SNP to close Stonehaven’s court

The campaign to save Stonehaven’s sheriff court has been lost. On 11 June the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee voted  5-4 in favour of the government’s plans. The court will close next year.

North Kincardine Liberal Democrat councillor Ian Mollison commented: “A staunch defence was put up for our local courts, but the SNP won the day.” 

North East Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes – who is a member of the justice committee and voted against the plans – said after the meeting: “Today’s vote marks the beginning of the end for local justice in Scotland. The committee voted by five to four to close a fifth of Scotland’s sheriff courts and seven justice of the peace courts. 

“SNP members of the committee have shown complete contempt for their constituents in voting to close down local courts in Stonehaven and around the country. To make the argument to save their local courts and yet blithely vote for the government demonstrates a complete lack of respect.

“Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill may try to shirk responsibility, but these are his plans. He is responsible for ending Scotland’s proud tradition of delivering justice at the heart of local communities. Some 500 years of Scottish legal heritage have been wiped out by five SNP members who put party allegiance before their local community.

“The SNP’s plans are confused, chaotic and cavalier yet that seems to be good enough for the nationalist members of the committee.

“They were opposed by hundreds of local people who signed the Liberal Democrat and other petitions against the plans. Local businesses fear the consequences on the economy of the town, and victims and witnesses are concerned about the increased travel to Aberdeen to access justice.

“The value of justice delivered locally has been undermined by this decision.”

Councillor Mollison concluded: “We tried. But the SNP philosophy of big is better won through.”

New Hillside school on the cards

A £12.9m primary school is to be built at Hillside if councillors accept the recommendations from officials. 

North Kincardine Liberal Democrat councillor Ian Mollison said today: “The papers for next week’s Kincardine and Mearns area committee are now available on the council’s website. The big news locally is item 11, on primary schooling in
Portlethen. The recommendation from officers is for a new primary at Hillside, which I fully support.

“What is proposed by officials is a new school on the south-west of Hillside which will take 355 children. However the core facilities would be able to accommodate 540 pupils.

“After all the speculation, this sets out the facts and the officers’ recommendation for the new school at Hillside. The outcome of the committee’s discussion on Tuesday will be relayed to Thursday’s key policy and resources committee.

“This Aberdeenshire-wide policy committee will make the final decision on whether the new school goes ahead.

“I am looking forward to Tuesday’s meeting. It is clear from the report that Portlethen Primary School would be grossly over capacity unless something is done. Meanwhile Fishermoss Primary School has a falling roll, but it cannot fully relieve the pressure on Portlethen Primary.

“The figures are based on a new study of school capacities, brought about by the changing curriculum and higher standards.”

Portlethen residents discuss options for primary schools

Options for primary school provision in the Portlethen area was discussed by residents with council officials and local councillors tonight (Monday, 27 May). 

The Hillside area of Portlethen has been affected by extensive housing development in recent years. 

An assessment study was carried out on future options for primary provision in the town, which resulted in a series of options being put forward for consideration. 

Those options, including a third school for the town and retention of the two schools with the addition of a community facility, was put before the Portlethen community representatives for discussion. The five options are:

1. Retain Fishermoss and Portlethen Primary Schools. Construct a community facility on the identified site at Hillside Portlethen.

2.   Retain the two existing primary schools and build a community facility on the identified site at Hillside. The facility would include the core provision for a new school in the future. 

3.   Build a new primary school at Hillside, and assess the impact of this on the existing Portlethen Schools 

                  (a)  A 540-pupil school
                  (b)  A 355-pupil school with larger school core facility of 540 for future proofing the building,
                  (c) A 240-pupil school 

4. Build a new primary school at Hillside, retain and refurbish Fishermoss Primary School and close Portlethen Primary School.

5. Build a new primary school at Hillside, retain and refurbish Fishermoss Primary School and construct a community facility on the site of the former Portlethen Primary School.

North Kincardine Liberal Democrat councillor Ian Mollison said afterwards: “This was one of a number of meetings to discuss this issue. The next step will be a report to Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee with recommendations from officers. This will become public early next week. Once we members of the area committee have considered the report, our comments will go to the Aberdeenshire-wide policey and resources committee on Thursday 13 June when the final decision will be made.” 

There has already been extensive consultation with Portlethen residents on the options, which residents were advised would evolve as the process continued. 

The Portlethen community has been actively campaigning for a new school at Hillside in recent years. 

The 2012 School Estate Review predicts that primary pupil numbers in the town will rise significantly over the next few years.

Locals back campaign to save courts

Local people have backed a campaign by Liberal Democrats calling on the Scottish Government not to close Stonehaven’s courts. 

Leaflets have been delivered to thousands of homes in Stonehaven, Portlethen and Newtonhill by party supporters setting out the case and explaining what process the SNP government must follow to close the courts and transfer the business to Aberdeen. 

