Ellon Academy

Next weeks Formartine Area Committee will, I hope, finally decide on the site for the new Ellon Academy.  After a long process and having explored many options, it now looks like the Academy will be sited south of the river at Cromleybank with a new footbridge over the river around the Meadows helping link the Academy to the town in the short term. 

This fits with the Local Plan, keeps the school as close to the town centre as possible and fits with the expectations of the town.

Now I know the offer of land to the north looks attractive to some.  But the land is only worth £9m if it is at development land value - and it is agricultural land.   I have opposed development to the north of the bypass; we need to bring the town together not simply add more peripheral estates to the edges.  The Cromleybank development option was far superior and the Academy was an integral part of the plan.   We would lose a lot in the long term to change strategy now.


I want to share two things with you. First a lovely map of the snow across the UK from the BBC and Dundee University.

And secondly, the Met Office Snow Map.


Budget decisions - the very bad news

Today the LibDem/Tory administration of Aberdeenshire Council, with the support of the SNP supposed opposition decided to go ahead with some £27m of cuts.

Now we know that we shall have to make cuts that are of that extent. But looking at the proposed package of cuts the Democratic Independent Group had some serious reservations. While recognising the necessity of officers continuing to work on cuts (you can't make large scale redundancies in a matter of weeks - the council needs to start seeking volunteers and identifying and notifying "at risk posts"), we did not want to make some of the cuts at this stage.

For a sample of cuts agreed to today see the P&J

One oddity was that many councillors went into the Council Chamber believing that we were being asked to let the process start rather than finally decide. The DIGs have checked and we were careful to say that we only agreed to the process starting. The SNP had some detailed comments but clearly were not expecting final decisions to be made today. However, most of them voted with the LibDem/Tory administration (a few abstained) - so in my book they bear equal responsibility for the cuts.

To be fair the LibDem/Tory administration said they took on board some of the SNP comments. But as there was no formal amendment from the SNP, and no formal amendment of the administration motion, it is a mystery to me what has been agreed. I am pretty certain however that the DIGs comments will not be "taken on board".

Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Aberdeenshire Council today decided to meekly accept John Swinney's 2.6% cut in grant - and promised not to raise Council Tax.

They were forced into this position by the threat that if they raised council tax by even the smallest amount, the grant would be cut by 6.4% - leaving an even greater shortfall in resources.

The choice was not a real choice. The devil of a cut ... or the deep blue sea.

I worry about a government who argues for greater powers for Scotland but imposes straight-jackets on local government. Can't they see the inconsistency?

This continuing freeze is populist short term nonsense. Professor David Bell is right - there is no sense in an effective cut in property taxes which mainly benefit middle incomes when the poorest suffer most from council cuts.

Castle Park Planning Application

I am glad that Aberdeenshire has decided to approve this scheme,  We all agreed that the process of involvement with the town via the Enquiry by Design was an exemplar that we would urge other developers to seek to emulate.  The idea of high density, high quality, walk-able neighbourhoods, where the public realm focuses on people rather than cars, has become common currency in planning and development circles but as yet there are no large scale examples in Scotland.   

So I am pleased that we now have in the pipeline a development at the new higher densities and high quality of design that were called for by the then Planning Minister Sam Galbraith a decade ago.   He asked "Where are the conservation areas of the future?" and I hope that with this bold step Ellon has answered with a very loud "here".

Process concern

But I am also concerned that the move to determining major planning applications (more than 50 houses or 2 hectares) by all 68 councillors is problematic.  Until today, we had only uncontentious applications at full Council and that introduced an unnecessary delay into the process.    But when an application turns out to be contentious, as this one was,  some people will feel aggrieved that councillors from far flung parts of Aberdeenshire have decided the fate of this application.   Six members of the Formartine Area Committee voted to refuse:  Five voted to Grant: a narrow majority in favour of refusal.  But the local decision was outweighed by the decision of the Full Council.  I can understand if objectors to the proposal feel aggrieved.

As I am getting some stick here, can I just mention that members of the Formartine Committee (Ellon ones in bold) split

Grant: Cllrs Duncan, Hendry, Johnston, Merson, Storr.
Refuse: Davidson, Gifford, Loveday, Norrie, Owen, Robertson.

Planning Workshops

Now it's not often that I have a good word to say about ACSEF.  But I attended one of the workshops they are organising about planning and found it very interesting.  A good mix of planners, community councillors and developers - with in this case me with my student hat on (quickly swapped to councillor) and one of my lecturers.   And a true workshop with people discussing issues and listening to each others viewpoint (even me and Bob Collier)

Never fear, they are not facilitated by the forces of darkness that animate ASCEF but by the angels of Planning Aid.
Details of the current series can be found at Workshops and the next three are on
  • Friday 3 December 2010 Broadstraik Inn, Elrick, Aberdeenshire
  • Tuesday 25 January 2011 Chamber of Commerce, Bridge of Don, Aberdeen
  • Thursday 24 February 2011 Chamber of Commerce, Bridge of Don, Aberdeen
12.30 to 4.30 including lunch.

Enjoy now before ASCEF gets its funding cut as part of the overall budget reductions.

Planning Aid Training

Panning Aid, Scotland's Planning Advice Charity, is holding a day long session on Planning Procedure on Saturday 27th November from 10am-4pm , in the Kirk Centre, Station Road, Ellon AB41 9AE.

It is targeting at Community Council members but those interested can also attend so if you wish to register for the event, please let Robert McGregor know by Wednesday 24th for catering numbers. 

For more information on Planning Aid for Scotland please see their website
at  - http://www.planningaidscotland.org.uk/

Robert McGregor
Area Committee Officer
Direct Dial: 01358 726405
Email: robert.mcgregor@aberdeenshire.gov.uk

Trump on TV

I watched the BBC program me on Trump carefully and thought that it gave a fairly decent picture of the issues. Any programme is limited so it is forgivable that it omitted the disgraceful actions of local and national politicians. However, there are other films and sources for these. The only thing most people need to know is that there is now proof that if you want to protect the environment, none of the big 4 parties can be trusted.

The BBC film is available on iplayer until next Monday but you might also wish to view this short film (with a cameo from me)

The wrong side of a hole from jon Pullman on Vimeo.

Pacts with the devil

Ok .. So councils that smile at a 2.6% cut in grant, and promise not to raise council tax, get one sum of money.

But if any council wants to protect services by raising council tax, regardless of what their constituents may say, get punished by a 6.4% cut in grant.

Someone (except NF) please explain the logic of a SNP government arguing for greater powers for Scotland and refusing to let Councils make their own decisions?

Scottish Green Party Conference

You can really see how Caroline Lucas so deserved to be elected to Westminster.  She is a very convincing speaker and engages with people so well.  Definitely the highlight of the conference this weekend.  Full text of her speech is here.

But conferences are not all about speeches so some good solid work honing policies and putting in place structures to manage the situation if the Greens are part of the equation for government at Holyrood next May.  There are good grounds for believing that Greens will be represented across Scotland next May - certainly we are the only Party likely to be challenging cuts in our public services and a new economics rather than the expensive repair of the old. 

And ultimately, the Greens will be talking a message of hope.  Not hope for a return to a discredited system of greed and consumption.  But hope for a more human scaled world where we recognise our interdependence and work together to make our lives better.  Happiness can't be measured just in cash.

Planning Alerts

I am a big fan of Planning Alerts  - just sign up to see applications submitted near you.  These days you only have 21 days to put in a letter of representation so it's worth keeping on top of applications submitted.

It's interesting seeing the output for Aberdeenshire on a map.

Intimidation at Menie

Another twist in the continuing "bad neighbour" behaviour at Menie reached the Daily Mail.

David and Moira Milne have has a 20ft high and 100 yards long bund built behind their house.  You can see the full story in this Daily Mail article.

