Delay for new primary school

Well that’s been an eventful day. The headline news must be the delay to the opening of the new Hillside primary school. Instead of opening as planned in August next year, the scheduled date is now October 2016. The news was shared with Portlethen Community Council tonight by Cllr Carl Nelson, as chairman of the Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee.

Today the committee took a paper in private that set out the reasons for the delay – over access – and agreed which company would be awarded the contract. The meeting was in private for various reasons (financial affairs, terms of acquisition, tenderer for contract, and legal proceedings).

After a meeting in private the chairman is the only person who can discuss what was decided. Carl told the meeting that a tender had been accepted and the contract will be awarded subject to land acquisition. The successful bid is within budget. The work will also include drainage, grassing and fencing for community pitches. However, he said, there are access issues with a third party. Nonetheless this is close to resolution. He added that Stewart Milne road works might take until September which could delay the building of the school. That was resulting in an October opening.

As you would expect, community councillors were not pleased. Many blamed the council, though Carl advised that a judgement should not be made without being in possession of all the facts. Community councillors wanted to know what the consequences would be for the children of the new school, and for the pupils of Portlethen primary school. The council’s education director is being invited to attend the next meeting.

Unfortunately there is little more I can say, which is one of the consequences of having meetings in private.

A reporter from the Evening Express was present so no doubt we will be able to read more in due course.

Tonight’s meeting also discussed the changes to local bus services and the lack of timetables; plans for a recycling centre at Badentoy; the empty General George store; a local community plan; the Portlethen gala including a “wonderful” grant of £1000 from the local Rotary club; the lack of a police report again; progress with the allotments campaign; and a £500 grant towards the Bourtee pre-school garden.

At area committee earlier today, councillors agreed that £8000 would be spent on drainage in Nicol Park, Stonehaven; and £25,000 on purchasing land for the cemetery at Maryculter, amongst other landscape services projects. I also made the point that landscape services staff should liaise with communities before undertaking significant work, such as the many bushes and trees planted in the park beside Newtonhill Road, in Newtonhill.

Planning permission in principle was granted for four houses at Stripeside, Netherley, replacing existing buildings. And finally full planning permission for a vehicle inspection facility

Background to village’s new tree plantation

I have now had a response from the council’s landscapes services about the little forest at the west end of the Newtonhill Park. Officers concede it was an error to proceed with this planting without notifying councillors and “this is something we need to rectify for future work.”

Here is what I have been told: “Community councils also should be made aware of our proposals, along with relevant groups such as NEAT who were singing our praises a couple of weeks ago.

“From what correspondence I have seen I believe most complaints relate to the proliferation of tree shelters and the immediate visual impact they have, rather than the trees themselves. The area planted is an extension to a group of trees planted a few years ago and is being done at this time simply because we generally plant trees in the winter/early spring, nothing to do with surplus budgets.

“The area of open grassland remains extensive at this park with new trees only taking up a small percentage of available ground and the intention is to create informal footpaths through them so residents can walk between the trees as they develop and grow. We do tend to plant quite densely and in large numbers to increase the overall success rate and if necessary we can thin them out as time goes on.

“As a general note it is likely we will be planting increasing numbers of trees in future years to assist with increasing biodiversity by creating woodland habitats including much more fruit tree planting than we have previously done.   Where appropriate we are also likely to increase planting of ornamental species to provide colour and interest. There are implications in terms of reducing areas of grass requiring regular cutting, but this is not the sole reason for increased tree planting, which itself does require a suitable maintenance regime to be implemented at least until trees are well established. That said, budgets are under increasing pressure as you are aware and we have to prepare for what lies ahead in that respect. This is one method by which we can sustainably reduce costs over a longer term, yet still provide horticultural and amenity interest.

“With regard to species – trees here include varieties of alders and willows and beech amongst others.

“We do accept the tree guards are visually intrusive and have given thought to removal of at least some, but believe its best we leave them for the time being to help maintain survival rates. They will be reduced in number as the trees grow, become more firmly rooted and are better able to withstand the elements themselves.”

Decisions from the area committee

Today’s Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee took a number of important decisions.