Stonehaven Liberal Democrat councillor Peter Bellarby said: “We are very worried about what closing Stonehaven’s courts would mean for justice in the North East.  The courts in Aberdeen are already full to capacity.  We already see cases being moved from Aberdeen to Stonehaven because there simply isn’t time for the sheriffs in Aberdeen to fit in all the court’s business.  Closing Stonehaven would simply mean more delays in cases coming to trial. 

“Even if Aberdeen had the capacity to take on the work done in Stonehaven, the fact is that moving cases there would be a major inconvenience for people who have to attend court – jurors, witnesses, and of course the victims of crime as well.   

“The public meeting in Stonehaven showed just how strongly people feel about their local court.  It’s clear that the people are against closing down Stonehaven’s courts.  Now we have to convince the SNP Government.”

North Kincardine Liberal Democrat councillor Ian Mollison added: “Our justice spokesperson and North East MSP Alison McInnes will be leading moves to vote against the closure when it’s debated at parliament.  

“We hope local people will get in touch with other members of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee.  They’ll be the first ones to have the chance to vote on the government’s orders.  Their contact details are on the committee’s webpage –      

“Residents can also contact their other local MSPs to ask them to vote to protect Stonehaven’s courts. Their names and contact details can be found on the Scottish Parliament website at 

“The plans to close Stonehaven’s courts – and other local courts around the country – risk doing real damage to the way justice is delivered in Scotland.”

Aberdeenshire Council AWPR spending capped

Aberdeenshire Council’s spending on the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route has been capped at £75m.

Aberdeenshire Council’s deputy leader, Liberal Democrat councillor Martin Kitts-Hayes, said that although it was a cost the local authority would prefer was met by the government, a deal had been agreed a decade ago.

He added: “It’s a lot of money, we would much prefer the Scottish Government to pay the £75m but we did agree back in 2003 that each of the councils would pay the 9%.

“Clearly at that time we were talking somewhere in the region of £30-32m so £75m is a lot of money to find, particularly in these difficult economic times, but Aberdeenshire Council is absolutely committed to the AWPR and we have already put £10m aside as part of that . We are borrowing up to £70m so we are confident that we will be able to find the money to make sure this happens and without that impacting on the services we provide to our council taxpayers.’’

Shire councillor quits SNP to join Lib Dems

Cllr Karen Clark (Deputy Lib Dem Group Leader), Cllr Martin Kitts-Hayes (Lib Dem Group Leader). Cllr Fergie Hood, Cllr Nan Cullinane (fellow Lib Dem Councillor in East Garioch)

Pictured are Cllr Karen Clark (Deputy Lib Dem Group Leader), Cllr Martin Kitts-Hayes (Lib Dem Group Leader), Cllr Fergie Hood, and Cllr Nan Cullinane (fellow Lib Dem councillor in East Garioch)

The Scottish Liberal Democrats in Aberdeenshire Council have welcomed Cllr Fergus Hood to the group.

Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Martin Kitts-Hayes said Cllr Hood will make a ‘big difference’ to the work of the Liberal Democrat group on the council.

Cllr Hood was re-elected to the East Garioch ward in May 2012.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie MSP said: “The Liberal Democrats have a strong record of delivery in Aberdeenshire and I am delighted that Cllr Hood has joined our hard-working local team.

“On Aberdeenshire Council it is the Scottish Liberal Democrats who are working to build the stronger economy and fairer society that we all want to see. As part of the administration we are working hard to create jobs and boost key local services. I know that Cllr Hood will make a big contribution to our work in the months and years to come.’

Cllr Hood said: “It is the Scottish Liberal Democrats who have the right policies for Aberdeenshire and are delivering in administration on the council.

“Liberal Democrats on the council have been a huge support in helping deliver real progress in my ward.

“This was not an easy decision to take but ultimately this is the right choice for me and the right choice for people in my ward.’

North Kincardine Cllr Ian Mollison added: “I am delighted to welcome Cllr Hood to the Scottish Liberal Democrats. We are working hard to build a stronger economy and a fairer society in Aberdeenshire. I know that these are aspirations that Fergus shares. He will make a big difference as part of the Liberal Democrat group.”

Broadband survey shows demand for better service

The results of an Aberdeenshire-wide survey on broadband have shown that there is an overwhelming demand for improved provision in the area.

North Kincardine councillor Ian Mollison welcomed the findings: “They will add weight to Aberdeenshire Council’s case for more funding from the Scottish Government.” 

Aberdeenshire Council has already agreed to contribute up to £18million to improve broadband services in the area but must provide evidence of demand from residents and businesses in order to be in the best position to access additional funding from the Scottish Government. 