I believe this topsoil storage bund is unacceptable ... if it is needed, then the Trump Organisation has many other locations to place it.   A Reporter in a planning appeal regarding a 15ft bund further from a house said this would be "an entirely inappropriate and unacceptable form of mitigation from noise and vibration" (para 26).  How much more unacceptable is a bund placed close to a residential property for no reason.

March of the Menie

The threats to the families at Menie are increasing.

The Munro's at Leyton Cottage have the daily disturbance of heavy lorries past their house - and oddly the road put in to serve these lorries has had to be reconfigured a few times.

Trump is now claiming that David and Moira Milne have no right to part of the land their house is built on.

And the Trump's continuing harrassment of the Forbes is well documented. 

My fear is that Trump, having realised that my colleagues on Aberdeenshire Council take delight in saying "Yes, Mr Trump and will that be all today?", will build the course, apply for permission to build the hotel and then refuse to do more unless they agree to CPOs for the Menie families land and the extra land at Leyton Farm.

Will my colleagues be able then to move from fawning over Trump to standing up for people's human rights?

Many thanks to the 250-300 people who marched from Balmedie to "the Bunker" at Mill of Menie in support of the families.

Child Benefit and Marriage Allowances

I thought that the government was being pragmatic when it announced that child benefit was to be withdrawn from families in the top tax bracket.  A bit crude perhaps as in some families both parents will be high earners and in others only one and some the high earner will be the sole earner.  But that is the way of our over-complex tax and benefit system.

I think it's pity to target child benefit rather than other options as it was regarded as the universal benefit that everyone shared at the time when they most needed the money - a transfer of money from perhaps later in life when earnings may be higher to the point when people tend to have children.

But I can't understand the Tory enthusiasm for marriage allowances.

The video explains the craziness better that I could.

But the LibDems seem to have agreed to the tax cut for married couple (OK to be fair - they get to abstain) without securing the raising of tax allowances for all.    So much for fairness.

A Times article gives the cost of transferable allowances between married couples as £3.2 billion.   Limiting this to those with children would reduce this to £1.5 billion.  But just why should a marriage certificate give an advantage to one set of people over another?

Ellon Planning for Real

It's been a week for consultations. 

Encouraged by the course director, I went to the opening of the Elsick design charette and looked into the workshop on Friday afternoon.  It seems to be a very open consultation exercise with real efforts to involve the local community with special sessions for school children and the residents who are most affected.

And today was a Planning for Real event in Ellon.  This was perhaps mistimed with the deadline for Local Development plan representations being yesterday but ...

Much attention was focused on the proposed sites for Ellon Academy.  6 sites were shown but I am still of the view that only the Cromleybank sites are viable.   Discussions were lively and people really wanted to engage.  I tried my best to explain the likely constraints and I think that most people share my view that only the Cromleybank sites are viable.

On the wider issues, there were a wide variety of suggestions of how Ellon could be improved and I'll await a full analysis of this before commenting.

However I do have one serious concern about the exercise.  When I left at about 2pm, only one person in the 19-30 age range had shown up.   How can we better engage with this age range?- they'll have to live with any decision that flow from the day.

Planning studies

I have just enrolled as a student on Aberdeen University's Urban Planning and Real Estate MSc course.  I spent Thursday and Friday on a field trip with some of my fellow students and three lecturers.

It is shaping up to be an interesting experience made even better by the range of backgrounds of my fellow students as well as the engaging and challenging approach of the academic staff.   So a warm hello to my new friends (I hope!) from China, Nigeria, Canada, Greece, Faroe Isles and those who are more local.  And it is already fun debating issues with people who are approaching the course with backgrounds as geographers, economists, environmentalists, architects - and me as the politician/planner.

And to those from warmer climes, I do promise that September in Scotland can be something other than cold, wet and windy.

But I suspect that the outdoor equipment retailers will do brisk business with my fellow students before we venture out again.

Local Development Plan

We are in the last few days of the new Development Plan consultation period.   So if you do have comments to make, please make sure you do so before 1st October.  You can email ldp@aberdeenshire.gov.uk with you contribution but do be sure to give your contact details, clearly reference which bit of the plan or supplementary guidance you are concerned about and exactly what is you concern.  And finally clearly state what Modification you suggest.  

I do not find the online form or the pdf form they provide easy to use.  So I suggest that you make your representation being careful to include all the required information and leave council officers to sort out the format.

I have made two submissions. 

Along with my other Democratic Group colleagues, I seek to embed the requirements of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 as required by Section 72. The Aberdeenshire proposed local development plan does not do this.

 Secondly, the Council is gradually working their way to needing to reserve land within Cromleybank for the new Ellon Academy.  The developer is content with this.  The Community Council is content with this.  This is the best option for the traders.   So I've asked that the "may be required" is changed to "will be required" so that we can get on with it.  This is urgent as the funding from the Scottish Government is time limited and the timetable is looking increasingly tight.

It's slightly odd being a councillor asking for amendments to the Council's plan by this route.  But it's the best chance for common sense to prevail.

On the Holyrood road

Congratulations to my good friends Cllr Martin Ford and Rhonda Reekie who have been selected as the No.1 and No.2 places on the Regional List for the North East of Scotland by the Scottish Green Party.

While a Green, Shiona Baird, was elected for the seat in 2003, 2007 saw a retreat everywhere to the 4 establishment parties of Scotland.

I know Martin and Rhonda would both be very effective MSPs and I hope that Martin's high public profile will make voters consider voting for a politician whose views are well known and based on strong principle.

I wonder why the P&J failed to carry any news item about Martin's selection?  Are they that frightened of him? 

Another day at the office - another knife in the back

Yesterday my ward colleague Cllr Rob Merson (SNP) sprang an emergency motion to remove me as Vice Chair of the Formartine Area Committee.  To my astonishment, Rob was unable to clearly articulate what the emergency was - but the Chair Cllr John Loveday (LibDem) agreed to take the motion.  And the motion was passed.

Cllr Merson cited comments I have made about my colleagues indecisiveness re the siting of a new Ellon Academy and my failure to attend some site visits as the reasons for my removal as Vice Chair.  I don't think these have anything to do with me as Vice Chair.  And indeed I have received no complaints or even adverse comments regarding my role as Vice Chair.

So what motivated Cllr Merson and the other Formartine Councillors to act in this way?

I know Cllr Merson doesn't like me mentioning him on this blog (see comments to post below).  And of course we have political differences.

But I think this is simply a continuation of the divide on the Formartine Area Committee post Trump.  Faced with a planning application at Menie, my colleagues are prone to saying things like "We must press ahead as quickly as possible with this development".  No.  We have a duty to scrutinise all proposals and ensure that the conditions of the permission granted by the SNP government are complied with.

Not being Vice Chair will not stop me doing that job.  And it will not stop me speaking out to protect the Menie residents whose homes remain under threat because my colleagues refuse to rule out compulsory purchase and keep giving the Trump Organisation every reason to believe that they can ask and it will be given.

Myself as Vice Chair (may 2007 to 31st August 2010) in a display at the area office.

MP doesn't want constituents to email him

Tory MP, Dominic Rabb has complained about campaign group 38 Degrees facilitating constituents sending emails to him.  The poor inundated soul asks his constituents not to email him.  He doesn't want his email address published anywhere and says that "My approach is to ask those with a problem or issue they want me to take up to write in, so I have full details and can check they are constituents (it is a protocol that you do not take up the case of other MPs' constituents.)"

The 38 Degrees system does this preliminary check for Mr Raab - and I spent ages when first elected encouraging people to use email as it made dealing with casework more efficient.

You can read 38 degrees side of the story at http://blog.38degrees.org.uk/2010/08/09/dominic-raab-tells-constituents-dont-email-me.

You can read Dominic Rabb's comments at http://www.dominicraab.com/dom_s_blog.html and you can email Dominic Raab on dominic.raab.mp@parliament.uk - I publish it here as a public service as it's not published on the House of Commons website or Mr Raab's own website.

