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.