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2016 Current Projects - please click on the side tab to get full details of all the projects.

From 2008 to the present time many projects are being worked up in order to assist the areas in my ward. I have known and lived in Invergordon for over 28 years so it is closest to my heart and I think in need of some assistance due to mis-perceptions from the public. Because of this I do concentrate much of my time on improving the area around Invergordon, some projects are quick wins, but others take years, even decades, to achieve - these are the ones that cost millions of £'s but are more strategic in nature.

This is a work in progress and will be completed around July 2016. I am currently working on around 15 projects for the Invergordon area, one project in Evanton and 2-3 projects in Invergordon. In no particular order:

Tomich Junction A9

Timescale to completion: 5-10 years

This is a trunk road and so comes under the auspices and responsibility of Transport Scotland and their managing agent, Bear Scotland, previously it was with Transerve.

Last time Bear won the tender.

Since 2007 I have been engaged in many meetings concerning Tomich junction and the near misses and actual accidents.  These meetings have involved myself, Rob Gibson MSP, Transport Scotland and Transerve offices, the Police and Highland Council Safety Officer and Roads officers.

The stumbling block was that the Scottish Government who are responsible via Transport Scotland, will not upgrade or put money into a road improvement unless it is a priority due to safety issues, ie these are based on the number of fatalities.  So because there has only been one fatality at Tomich caused by a lorry driver’s error, this is not classes as the junction’s fault.  I explained time after time that there could easily be another death and I am trying to prevent it, whilst accepting that driver error is often the cause of accidents at this junction, the junction itself lends itself to driver error and therefore accidents.  This carried no weight with TS or SG.

Moving further forward into 2010 I managed to get TS to agree to do a 2 week video survey of the junction.  They provided me with the footage and explained that it was mostly lorries stacking up in the middle section that were the main issue!  They said they would emphasise the road markings more and this would be better  - they did this but it really makes little difference.  They wear off very quickly anyway and Bear have to renew them every 2 years or so.

There is even an issue with where the bus stops.  TS created a bus stop on the south side of the A9 but there was nowhere to put one on the north side, so buses where stopping in the middle of the Give Way from Newmore, however I understand now that buses refuse to stop there at all.

Eventually in 2011 I managed to get to the point in talks with all parties, that if we came up with a plan for what could be a solution for the junction, we could then seek funding in various ways.  TS agreed that they would pay for their architectural and technical team to draw up plans and this was done.  They produced two options a)  a roundabout costing circa £3.2million and b) a dog leg across the field on the southern side of the junction coming out further south of the Newmore junction so that they two junctions no longer criss crossed.  The cost of this was circa £1.9million.  Large sums of money.

TS would be responsible for most of this but perhaps Highland Council could pay for the part that was on their own road, ie the road up from Invergordon.  To this end I sought to have inserted into the Inner Moray Firth Local Development plan, that any large development that is to encroach on Tomich junction, must put a commuted sum of money, to be determined, into a central pot to save up enough to match fund any money coming from SG or HC.  This was agreed and finally passed in summer of last year (2015).  Now I am waiting for a major development.

When Balcas was given planning consent, around 2004, the then Planning Committee with the then Councillor Connell on it, did not insist on any funding for Tomich as they had not considered there would be sufficient lorry movements impacting on it.  In hindsight this was a mistake as Balcas are now one of the main users of this junction, but there is nothing that can now be done to extract money from them in retrospect.

Current situation is that we remain waiting for funding, but as the Highland Council is cash strapped and the Scottish Government only normally fund via priority on their trunk roads, ie on accidents involving fatalities – the future does not look imminently bright!

I met with Gail Ross, who intends to become the next SNP MSP for the Caithness, Sutherland and Ross constituency, to show her the dangers and we took some photographs.  She has promised me she will engage the new Transport Minister in a meeting as soon as she can so that I can see if a new minister may look more favourably on the issue of safety at Tomich junction.

I will keep this site updated.  This is a long term project and could take many more years to resolve.

 

Housing – Former Victoria Garage Site, High Steet, Invergordon

Timescale: completion in 2016

This site has been empty for many years and has been a blight on the landscape.  Several years ago it was purchased by the Church of the Latterday Saints (Mormons) with a wish to build a church on it.  Their head office is in the USA.  It became clear after a few years of their ownership that they did not want to build on it as they had utilised the closed Clydesdale Bank for this use, as they took it over on a long term rental. The Council approached them via their American office way back in 2013 but they were adamant they did not want to sell.  However, as we approach the Community Empowerment legislation set down by Scottish Government, it shows us that we have more power to take over ownership of vacant land.  Working with my local colleagues and the Highland Council, we advised them to try again and if the church did not want to sell, we would advise them that we would carry out a legal Compulsory Purchase.  We hoped to avoid that as they can take up to a year.  Anyway the Church finally agreed to sell so the Council bought this site in 2015.  In late 2015 the HC submitted for planning consent to build 20 or so accessible houses to help the elderly and infirm in our society.  The design is very modern looking and this will fill a gap in this area and provide more people to the High Street community.  The traffic lights at the bottom of Seabank will remain but they will have their position changed slightly to accommodate traffic going into and out of the new development.

