Dec 012011
 

Last year Aberdeen City Council proposed the complete closure or privatisation of Aberdeen Instrumental Music Service. After a strong campaign, the council was persuaded of the senselessness of its proposal. We were assured that the existence of the Music Service would be safeguarded, provided the Music Service made cuts requested by Aberdeen City Council. It did. The service was saved for a year, but it is once again under threat. Kathryn Reid tells Voice about the Come and Play Protest

On Tuesday 6 December, the Council’s Finance and Resources Committee will meet to discuss Priority Based Budgeting: Draft financial budget 2012-2013 5-Year Business Plan budget.

Once again it contains a proposal to ‘withdraw music tuition’.

We want to demonstrate to councillors how much musical talent is thriving in Aberdeen thanks to the Aberdeen Instrumental Music Service, and we aim to do this in the most obvious way – by playing and singing!

We are planning a Peaceful Playing Protest in Union Terrace Gardens, from 12noon to2pm at the same as the budget meeting is taking place. We are inviting as many people as possible to attend so we can really make an impact. If you are a member of an instrumental or vocal musical group, please come along with your friends and lend your talents.

More information and details are available from rona.h.cook@gmail.com

A FEW THINGS TO REMEMBER…

This is a peaceful protest. Bring a smile and your best behaviour!

Union Terrace Gardens doesn’t have facilities for an orchestra, so take along music stands if you need them.

Neither chairs nor a PA system can be provided, so remember this when planning your performance.

Union Terrace Gardens managers have been kind enough to let us use the space, let’s show our gratitude – don’t leave behind litter or damage the area!

It’s Aberdeen, and it’s December….wrap up warm!

OTHER THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP…

Write to councillors on the Finance and Resources Committee giving your point of view

Write to your MSPs

You can find addresses and links for councillors and MSPs at
http://www.friendsofaberdeeninstrumentalmusic.co.uk/
 

Sign the online petition at:
http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/no-withdrawal-of-music-tuition-in-aberdeen.html

Tuesday 6 December,
12noon – 2pm.
Union Terrace Gardens, 

HOPE TO SEE YOU ALL THERE!

Oct 132011
 

Old Susannah looks back at the week that was and wonders who’s up to what and why. By Suzanne Kelly.

Old Susannah is having trouble sleeping at the moment for several reasons. Firstly, there is the sheer excitement over the UTG design competition – which design will I fall in love with?  What will be built that will make the world beat a path to Aberdeen for coffee, baguettes and monorail rides? Will Paris, New York and Rome empty as people come to Union Square and the new UTG?
Secondly, I am worried about Ms Aileen ‘Homalone’ who has dropped out of the public eye, and refuses (to date) to answer questions about the finances needed for the phase 2 attempt to plant trees on Tullos, and the money to shoot those extremely hungry deer.  It looks as if there isn’t any money, but no one’s talking to the public just now.

I did email to say ‘C’mon Aileen’ – and she replied that ‘an officer (if not a gentleman) would get back to me’.

I gently reminded Homalone that she had at least a little responsibility for the scheme to rid Tullos of vermin deer and plant 89,000 trees where trees had failed before, as she’d taken a wee bit of the public relations credit for this great scheme to begin with.  I expect as soon as she turns her razor-sharp mind to the task of analysing all the facts and figures regarding the tree planting, deer and slaughter, she’ll revert to me asap.

I don’t think I’ll hold my breath though.

You may recall the deer are under the death sentence because we must be cheap when using ‘the public purse,’ and Aileen being a good Lib Dem can’t stand any waste of public money.  Quite right.

No such restrictions apply to buying crucial carriage clocks and expensive pens from the Common Good Fund.  

If you are in Inverness, you have to apply to use the common good fund there, and a committee decides if your charity should get a bit of the fund. They seem to have helped quite a number of deserving causes, and the application procedure is the same for the rich and the poor, believe it or not.  It is not quite as easy to get a handle on who has their fingers on Aberdeen’s CGF sporran strings. But I digress – again.