Perhaps it's having 58% share of the vote that engenders arrogance.  An excellent argument against any system that makes "safe seats".

Trump land grab

On Tuesday at Menie, large machinery was used to clear fishing nets and other equipment from the land and a fence was erected.  However Michael Forbes, whose family home is threatened by compulsory purchase, has title deeds showing the land belongs to him. 

The Forbes family are shocked and angry.  Trump's agent called on them to confirm the land boundaries and Michael Forbes showed his title deeds.  He was assured that all was well.  But now it appears that the Trump Organisation have simply decided to clear and occupy this parcel of land.

I called on the Forbes family yesterday.  Estate security had a vehicle on the track to Michael Forbes house and when I and a few others walked to the disputed land, we were followed by Estate security in their vehicles.  When standing on the disputed land we were asked to leave with the security guard claiming it was a construction area.   It clearly was not.

Ten days ago the water supply was cut off to Mill of Menie, the home of Mike and Sheila Forbes, and Paradise, the home of Mike's 85 year old mother Molly.  The supply has just been restored. 

Ten days to restore a water supply is disgraceful and I understand that the estate did not even attempt to supply water until Saturday.   This inaction and the continuing surveillance of the Forbes family must feel like part of a campaign to intimidate them into leaving their home.  I totally understand why the Forbes family are angry but I know they are determined not to be bullied.

But they will need help to defend their property and homes against Trump with his deep pockets.  Layers cost money.

Aberdeenshire - Final Local Development Plan

The Aberdeenshire Development Local Plan was agreed by the Council on 24th June.  I did not vote for it but a future post - or perhaps posts - will talk about the issues.  After all, we have until 1st October to lodge our representations on the plan.  My previous post talked about the form required for representations.  This post will discuss the form of the plan itself.

Instead of one document, the Plan has been published as a plan containing just 14 polices, 6 maps and a schedule. One of my colleagues described the plan as vacuous - there is so little detail in the Plan itself that it is difficult to see what objections there could be.  Most of the detail is in the Supplementary Guidance.

In addition to the Plan there are (currently) 51 pieces of Supplementary Guidance, 6 of which are Settlement Maps for each Area within Aberdeenshire and the rest give details on the 14 polices.

Therefore, it is likely that if you wish to make a representation about anything you will need to make two representations - one for the policy in the main plan and one for the relevant Supplementary Guidance.

Aberdeenshire has provided two forms (in two forms, pdf and online), one for the Plan and one for Supplementary Guidance.   But as you are not required to make your representation on the specified form, I would suggest that you  make one representation per issue covering both the Plan and the Supplementary Guidance.  If you follow the 7 required pieces of information from the Schedule 4 form, you will have provided all the necessary information.   The Council can then cross reference your one representation into two parts to cover the Plan and the Supplementary Guidance. 

Over the summer, I'll post some comments on the content of the plan itself.  Remember, you only have until 1st October to make you voice heard.

Local Development Plan - Consultation and Examination

On 24th June, Aberdeenshire Council agreed to publish its new Local Development Plan for public comment and that this plan should have some degree of materiality for planning decisions.

Since the previous round of Local Plans, there has been a change in legislation. This is not a draft plan that will then be turned into a Finalised Plan by the Council and then be subject to a Public Local Inquiry. This is IT. A reporter will be appointed and this plan will be subject to an examination to ensure it is "appropriate and sufficient".

So Representations (objections and expressions of support) will need to be made over the summer with a closing date of 1st October.

The process is new.  The Council will turn your representation into a Schedule 4 form which will contain
  1. Issue Reference and Heading
  2. Development Plan Reference
  3. Body or persons raising the issue
  4. Provision of the Development Plan to which the issue relates
  5. Council's summary of issue
  6. Modifications sought by those submitting representations
andthen the Council will add
  • Summary of Response by Council
  • Any further plan changes commended by Council
    and finally the Reporter will add
    • Reporters Conclusion
    • Reporters Recommendations
      In order to avoid your representation being misinterpreted by the Council and so that you know that you have included all the necessary information, I suggest that you format your representation under Headings 1 to 7 above.  You are restricted to a maximum of 2000 words plus limited supporting productions.

      Thanks to Planning Aid Scotland for the session from which I gleaned the above.  Any errors are mine not theirs!

      In my next post, I will comment on the format of the local plan and what that means for you if you want to make a representation - the form is very different from previous plans.

      Site for a new Ellon Academy

      Last Tuesday, Formartine Area Committee discussed 6 possible sites for the new Ellon Academy and it was clear that there was a consensus about Options 2 and 3 which would put the Academy into the planned Cromleybank development. These were the options clearly favoured by Ellon Community Council the previous day at a special meeting. Councillors were all also agreed that a second road bridge across the Ythan was needed at an early point to make the development work with the rest of the Town (and stop Bridge St seizing up!).

      However, my colleagues wouldn't simply made the decision - they expressed a preference for Options 2 and 3 but left it open to be somewhere else. And it seems as if they are willing to totally revisit the agreement to development Cromleybank in the Local Plan. With Aberdeenshire Council due to approve the Local Plan on 24th June and no meeting of the Formartine Area Committee in the meantime, this risks this very important decision regarding Ellon having to be taken by Infrastructure Services which only has one representative of the area on it - or by the full council of 68 members.

      I believe that local councillors working with local people and the Community Council should be calling the shots on this and that my colleagues have done the town a dis-service by dithering rather than making a decision.

      City Councillors finally talk about Union Terrace Gardens

      After months of spouting nonsense that they were somehow legally barred from telling people their views re City Square/Peacock/Union Terrace Gardens, a few have now decided to speak.

      I don't think Cllr John Corall puts up a solid defence of voting in favour of City Square - but at least he was willing to be filmed. Do you think he knows what he is talking about?

      Watch this video.

      He starts by telling us that people do not know what is proposed ... and that he doesn't either ...

      Sir, it's in your ward. Don't you think you should take an interest?

      Masterplans and golf courses

      Last Tuesday, my colleagues agreed to the discharge of a heap of conditions, the Masterplan and the golf course at Menie. Many of my colleagues seemed, at least before the meeting, to be under the misguided impression that the Masterplan did not impact the homes of the Menie families. I check at the meeting and it does.

      I moved refusal of the Masterplan on the basis that it was not deliverable unless these parcels of land were in the control of the applicant. The Masterplan itself acknowledged this in that it said it would need to be redesigned.

      And then we have the golf course. Contrary to Trump spin, work can not yet start - the rest of the Masterplan conditions need to be met. So an opening in 18th months is not likely.

      But the developer may believe they have an excuse to close off the constrcution area. That I believe will cause problems. People walking along the beach north from Balmedie may decide they have had enough and want to get back to the A90. If the whole golf course area is closed, that will be a problem. I have no interest in increasing conflicts on the Menie estate - local people are suffering enough without this. But I think it would be sensible if the Menie estate retained route across their land - perhaps limiting themselves to closing one of the masterplanned routes at a time. Else the police will get bored with dealing with casual walkers coming into conflict witht he developer. And be less able to distinguish anyone out to cause trouble.

      Public Access at Menie - again

      I have had reported to me three more incidents where people were stopped on the Menie Estate. References to previous incidents can be found here.

      One incident I regard as very serious. I quote from part of an email from a young woman horse-rider
      ... so went for a ride down through the dunes beside the Trump area. Was outside the fences and on the path when they're (sic) security jeep drove down. Carried on back onto the beach and further down the the jeep with flashing orange lights comes powering out of the dunes and storming up the beach towards me - really motoring along, splashing through puddles, lights flashing - you can imagine how this went down with Lenny! .... Eventually 2 big fancy blacked out range rovers turn up and 4 Americans in suits jump out of each one and start accusing me of the vandalism that was in the papers a couple of weeks ago. There were really quite aggressive and if Lenny hadn't been freaking out and running round me in circles, it would have really been intimidating - they had to keep their distance because of him though.

