Labour Refuses To Talk To Sir Ian Wood

Town HouseRegardless of differing views on the City Garden Project, almost everyone agrees that the city centre is in need of regeneration. Steve Delaney welcomed the recent announcement by Sir Ian Wood that his offer to invest £50 million on such a project would remain on the table until the end of the year, on the basis it had to be used for a project which was tranformational.

In response, Steve tabled a motion to Council requesting the Chief Executive enter into discussions with Sir Ian Wood and report back to Council. Labour’s Lord Provost refused to accept the item on the agenda on the basis that it was not urgent. On the basis that a year has passed and no firm alternative proposal has come forward, if this is not urgent, what is?

Steve said, “This was an attempt to unite the Council and the city, to heal old wounds. In common with most people my views have not changed, but I would rather see everyone come together to make something happen, rather than lose £50 million and the regeneration that could deliver to our somewhat tired looking city centre”.

The Labour leadership continues to refuse to talk with Sir Ian, insisting they will be revealing their own proposals for the city centre at the end of October. Steve fears this will be too late, given the end of year deadline and his lack of faith in the current council leadership to deliver meaningful change.

Steve said, “Labour have forced themselves into an ideological corner. Why else would you refuse to enter into talks with a potential benefactor? Given that it has taken them over a year to come up with no alternative to the City Garden Project, perhaps we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting while time and money runs out! When it does, the responsibility for short-changing this city will lie at their door”.

Labour Tries To Gag Lib Dems …. And Fails

Town HouseLiberal Democrat councillors in Aberdeen have pledged to continue to speak out despite a decision by the Labour led Council to remove half the Liberal Democrat councillors from Aberdeen City Council’s powerful Finance and Resources and Enterprise, Planning and Infrastructure Committees.

Local Lib Dem councillor Steve Delaney said “This punitive action suggests the Liberal Democrats have been getting under the skin of the Labour Party by having the temerity to disagree with them and hold them to account”.

“Trying to silence an opposition for scrutinising and holding those in power to account is an affront to democracy. Labour are clearly failing to win the arguments before they have seen fit to resort to such tactics. This is a sign of weakness and desperation”.

Steve continued, “Rest assured Liberal Democrats in Aberdeen will continue to challenge Labour and highlight their many, many failings at every possible opportunity. I will not be silenced, nor will my Lib Dem colleagues”.

Liberal Democrats announce candidate for Aberdeen Donside

by-election

The Liberal Democrats have announced Christine Jardine as their candidate for the Aberdeen Donside by-election on 20th June 2013. Commenting on the news, Kingswells/Sheddocksley councillor Steve Delaney said, “We have a strong candidate in Christine. She knows our area, she knows what matters to us and she will be a powerful voice for Aberdeen Donside in the Scottish Parliament”.

Scottish Lib Dems: Scottish Liberal Democrats announce candidate for Aberdeen Donside by-election.

SNP Opposes Byelaw For Unauthorised Encampments

Possible Gypsy/Traveller Halting Site on Springhill Road

Possible Gypsy/Traveller Halting Site on Springhill Road

At its meeting on 1st May 2013 Aberdeen City Council backed a proposal to draft a byelaw which seeks to prevent camping in sensitive areas (such as public parks). The initiative has come about as a response to the increasing number of unauthorised gypsy/traveller encampments in recent years.

Since 1st April 2013, there have been 8 unauthorised encampments. Over the previous two years, there have been 86 encampments within the city boundaries. Legal and clean up costs were in the region of £20,000 excluding staff time.

The byelaw, which would need to be approved by the Scottish Government, sets out to create a criminal offence of parking a caravan or camper van overnight at Lochinch Park, Westburn Park, Duthie Park, Stewart Park, Seaton Park, Calder Park, Bay of Nigg, Kingswells Park and Ride, Riverview Drive, Carnie Woods, Aberdeen Exhibition Centre, Queens Links, Kings Links, Alan Douglas Park and Eric Hendrie Park.

If approved, it would allow the Council to progress towards immediate eviction should an encampment set up at any of these locations. Persons found guilty of breaching the byelaw would also be subject to fines.

