2020 has been a year that no one could have predicted.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic brought the world to a standstill in March as the virus spread to all corners of the globe.
Many of you will be eagerly anticipating Christmas day when COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed. While this provides us with the opportunity to form 'bubbles' and meet with a small number of friends and family, Scottish Government advice is – just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
I want to say a huge thank you to every member of South Ayrshire Council staff for their hard work and dedication to ensure our services could continue to run without issue during the pandemic. This year has highlighted their commitment to going the extra mile to allow us to really make a difference in our communities. I'd also like to extend my thanks to all essential workers and our fantastic NHS staff.
The events of this year haven't stopped us from moving forward as an organisation.
We're committed to making South Ayrshire a better place to live, and we're investing over £2 million in playparks, outdoor fitness and leisure capital projects across South Ayrshire - every ward will reap the benefits.
Our ambition to regenerate Ayr High Street made significant progress this year, as we purchased the former Hourstons building and have a conditional agreement to buy the Arran Mall on Alloway Street in Ayr. This is an important milestone as we work to transform the site into a fantastic new leisure hub. We're also moving forward with the Riverside Public Events Space at the bottom of Ayr High Street, and you will be able to comment on our progress as part of the planning process.
Town centres across South Ayrshire are also set to receive a welcome boost, after we secured £382,000 from the Scottish Government Town Centre Fund. We approved a number of initiatives across South Ayrshire's five towns – Troon, Prestwick, Ayr, Maybole and Girvan – in an effort to support town centres through the significant challenges they currently face.
Belleisle house is back in Council ownership, and in September we agreed that it should be restored as a hotel and events venue. So far, Belleisle has benefitted from a new golf clubhouse, restored conservatory, new play park and a café which takes pride of place in what used to be the stables.
To ensure the health and safety of the wider community, we stepped in to buy the former cinema on Dalrymple Street in Girvan, which has lain empty for around 20 years. This allows us full control of the site, and is great news for the area, as proposals can now be developed to take down the unsightly and disused building, with a view to regenerating the area.
We want to help people in South Ayrshire to grow well, live well and age well. As part of that commitment, we continue to work with our partners to deliver new housing projects. We're moving forward with plans for new affordable housing developments on Fort Street in Ayr; the old Police Station on Prestwick Main Street; and the former Tarbolton Primary School site. All three projects are expected to be completed by early 2022.
The transformational Ayrshire Growth Deal reached a major milestone this year. The signing of the £251 million Deal represents a massive boost to our area, and is the culmination of four years' work by South, North and East Ayrshire Councils; partner organisations; and the UK and Scottish Governments.
Continuing to improve our schools is a priority, and our fantastic education facilities really do make a difference to the children and young people in our area.
John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, officially opened the new Queen Margaret Academy building earlier this year, following the completion in October 2019.
Great progress has been made towards the new Prestwick Educational Campus, which will replace Glenburn and St Ninian's Primary Schools and their associated early years provision. Initial work is underway on the new shared campus, which will be built on the site of the existing Glenburn Primary.
The £50 million Maybole Community Campus has been granted planning approval, which is exciting news for the town. This is our biggest ever investment in a community campus, and means that local children, from two to eighteen years of age, will benefit from the new state-of-the-art learning facility.
Preparations for the new Sacred Heart Primary School in Girvan are also well underway. The old school is currently being demolished and the site cleared to get ready for the main building works, which will start in spring 2021.
We're committed to closing the gap in South Ayrshire, and I'm sure parents and carers of children and young people attending our schools welcomed the news that there will be no annual increase to the price of our school meals for the remainder of the 2020/21 session.
Each year it gets more and more difficult to balance the Council budget. We'd like to hear what you think, and you can have your say by completing our Budget consultation, which is available on our website.
We're committed to reducing our carbon footprint, and we now have over 35 electric vehicles in our fleet. These vehicles assist us in working towards the Scottish Government's commitment to have zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, with a 75% cut by 2030.
To reaffirm our commitment to a sustainable and green future for South Ayrshire, we will sign the Scottish Government's Edinburgh Declaration on biodiversity. Biodiversity awareness and the natural economy of South Ayrshire are vital assets in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions; responding to climate change; ending biodiversity loss; and creating new, green employment opportunities for the future.
There have been some outstanding performances from Council services this year. Our Tenant Participation Team received Gold Accreditation by the Tenant Participation Advisory Service, demonstrating our sector-leading work of the team and involved tenants.
Our Neighbourhood Services and Trading Standards and Environmental Health team also made it to the final of the Association of Public Sector Excellence (APSE) awards. Both teams work tirelessly all year round to ensure they deliver an excellent service, and these nominations highlight their fantastic efforts.
I'm also delighted that the Care Inspectorate rated our Care at Home Service as 'very good' earlier this year, recognising the fantastic efforts and quality of work undertaken by our teams. They described our carers as helpful, happy, always smiling, and caring.
I think we were all in need of some festive cheer, and I hope that you have managed to enjoy some aspects of our WinterWanderlands, and the switching on of the Christmas lights in our towns and villages. I cannot stress enough the importance of adhering to current Scottish Government guidelines to help supress the spread of COVID-19. We all have a part to play in keeping others safe, so please think carefully when making plans this festive season. You can read full guidance around this on the Scottish Government website
I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.