      A complaint has, I understand been made to the police.

      There have been two further incidents in the past few days, one a pedestrian and one another horse rider.

      This intimidation is not acceptable.

      I shall be discussing the situation with the local police. Detaining me last March was one thing. Endangering people peaceably riding horses is serious.

      Please do not be put off using the dunes. pedestraians, cyclists and horse riders are perfectly entitled to exercise their "responsible right to roam". I believe construction work has stopped - we are out of the marram grass planting season. Please be careful not to disturb the areas of planting and fencing.

      I carry a mobile phone when I am on the dunes. I shouldn't have to but ... If I were stopped I would ask who was stopping me and why. If there was any effort to detain me, I would dial 999 immediately.

      Hopefully this will be properly dealt with and we have no more in the long running series of incidents. I will be meeting the police on Friday.

      Nature's Fecht for Union Terace Gardens

      The craws war chattin ti the doos
      Hiv ye heard the affa news
      They’re destroyin oor gairdens at Union Terrace
      Thae humans are a bliddy menace
      The doos said are ye sure yer richt
      We ken you craws are nae that bricht
      Oh aye we heard it fae a wise aul owl
      Fa wis doon the Toon’s Hoose for a prowl
      Noo Jenny Wren wis hoppin aroond
      Fin she heard the doos kickin up a soond
      She flew up high ti see fit’s fit
      Fit she heard she didna like ae bit
      Oh michty me an gweedness gracious
      Fillin in oor gairdens fit are richt precious
      The trees and shrubbies far a hop aboot
      Wull aa be for the chap nae doot
      The tale wis telt ti the snails
      They lit oot some affa wails
      Iss surely it jist canna be
      Destroy the gairdens an we’ll aa dee
      Syne the news it reached the bugs
      They hid heard it fae the slugs
      The Toon’s Hoose wull be oor destination
      There ti hae a wee bit infestation
      We’ll crawl aa ower the Provost’s chair
      An get in yon Sue Bruce’s hair
      The wifie’ll hae ti hae a scratch
      Serves her richt the silly vratch
      The moles they noo heard the chatter
      An said we’ll hae a wee bit natter
      We can undermine St Nicholas Hoose
      So’s the foondations are a bittie loose
      Noo the robins war maist pit oot
      As roon an roon they did scoot
      Iss is news jist affa silly
      As they passed it on ti a blue tit billie

      The Blue Tits they warna overjoyed
      In fact they were fair annoyed
      We’ll hae ti flit ti Westburn Park
      An that’ll nae be much o a lark
      Syne a butterfly it flitted bye
      On hearin aa the spik did cry
      Fit aboot the bonnie flooers
      Far a spent sic happy oors
      The squirrels they cam oot o hidin
      Fae holes in trees far they wis bidin
      They canna chap doon oor hame
      Fa thocht up iss silly game
      The bees noo they war bummin
      Wi frustration they wis hummin
      We’ll hiv ti sting aa the bums
      O Sir Ian Widd an his chums
      The flooers, shrubs an the trees
      War duncin wi anger in the breeze
      Iss his been oor hame for yonks
      Aa ti be trashed by stupid gonks
      The aul aul trees hid some inspiration
      We’re covered by an order o preservation
      Jist aabody bide in oor leafy green tops
      Agin the diggers we’ll pull oot aa the stops
      Leave us aa aleen is nature’s plea
      Nae hairm ti humanity did we ivver dee
      Ye humans are jist bliddy feel
      As oor gairdens ye try ti steal

      Thanks and © Bob Smith 22/5/2010

      Bunkerin Donald's Plans

      Some times it's best to express yourself in verse
      Thanks for permission to reproduce (and copyright) Bob Smith

      Michael Forbes his decided ti sell
      Some grun fit’s ca’ed The Bunker
      Ti some fowk fa are affa keen
      Ti stymie a Manhattan mumper

      Trump ti buy iss plot o lan
      Needs ti contact mair than a few
      Fa hiv bocht iss bittie grun
      An are part owners o it noo

      There’s nae doot iss clivver ploy
      Wull mak Trump nae verra happy
      In fact I’ll gyang as far’s ti say
      The chiel’ll be a grumpy chappie

      Here’s ti Michael and his plotters
      We aa hope iss dis some eese
      So’s Trumpy’s plans are bunkered
      An Menie fowk are left in peace

      Ti aa ye gweed fowk oot there
      Please tak in iss bittie verse
      The best thing that could happen
      Is Trump kicked up the erse

      © copyright Bob Smith 2010


      The Lunatic Fringe

      On Wednesday, Aberdeen City Council voted to support the razing (not a misspelling!) of Union Terrace Gardens and the replacement of these with Sir Ian Wood's vision of a City Square.

      I think this was a wrong decision for three reasons
      1. It has dished Peacock Visual Arts proposals for a new Northern Lights Arts Centre which had secured most of the required funding and would have delivered a £5m/year economic boost to the City as well as making the gardens more accessible and providing handy facilities such as cafe and toilets.
      2. No economic case for the City Square has been made.  This makes the proposed funding for the £90m+ that will not be given by Sir Ian Wood - Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) - dubious.  TIF depends on the infrastructure being developed actually delivering tax increases locally - and for central government agreeing that those extra taxes can be used to pay of the local debt.  Neither of these are certain.
      3. The gardens themselves are used and loved.   They are a important cultural, historic and enviornmental asset to the City.   55% of the people in the City Square consultation said No to the City Sqaure proposals.  As I have already said "Which bit of No, don't you understand?".  Ian Wood said he would withdraw the offer unless the proposals were supported.   But ASCEF wanted to pursue the issue and the City Council has agreed to this.  

      It's hard for councillors to say No to £50m.  I am sure that the P&J and the Evening Express would have told us that councillors voting against City Squre were numpties and a danger to the economy of the north east of Scotland if the vote had gone the other way.  Those against the proposals have been labelled as the Lunatic Fringe.  This blog is called National Disgrace, Scroundrel and Extremist because those are labels that Donald Trump and his accolytes tried to attach to me and I am plainly none of those things.  So I am happy to add Lunatic Fringe to the list - along with the 55% of those who were consulted on City Square who also said No.

      People are genuinely angry about this decision and desperate for someone to take a lead in stopping this awful  "development".  I think that the economic case does not exist and the funding mechanism is too dubious.  So the odds are that this willnot happen.  It hasn't happened for 20 years .....

      So let's group together as friends of Union Terrace Gardens and do what we can to conserve and improve them. 

      Meanwhile, thanks for this video of the Gardens on Saturday 22nd May 2010.


      This Parliament does not represent us. We demand fair votes now. There must never again be an election under this broken system.

      We need change - http://www.takebackparliament.com/

      Vote for policies

      It always fascinates me how people decide who to support.  But actual real policies often seems to have little do do with it. 

      So I have been watching www.voteforpolicies.org.uk with interest.

      This is a screen shot of the current result for Gordon, broken down by policy area.  This needs to be treated with caution - just 75 users is hardly representative - but Green policies are popular, particularly in regard to Crime, Economy, Education, Europe, and the Environment - 5 of the nine policy areas.    For up to date results, click here.

      Nationally the results are moe significant with over a quarter of a million users of the tool.  And there the Greens are well ahead with 24% support.  See http://voteforpolicies.org.uk/ for the detail.

      Hung parliaments and fitness to govern

      In a time when Governments of  all colours have messed up and thrown us into an economic mess, a little humility would go a long way.  Whatever hand in terms of seats, is what the politicians will have to deal with. 

      No party leader is going to make definitive statements about who they will/won't work with or on what terms.  They fear that Voter A will be put off if they say they favour Party X and Voter B will be put off if they say they favour party Y. 