Kingswells/Sheddocksley councillor Steve Delaney said, “I was happy to support this proposed bye-law along with my Lib Dem colleagues. Unauthorised encampments at these locations prevent the public from making use of these areas and result in significant costs to the Council. This will not in itself resolve the issue of unauthorised encampments, but it is a step in the right direction”.

SNP councillors opposed the proposed bye-law, instead backing an amendment which sought to identify additional short term halting sites across the city. The proposal to progress with the drafting of a byelaw was approved with Lib Dem support.

“High Risk And Uninspiring”

MUSE3This is how Lib Dem Deputy Leader Steve Delaney described plans to replace St Nicholas House at the Council meeting on 1st May 2013. The plans are for a modern office development and hotel with a public square in Broad Street.

The funding mechanism works on a lease back system over 35 years and returns the site to the Council at the end of that time. It offers the Council a rental income but the Council, in leasing back the development, takes on all risks associated with this venture. It is of course impossible to say how buoyant the economy will be or indeed what the demand will be for specific types of office and/or retail space over a 35 year period.

Steve said, “All the designs before us were uninspiring and failed to respect the unique historic setting of Marischal College and Provost Skene’s House. I’m fully in favour of redeveloping this site, but it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to regenerate our city centre and we need to get it right. We had the opportunity to see something iconic delivered in this unique location and instead the Council settled for a drab design, simply replacing one eyesore with another. This was the best of a bad bunch and the Council should have been visionary enough to ask for a better bunch”.

The Council had put this forward as being no more than the choice of a preferred bidder. Steve reminded councillors that “The authority to finalise this deal has been delegated to officers, so it need not come back to Council. Be clear about it, this is about much more than selecting a preferred bidder, it’s pretty much a done deal if you support the recommendation”. Other concerns raised in debate related to the practicality and deliverability of the pedestrianisation of Broad Street.

The Liberal Democrats opposed the proposals on a number of grounds. Councillors had been given insufficient time to digest the report, with some only having seen it the morning of the meeting. The public had been given no say in what was proposed for their city centre. The business case appeared weak and the designs uninspiring. Accordingly the Lib Dem Group proposed that the Council go back out to the market asking potential developers to come up with something better.

Steve continued, “This was a rushed decision where there was no requirement for expediency. Labour, Conservative and Independent councillors were determined to push this through regardless. Regardless of your opinion on the design, the risk to public finances is significant and they will have to answer to the public for their folly”.

Steve requested his dissent be recorded in the Council minute.

Lib Dems Propose More Spending On Roads

Liberal Democrat councillors in Aberdeen today urged the City Council to invest an extra £750,000 in repairs to Aberdeen’s roads, pavements and street lights. The move came at the Enterprise, Planning and Infrastructure Committee.

Liberal Democrat Enterprise, Planning and Infrastructure Spokesperson Councillor Ian Yuill said “Thanks to prudent management by council staff, the Council’s Enterprise, Planning and Infrastructure budget for 2012/13 is set to be underspent by £1.3 million. The Liberal Democrats believe it makes sense to invest part of that in repairing roads, pavements and street lights and in work to improve road safety.

“Sadly the Labour, Conservative and Independent councillors who run the council rejected the Liberal Democrat proposal to invest an extra £750,000 and go some way to tacking potholes and broken roads and pavements.”

Lib Dem Deputy Leader Steve Delaney said, “Lack of investment in our infrastructure is the single issue raised by the vast majority of my constituents. There’s a clear lack of prioritising under the current Labour led Administration when they can set aside £250,000 on a Hogmanay Party when our roads and pavements are crumbling. During previous Liberal Democrat led Councils, we used additional resources to fund additional infrastructure improvements. Please rest assured we will continue to press for increased investment in our city’s infrastructure at every possible opportunity”.

Lib Dems Oppose Halting Sites

Springhill

Aberdeen City Council has decided to investigate the creation of permanent short term halting sites for travellers. The sites under consideration are the Scotstown Recycling Centre, Blackdog, Howes Road and the former Council Depot at Springhill Road (pictured).

Local authorities are under an obligation to ensure that travellers are treated fairly and equitably with regard to access to Council services, but there is no statutory duty to provide dedicated sites for them.

Local councillor Steve Delaney raised particular concerns over the Springhill site citing its unsuitability on road safety grounds and the potential for an encampment to overspill into either the disused lorry park or Eric Hendrie Park.

