Reassurance for Newtonhill residents

A number of Newtonhill residents have raised their concerns about the safety of a new path from Cairnhill Road through the park to Newtonhill Road.

Councillor Ian Mollison said: “I have been told that a few drivers have gone down the path, mistakenly thinking it is a road. Other residents are concerned that the path could be used by vehicles to access the park.

“I have contacted council officials and as a result a temprorary barrier has been put in place.

“The path was constructed to meet conditions imposed by the council on the developers of Michael Tunstall Terrace and Cairnhill Road. It is needed to provide a safe route to school and the centre of the village for the new residents.

“Council officials understand the sense of urgency and concern felt by residents regarding this matter. However the specification for the permanent bollards required at the Cairnhill Road access are significantly different to those already used at other points round the park by Landscape Services.

“As occasional maintenance access must be maintained at this entrance, removable bollards (which are not a standard Aberdeenshire Council installation) will be put in. These have to comply with minimum safety specifications for use on a main entrance to this type of multi-user path.

“It may take the developer a number of weeks to source and install a product to meet minimum specifications (particularly given the holidays).”

Greener buses for Portlethen

Portlethen will soon see a new greener bus on local routes. From time to time Stagecoach will be trying out eco-friendly hybrid-electric buses between Aberdeen and the town.

The fleet of 10 hybrid buses will be mainly operating in Aberdeen from Balnagask to Northfield via Union Square and Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

However managing director Andrew Jarvis said at the launch on Monday that Stagecoach would also trial the buses on other routes including Aberdeen-Westhill and Aberdeen-Portlethen. The buses are not suitable for longer journeys such as on the A90 dual carriageway to Stonehaven as the maximum speed is 46mph.

Councillor Ian Mollison, who was at the launch at the Ardoe House Hotel in his North Kincardine ward, said: “I am very pleased to hear that these low emission buses will be seen in Portlethen.

“Having now travelled on one, I am sure passengers will welcome the smoother, quieter ride. They are also a welcome contribution to the environment as vehicle emissions cause poor air quality which in turn can damage your health.”

The new hybrid buses produce 30% less carbon emissions than standard vehicles.

Mr Jarvis said: “This is the latest of more than a £3m investment in fleet improvements in the North East in the last year.”

The buses are fuelled by a battery system, supported by a smaller traditional diesel engine, with the braking system generating electrical energy when the brakes are applied. Electrical energy is also stored in the battery pack and used to drive the electric motor. As well as reducing emissions they show substantial fuel savings. The £1.5m investment in the fleet was backed by £1m from the Scottish Government’s green bus fund.

They take over the Hospital Direct 59 route in Aberdeen later this month, running every 10 minutes.

Shire population set to soar

Aberdeenshire’s population is set to increase by 22% by 2035, according to new figures from National Records of Scotland. The projections also say Scotland’s population will increase by 540,000 over that period.

North Kincardine councillor Ian Mollison commented: “This will surely increase the pressure on Aberdeenshire Council to make sure there are sufficient homes, good services and jobs for these extra residents.

“If the predictions are correct, it means developments such as the new town of Chapelton of Elsick near Newtonhill will be in great demand. We will need the homes and the employment opportunitites new developments bring. It confirms that the council was correct to plan for 36,000 more homes across the area in its new development plans.

“This area attracts people from all over the UK and abroad because of our quality of life and low unemployment rate. For example, in the Portlethen and Newtonhill area the unemployment rate is 0.8%. This must be among the lowest level in the UK.”

The population rise in Aberdeenshire would be the fifth highest increase of Scottish local authorities.

The number of children in the county is projected to increase by 15%, the number of people of working age to go up by 15%, and the number of people of pensionable age to rise by 50%, the second highest increase of this age group among councils.

The projected rate of increase among people over 75 is 130%, again the second highest rate among Scottish local authorities.

Both natural change and migration are expected to contribute to Aberdeenshire’s population growth. Natural change plays a larger part in the projected change than at the national level, and about 26% of population growth would be due to this.

Broadband boost for Newtonhill

Newtonhill and Laurencekirk are among the latest communities to be included in a roll-out of faster broadband by BT.

They are due to be upgraded by the spring of 2013. This will make available download speeds of up to 20 megabits per second (Mbps), more than double the speed previously available from BT.

Councillor Ian Mollison welcomed the news: “Some parts of my North Kincardine ward currently have a very poor broadband service, and this is a step in the right direction. Broadband is a now vital part of modern day living and working. It is especially essential that our businesses are able to quickly access their markets and customers.”

The faster broadband delivered over copper lines is already available to around 1.5 million homes and businesses in Scotland. Some 39 communities across the country are included in the latest phase.

By spring around three quarters of homes and businesses in Scotland will be served by an exchange which has been upgraded to deliver these higher speeds.

The new service is available on an open, wholesale basis to all companies providing broadband. Once an exchange area has been upgraded, some service providers automatically upgrade their customers. People should contact their provider for more information.