      So what should we be asking them about hung parliaments?

      I'd suggest

      To those who have said a hung parliament would be "bad"
      Does that mean you won't work with others for the good of the country?  Why not?

      To those that countenance a hung parliament,
      How detailed a programme for government would you seek to negotiate and when can we expect the next general election?

      More at http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/speakout/hungparliamentpr

      Election campaign visit

      It was truly a delight to have Patrick Harvie MSP visit the Sue Edwards' Gordon campaign yesterday..  It was just a busy day that I've not had a chance to write it up until now.

      We started with a visit to the lovely Molly Forbes who made us all most welcome (home-made blueberry muffins, cake and biscuits) and tolerated another round of media circus very patiently.  The good news for her and other residents that are threatened with compulsory purchase if Trump's plans are to be realised, is that 64% of Scots are now against the resort - see press release for details.

      (Pictured: Sue, Patrick and Molly)

      We then called into Ellon and then had a most interesting visit to Pitmedden Udny and Tarves Community Composting.  Sue, of course, took the quality control of the finished composted garden waste very seriously and Patrick couldn't resist a closer look at one of the toys.

      Thanks to Vicki, Dave and Chris for giving their time to show us around and to discuss the issues.

      One in a hundred ....

      All the fuss from airlines about the so-called over-cautious approach of NATS seems to me to be geared to trying to strong arm compensation out of the government rather than a sound basis of science

      I keep looking at the Met office maps.

      One maps shows satelite imagery of teh volanic ash plume.

      Another shows the no-fly zone predictions

      So just how dangerous is it to fly though this ash?  This news report from the BBC gives some details.

      If one airliner in a hundred has total engine failure due to volcanic ash, then that seems to me to be a pretty big risk.  The risk not only impacts the crew and passengers but in crowded Europe, the risk of a crash on an urban area can not be ignored.

      Would you get on a plane if you thought there was a one in a hundred chance of engine failure.  I wouldn't.

      Which bit of "No" don't you understand

      ASCEF's Chairman Tom Smith thinks that a 55%/44% vote against the City Square proposals is unclear - and therefore that the City Square proposals should go to a next stage - an international competition to design Ian Wood's dystopia. That 55%/44% votes goes up to 63% to 37% if the numbers on the two online petitions are included. 55% is clear. 67% is very clear.

      Just which bit of No doesn't Tom Smith understand.

      People very clealy wanted a green space and the arts centre. When asked what they would like to see in the City Square project the answers were

      1. Formal gardens 3071
      2. Contemporary arts centre 1968
      3. A cultural centre for the performing an visual arts 1734
      4. A meeting space 1732

      The Northern Lights Arts Centre that Peacock are spearheading deliver these top four.

      Let's just get on with it.

      If Sir Ian Wood wants to help the City, then I'd suggest he focus his efforts into moving local industry faster to the renewables sector. As he has pointed out, we need to do this soon if Aberdeen is to become a world class centre for off shore renewables.

      I think he is a better businessman than he is a town planner.

      I don't know when ASCEF next meets - their website is very coy about this.  But Aberdeen City Council will apparently discuss the issue on 19th May.  I suggest that people contact City councillors to ensure that the clear view of the public is fully taken into account.

      No should mean No.

      Voter power

      One thing I have always believed is that we must move to a system of electing our representatives that gives voters more power.  And that means the single transferable vote (STV) - the best system to maximise voter power (although like any system, it has its faults).

      This video explains just how crazy the current First Past The Post system is - and ties the issue firmly to the laziness and arrogance of some MPs. Thank you to http://www.voterpower.org.uk/ and the New Economics Foundation.

      If you recognise the problem, please don't vote for any Party that will not commit to introducing STV - so that leaves Greens, LibDems and SNP.

      Policies not tribes

      Choices in thsi General Election for some may be hard.  Neither Labour nor the Tories look attractive and I have lost faith in the LibDems.

      What I do this time is clear,  I have the opportunity to vote for Sue Edwards who is a woman of principle with a big heart.   It's interesting watching someone new to politics grapple with doorsteps, hustings etc.  Sue takes it all in her stride and stays beautifully herself.

      There are big issues.  Clearly "business as usual" won't be enough to solve problems with the economy, the environment and help people live high quality lives.  And I worry that people will vote out of fear of "the other" rather than hope to create a future they really want.

      Just as a matter of interest, try looking at the policies at http://voteforpolicies.org.uk/  and see how your views align to the various parties.  The result are more than interesting.  You might surprise yourself!

      Robin Hood tax

      The campaign for a Robin Hood Tax (a small tax on financial transactions) has launched a new video. Please click here and watch it.

      Mobile Police Office

      I am happy to advertise Grampian Police Open Surgeries on Tuesday 23rd and Wednesday 24th March.

      THE CAR PARK, METHLICK- TUESDAY 23 MARCH 2010 1000 – 1130 HRS
      THE SQUARE, TARVES = TUESDAY 23 MARCH 2010 1330 – 1500 HRS

      Come along to the Mobile Police Office to discuss any local matters of concern, obtain advice, or just have a chat with your local Community Officer PC Iain Clark

      New Aberdeenshire Local Plan

      Yesterday and today I spent looking at allocating houses and employment land to settlements in Formartine (my bit of Aberdeenshire).

      View Aberdeenshire Local Plan 2007-2023 in a larger map

      It's difficult to get information out on what is happening but I'm trying so I've put the decisions so far onto a Google map.  I've used symbols for housing, employment sites and written in the detail.  Some sites are very large and you'll need to look at the full documentation.

      A further report will come to a future meeting of Formartine Area Committee to look at development around Potterton as an alternative to development at the south of Oldmeldrum.  The debate amongst the local councillors is mainly a) whether Potterton is in the Strategic Growth Area or not (50:50 according to the Head of Planning Policy) and b) whether development should be north or south of the Potterton.

      But what do the people of Potterton think?

      I'll post more as as I can try to expand to other bits of Aberdeenshire when I can - but currently I don't have the information.

      Let me know what you think and I'll let you know when the formal plan is published and how you can comment or object to it formally.

      Primary school visits

      Today and last Thursday, I toured the eight primary schools in my ward, along with council officers and councillor colleagues.  What most impressed me was the children.  In several of the schools, the head teacher delegated touring the school to a small group of pupils.  Now, it's great to have a small group of children that are confident about engaging with strange adults.  But everywhere, it was clearly evident that most of the children could have taken on the role of our guide.  I was impressed.

      Education is more than test results and exams.  And these schools are getting good results on these measures.  But they are also, I think, producing more than mere schooling.  The children look set to being great adults - enagaged with the world. 

      The schools themselves varied from the relatively large primaries in Ellon and Newburgh and small primaries with multi-yesr classes in Arnage, Foveran, Tipperty and Slains.  You can have long debates about the benefits of small more personal schools versus the range of opportunities a larger school can offer.  But what is important is the quality and enthusiasm of the staff.  Good teachers make good schools.  And good schools provide us with the most valuable asset we can have for all our futures - children able and willing to reach their own potential.

      I'm looking forward to planned visits to the Academys to see how they take up the challenge!

      Climate change adaptations for the NE of Scotland

      The audience at the Royal Society of Edinburgh's presentation and debate on Climate Change last night had some very clear views.

      Firstly, in stark contrast to the Cassandra's such as Ian Wood and Co, the audience had a great belief that the shift to a low carbon economy was an opportunity for the north east.  The overwhelming feeling was that with the assets of our ports, our universities and the engineering expertise, particularly sub-sea, we had a wonderful opportunity to embrace change.  That didn't particularly surprise me.  Industry seized the opportunity of north sea oil and there is no reason why the renewables, particularly subsea renewables, shouldn't find a natural home here.