Currently the Council runs a site at Clinterty which offers a number of permanent pitches for travellers. The proposal before the Council was for short term halting sites where travellers can pitch for up to three months and then they need to move on. The site or sites would be permanent, there would just be an expected turnover of different travellers using them.

Steve Delaney, who is also Lib Dem Deputy Group Leader, said, “I feel that imposing halting sites on established communities, assuming they are used, has the potential to adversely affect the quality of life of people living there if things go wrong, as may happen from time to time, and this is not something I believe we should be doing. From what I’ve heard, travellers by the very nature of their lifestyle don’t want to be told where to pitch, so I’m unconvinced that the Council can ensure these sites will be used, putting aside their suitability or otherwise”.

He proposed that the Council implement its previous decision from 2008 which instructed officers to prepare details for upgrading Clinterty to include additional short term halting provision. He reminded the Council that there had been unanimous agreement on the way forward at that point in time.

Steve added, “More than four years on, this decision remains unimplemented, but the same issues remain with regard to the lack of provision and unauthorised encampments. I believe that by implementing that decision, we are taking steps towards addressing the needs of the travellers without alienating established communities”.

The Lib Dem proposal was defeated with Labour, SNP, Conservatives and Independents all backing further investigation on the suitability of these sites. It is expected a further report with recommendations on preferred site(s) will come back to the Council on 1st May 2013.

Council Budget 2013/14

BudgetToday saw the first Budget of the new Council administration since they took over in May 2012. To be honest, it was a bit of an anti-climax with everyone agreeing officer recommendations for about 95% of total spending and the different political Parties putting forward their own priorities for the city with the other 5%.

Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Steve Delaney said, “What has come forward from all groups has been some changes to address our particular priorities for the city. Of course we could have done so much more if the SNP Goverment had honoured its pledge on the 85% funding floor, something which only survived an election year, and no more”.

“As was recently illustrated by Alison McInnes MSP, the actual funding for Aberdeen has dropped to 78% this year, effectively giving all Political Groups £5 million less to spend on priority services for our city. Successive Governments continue to short change this city, which is absolutely disgraceful”.

The Liberal Democrat Budget proposals were based around strengthening communities. They reflected the priorities identified by ordinary people over the past year. The proposals included an additional £150,000 on tree maintenance, £80,000 for leaf clearing and £129,000 to increase the frequency of grass cutting. These particular issues were strongly promoted by all Lib Dem members, along with increased investment in roads, pavements and street lighting. Following a campaign of sustained pressure on the Conservative Group by the Liberal Democrats, the Council has finally committed sufficient funds to deliver a Third Don Crossing.

During the debate, Steve highlighted two particular areas of concern in the Administration’s budget. With reference to their plans to pedestrianise Union Street, he said, “My Group cannot support a half baked idea. Yes, we do support the principle of full pedestrianisation but only when the supporting infrastructure is in place. However, part pedestrianisation is plain stupid, taking cars out but keeping buses in. It’s not just dangerous, it’s also a complete waste of public funds”.

The other waste of public money he referred to was the Administration’s pledge to spend £200,000 on a Hogmanay Party in Union Terrace Gardens, something which stopped many years ago as a result of safety concern raised by the Police. Steve remembered attending previous events with his wife and the stampede which ensued at the end of the event. He said, “Of course there’s always a daft idea in a Budget and the £200k for a Hogmanay party hits the high note this year. At a time when we should still be promoting sensible and prudent spending, it is being suggested that almost quarter of a million be blown on a party. This is typical of Labour’s wreckless approach to running this city”.

Needless to say, the Administration’s Budget won the day!

Council Opposes New School for Maidencraig

On 7th February 2013, the Education, Culture & Sport Committee decided not to provide a new school to serve the Maidencraig development. The recently approved Maidencraig Masterplan will result in 750 new homes being built on both sides to the Lang Stracht adjoining existing housing in Summerhill and Sheddocksley. The new development will run as far as Dobbies on the north side and as far as the roundabout which joins the Langstracht, A944 and B1119 at Green Hedges.

Kingswells/Sheddocksley Lib Dem Councillor Steve Delaney said, “Currently children are already walking more than a mile to Fernielea School on the Summerhill side. This would increase to about two miles for those living closest to the roundabout”.