BT Scotland director Brendan Dick said: “The technology is having a major impact on our everyday lives and changing for the better the way we live, helping businesses work more efficiently and flexibly and find new markets. And communities are better able to make use of the huge range of on-line educational and entertainment opportunities available. But there is still much work to be done and we want to work with the public sector to find solutions for even the most challenging locations.”

This investment in the copper network is in addition to BT’s £2.5 billion roll-out of fibre-based broadband, which will bring even faster speeds to around two-thirds of UK premises by the end of 2014. Some 94 Scottish exchange areas covering around 836,000 premises have been included in the fibre upgrade plan to date.

Call for rail investment in Portlethen

Rail commuters at Portlethen are suffering from a lack of investment at the local station, and North East MSP Alison McInnes is calling on Transport Scotland to take action.

The Liberal Democrat MSP has written to Transport Scotland chief executive David Middleton. She said: “Many voices have been raised in the community that the station could be better used. This station, which re-opened in 1985, has suffered in recent years from a lack of trains stopping to pick up and set down passengers.

“Despite this, between 2009/10 and 2010/11 patronage at Portlethen grew by 21%. Across Scotland over that period the increase was just 4%.

“Some 18,000 passengers a year use the station. I am confident this would rise dramatically if there were a more regular service.”

Local councillor Ian Mollison said: “Although the trains and the stations are operated by ScotRail, in general they can only provide the services required under the franchise from Transport Scotland. There needs to be a political will to invest more in our railway system and take pressure off the local roads.”

Mrs McInnes continued: “I am aware that the North East transport partnership Nestrans has been discussing with ScotRail the possibility additional stops at Portlethen which, with adjustments to the timetable further south, would have little impact on journey times between Aberdeen and Edinburgh/Glasgow.

“I am told that Nestrans is hopeful that some progress may be made when the timetable changes this December.

“As well as the need for more services, there should be more investment at Portlethen station. It is the only one in the North East with no ticket machine. This requires passengers to buy tickets on train – which is difficult – or face great difficulties at Aberdeen when challenged by staff. Residents have told me they feel they are being accused of fare-dodging, which is not the case.

“There also should be CCTV and customer information TV screens at the station. The fares structure particularly to/from Aberdeen needs to be reviewed to ensure that the service is competitive with local buses. Finally, there needs to be a publicity campaign in the locality so that people are aware of the rail services locally.”

Welcome for extra late night buses

Councillor Ian Mollison this week welcomed the news that two late night bus services from Aberdeen are to continue on to Newtonhill rather than terminating at Portlethen.

The announcement from Stagecoach comes after pressure from residents.

Councillor Mollison said: “When Stagecoach recently reintroduced the Nightbird service at weekends there was dismay in Newtonhill that only one of the three services would continue beyond Portlethen.

“The issue was raised with the company directly and at the Kincardine and Mearns Bus Forum. They promised to look again at the timings to see if it were possible to fit in the extra leg. I am pleased that they have been able to respond positively. Hopefully Newtonhill passengers will now make use of the service.”

The change to the N7 Nightbird service takes place on 7 July when the 00:40 and 01:40 (early Saturday and Sunday) from Aberdeen to Portlethen will be extended to the Skateraw Road shops in Newtonhill.

One consequence however is that the 01:06 and 02:06 buses (early Saturday and Sunday) from Portlethen back to Aberdeen will no longer run. Any passengers wishing to go from Portlethen to Aberdeen can travel on the extended journey to Newtonhill which will return to Aberdeen at 01:09 and 02:09 directly via the A90.

A third Nightbird leaves Aberdeen at 02:40 and continues on to Stonehaven.

Council generous over school buses

Aberdeenshire Council subsidises school buses to the tune of about £14m a year … and provides a better service than recommended by the Scottish Government.

The issue was raised by a Newtonhill resident concerned about the service between the village and Portlethen Academy.

Councillor Ian Mollison took up the case and received a response from the council’s public transport unit.

“Regarding the measurement of distance to the school, this is calculated on the basis of the shortest walking route from home. It is therefore inevitable that when a line is drawn someone will be on the wrong side, from their point of view,” said Councillor Mollison.

  • The cost of providing school transport across Aberdeenshire is £15.8m per annum. The Grant Aided Expenditure indicator for Aberdeenshire in respect of school transport is £3.95m. This is a vital contributor to the calculation of Aggregate External Finance (AEF) and Revenue Support Grant (RSG), it is not intended to be an indication of what an authority should be spending on a particular service, nor is it a guide to determine local authority spending. The council decides the policy to be adopted and the cost is as a result of that decision.
  • The walk to school distance is measured using the council’s GIS system, which is more accurate than a car odometer.  The distance is calculated based on the shortest walking route between the pupils house and the nearest school gate, not as the crow flies.  It is expected that a responsible adult will accompany the pupil on the route if required.
  • The legislation set out by the government requires councils to make provision to assist pupils to get to school based on the pupil’s age, with the distances set as 2 miles for those under 8 years of age and 3 miles for those over.  Aberdeenshire Council is more generous in its provision of school transport and provides assistance to pupils of primary age who live over 2 miles from the school and those of secondary age over 3 miles from the school.  