  • The headline issue which will no doubt be reported in the media tomorrow concerns planning applications for a travellers’ site at St Cyrus. The caravan park – which already there without permission – is built on the flood plain. Councillors voted by 8-2 to support the planners’ recommendation that the application be refused. The final decision will be made by the full council.
  • The upper guideline limit for the area committee budget was upped to £4000, from £3000. This is the fund that groups can apply to for grants.
  • Administration grants for the three community councils in my North Kincardine ward were agreed: Newtonhill etc £677, Portlethen etc £1418, North Kincardine Rural £475. It is based on the size of the electorate.
  • Senior police officers reviewed key statistics between April and December 2014. In North Kincardine housebreakings fell from 20 in 2013 to 14, but the detection rate is down to 7.1%. Inspector Stuart Ednie is retiring (far too young!).
  • The proposals by Aberdeen City Council to exclude Aberdeenshire children from Cults Academy met with strong opposition from councillors. I called on our officers to beef up their submission to the consultation, saying that the best interests of the children should be uppermost, and that is to continue with the existing arrangements. If the city council proceeds, the children would go to either Mackie Academy or Portlethen Academy when they leave Lairhillock Primary School.
  • Roads officers put forward their programme for the coming year. I also raised the state of the roundabout at the east end of the Badentoy flyover. Further work will take place to tackle the rutting. Officers are having weekly meetings with the Aberdeen western peripheral route team about the impact on local roads: “we want to get plenty of advance warning.” It was also agreed that the barrier on the Bervie Braes at Stonehaven would be painted green.
  • The general maintenance budget in K+M is £981,000, and this includes the following in the North Kincardine ward: Resurfacing – Milltimber junction (B9077)

Surface dressing – Cookston Road, Portlethen – high friction dressing; C25K from the junction C12K west to Backhill; U59K from Jockton House to Mid Ardoe; U145K from the junction with the B979 to Blackburn; and U145K from Inch of Ury southeast to East Blackburn. Footway works – slurry seal outside Banchory Devenick Primary School, Marine Terrace and Dunnyfell Road in Muchalls; South Headlands Crescent, Hillhead Road, Old Mill Road, Newtonhill Road, Windyedge Court in Newtonhill; and in Portlethen Viking Place, Bruntland Road, Glebe Court, Badentoy Road, Schoolhill Road, Cairnwell Drive, Glebe Court, Cairnwell Drive, Ninian Place, Barclayhill Place, Craighead Avenue, and Craigmarn Road. Lighting column replacement – Dunvegan Place, Rowanbank Road, Muirend Road and Berrymuir Road in Portlethen.

  • Scottish Ministers have grants an appeal for two houses to the north of 44 Downies Village. Councillors and residents had concerns over the scale and height of the houses.

Workers’ camp meeting postponed

The public meeting due to be held tomorrow evening (25 March) in the Mill Inn at Maryculter has been postponed. It was being held by Michael Saunders of who has a planning application lodged with Aberdeenshire Council for a workers’ camp related to the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route.

Mr Saunders said that “due to circumstances beyond my control I have to cancel the Wednesday meeting at short notice. I have asked the planning authorities to hold the application on the Old Mill or extend the public consultation period for a further two weeks, so as not to prejudice the position of any objectors.

“The car park information has also been held back to prevent the clock from starting.

“I apologise for the short notice but I have no control over the present situation, which is not work related.

“I will re-arrange the meeting upon my return to the office.”

Royal Mail blunder over Muchalls postbox

Royal Mail this week owned up to an identity crisis in Muchalls after giving the village a postbox bearing the English crown instead of a Scottish one.

I spotted the error and contacted the company. I saw the shiny red postbox at the end of Dunnyfell Road and the mistake just shouted at me. I know some people think this is of no consequence, but out history is important. To have the wrong crown on a Scottish postbox is unfortunate, and indeed insensitive to our history.

The Scottish crown has been used on postboxes north of the border following protests over the Elizabeth II insignia being introduced in 1952. After EIIR postboxes appeared in Scotland there was an outcry from nationalists because the new queen was the first Elizabeth to rule over the United Kingdom.

When the first EIIR postbox was unveiled in Edinburgh it was daubed in tar. The following year it was blown up. Many others were vandalised. In 1953 it was decided that to avoid further trouble, new postboxes would instead display the Scottish crown.

So I was surprised to see the wrong insignia on the Muchalls box, and wondered if standards had slipped since Royal Mail was privatised.