“On the Sheddocksley side the distances to Kingsford School would increase from about half a mile to over a mile. A new school could have accommodated children from the whole Maidencraig development as well as the area from Rousay Drive westwards, making all three schools accessible to everyone. The decision not to even consider this is just plain stupidity”.

The Liberal Democrats put forward an amendment asking for the Committee to look at the feasibility of building a new school to serve this area. The move was opposed by Labour, Conservative and SNP councillors.

Mr Delaney said, “Our area has been denied a new school where a need clearly exists. Instead, we’re going to see children arriving at school soaked and frozen in cold weather as a result of the distances they will have to travel to school. In addition, the Labour, Conservative and SNP councillors who voted against this will be responsible for significantly increased traffic during school runs, which will affect all of us, and runs contrary to local and national transportation policy”.

Council Throws Out City Gardens Project

Today the Labour Group and others on Aberdeen City Council voted against the City Gardens Project by 22 votes to 20. Liberal Democrat Deputy Group Leader Steve Delaney, supported the proposals not just on the basis of a sound financial investment in the city for future generations but also on the basis that to disregard the outcome of the referendum would go against the main pillars of democracy.

He said, the message being sent out by this Labour led administration is that Aberdeen is closed for business and lacks the foresight to plan beyond the days of oil exploration and the prosperity it currently brings”.

The text of his speech in the Council Chamber follows:-

“I fully respect the diverse range of genuine views held by members of the public on what has become a divisive issue. However, I personally take the view that we cannot turn our backs on the economic benefits and inward investment this proposal offers.

Of course people are concerned about the cost, and rightly so, but that’s what the TIF business case is designed to address. This is a document which sets out a clear rationale as to why we need to progress this project and how it can be delivered financially.

Dundee, Edinburgh or Glasgow would have jumped at the chance, had such a generous private donation been offered to them. Instead Labour and their supporters are effectively saying “we cannae dae that”.

The decision we take today is not just about the City Gardens Project but also about the regeneration of the whole City Centre, much of which will fail to materialise without the TIF funding.

In opposition Labour fought tooth and nail against the Marischal College redevelopment, citing the Scottish Parliamemt building as reason why it would shoot over budget. As we know it came in £12 million under budget, clearly demonstrating that Aberdeen has the expertise to effectively project manage such a proposal.

In addition, Sir Ian Wood has agreed to effectively underwrite the project to the tune of an additional £35 million, should costs over-run. I suspect the Labour Group would still be opposing this project even if it was fully funded from private donations as their opposition is primarily ideological, rather than financial.

Make no mistake, our UK City of Culture bid is dead in the water if we support the motion today. I’ve visited Liverpool in recent years. I’ve seen how a city which was transformed as a result of a “City of Culture” title, awarded in 2008. This is what we are being asked to walk away from.

We need to approve this financially sound TIF business case in order to secure the City Of Culture title and the massive regeneration and inward investment that will bring. We need to look beyond the oil and make Aberdeen a desirable modern city which attracts people and major employers in the future. Otherwise this city will wither and die.

Today we are being asked by the Labour led administration to disregard the democratic process and cast aside the outcome of a public referendum just because it fails to fulfill their narrow minded political ideology. The last time that happened was 1979 when Margaret Thatcher choose to disregard the will of the Scottish people. The result of that ill considered decision has been the decimation of the Tories in Scotland. Perhaps Labour need to reflect on this before casting their votes.

The Labour Group were opposed to progress when in opposition and are, if nothing else, being consistent. Where the future of our city is at stake, we should all be working together to ensure the best possible outcome. Regrettably They have shown themselves to be lacking in vision and unable to portray a positive outlook for this city.

In conclusion members, when you cast your vote today, you do so in the full knowledge that you are being offered the opportunity to build a new future for this city after the oil has gone. This future will benefit generations to come. Whatever you decide, it’s your grandchildren and their children who will judge you for what you are about to do”.

Liberal Democrat Motion On Bus Services

Liberal Democrat Deputy Group Leader Steve Delaney has submitted a motion which seeks to change the current regulatory regime for Scottish bus operators to introduce a “public service obligation” on them in areas where there is little or no competition.