For pupils who reside less than the relevant distance from their zoned school Aberdeenshire Council provide the option of a Privilege pass.   This allows parents/guardians to purchase a pass for their child to travel on the school bus at £94 in the case of primary pupils and £149 for secondary pupils in 2012/13 with discounts available to those in receipt of free school meals or where 3 or more children in the same family attend the same school.  

These rates are much lower than the cost to the council of providing a seat on a school bus, at an average of £1065 per annum, and provide an alternative safe route to school for pupils living under the relevant mile walk distances from their school.

Graffiti vandals attack local properties

Vandals have attacked properties alongside the A90 dual carriageway between Stonehaven and Aberdeen.
Graffiti has been painted in Newtonhill and Portlethen. Within the past few days giant letters have been sprayed on the gable of a farm building beside the Newtonhill flyover. The same graffiti is also on the side of the former petrol station at Hillside, Portlethen.
The same letters are also painted under the Queen Elizabeth Bridge over the Dee at Torry, on a building in the Duthie Park in Aberdeen, and on property at Cove. 
North Kincardine councillor Ian Mollison said: “I have asked the police to investigate, and I have also reported the incidents to Aberdeenshire Council. The council has powers to enforce graffiti removal, but these costs can be substantial.
“Graffiti makes the area look uncared for. Thankfully there are few outbreaks in this area … and we can well do without it.”

Problems for local disabled drivers

Unthinking drivers are parking in disabled spaces at Portlethen Academy, causing problems for those who are entitled to be there.  

A Portlethen resident this week contacted local councillors to try to get parking laws enforced so that the spaces will be available for her and other people with disabilities who have blue badges.  

Councillor Ian Mollison said: “The resident – who doesn’t wish to be named – provided photographs of several cars which were parked thoughtlessly.  

“She told me that several people have contacted the academy and the council to complain, and were told it would be looked into.   

“The resident also told me it’s not just an issue at the academy, as disabled and parent & child spaces are also being abused at the Asda and Homebase car parks. She emphasised that some drivers are repeat offenders.  

“This is not something to be dismissed lightly. The resident has very limited mobility and relies on these spaces close to the entrance when she takes her children to and from the academy or to go shopping. She told me that more often than not she struggles to find a free disabled space as the majority are taken up by people not displaying blue badges.  

“I have contacted the police and Aberdeenshire Council to see what can be done.”

Inspector Stewart Ednie has asked officers to look into the matter, though there may be difficulties with the space being off-road although a public space. 

The situation at the academy is complicated by the fact that the premises are maintained by a private company, Robertson FM. “Nonetheless that should not be a barrier to enforcement,” said Councillor Mollison. “I have been assured by the company that their staff will take the appropriate action.”

The law was changed in 2009 to make it possible to enforce such parking places. The Disabled Persons’ Parking Places Act means anyone using designated spaces without a blue badge faces a fine of up to £60.

Councils are required to work with the owners and operators of private car parks – such as at supermarkets, shopping centres and in this case the school car park – to negotiate an agreement to make disabled parking places enforceable.

A council spokesman confirmed that the enforcement of blue badges on the public road is a matter for the police. If someone occupies a disabled bay on the public road without displaying a badge they are liable to be ticketed at the police’s discretion.

However if the bay is within the school then it is deemed to be on private land and therefore out with the police’s remit, and is a matter for the school to deal with.

Councillor Mollison appealed for drivers to show consideration to those who are less abled-bodied. “It is unacceptable for these parking spaces to be used inappropriately.”

UPDATE (June 24):

Grampian Police have confirmed that enforcing disabled parking spaces laws within the academy would not be enforceable by them. However they have discussed the issues with janitorial staff (provided by Robertson’s Facility Management) who are now aware of the position in terms of enforcement, in the last few week the situation has improved greatly after Robertsons staff erected some signage reminding drivers that only the relevant badge holders should park in the spaces. 

Back for a further five years

At the council elections on Thursday 3 May, Ian Mollison was re-elected to represent the North Kincardine ward.

Also elected were Alastair Bews, Alison Evison and Carl Nelson.

Liberal Democrat Paul Melling was not returned after nine years as a councillor. Other candidates were Alan Inglis and Tom Morrow.

Ian said: “It is an honour to be re-elected. I will do my best over the coming five years.

“I am very disappointed the Paul will not be there, at my side. He has put in a tremendous amount of effort for the area, not only as a councillor but previously as chairman of Portlethen Community Council.”

Meanwhile, the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and independent groupings have agreed in principle to form an administration to run Aberdeenshire Council.

Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Martin Kitts-Hayes said: “Our purpose will be to maintain continuity and build on previous successes which have resulted in a well-run, progressive administration over the past five years.”

The alliance aims to form a stable and strong administration with a majority of Aberdeenshire councillors for the good governance of the council for the next five years.

It is surprising that the 28 SNP councillors were unable to find support from only a further six (or more) of the 40 other councillors to have a majority. That is something for the SNP to reflect on.

Hopefully all councillors will now put aside the electioneering and concentrate on providing the best council services for residents.

The council was previously run by a Liberal Democrat / Conservative alliance.