Thirdly, I can’t sleep now that I know it’s OK to shoot small mammals and birds on Tullos Hill whenever you want – you just need a permit and the right kind of gun. I am amazed that no one’s been shot there yet. I am also amazed that people still like to hunt living things, but I guess I need to acknowledge that the law allows this.

So do keep walking on Tullos, but keep in mind bullets can travel long distances, and wear your bright clothes and your bulletproof vest.  And for goodness sake, don’t wear any of those novelty deer antler headbands.

Vermin:

(noun) 1. insects such as lice, ticks or fleas (or the more fashionable bedbugs plaguing New York at present) which can lead to infestations. 2. birds and mammals that eat other animals / game. 3. animals which are after the same food as people or domestic animals (How dare they!).

The police sent me some detailed answers about the gunman spotted on Tullos Hill in early September after I did one of my little FOI requests.  The hunter would not legally have been after the roe deer – but the police made it clear that such ‘sportspeople’ are allowed to shoot ‘vermin’. The police definition of what constitutes vermin seems to include deer. So the next time you and a roe deer are trying to nibble the same 2,000 trees, just kill it – as long as you have a permit and are using the right kind of bullets and rifle.  Result!

But if the deer aren’t after the same quarter-pounder you want, and the squirrels (red, black, grey – I don’t discriminate) aren’t after your chocolate shake – then are they really vermin? The vermin label put on these wild animals justifies the gamekeeper poisoning the birds of prey, the snare-setter (snares are still legal for some reason) who kills indiscriminately, and the council targeting the Tullos Hill deer.

Speaking of the council (well some of them anyway), I’d best move to another definition before someone comes gunning for me.  And for some reason, a related word comes to mind now that I’ve mentioned our City Council.

Parasite:

(noun – English ) an insect or other creature which feeds off of a host animal to the host’s detriment. 

Let’s consider bloodsuckers, worms, leeches and ticks. These are some of the parasitic vermin infesting your city council. You do have the right ammo to despatch them – or at least you will come May elections with your vote. The parasites in question feed of resources such as The Common Good Fund, Council Taxes and all-expense paid hospitality.

Like a swarm of locusts, they descend on areas such as the AECC and the Beach Ballroom if so much as a free sandwich can be had.  Parasites such as these are notoriously thirsty, and can empty cases of drink in nanoseconds.

Do not get too close to such creatures – they may well carry disease.  Do instead hide your money (offshore if possible), and guard any green spaces, which these parasites can easily destroy if not kept in check.

“Cultural” spaces:

(noun, English Modern) a wholly new concept of “space” where “Cultural” “events” can take place.  Not to be confused with existing businesses or arenas and spaces they have for cultural events.

If it’s not hard enough for me to get any sleep with everything else going on, the Evening Express told us on 8 October that there is a ‘plan’ to attract ‘top performers (!)’ to Aberdeen.  This brand-new idea, never before attempted, would see the ‘proposed new park over (?!!) Union Terrace Gardens’ filled with “cultural” spaces.  (By the way, the quotes around the word “cultural” appear in the Evening Express piece on this subject, so I’d better leave them in).

“Culture” of course is something that we people not in ACC, ACSEF, or SEG can’t really appreciate or understand.  ( Remember – Stewart  Spence, stalwart of the Marcliffe wrote to the P&J last week to call people opposed to these great new plans ‘NIMBYS and luddites’.  Who can argue with him?).

The AECC – long propped up by the taxpayer – and the Lemon Tree (likewise on a taxpayer sub) have never attempted to bring Top Performers here before.  Likewise none of the independently-owned  bars and clubs (not supported by taxpayers by the way) have tried this either.  Some years ago I got my hopes very high about Top Performers coming here, but in the end, Geri Haliwell had to pull out of doing the AECC.

Now in another guise, Scottish Enterprise might not really be permitted to shell out large amounts of taxpayer cash to create “cultural” spaces if these new inventions borne of taxpayer money would compete with already-existing public funded and/or private spaces. 