      Secondly, and this did surprise me, there was strong demand for better public transport.  FirstBus came under fire for its high fares in the city - justifiably as a minimum of £1.50 for ajourney is high by any standard.   Stagecoach services in the Shire were seen as infrequent and slow.

      This is a bit of a chicken and egg issue.  With just 6% of journey's by bus and 60-70% by car, it would take a small shift from car to bus to expand bus services greatly.  Think about it.  If just 1 in 10 car journeys were replaced by bus, then this would double the number of bus journeys.    OK - it's not quite that simple but part of the solution is in our own hands.

      Scale and management of cuts

      the Accounts Commission has called on councils to take urgent and radical action to deal with the financial challenges ahead in their annual report, An overview of local government in Scotland 2009. The reports points to a likely real term drop in the Scottish budget of between seven and 13 per cent between 2009/10 and 2013/14.

      Things could be worse - the Conservative Shadow Chancellor George Osbourne now saying the Conservatives will be "tougher than Margaret Thatcher" when it comes to tackling Britain's budget deficit. This will inevitably put more pressure of local government.

      The Democratic Independent Group called for an inclusive all-group approach to making the hard decisions that will be needed in the recent budget. The LibDem/Tory administration may regret refusing this approach.

      If the LibDem/Conservative administration on Aberdeenshire want all the power, then they can take all the resoponsibility.

      Private lives and public roles

      Two senior officials in Aberdeenshire are on leave while the Council investigates matters that have been in the press over the weekend. I have sympathy for the individuals involved. Their private lives should be exactly that (so long as they do not bring it into the workplace.) The intrusion into their lives by The Sun is appalling.

      However it is entirely appropriate that claims of bullying and intimidation are investigated. I hope this happens as swiftly as possible. Education is a key service for all our futures and we need good quality, stable management to allow our schools to thrive.

      Unions Terrace Gardens v Peacock

      Architecture and Design Scotland have now commented on the proposals.

      I think it fair to say that they were not impressed.

      I started to pick out some choice quotes .... but it was most of the document so I recommend you read the whole thing.

      We are nearing the end of the City Square Consultation.  I have seen nothing to change my mind from when I first posted on this topic.

      The CitySquare, ASCEF, Ian Wood camp sound increasing strident and unrealistic.  Getting a Guggenheim is the cherry on the top of culture led regeneration - not the start.  For example, Dundee getting a V&A outpost builds on Dundee Rep, DCA, Scottish Dance Theatre - and we have - well what?  The best arts organisation we have is Peacock ... and we are putting their future at risk if we go with CitySquare.

      A peacock in the hand is worth a hundred times more than 490 car parking spaces in the bush.  And there are ways forward from Peacock that open up the gardens and link them with e.g. Belmont Street.  The compromise solutions have clearly be laid out by Peacock and their brilliant and hugely committed architect Edgar Gonzalez. 

      Why won't Ian Wood add his money to the funds Peacock already have and make UTG brilliant.  

      Make your voice heard!

      Roe Deer

      This roe deer was hungry enough to spend a lot of time snacking from one of my bird feeders.  After emptying the feeder, the deer browsed spilt seeds on the ground before finally losing its nerve.

      They must be hungry to be so bold and therefore we need to be careful not to disturb them so they can conserve energy after this bad winter.

      Masterplan for Menie

      Now please don't confuse a picture with a masterplan.  But for what it is worth, this is what Trump put out to the press today with my annotations of what is where.

      At the published scale is is difficult to tell what happens to the homes Trump does not own.  It looks like David Milne's Hermit Point is buried under an apartment block.  Mill of Menie is part under the first and is where the second golf course is planned.  And Leyton Cottage seems hidden by trees - perhaps a return to the Racho Palos Verdes tactic.

      The main issue is of course whether the Masterplan includes the disputed properties.  And if so, whether the families who have made it clear they do not wish to sell will again be threatened with Compulsory Purchase. 

      When that is settled, then I'll comment on the Masterplanning process in more detail.  But I'll be looking out for progress in the issues I highlighted to Gareth Hoskins back in September.

      Robin Hood - Can good come from the banking crisis?

      A small tax on banking transactions could yield enormous sums.  It's also known as a Tobin Tax.  Watch the video and perhaps sign the petition.
      Petition text is
      Dear Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg

      It’s time for banks to pay their fair share.

      We call on you to support a “Robin Hood Tax” on banks. It’s a small tax on high value transactions between banks that would raise hundreds of billions of pounds that would be used to fund action against climate change, poverty and other big issues in Britain and around the world.

      Together we can turn the banking crisis into an opportunity for Britain and the world. Please support the Robin Hood Tax.

      Budgets - when the going gets tough you can see where priorities lie.

      As central funding gets tighter, the sustainability of Council tax freeze gets further called into question and the prospect of a George Osborne austerity budget looms, the stresses of Council budgets are starting to show.

      Aberdeenshire has survived fairly well up to now.  Despite the low central government grants, good management and tight control has limited the pain.  And Aberdeenshire prided itself on maintaining standards in Education.  But now the prospect forwards looks grim.

      For 2010/11, there was a funding gap of £10m and agreement between the LibDem/Tory administration and officers on how to find £6m.  That left us this morning trying to fill a £4.49m hole.

      The LibDem/Tory administration proposed "realignment of budgets", heavily impacting Education as follows:

      Life Long Learning & Leisure
      • £250,000 Cuts in support for Learners Auxillaries
      • £646,000 No increase in nursery school hours
      • £1,031,000 No provision of free school meals for Primary One to Three pupils.
      • £840,000 Saving from turnover and recruiting at lower salary levels.
      • £200,000 Undefined efficiency saving from Community Learning & Development and Libraries
      • £244,000 Cut in per capita allowances to devolved school budgets
      • £45,000 cut in health education
      • £85,000 5% cut in budgets for Sure Start and Community Network budgets
      • £200,000 Pre-school Education and Nursery (to be achieved by using Council school premises where possible)
      • £52,000 Cut in travel and subsistence budget.
      and in other areas
      • £225,000 Community wellbeing -cuts in posts
      • £325,000 Reduction of funding to external partners
      • £132000 Cuts on day care provision
      • £14,000 Reduction in North East Chief Executive Forum funding
      • £60,000 Efficiencies in officer accommodation use and from WorkSmart
      • £100,000 Efficiencies from transferrring more services to Contact Centre.

      The offical opposition, the SNP responded with a rather vague budget.
      • £2,429,000 Resource efficiency (£1,1020 target recurring underspends, £500,000 review end year flexibility, £500,000 redcue business mileage, £250,000 Shared Service opportunities, £150,000 Review methods of publicity)
      • £879,000 Workforce management (£500,000 vacancy management, £225,000 review staff absences, £150,000 review staff shift allowances)
      • £745,000 Capital funding adjustments (£500,000 reprofiling capital plan, £200,000 review treasury management, £45,000 sale of surplus assets)
      • £400,000 Procurment cuts (£200,000 reduce expenditure on consultants, £100,000 review software licences, £100,000 savings from corporate contracts)

      As the details are nearly all expressed as round hundreds of thousands of pounds, I suspect the rigor of the analysis.  £500,000 from reprofiling the capital plan equates to £5m cut in capital spending and I'd dearly like to know where this was to come from.  The whole budget seems to me as just "we need to find the money so we'll just spread the pain around."

      The Democratic Independent Group last year proposed a budget without "growth" items and instead with one-off spends designed to save money later.

      This year, with the situation worse, we wanted to provide a breathing space by
      • transferring £3,500,000 of revenue spend in schools and roads to capital,
      • scrapping the unsuccessful unadopted roads scheme for £300,000,
      • anticipating a low rise in salary levels for most staff (£865,000) and mandating a freeze for senior officers (£90,000) and, in order to share the pain, cutting special resonsibility allowances to Vice Chairs (£25,000). 
      • We also believe that a cut in administration f £250,000 is achieveable
      • We also believe that we need to stop the drain on our Visitors Attractions and therefore proposed cutting £150,000.  This was done with some sadness - Archeolink is a great idea but its future needs to be independent of the Council.
      • We also cut £253,000 from the growth initiatives.