 

Housing – Davidson Farm area

Timescale: 2-5 years completion

Many people have come to me asking why they cannot buy a private house in Invergordon and the only place building them is Alness, ie Pat Munro’s and they have a point. So in 2014 we, the local councillors argued to zone a large piece of land as Housing in Invergordon so that there is the chance for developers to come in and purchase it.  This is up at the Davidson Mains farm area and a few of the fields there are now in the Inner Moray Firth Local Plan for development.  Of course this doesn’t happen without a developer showing an interest. So recently I met with Pat Munro’s to discuss the possibility of them building some houses there so that locals can stay in Invergordon instead of moving to Alness.  It was agreed that there might be a way that this could happen.  I then spoke to the Council’s Housing Development department and officers agreed that this was viable.  On speaking with Albyn Housing Society and also the Highland Small Communities Housing Trust, both agreed that they would also be interested in looking at building houses on this site.  That means we could have a mixed tenure of private, Council, Albyn and HSCT houses and this would be fantastic.  Negotiations are currently underway with the landowners in a hope that this is a project that will happen and very quickly.  I would like to see agreement reached this year and designs drawn up the planning consent and building commencing next year.  It would probably be a phased development similar to Dalmore in Alness, where about 50 houses would be built followed by more each time.  I am not sure of the total figure for this site, but it could well be up to 200-300 houses, which I can’t wait to see.

 

Seabank Tank Farm

Timescale 5-10 years

Historic Context

Recent Page Trail: Invergordon fuel depot was located at the naval dockyard and port operated by the Royal Navy at Invergordon, a coastal town which lies adjacent to the sheltered deep waters of the Cromarty Firth. During World War II, the fuel depot at the port operated in conjunction with the Inchindown fuel depot located underground in the hills to the north of the town, and which formed a massive, bombproof storage facility which would have supplied the fleet if Britain's ports had been blockaded by the enemy.

The town of Invergordon first became a naval base during World War I, when its deep water sea access made it an ideal location for the Royal Navy to establish a refuelling and repair base for the large naval cruisers of the time, with the construction of an Admiralty pier. The port provided one of the largest and safest anchorages in Britain, and was provided with two tanks farms to store and supply fuel to the ships, at Cromlet and Seabank. A hospital was also constructed at the eastern end of the town.

During the economic downturn of 1931, the entire complement of the Atlantic Fleet went on strike when the government attempted to reduce costs by cutting ratings pay. It took the direct intervention of King George V to avert a potential disaster.

During World War II, the naval presence expanded as the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) established Evanton airfield (also known as Novar Airfield) to the west, created to cater for carrier based aircraft. The seaplane base of RAF Alness (also known as RAF Invergordon, was also established to the west, and lay between the two Navy facilities.

On February 15, 1941 a Junkers 88 is reported to have carried out a solo attack on the Seabank tank farm. Approaching from the east at only 40 feet it dropped two 500-pound bombs. The first bomb passed through one tank and into the next. Tank 13 in fact! Although it exploded it failed to start a fire, but tons of oil spilled out on to the adjacent railway tracks and nearby station. The second bomb also passed went through another tank, but failed to explode after landing in the oil slick. The aircraft then made a sharp turn to avoid a church steeple, and machine gunned a Sunderland moored in the firth, causing slight damage, before making its escape. The attack had lasted four minutes, and was over before the defences had reacted. Two civilian workmen had been on top of one of the tanks when the attack began, but managed to slide down to safety - one is said to have headed home, while the other sought refuge in the nearest pub. Stories regarding detonation of the bombs conflict, however it is clear that there was no fire. Tank 13 was completely destroyed in the attack though, and there resultant gap remains on the site as evidence. Only one casualty appears to have been reported - the local bin-man's horse, said to have died as a result of the heavy fuel oil contaminating its hooves. The German plane was reported to have flown over the High Street flapping its wings to show off. Although the naval base has been closed in 1956, the proximity of Invergordon to the oilfields of the North Sea oilfields meant that the development of oil rig construction and maintenance facilities allowed the area of the docks to remain productive.

The MoD planned to vacate the Cromlet site in 1989, and with the removal of the tank farm and its ancillaries, the site was cleared and decontaminated over a 24 week period concluding in March 1991. The Cromlet Oil Tank Farm had extended to some 9.2 hectares (22.7 acres) (approximately and contained 13 oil storage tanks each with a capacity of 3,000,000 gallons.

Royal Navy fuel depot - The Seabank tank farm continued to serve the fuel depot after the removal of the Cromlet tank farm, and oil tanks which served the fuel depot still remain within the large Seabank tank farm, which is still present on the site today.

