By Aberdeenshire Council communications team
Infrastructure Services Committee June round-up
During its meeting on Thursday, June 15, Aberdeenshire Council’s Infrastructure Services Committee discussed development and future sustainable maintenance and promotion of Aberdeenshire’s Coastal Path Network and received an update on the outcome of the 5-year review of Road Inspection Policy.
North-east Scotland coastal paths network
Aberdeenshire Council is to develop a strategy to help in the development and future sustainable maintenance of a regional coastal path network.
The partnership approach will bring together a number of different projects – both council and community-led – as part of an overarching vision to ensure there is a good quality continuous coastal path running between St Cyrus and Cullen which can be promoted for use linking in to natural, built and cultural assets along the route.
A key aim of the strategy will be to empower and encourage local communities to deliver missing sections of the coastal path network. Councillors unanimously welcomed the strategy describing it as a “game-changer” for the region and a “boon for coastal communities”.
They acknowledged not only the benefits of these long distance walking routes but also the benefits for the local economy and quality of life for local residents by giving them easy access for recreation, active travel and opportunities for healthier lifestyles.
The council’s Coast Aberdeenshire project which was established in 2020 has provided invaluable information around the region’s requirements, focusing not only on the coastal paths, but path links to the coast, associated infrastructure such as car parks, toilets and interpretation and various other assets which may benefit from repair, upgrade or interpretation.
There have also been a number of community-led coastal path improvements in Aberdeenshire over recent years. In the south of Aberdeenshire, since 2019, the community group, Mearns Coastal Heritage Trail (MerCHaT) has been working with Tangleha Artists Collective with support from Aberdeenshire Council to develop and maintain a walking route joining Johnshaven with St Cyrus.
Following on from the work of MerCHaT, last summer the Lords Lieutenant of Banffshire, Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire launched the Platinum Jubilee Coastal Path project which looked to develop all of the coastal path from St Cyrus to Cullen and ensure the future sustainable management of it. To ensure there is a good quality continuous coastal path, earlier this year the council hosted a meeting with stakeholders and local community groups to discuss the future development and management of the coastal path network.
There is a strong desire for the Coast Aberdeenshire project and council services to continue to repair and upgrade the existing sections of the coastal path where it has responsibility and where budget and external funding are available.
Road inspection policy review
Committee welcomed an update on the outcome of the 5-year review of the council’s Road Inspection Policy. Aberdeenshire Council recognises the importance of achieving consistency in road inspections of its public roads to a consistent standard across the region. Councillors heard it seeks to achieve best value in the management and maintenance of the road networks through the use of asset management principles using a risk-based approach. A Road Safety Inspection Strategy has been developed with the primary aim of providing operational guidance to the officers responsible for managing road asset safety inspections. This is in order to encourage a consistent approach by utilising a formal system that recommends the frequency of inspections as well as the method of assessing, recording and responding to defects in the road asset. No major changes have been made to the Road Inspection Policy since it was last approved in 2018, as it continues to follow the ‘Well-Managed Highways Infrastructure’ Code of Practice and a risk-based approach. Councillors particularly welcomed the introduction of 6-month and 12-month target dates for low-risk defects where repair is not urgent. Following discission, it was agreed that the Service will arrange a hierarchical review workshop to consider in more detail the common themes emerging from the area committee comments, including prioritisation, road ratings and active travel.
Roads and Infrastructure works proposals
Councillors discussed a report into the prioritisation of capital schemes across the Roads and Infrastructure Service which provided indications of what schemes are deliverable with current funding parameters. The council’s Capital Plan includes £7,500,000 for roads resurfacing and reconstruction; £500,000 for road drainage; £1,177,000 for street lighting works; £1,634,000 for bridges & structures and £1,000,000 for harbours, coast and flooding. The IF1 and IF2 Infrastructure Funds also provide capital funding which is being primarily targeted at reducing the maintenance backlog in roads, footways and bridges. Councillors were reminded that the level of funding available to the Service for planned work can vary due to a number of factors including the finalised 2022-23 year-end position, outturn costs of schemes varying from budget estimates, schemes being delayed, amended or postponed and additional unplanned work becoming essential. It was stressed that while the Service makes every effort to plan the delivery of works to time and budget constraints, the programme has to be dynamic and able to cope with changing circumstances. The lists of proposed works have been prioritised within their category using a combination of asset data, and professional judgement, with asset condition, risk and cost benefits all factors which influence the priority.
Aberdeenshire Community Transport Initiative grant process
A revised approach to Aberdeenshire Community Transport Initiative (ACTI) community transport funding was approved by committee. Under the measures, new organisations will be allowed to apply for grants from the 2024/25 financial year onwards. Councillors were provided with the findings of a review undertaken earlier this year into the process for awarding grants to community transport organisations under ACTI. While recognising that there is a risk that existing grant holders could have their new applications rejected or grant funding reduced, given that it is expected that there will be no increase in budget officers maintained that the proposal is in the interests of fairness and intended to stimulate development of new projects/services across the region. There is a large spread in the values of grants awarded for the 2023/24 financial year ranging from around £9,000 to £150,000 per annum. The two largest grants account for £300,000 in total which is approximately 74% of the budget. Under the agreed changes, the maximum grant which can now be requested by any organisation will be capped at 40% of the budget which currently stands at £396,000. Following debate, it was agreed that the Director will consult the Chair, Vice-Chair and Opposition Spokesperson on any implications or impacts on the revised procedure prior to bringing a further report to the committee in January 2024.
