This week in Annandale 16/11/2015

Dumfries Learning Town (DLT) Budget
If ever there was a strategic reason to look again at the Dumfries Learning Town project, this was it. At Policy & Resources Committee on Tuesday we had to note the increased scope of the project which took on board feedback from consultations, but then were asked to agree a jump of over £20 million, from a previously agreed capital investment budget of around £44m. This takes the (current) total up to around £66 million. Quite significant. We voted to review the project, the principle being that we are committed to the DLT to improve outcomes for students in Dumfries to the tune of £44m, but our capital investment is for the whole of Dumfries and Galloway and any increase here means a cut to the rest of the region’s priority projects, including in this case a cut of over £8m that was earmarked for schools outwith Dumfries. The Labour administration steamed ahead along with their regular supporters with an abusive snipey soundbite made at committee accusing the SNP of “tearing up the DLT”. Masters at misrepresentation, this was clearly not the truth, as we have prioritised it in our budget. This was the time to exercise discipline, get the project back within budget and protect the needs of the many, not hamstring the future of the council and Dumfries and Galloway residents as we look forward to an ever-decreasing grant as Westminster turns the consequential screw.

With the UK Government Spending Review delaying the Scottish Government from putting its budget together, and with our Dumfries and Galloway Council budget very, very likely to be hit as a further consequence, and we should get the full details of what we’re working with on Wednesday 25th November.

Annandale & Eskdale Area Committee
We spent the morning in Annan scrutinising the delivery of commissioned services by DG First, including roads maintenance, domestic waste collection, commercial waste collection, gully maintenance, etc., followed by further scrutiny of Planning and Environment Services (PES). Highlights were the improvements we’re now seeing as a result of the pre-referendum SNP-led administration back in 2012/2013 where we took the decision to invest in equipment and training to support PPM or Planned Preventative Maintenance. This is where the road network is regularly inspected and first time permanent repairs and resurfacing works are planned more effectively to reduce the number of potholes per kilometre of road (this has improved from 1 pothole per km to 1 pothole per 3km – on average that is.) It has taken 2-3 years for the benefits of this to bear fruit, and although the roads are far from perfect, we’re now getting much better value for every pound we spend, along with fewer reports of road defects.

Lockerbie – Station Road
Quick update you in case you were not aware, but the Council has applied an anti bird treatment to some of the ledges on the affected building in Station Road to help reduce the amount of bird poo going on the pavement. I spoke with the Director who informed me that this wasn’t normal practice, but that officers recognise that there are issues waiting to happen, and that the property owners are not being forthcoming in addressing the general state of maintenance. There is also reportedly possible scope to look at tougher legislation so work is ongoing to investigate what, if any, budget could be available to get this properly sorted – although this is always where things get tight. I’ve been assured that officers from across different council departments are meeting to discuss possible more joined-up ways of dealing with this and I’m due an update by next week so will keep you (dear reader) updated.

Lochmaben Parent Teacher Council
The latest community representation has come this time from Lochmaben Parent Teacher Council on the wider road safety concerns around Lochmaben. The focus has been on prioritising the build out at the school crossing point on the High Street and associated warning signs but also the push for flashing 20mph signs at school times (like Laurieknowe in Dumfries for example.) The build-out scheme has been considered at committee already and can go forward but I’m pushing for a timescale for this.

There is also the wider issue with traffic safety at the village limits and extending the 30mph signs to beyond the rise of the hill in the west and beyond the entrance to the car park for the community’s Castle Loch (or use of 40mph zones to further extend). The Parent Teacher Council, Community Council, Lochmaben Initiative and others are pushing for action to be taken on this and I’ve asked the Director, and included the other Annandale North ward councillors, to provide a way forward that engages with other agencies such as Police Scotland who are keen to work with Roads on this.

Planning matters
The Harthill windfarm application has been withdrawn. Enough said.

CoReS (Corridor Regeneration Strategy)
This covered a number of issues including Strategic Transport issues, mainly focused around Eastriggs station by its proximity to the Chapelcross site, but Beattock Station was mentioned. Abellio and First Transpenine could dovetail their services better and this may impact on services at Lockerbie Station (where no Scotrail train stops.) There was also further information from Scottish Enterprise on the Energy Park interest, including London-based investment houses and energy storage proposals but the stock answer at the moment from Scottish Government is to wait for the UK Spending Review. This will have an impact on OFGEM and DECC (Department of Energy and Climate Change) so will have a consequential impact in Scotland, although the local MP poo-poo-ed this, readily supported by the constituency MSP. Given that planning + control of the given site + grid connection need to be in place before any pioneering project can get off the ground, there needs to be confidence in significant financial backing and clear commitment from the Scottish and possibly UK Governments that a return on investment is possible (and worth the millions of pounds of upfront investment.)

I raised the Lockerbie Regeneration Group issue again as I’m not convinced the will is there to help establish a steering group in Lockerbie to take forward Masterplan projects. There are groups working in relative isolation in the town but if the right platform is there representatives should be able to come together and recognise that this is about the greater benefit for the town. It is likely that this will be supported in some way by the new Communities Directorate within the Council.

Beattock Station progress
Finally Swestrans has committed to supporting something that may help Beattock Station re-open. A pre-appraisal study, the new best-practice forerunner of a full STAG report, has been agreed as a way forward which will allow official national bodies to look at the strategic significance. There is a further meeting between the Action Group, Swestrans and Transport Scotland next week, followed by a further meeting with the Transport Minister and MSPs which is very positive.

Old Moffat Academy
The project at the Academy in Moffat has been dropped by DGHP due to site condition issues . The council is now working with Loreburn Housing Association (LHA) who are developing proposals for a portion of the Selkirk Road site in Moffat. This is not in the SHIP at the moment as there were discussions about it being part of a wider Masterplan with Hartfell Homes developing the rest of the site for market housing. LHA have now advised they could proceed with their part of the site without the need for a wider Masterplan (which would have taken longer.) Once this has been confirmed there will be an update to Housing Sub Committee for additions to the SHIP which would include Selkirk Road to replace the Academy proposal.

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