Councillor Delaney said, “The Traffic Commissioner for Scotland is very effective within her remit, but that remit is too narrow to address such fundamental issues as, amongst others, the frequency of bus services in any specific area. She can merely monitor the reliability of routes against registered timetables and any sanctions she can impose are limited to compliance with registered details. These details can be changed by bus operators at any time to meet their own needs”.

The motion, jointly submitted by Steve Delaney, Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesman Ian Yuill, and Group Leader Aileen Malone reads as follows:-

That this Council:

1. Deplores the cuts to services announced by First Aberdeen and expresses concern at the impact this will have on communities in Aberdeen.

2. Notes that these service changes confirm that First Aberdeen’s primary concern is its profitability and the interests of its shareholders rather than the interests of communities across Aberdeen.

3. Agrees to write to the Scottish Government and Aberdeen’s MSPs calling for a change in the regulatory regime for bus operators providing scheduled services to introduce a ‘public service obligation’ which would require any bus operator providing more than 50% of the bus services in a particular local authority area to provide a basic level of bus service (including in evenings and at weekends) to communities across that local authority area.

Mr Delaney continued, “First began its corporate life as an employee run service provider. Unfortunately they have lost their public service ethos, becoming entirely profit led, with no regard to what the public needs and expectations are”.

This motion seeks to ask the Scottish Government to alter the regulatory regime in order to ensure that in areas, like Aberdeen, where there is little or no effective competition, an agreed minimum frequency of services is provided by the main (or only) bus company.

He added, “FirstAberdeen were always pricey with their fares in comparison to other Scottish cities but they did run a good service. In recent years Aberdeen’s bus services have deteriorated and, whilst reliability is now improving, frequencies are still being reduced on some routes and others are being removed from service”.

Steve Delaney considers legislative changes to be the only way to address First’s determination to concentrate on only it’s most profitable routes and degrade the level of service on others. He will be speaking to the motion at the Council meeting on 22nd August.

It’s All About Democracy

As we head towards the Council meeting on 22nd August we are beginning to see the true colors of the new Labour led administration. They seem hell bent on blocking progress and dissuading investment into the city in order to fulfill the negative political dogma they have perpetuated in recent years.

Being a councillor is not a game, nor should it ever be treated as such. It involves making decisions which are in the best interests of the city and it’s citizens. There may be different ways to deliver this, but the underlying aim should always be the same, whatever your politics.

The Liberal Democrats, when in opposition, have always held the administration of the day to account, but we have never stood in the way of common sense proposals which would benefit the city and it’s citizens. We will continue to be a robust, yet constructive, opposition as we move forward in this current term.

At the very first Council meeting following the election, we saw the new administration award themselves a 5% pay rise as they took office. Then their leadership went on a power trip with Willie Young taking the Council Leader’s office and Barney Crocket moving into a former Chief Executive’s office in the old Town House. Why was it more appropriate for the incoming administration to demonstrate how “important” they were rather than formulate a policy statement outlining their aims and objectives for the next five years? Surely it should be about serving the public, rather than playing to their already inflated egos?

This was then followed by Willie Young stating he was going to remove the opposition convenor and vice-convenor of the Audit and Risk Committee, the body tasked with scrutinising the work of the Council. Had Labour carried out their threat, this would have been in direct conflict with a recommendation made by Audit Scotland.

Now Labour are seeking to turn down a generous gift from Sir Ian Wood to revitalise our City Centre. Such opportunities arise only once in a lifetime and you let them pass you by at your peril. Had such an offer been made to Edinburgh, Glasgow or Dundee, it would have been greeted with open arms.

It is fully accepted that people are concerned as to whether or not the city can afford this, and I, as a councillor, need to be satisfied that we can. That was of course the intended purpose of the business case, which we now have. Before anything can proceed this must first be scrutinised first by councillors, then by the Scottish Futures Trust and finally, by Scottish Ministers. It has to stack up or the funding will not be made available. Labour clearly seek to kill it off before it receives independent scrutiny by the Scottish Futures Trust. They are clearly afraid to do so as they know the business case makes sense.

I’ve read the TIF Business Case and I try believe it is financially sound and can be relied upon to deliver this project. It provides a solid framework for regenerating our city centre which will bring with it additional tourism and encourage people to want to move to Aberdeen to work here and add to the prosperity of the city. It is available to download from the Council’s website if you would like to read it yourself.