But the story with UTG is different somehow – kind of like when Scottish Enterprise took the money the Arts Council had earmarked for Peacock (who had wanted to , er, create a “cultural” space in UTG first).  Hmm – I must remember to soon define ‘intellectual property’, ‘copyright’, ‘lawsuit’ and ‘moral rights’.

I for one am happy to subsidise the AECC directly and indirectly (the City Council somehow needs to rent large amounts of office space at the AECC despite its large roster of properties) as well as subsidise the other city-owned venues AND find some 140 million towards yet another “cultural” space under/in/over  Union Terrace Gardens.  And if the private sector of the music/entertainment industry in Aberdeen can’t compete, then that’s just showbusiness.

We are in a democracy after all – the richest amongst us get to either be on boards or appoint boards to do what they want done with public spaces – all in the name of “culture”. 

If we don’t ‘get it’, then we are indeed the NIMBYS and luddites Spency thinks we all are.  I shall remember his words when I next book a dinner or a hotel.

Those who oppose the UTG project (not that it is defined yet – not even Old Susannah could do that if the city can’t) will be laughing out of the other side of their faces when I’m having a large latte before Toto opens up for Geri Haliwell near the monorail at the Wood memorial car park “cultural” space centre.  So there.  Gives those luddites something to think about doesn’t it?

I have to digress again – it is because some of us can’t understand how wonderful the whole project is that we oppose it.  It is all crystal clear, but here is a little helpful guide as to who’s doing what about our “culture” space / UTG project.  Here is my little luddites guide to the simple way things work

1.  Locum Consultants – apparently a part of the Collier Group – have been hired to ‘find uses’ for ‘some kind of performance and exhibition space’ created by the UTG project.  Appointed (by whom I don’t know).

(By the way I can find a ‘Locum Consultants’ in Surrey and a ‘Collier International’ in Manchester.  Unless there are companies with those names in Scotland, I guess no one here was up to the job of filling the “cultural” space.  I could be wrong, I could be right).

2.  The Aberdeen City Gardens Trust (ACGT) – works on ‘how to use “cultural” spaces inside (?!!) the proposed new park over Union Terrace  Gardens’.  Unelected.  (This seems to be a “Private, Limited by guarantee, no share capital, use of  ‘Limited’ exemption” kind of an affair – which makes sense as the Taxpayer is paying for it at least in part, and it will be involved in the future of a public asset.  Result!)  Or in words a child could understand – taken from the website:  http://thecitygardenproject.com/news

“Aberdeen City Gardens Trust has been set up, under the auspices of the City Garden Project management board, as a special purpose vehicle to channel funding for the project and deliver key activities within the project plan. The Trust will operate using best practice procurement procedures and will be accountable for the delivery of activities to project management board.

“The Trust will also receive £375,000 of Scottish Enterprise funding from its available funds for major infrastructure projects.

“Cllr John Stewart, chairman of the City Garden Project management board, said: “The fact that Aberdeen City Council is making no revenue contribution to the project means it is necessary to be imaginative in the way in which non-council finance levered into the project is managed. The creation of the Trust presents us with an ideal solution. Equally, it will allow for contracting of the required services involved in the next steps and for the project to progress to the design competition stage and complete the business case for the TIF application. Through the TIF we will be to access funding not otherwise available to invest in the art gallery and the St Nicholas House site, enhancing and reinvigorating our city centre.”

“The founding directors of the Trust are Tom Smith and Colin Crosby who will be joined by Directors from Aberdeen City Council and others involved in the project in due course”.

3.  The City Gardens Monitoring Group – exists to hide its doings and to  decide that the public should not vote on the option of leaving the gardens as they are in the current design competition for the 6 finalists (chosen by an unelected group and guaranteed loads of dosh for getting this far).  The Group redacted its minutes to the point you had no idea who was in it (unless you cut and pasted the redacted text and found none other than Aileen Malone was involved).  Unelected.

But for those of you still not clear, here is an excerpt of who’s who and who’s doing what where from our City’s very own website:  http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/

“The membership of the Project Monitoring Group comprises Councillors Malone (Chair), Boulton, McDonald, Kirsty West, Wisely, Young and Yuill.