All features, including the pump houses, ditches and earth banks which surrounded the facility were visible on RAF aerial photographs taken in 1946, which showed the area south of the railway.

Ownership

The MoD sold the Seabank oil tank farm at the same time it sold the Admirality Pier. The MoD offered both up for sale together, one as the “benefit” – the pier and one as the “burden” – the tank farm, meaning that in effect there could be productive use of the pier, but it was expected the tank farm was to be a problem, which basically the MoD didn’t want to retain due to the potential cost of either restoring it to some sort of use, regenerating it or decontaminating it. Since the sale of both, the pier has been used in a joint venture by Cruise Highland (50% Bannermans who purchased both and 50% the C.F.P.A.) The Admirality Pier has brought in considerable profit over the last few years. This year the Cruise Highland partnership has been dissolved as the new Port of the Cromarty Firth plan to extend your own holdings to include a new pier to invite the cruise ships into.

The Bannermans have never taken forward any initiatives with the tank farm and it has lain derelict for all these years. Of some concern is the fact that, although fenced off, there are several holes in the fence, made my children and those who wish to walk their dogs on the tank farm and cut across the town from one end to the other, as a quicker route. It provides a direct route from Inverbreakie and Seabank to the Academy for school children, that many still use.

It is a worry because where tank 13 was bombed there is a large put of stagnant water, that children have been seen skating on when iced over in the winter. Also children have accessed the top of the tanks with their weak structured asbestos roofs; as well as found using the old pump house as an adventure playground and skate park. None of the above is acceptable, but seems to fall within the remits of the Council’s Environmental Health and the Health & Safety Executive, the former – it is causing no noise or nuisance issue and the latter, it is not a working operational site, so does not fall within the HSE either.

Currently, I am exploring ways to make the owners more accountable for preventing access, but this is not easy. I am worried that a child could seriously injure themselves or worse.

Initiatives to Regenerate the Tank Farm

In or around 2012 the Scottish Government provided a fund to Councils, called the Vacant and Derelict Land Fund, whereby Local Authorities could identify areas of land that needed to be brought back into use. The Seabank tank farm was a subject of one of these schemes and the local Members, myself (Cllr Maxine Smith) and Cllr. Martin Rattray worked closely with the Council’s Planning & Development department to take forward this initiative.

An Independent consultancy was invited to run the project, but £200,000 later, they printed a thick report on possible uses for the tank farm (although we could have done that for them!); but it lacked what was really needed, which was the evidence of the amount of contamination on the site. Bannemans had liaised with the consultants over the time of their research but would not give permission for their site to be tested for levels of contamination. Therefore the project fell at the final hurdle.

The Council are convinced that the site is contaminated and estimated a clean up cost way back then of circa £2.5million, but that was several years ago. Increasingly standards are higher for clean ups so this figure has probably significantly increased. Had the owners realised their liability and cost of a clean up, they might have considered off-loading their site to the Council for a nominal sum, as the Council may have been in a position to seek grant funding for is decontamination. Unfortunately, this did not happen and the site remains a) contaminated, b) dangerous and c) a blight on the landscape of Invergordon, but moreover holds back the town from any significant development.

Suggested uses for the farm were housing, landscaping, woodland, hotel, tourism, retail, leisure and anything else that may spring to mind, but importantly it would provide valuable land to improve and regenerate Invergordon for the future.

Currently I (Cllr. Maxine Smith) am working on a project with a Windfarm Developer to take forward a community windfarm, which would give 50% benefits of the profit to the townspeople – the land on which the proposed windfarm sits is owned by the same owners of the Seabank Tank Farm. It is hoped that in communicating with them over the windfarm and taking forward a successful profitable project for all, that the Bannermans would negotiate on future uses of the tank farm, and work with me and the community to find a positive use for the massive land mass of 22.7 acres.

Seagull Nest Cull/Removal

I am working on this in order to half the population of herring gulls in Alness and Invergordon, as this is a terrifying experience for many people.  Please click on the tab at the side to read more details, but so far we have had many people full in the online survey and respond to letters we sent out to get information on where the nests are. Thank you for replying.  I hope that this will happen in Spring 2017 as the first year, but we need to do it for 3 years running for it to work.  It will need funding and I am currently trying to locate this, but hope to raise about £10,000 or more to pay for this and some people, who can afford it will pay for their own nest removals.

Caberfeidh Playpark

Vandals over the years have ruined this playpark. Together with some local parents who have offered to set up a neighbourhood watch to look after the park, I have started a project to reinstate the equipment ruined in this playpark.

As of today (27/11/16) I have managed to locate funding so will be meeting parents on site to look at what is needed to bring the park back to scratch.  It is exciting and I hope it will be up and running when the better weather starts in 2017.  I also hope to secure the equipment from a local firm to minimise the costs and ask them for a maintenance and repair contract to keep an eye on the equipment going forward.

 

 




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