      That then allowed us to put £653,000 into Spend to Save initiatives and add an extra £331,000 to balances in case the risks are even more adverse than expectations.

      My ward colleague Rob Merson didn't understand our switch of revenue funding to capital.  Rob, Fergus could, I hope, explain that cutting £500,000 from revenue by reprofiling the capital plan does means that somehow about £5m of capital spending needs to be delayed.  What we proposed was roughly the reverse.   More alarmingly Jill Webster, Vice Chair of Infrastructure despite her long service as councillor also didn't understand this common mechanism.  

      So, LibDems and Tories are prepared to sacrifice education.  The SNP don't know what their priorities are.  And the Democratic Indpendent Group aim to plan for long term savings and protect our most valuable services especially education.

      But LibDem/Tory cuts in education it is.  What a future.

      Police website consultation

      The police are interested in hearing your views on the force website and have asked for the following to be distributed as widely as possible. 
      Their text from here on ....
      Grampian Police wishes to develop a new Force website that meets the needs of the people of north-east Scotland. You can help by answering a few questions about how you currently or might use the Force website.
      Please look at the Grampian Police website www.grampian.police.uk and then complete the survey to let us know what you like or what you would like to change.
      We would like to hear the views of as wide a cross section of our communities as possible so if you have any further contacts who may wish to contribute please forward this email on.
      The survey can be completed by clicking the link below

      Scotblogs Awards 2010 : Top 10 politicians

      I am very grateful to have been placed 7th in the ScotBlogs Awards 2010 for Politicians.  My colleague Paul Johnston came in 9th (very unfair as he works harder than I do).  Congratulations to Paul for 5th for Hyperlocal.

      And now I get 4th on th Env/Green blogs.

      I am delighted that the Democratic Independent Group on Aberdeenshire Council has gained this recognition for our own brand of open and honest engagement on the issues. 

      Thank you!

      Ocean Lab 2

      Congratulations to Aberdeen University on the offical opening of Ocean Lab 2 at Newburgh. 

      I attended the opening this morning and benefited from a guided tour.  Thanks to Daniel for an explanation of some of the strands of work underway and Alan for a tour of the technologies.  (And apologies to both for forgetting their surnames - please take this as an expression of friendliness)

      Some of the facilities are used by the north sea industry for testing.  A vessel capable on simulating the pressures 7km deep in the ocean, mean of testing the types of sudden drop in termperatures from the tropics to the deep sea and a serious vibration plate are available for commercial use - and the business sdie of the oepration subsidises the research that covers a wide range of issues. 

      And the new building is lovely - graound source heating and what must be the best view from a workplace coffee room anywhere.

      Auditor asked to look into Menie land deal

      I have asked Audit Scotland to investigate whether Aberdeenshire Council is failing in its statutory duty to get the best possible value from the sale of Council owned land at Menie to Trump - refusing all other bidders.

      I opposed the sale of this land to Trump and the rejection of other bidders.  I argued that the only way anyone can know that the best price is realised is via an open competition.   However seven other councillors were determined to sell to Trump and I fear that this will be at a much lower price than if an open process had been used.

      Writing to the Council's external auditor, I have asked for the matter to be investigated urgently and cite section 74(2) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 as requiring councils to only accept offer that are "the best that can ... reasonably be obtained"

      Update: Audit Scotland will be investigating further and reporting on the matter as part of the 2009/10 audit.

      Picture: Cllrs Martin Ford and Debra Storr at disputed land

      ScotBlog nomination

      I am flattered to have been nominated  for a ScotBlogs 2010 Award especially as this blog has only been running since March 2009. 

      There is a wide range of blogs nominated so please do browse the nomination list - you never know who else you'll find.  It was fun!

      Voting in the Scotblog Awards is open until Wednesday 27th January at 8pm.

      Research into Masterplanning

      Camilla Klemme is a final undergraduate at Edinburgh University studying Geography. She is doing a thesis on: How Sustainable is Sustainable Development in the case of Ellon?

      She will be asking the councillors and the community council for their views but I offered to see if anyone else wanted to comment via this blog and she is delighted at the idea.    If you'd like to comment, please copy the questions below into an email and email your responses back to Camilla at cklemme@gmail.com (not to me!).  You only need answer questions you are comfortable with - just leave any question you don't want to answer blank.

      To Camilla,  cklemme@gmail.com

      and How long you have lived in Ellon?  

      Sustainable Development –

      KEY QUESTION: What is your understanding of sustainable development/sustainable community development?

      2 Are you a strong supporter of Sustainable Development?

      3 Do you think the sustainable urbanism project of Ellon is sustainable?

      Achieving Sustainable Community Development/Community involvement –

      Housing –
      Do you feel there is a need for more mixed/affordable housing in Ellon?

      Aims of the Princes Foundation for the Built Environment (PFBE) – Ellon:

      • Do you feel it has made a positive change in the design and planning?

      • That the architecture is sensitive to traditions and history of Ellon?

      • That it will increase the quality of life of the residents?

      • That a sense of place is created?

      KEY QUESTION: The PFBE has been accused of being a private lobbying firm/ not being a responsible charity…what are you views on this?

      Aims of Scotia/SCD –

      3 areas –

      • Cromleybank, south of the River Ythan – to include a new high street and several other key amenities that are needed for village life.

      • The Town Centre – small re-workings of the existing town centre to create better connections, more parking facilities and improved services.

      • Castleton and the Castle Gardens – the focus of this development aims to create a continuous link between the north of Ellon and the town centre, seamlessly blending into the existing character and fabric of the town. Revenue from this development will allow the beautiful hidden Castle Gardens, right in the heart of Ellon, to be re-opened to the public, creating a magnificent attraction right in the centre of town.

      Castleton – Aims:

      1 Walkable communities
      2 Connected spaces (rid cul-de-sac)
      3 Public places
      3 Mixing it up (housing)
      4 Visual variety (housing)
      5 Local first (traditional development)

      3 Sustianbale Community Development (what does it involve) –

      Do you believe this will –

      1 Meets the needs of all existing and future resources for Ellon?

      2 Contributes to a higher quality of life?

      3 Offers appropriate ladders of opportunity for households advancement, either locally or through external connection?)
      4 Limits adverse external effects on the environment, society and economy?

      Against Sustainable Development:

      KEY QUESTION: Wildlife is being destroyed…. Is it then fair to say that this is sustainable development? What are your views?

      2 Do you feel you will use your car less/walk or bicycle more?
      3 Do you fell that new housing development will just increase the population and car use/increase Ellon’s use as being a commuter village?

      Community Engagement?

      KEY QUESTION: Has the sustainable community development of Ellon involved an integrated approach of community participation, partnership and engagement with urban professionals?

      2 Do you believe that the Enquiry by Design process (of Scotia homes and PFBE) has sufficiently and successfully involved and integrated the views and ideas of the community of Ellon?

      3 Do you feel you that you have had adequate power in the planning and development process of Ellon? That conflicts of interest have been identified discussed and changed?
      4 Do you think the open workshops/public forums/engagement process has been a success?

      5 Do you feel that the developers have put the community first in the decision making process?

      KEY QUESTION: Do you believe that the new community of Ellon will be welcomed by the old community?

      Press/Alliance for lobbying transparency –

      KEY QUESTION: They have slated sustainable community development as a form of ‘greenwashing/green bling’…that it is just a dusted down scheme to enable more property development… do you have anything to say about this?

      Planning Alerts is back!

      Delightfully, given my motion to Council yesterday, I can now advise that Planning Alerts is back up and running!