But no. I am told it was an error by a new engineer. Apparently engineers are being briefed to ensure this does not happen again.

2015 0315 Muchalls post box

Backing for new £1m path to Stonehaven

Local councillors have given their backing to a cycle/footway between Bridge of Muchalls and Stonehaven parallel to the A90. But the challenge will be to secure funding for the missing link.

In a report to Aberdeenshire Council’s infrastructure services committee director Stephen Archer said that a feasibility study jointly funded by the sustainable transport charity Sustrans estimates the scheme would cost approximately £1 million.

The report says that “The project will not be taken forward as a bid for construction until it can be demonstrated what the cost benefit is likely to be.”

I called at the Aberdeen meeting for the cost benefit analysis to be carried out as quickly as possible so that the project could move forward. I was assured by Ewan Wallace, head of transportation, that officers are working with Transport Scotland and Sustrans on this. The council is “pushing the boundaries” to take this forward.

Stonehaven councillor Graeme Clark described the cycle/footway as a missing link, with the current narrow path only feet from fast-moving traffic on the A90. He described the existing path as a mess.

He was aware of residents using the path to cycle from Stonehaven to work in Portlethen. More people would do that if it were a safe, well-maintained route.

Fellow Stonehaven councillor Wendy Agnew questioned whether local farmers had been approached to see if the land would be available. She was assured by Mr Wallace that this had been done and much of the land is already owned by the council or Transport Scotland.

A further report will go back to the infrastructure services committee in July.

New stations in funding windfall?

Our two North East local authorities agreed today to work together to secure some £2.9 billion from the UK and Scottish governments to invest in our local infrastructure. The councils will now open direct negotiations with the two governments to secure an Aberdeen City Region Deal.

I was pleased to be able to speak in the Aberdeenshire Council debate this afternoon, highlighting the fact the the proposals sensibly include making better use of our rail line. Among the stations to be re-opened would be Newtonhill, Cove, Aberdeen Airport/AECC, and Kittybrewster. Light at the end of the tunnel?…

Tackling bad parking at schools

Aberdeenshire Council today launched a Park Smart campaign to address concerns over irresponsible parking at  schools. I have had complaints about this over many years at Newtonhill, Fishermoss and Portlethen.

Complaints are increasing with teaching staff, school users and the public voicing concerns. Police Scotland is supporting the project which aims to tackle potentially dangerous parking habits by educating road users and enforcing best practice.

There is more information at

Anger over city plan to exclude Shire pupils

A lot of unhappy parents tonight at Cults Academy over the proposals by Aberdeen City Council. The city council wants to change the catchment area for Cults Academy to exclude pupils from south of the Dee (i.e. Lairhillock Primary School) from 2016. This is to make space for pupils in the city who will be coming from a new housing development at Milltimber, and so on.

Lairhillock is in Aberdeenshire, so our local pupils would no longer be welcome.

Parents were not backwards in letting the city council officers aware of their views. Feelings at the public meeting ran high, understandably. A number of them had moved to the area so that their children could attend Cults Academy, which is one of the best in the country.

The public consultation is open until 2 April. The Shire council has yet to agree its submission to the consultation. If the rezoning goes ahead, then the Shire will have to make alternative arrangements for the pupils. Currently there are about 60 pupils who could be affected.

I have been told by a councillor on the city council that she has been told the following by her council officers: “There has been no decision taken about whether siblings of students already at Cults Academy would be given a place at the school in future years, however I know that this approach is favoured by our colleagues in Aberdeenshire Council and it is something that has also been commented upon in responses from parents to the consultation. Given the relatively small numbers of pupils who would benefit from this, I think it would be a positive thing to offer as a recommendation to the Education and Children’s Services within the final Consultation Report.”

Also present was my fellow Liberal Democrat councillor Isobel Davidson who is chairperson of Aberdeenshire Council’s education, learning and leisure committee.

The final decision will be made by Aberdeen councillors.

You can find out more at…/CST_Cults_Academy_Rezoning…

New hope for Newtonhill station

Good to see Newtonhill being included in the plans for new railway stations, as revealed in today’s Press and Journal coverage of a £2.9bn growth plan for the Aberdeen area. There is even a photo of a train passing Newtonhill signal box on Page 5. This would part of the City Region Deal which will hopefully be backed by the UK and Scottish governments.…/proposal-bus-roads-bri…/