As you know, a ballot was held and the public voted. There was a clear division but there was also a clear outcome in favour of the City Garden Project. Whilst I can respect deeply held views by those who opposed the project, I cannot respect throwing the baby out with the bath water in order to adhere to political dogma, which is the approach advocated by Labour.

Labour made it clear from the outset that they intended to ignore the wishes of the people if they were in a position to form the Council’s administration. This clearly demonstrates their lack of respect for the citizens of Aberdeen. I personally made it clear from the outset that my personal viewpoint was irrelevant and I would support the majority view following the ballot. Whether or not you commit to such a project must be respectful of the views of the public, given that a free and fair democratic vote was held.

In recent weeks I have received representations both for and against this project and I know I will receive more. To date the vast majority have taken the same line as myself, even those who have openly stated they are Labour supporters and voted against the proposals.

This is no longer about whether or not the City Gardens goes ahead. It is purely and simply about democracy and the current administration’s belief that nothing matters as long as their will prevails.

Works At Greenfern School Site

Residents have raised concerns over works which have been ongoing at the site of the former Greenfern School in recent months. The site is currently surplus to the Council’s requirements and local people had thought some sort of development was about to commence on the site without their knowledge or input into the process.

Local councillor Steve Delaney said, “The site has been leased to Scottish Gas from April to December this year in order to carry out essential gas works in the surrounding area. It offers a sensible solution for storing equipment without damaging grassed areas as has often been the case with other maintenance works in recent years. It also keeps children away from potential dangers posed by their equipment and vehicles”.

Steve felt there was merit in using this site in the short term on safety grounds but was surprised that local residents in Maidencraig Place had not been made aware of what was going on. He said, “It would have avoided a lot of misunderstandings if people had been made aware of what was going to be happening outside their front doors”.

Aberdeen City Council has yet to decide what to do with the site. Councillor Delaney said he would be supportive of a range of uses which could compliment its location next to the existing houses and it proximity to Kingsford School. These could include community facilities, an all weather playing field for the school or sheltered housing. He said, “This is an important site in our area. It is vital that local residents, Kingsford School, the local Community Council and local councillors are consulted on its future.

Delaney Hits Out At Undemocratic Labour

Aberdeen City Council Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Steve Delaney, was disgusted at Monday’s undemocratic decision by Labour to neuter the role of the Audit and Risk Committee by changing its remit to prevent it looking at anything other than decisions which have already been taken.

Labour’s Willie Young called for an Urgent Business Committee after opposition leaders decided to bring forward September’s meeting of the Audit and Risk Committee in order to scrutinise the Tax Increment Finance (TIF) business case for the City Garden Project and wider city centre regeneration.

The TIF business case for the City Garden Project is designed to set out the financial viability for the City Gardens Project, the renovation of the Art Gallery, and improvements to the Denburn Valley, and will determine the affordability of the scheme.

Cllr Young had already made it clear he would remove the opposition leaders (who head up this committee) unless they toed his Administration’s line and abandoned the meeting.

Clearly  Cllr Young has had his wings clipped as Labour backed away from the removal of Audit and Risk Committee office bearers and have now agreed to put the TIF case to a Finance and Resources meeting as should have happened in the first place. However, that does not detract from the undemocratic decision regarding the limits now imposed on the committee’s powers.

Councillor Delaney: said:

“The necessity to call an Audit & Risk Committee before the recess came after Cllr Young  withdrew the TIF report from the Finance & Resources Committee last week. We received no valid reason why the report had been withdrawn and this action raised a number of questions.

Audit and Risk is tasked to ensure good governance of the city and hold the Administration to account. Limiting the powers of this committee just because they choose to scrutinise the TIF business case in defiance of the ruling Administration completely undermines due process and reduces the effectiveness of this committee.

Labour’s approach is nothing short of Dictatorship. No administration should, when challenged, behave in this manner. It runs contrary to the spirit of Audit Scotland’s recommendations in 2008 and demonstrates how this Labour/Tory/Independent Administration intends to ‘bully’ the Council. Opposition members are there to contribute to debates and challenge the Administration, not to be silenced by those in power”.