      Today I got the first results


      Demolition of Culterty House and Outbuildings and Erection of Residential Development of 10 Houses and 9 Flats with relative amenities and parking

      MORE INFORMATION: http://tinyurl.com/y99kos3
      MAP: http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=ab41+6da&z=15
      WHAT DO YOU THINK?: http://tinyurl.com/yeecvou
      If you are interested in planning applications submitted near you, please go and set up an alert.  You just need to give email address and a postcode and decide on an area of search.

      You now (sadly) only have 21 days to response to applications so this is the best way to keep on top of what is going on and making your voice heard.

      Open Data, Open Systems

      Aberdeenshire Council took forward for detailed consideration a move to make its data more accessible to people that I proposed. It was a pity support wasn't warmer on the day that saw the launch of www.data.gov.uk

      My motion called on the Council to make data available in common data formats so that individuals and intersested parties can reuse this information and combine information togather in any way they chose.

      The BBC recently used data on serious road accidents to publish interactive maps of accident blackspots and other public bodies are embracing the "Open Data, Open Systems" concept.

      I start from the principle that the data a council holds belongs to all of us and therefore should be shared.  There are lots of examples across the world of public bodies making their data available and in the UK, these moves are supported by the Cabinet Office and councils are starting to catch on.  Kent dubs their initiative "Pic and Mix" and I like the idea of making data available for people to use.

      This can also save Councils money.  Making it easy for people to access data can save councils from building systems themselves.  PlanningAlerts is used by thousands of people to be notified of nearby planning applications - without the expense of Councils building their own system.    This gaves much better service to the public than trawling through weekly lists.  WriteToThem.com is another initiative that enable citizens to find and contact their elected representatives.  Let's make it easy for these systems to grow to meet public demand rather than building everything ourself and paying to do so.

      Word of the day : Monopsody
      Council land to be sold to Trump

      In economics, a monopsony (from Ancient Greek μόνος (monos) "single" + ὀψωνία (opsōnia) "purchase") is a market form in which only one buyer faces many sellers. It is an example of imperfect competition, similar to a monopoly, in which only one seller faces many buyers. As the only purchaser of a good or service, the "monopsonist" may dictate terms to its suppliers in the same manner that a monopolist controls the market for its buyers.

      Today Aberdeenshire Councild decided to make Donald Trump a monopsony*.

      On a vote of 7 to 3, Formartine Area Committee decided today to reject 7 other interested parties and negotiate to sell a small piece of land to Trump.

      If you reject all possible purchasers but one, you have no way of knowing that the price you get is the highest possible. And Aberdeenshire Council does not have a reputation as a tough negotiator with Trump.   

      I argued for an open process and let the highest bid win.  Logically that highest bid should have been Trump.  The land, if it is key to the development, is worth more to Trump than anyone else.   But my colleagues with the honorable exceptions of Cllr Paul Johnston and Cllr Davidson, are simply happy to sell to Trump.  Frankly the numbers mooted in the surveyors report don't sound large to me.

      Why we must trip up Trump from Adam Proctor on Vimeo.

      I also worry that the value put on this land will somehow impact the value put on my constituent's houses if - and I sincerely hope sense prevails well before we get that far - if CPOs are even used.

       * I've wanted to use the word monopsody for years and never before came even close to having a chance!


      It seems that the report into the sales of land at Menie was leaked to various newspapers.  And weirdly the council decided to publish much of the material that I argued could have been debated in public itself after the meeting.

      And two journalists who would regard me as a friendly source complained to me that they hadn't got a copy of the report.

      For the record, when I was consulted on the report some weeks ago, I asked that the report be split into two - one part that could be debated in public about process and one that would need to be private taking about value and bidders.  Today, I moved deferral so we could have these two reports this morning.   I tried ....

      No doubt there will be an investigation into the leaks.  Last time the focus of an investigation as to who had leaked a memo about Menie that was sent to all 68 councillors focused oddly on Cllrs Merson, Davidson, Owen and myself.  Will the investigation this time reveal anything useful? 

      I donlt think there was anything in the debate today that couldn't have been done in public.   It would have been so much simpler if the my colleagues had simply decided to debate matters of legitimate public interest in public. 

      Disagree with me if you will, colleagues.  But have the grace to do it in public - and then you can be properly accountable to the public. 

      Standards for windows.

      Formartine Area Committee actually brought themselves to agree with Cllr Paul Johnston and I today!

      We argued that it was disgraceful that the standards for replacement windows in Sheltered Housing just barely met building regulations while the council put better windows that woudl reduce heating costs into other properties. I want the highest standards in both!  But is is very important to put low u-value windows into properties occupied by some of the most vulnerable people in society.  This reduce their fuel bills in future helping achieve reduction in fuel poverty aims as well as reducing CO2 emissions.

      After some resistance, the committee finally agreed to raise the matter with Social Work and Housing.  Thanks to Cllrs Duncan and Davidson for chipping in.

      I put down my marker now - if standards are not improved, I will be voting to reject contracts in future.

      Main Issues: Enabling Development, Protection of Nature Conservation Sites, Landscape Character, Historic Environment, Safeguarding Resources - Water, Agricultural Land, Woodland, Transport Facilities, Employment Land, Oil and Gas Sites, Mineral, Wind Farms.

      A final run at this .... again, if you can get comments to me by 20th,that would be helpful.  The Formartine Area Committee will be discussing on 27th January.

      Enabling Development: permited for retaining a Listed Building or (newpolicy) start-up of employment, leisure, tourism in Regeneration Priority Area
      Protection of Nature Conservation Sites: These water down protection in the current plan.  The plan will include a list of designated sites at International, National and Local levels, lists of protected species under EU and British Law and Local Priority Habitats and Species, and Geological Conservation review sites.  Others are better placed than I to review these.
      Landscape Character: Recognises the value of our landscapes and introduces Valued Views (list provided).
      Historic Environment:  There is Supplementary Guidance for Listed Buildings, Conservation AReas, Historic Gardens and Designed Landscapes, and Archeological sites and Ancient Monuments.    The polices are good and I welcome a requirement for development in Conservation Areas to be for Full Planning Permission.
      Safeguarding Resources - Water, Agricultural Land, Woodland, Transport Facilities, Employment Land, Oil and Gas Sites, Mineral, Wind Farms.  This policy covers a lot of ground!  The policy of water trys to ensure than water quality, flooding, ecology and flood plans are properly considered.  There is a presumption to retaining the best quality agricultural land.  Trees and Woodlands not covered by TPOs gain some protection as are routes that may be useful for future transport (including paths) and other transport infrastructure.  A new presumption to retaining employment land in employment use.  St Fergus is recognised as special for oil and gas development and other developments will be resisted.  Land for mineral development is safeguarded in Areas of Search (see maps) and there are also areas of search for large windfarms and landfill sites

      The extension into enabling development to support almost any for of economic activity is interesting.   There is Supplementary Guidance to limit this to where the public benefit outweighs the disbenefits of breaching public policy, and limits the scale to 5 houses or fewer.   We have had problems with developers selling of parts of the development and then finding they don't after all have sufficient funds to restore a listed building and therefore coming back for more.  The "prferably to be developed in full by the developer" is therefore welcome.   I do worry that the test is too easy - of course Trump was allowed 500 houses of enabling development at Menie - a long way from the regeneration areas and that proposal would have been a different matter in an area of high unemployment.

      I have to be a bit of a cynic on the Nature Conservation Sites policies: they have been badly breached and now they say that that's fine.  It's not.  

      On Resources, there is a lot of ground here.  I welcome the presumption that trees and woodland should be preserved even when not coverd by TPOs - with changes to and reviews of TPOs, this is sorely needed.  And the retention of employment land as such is very important - losing employment land to residential development has been an issue and we need to ensure we have residential and employment uses in our villages.
      It'll be interesting to see the map for Area of Search for Minerals -and Landfills.