over subscribed. Projects were assessed on - deliverability, public consultation or a good business plan, sustainability of project, impact on the town centre and additional leverage. 

A total of 22 projects have been supported between the 2019 and 2020 funds which gave a total investment of £9.3m. The fund has allowed the purchase of four persistent town centre vacancies, which has led to the redevelopment of seven town centre properties including the Banchory Museum and Library. It has empowered the community in four towns to take ownership and redevelop town centre public realm and two towns have been enabled to install and take ownership of the town centre CCTV. 

The fund has also supported the public realm and enabled the creation of the Glover Garden in Fraserburgh a project supported by the Fraserburgh 2021 fund, has allowed Bridge Street in Banff to be resurfaced, enabled the Promenade in Stonehaven to be redone and a significant stage to the Victoria Park Gardens in Peterhead to be funded. The main output from this fund, and indeed all the funds, is the incentive for community empowerment and delivery. Not all local authorities have taken this approach to fund third party projects.

Scottish Government Towns and BIDs Resilience Fund

This fund was facilitated by Scotland Town Partnership to allow business communities to deliver projects in response to Covid-19. A total of £67,000 was received from the towns fund and £53,000 in addition to both BIDs for Inverurie and Peterhead.  A wide range of town projects were delivered including:

• Shop local promotions
• PPE for local business
• Marketing and promotion activity
• Television and radio campaigns
• Civic pride and the purchase of town centre infrastructure
• Digital apps and website

Scotland Loves Local Fund

Aberdeenshire Council successfully applied for £80,000 to deliver a region-wide Scotland Loves Local Aberdeenshire shop local campaign.  This project delivered a two part project to include a Rediscover Aberdeenshire’s Town Centres marketing campaign delivered by VisitAberdeenshire which was a high level digital marketing campaign, showcasing 27 towns.

This included an STV advert, an 8-week social media campaign, social influencers, blogs, radio ads, window competitions a website detailing the 27 towns and an interactive map and assisted the towns in their own marketing and pulled all town strands into an Aberdeenshire Campaign.  

The second element was a Scotland Loves Local Business Digital Marketing Training. The proposal for this developed on the back of an audit of the town centre business marketing project. This project delivered by Station House Media is still ongoing and again open to businesses within the 27 towns the project offering professional digital support and training on increasing the benefits of all social media platforms and assisting the businesses with the right digital tools to allow them to adapt and have an online presence. A second phase of this project is being finalised and will take place between in November and December. Both projects have delivered on set outputs which are all recorded.

Aberdeenshire Town Centres Phoenix Fund

The Town Centres Phoenix Fund was agreed by ISC in May 2020 as part of the wider Economic Development service response proposals to supporting the local economy during Covid-19.  Part-funded from the council’s regeneration reserve (£120,000) and the Scottish Government Coastal Communities Fund (£70,000), the Phoenix Fund provides grant support to collaborative business and community-led projects in 25 town centres across Aberdeenshire.

The Phoenix Fund is aimed at supporting initiatives that will promote, and encourage use of, our town centres as restrictions are lifted.  The fund was conceived and launched in June 2020 before similar national schemes such as Scotland Loves Local, and recognises the challenges that town centres faced prior to the pandemic and how these might become more acute as consumer behaviours changed during the lockdowns.

Most of the projects are ongoing and will complete by the end of the year.  Whilst match-funding was not a requirement of the scheme, it is believed that the £120,000 of council support will result in overall project spend of around £350,000.

One of the main features of the fund was that the council was not onerously prescriptive about how the funding was to be used. It was felt that the ability to empower local stakeholders to decide how best to deploy the funds in their towns was a particularly important flexibility in difficult times. As a result, we are seeing a huge range of creativity and innovation, from marketing campaigns to community gardens and from loyalty schemes to new sculptures. We are also seeing partnerships and networks form which didn’t previously exist which will hopefully sustain into the future.

The 2021/22 cohort of PBIP projects are:

Existing projects receiving additional funds:

• Aboyne – Station Square enhancement project
• Ballater – Ballater village greens enhancement project
• Banff – Bridge Street public realm scheme
• Fraserburgh – John Trail & 34 Broad Street redevelopments
• Fraserburgh - Kirk Brae public realm scheme
• Huntly – Hunty Heart (Square Deal) refurbishment
• Huntly – No. 30 The Square redevelopment
• Peterhead – Victoria Park community gardens

New projects supported:

• Alford – Alford Valley Community Railway – station building
• Ballater - V&A Halls transformational enhancement project
• Ellon – Integrated Travel Town (ITT) strategy
• Fraserburgh – Broch skate and wheeled sports park