Survey postcards were sent to every address in Aberdeenshire, with 12,000 being returned – a response rate of 10.7%, more than four times the normal response rate for mail shot campaigns.

The survey showed that 98.6% of current subscribers expressed an interest in subscribing to a faster service, confirming that there is unsatisfied demand for better broadband connectivity throughout Aberdeenshire.

In addition, 81% of subscribers without access to broadband said that they would be interested in subscribing to a broadband service if one was available while almost 1000 people who don’t currently subscribe to a service stated that they would be interested in subscribing to a faster service.

Within the UK, rural Scotland’s broadband services are among the poorest and in Aberdeenshire, 17% of all addresses have no broadband connection because of infrastructure constraints. 

This is insufficient to undertake many essential applications such as remote working, online health consultations and video streaming.  A further 80% of addresses do not enjoy service speeds greater than 6Mbps (megabits per second).

The Scottish Government has begun a procurement programme to deliver upgraded infrastructure capable of delivering broadband speeds of at least 24Mbps to 75% of premises in each local authority area by the end of 2015, and a basic service of 2Mbps to the remaining 25%. 

Aberdeenshire Council is prioritising reducing the digital divide through targeting some £16m on providing a better than 2Mbps service to those who may not receive this based on current Scottish Government plans.

In addition, the council will invest £2million alongside Aberdeen City Council towards superfast broadband services around the western boundary of Aberdeen and Westhill.

Wi-fi roll-out on the right track

North East Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes has welcomed the announcement that ScotRail will shortly roll-out free wi-fi on its trains between Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
ScotRail managing director Steve Montgomery confirmed today that wi-fi will be live on 59 of its trains, including those travelling from Edinburgh to Dundee and Aberdeen, by the end of the year.
Mrs McInnes said: “Last year I called on the Scottish Government to meet the demands of passengers and recognise the need for free reliable wi-fi on our trains. I am pleased that ScotRail is now pressing ahead with this.
“It is important that ScotRail and the Scottish Government now go one step further and work towards introducing free wi-fi across the entire rail network.”

North Kincardine councillor Ian Mollison commented: “This is good news for the ever increasing numbers of passengers who use Portlethen and Stonehaven stations. The latest figures show that there has been a 77% increase in passenger numbers at Portlethen between 2004/05 and 2011/12 to 19,078. Meanwhile Stonehaven has seen a 38% rise to 502,816 in that period.

“More and more people are being attracted to using the train, and this latest initiative will help. However the rail corridor around Aberdeen could carry many, many more people if the Scottish Government were willing to revive the Crossrail project with our own commuter trains and more local stations, such as Newtonhill.”

Bervie Braes to open again

The Bervie Braes road between Stonehaven and Dunnottar Castle is to reopen during the summer months.

Councillor Ian Mollison said: “I am pleased that the council’s policy and resources committee has agreed that the road should reopened. This should encourage visitors to Dunnottar Castle to go into Stonehaven.

“The work needed to reopen the road is to be carried out as soon as possible. This will take a few weeks.”

The decision was made by the committee on 18 April after they considered a number of options for the future of the route. This outcome was the one recommended by local councillors on the Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee.

Under the new scheme, the road will open from April to October, with a weight limit of three tonnes, a 20mph speed limit and a one-way system running from Dunnottar Castle into Stonehaven.

Barriers will also be installed as an added safety measure on the road running down Bervie Braes.

The necessary steps will now be taken for the barrier units to be bought and installed on the road. Subject to delivery of the barriers, it is hoped that the road will be reopened within a matter of weeks. Further work will be carried out to formalise the arrangements and they will be carried out after the road closes again in October.

The road has been closed to vehicles for safety reasons following a major landslip on the Braes in 2009.

Councillors urge residents to attend schools consultation

Local councillors are urging Portlethen residents to attend a community consultation about the provision of primary schooling in the town.

The event is being held by Aberdeenshire Council at Portlethen Academy on Wednesday 24 April.

The drop-in consultation starts at 4pm and runs until 7.30pm.

Councillor Carl Nelson said: “I am really pleased that this meeting is being held to give parents and other interested residents an opportunity to put forward their views of the options.”

Councillor Ian Mollison said: “The recent reassessment of the capacities of the town’s two existing primary schools has shown that there is less room for more pupils in the future than was previously thought. This boosts the case for taking action sooner than was predicted.”

Councillor Alison Evison said: “Representatives from the parent councils and nurseries in the Portlethen area have been working together with council officials over several months to come up with ideas for the best provision for all local children. Now the wider parent body can also put forward their views before the committee meet to decide the way forward in June.”

The issue will go before the council’s policy and resource committee.

Councillor Evison, Mollison and Nelson are all members of the Aberdeenshire Alliance which runs the local authority.

UPDATE: There were 63 people at the consultation, along with the four local councillors and several council officials.