Environmental partnerships extended
Councillors approved a further two-year partnership with both the North East Scotland Biodiversity Partnership (NESBiP) and the Dee Catchment Partnership (DCP) following the regular two-year review of the partnerships. NESBiP benefits from the participation of a wide range of partners with shared goals and objectives and provides an efficient mechanism for pooling limited resources to deliver shared action. Through its involvement with NESBiP, Aberdeenshire Council promotes nature conservation both within the council and the wider community which contributes greatly to the delivery of its Biodiversity Duty outlined in the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. The Dee Catchment Partnership was founded in 2003 bringing together bodies with an interest in the River Dee and has a vision of a thriving River Dee catchment where water, nature and people connect and flourish as part of a dynamic river system from the headwaters to the sea. Committee praised the essential works these partnerships undertake and welcomed the continued project and initiatives they will undertake in the next two years.
Low carbon combined cycle gas turbine – Councillors agreed to make no objection to an application submitted by SSE to the Scottish Government’s Energy Consents Unit for the construction, operation and maintenance of a low carbon combined cycle gas turbine generating station with a capacity of up to 910MW electrical at the existing Peterhead Power Station at Boddam. The proposal would include ancillary development and would incorporate Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). The council’s planning service said the principle of development can be established under National Development 15: Industrial Green Transition Zones through the inclusion of facilities for Carbon Capture and Storage and is bolstered through the significant contribution that the scheme would make to the non-intermittent energy supply of Scotland. Officers noted that the Energy Consents Unit will also have to be satisfied that the proposal is acceptable in terms of the duties outlined within the Climate Change Act 2009 in its role as the Determining Authority. The council’s Buchan Area Committee recently discussed the plans at length before it too made no objection to the application.
Invest Aberdeen –Committee agreeda set of key performance indicators upon which Invest Aberdeen is to report annually to Infrastructure Services Committee. The proposed key performance indicators cover the reach of Invest Aberdeen through events, their website and social media and also the inward investment enquiries which they support. Committee also agreed that future reporting should include further narrative and case studies and that the Director should consider a further KPI/measure to capture the output of the process where that information is available. Invest Aberdeen is a partnership between Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils. It exists to promote the Aberdeen City Region as a location for inward investment, to promote the particular regional opportunities and to support investors and companies looking to move into the North East. Invest Aberdeen is an integral part of the Economic Development services – in terms of supporting the realisation of investment opportunities – of both Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils – but also works with other regional and national partners and takes a lead from relevant regional and national strategy and policy as it works out its objectives and determines priorities.
Seasonal garden waste collection – Councillors acknowledged the financial implications of adding more seasonal garden waste collection points into the region. While there is no funding within the Waste Service budget to implement additional seasonal garden waste points, it was reported that some of the costs could be offset if more garden waste was diverted away from landfill bins, which have significant associated disposal costs. The 12 existing seasonal garden waste points are within settlements that are more than two miles from a household recycling centre and have 1,000 or more domestic properties. They are maintained using the Waste Service’s existing fleet and staff operating on a voluntary overtime basis. Garden waste is a valuable resource in Aberdeenshire, which is recycled via Keenan Recycling. Because it is supplied purely as garden waste, it can be recycled in a sustainable open-windrow process that produces high-quality compost. It is then screened and sold to the agricultural or horticultural industry. The most environmentally friendly option for disposing of garden waste is to encourage residents to compost at the source of the waste within their gardens. Aberdeenshire Council can deliver a highly discounted home composting bin to residents from its limited stock. More details on pricing, sizes, availability, and how to order a home composting bin are available on the council’s website. Councillors also noted that community composting guidance has been developed by Zero Waste Scotland, in partnership with Aberdeenshire Council. The website provides the area’s communities and organisations with a comprehensive guide to getting local composting projects up and running at www.aberdeenshirecompost.scot
Annual Scrutiny and Improvement Report –The annual scrutiny report is part of the monitoring process allowing committees to keep track of progress and ensure any agreed actions have been implemented. It also provides an opportunity to reflect on scrutiny undertaken and identify any future scrutiny requirements as part of an annual programme of activity. Councillors considered and commented on the activities detailed in the report and agreed that the Director of Environment and Infrastructure Services will arrange a workshop with elected members to identify a Scrutiny Improvement Programme for the 2023/2024 financial year.
The full agenda, documents and links to the recording of the webcast can be found here: https://committees.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/committees.aspx?commid=495&meetid=20310