“For reference, the membership of the City Garden Project Management Board comprises Councillor John Stewart (Chair), Councillor Callum McCaig and Valerie Watts, ACC; Tom Smith and Colin Crosby, ACSEF; Jennifer Craw, the Wood Family Trust; Bob Collier, Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce; John Michie, Aberdeen City Centre Association; Lavina Massie, the Aberdeen City Alliance, Maggie McGinlay, Scottish Enterprise and Paul Harris, Gray’s School of Art.

“The membership of the Project Implementation Team comprises Tom Smith (Chair), Colin Crosby and John Michie, ACSEF; Gerry Brough, Hugh Murdoch and Patricia Cassidy, ACC; Jennifer Craw, the Wood Family Trust; Maggie McGinlay, Scottish Enterprise; Derick Murray, Nestrans; Audrey Laidlaw, Network Rail and Iain Munro, Creative Scotland”.

This diverse membership of people with no vested interests in the project going ahead or not will reassure us all.  But somehow, I still can’t get any sleep.

4.  Malcolm Reading – a design consultancy which shortlisted the winning entries in the design competiton, an amazing feat, as there was and is no design brief in existence approved by ACC.  What Malcolm Reading will earn is unknown; how exactly it was appointed is also a mystery to me.

5.  The BIG Partnership – a PR consultancy which tells us how great it all is going to be.  I don’t know how they were appointed or what they will earn. (not to be confused with ‘The Big Sleep’.)  STOP PRESS:  The BIG Partnership has recently announced a new client:  The Wood Family Trust.

6.  ACSEF – A board of business people and city officials who, well, do what they like.  Includes one impartial Mr S Milne.  Known for issuing warning as to dire consequences for Aberdeen if we don’t build on the garden.  ACSEF is an invention of ACC, and funded at least in part by the public purse which we are all so keen to use sparingly.

7.  Genus Loci – a document produced supporting ideas for the Garden’s future as long as these don’t include a garden for the future.  Famous for proposing the monorail idea.

8.  Scottish Enterprise – a quango, unelected, on a mere £750 million or so per year which holds meetings, and supplies members to sit on the board of ACSEF, and who gave the world Jennifer Craw, now on the Wood Family Trust.  Which of course has a seat or seats on the secretive City Gardens Monitoring Group – or was it the Aberdeen City Gardens Trust.  Unelected and expensive.

9.  Wood Family Trust – er, apparently the wood family and/or friends who want to get rid of the wood in the gardens apparently, for “cultural” spaces.  Apparently not elected.  This Trust has possibly one or two overlapping areas with some of these other groups,  maybe.

10.  Project Implementation Team – are on hand to implement the project whether or not the public want them to.

Now that you see how simple it all is, I trust that there will be no more whining about the expense of paying all these companies off, signing a lease for a few thousand years for the gardens, or whinging about issues of ‘transparency’.

As that little Meerkat person on TV would say, ‘Simples’.

I was going to define ‘Impartiality’ this week as well, and how it relates to TIF, BID, and so on.  However, I now have a headache for some reason, and there is a knock on my door which may be the sherrif coming for my furniture.  ‘Impartiality’ it is for next week then.  And ‘Old Boys’ Network’, ‘Nepotism’ and ‘Greed’.

Good night all.

Oct 012011
 

Three Cheers for Aberdeen City Council!  The Cull is on Hold!  Or so you might think if you glanced at a headline in tonight’s Evening Express. Voice’s Suzanne Kelly writes.

Several people on the anti-cull e-mailing lists have seen these headlines and written to say how happy they are the deer are safe.
‘Thank goodness, we can all forget about the cull and get back to business as usual’.

But what is the truth behind this and other media stories, and what is the truth? Conflicting information is  leaking out of Marischal College like a particularly leaky sieve.

There has been Council and anti-cull advertising.  There have been stories in the Press & Journal and the Evening Express, quoting experts and animal organisations.

The City has unnamed officers making statements, and city rangers apparently say that community councils are now OK with the cull.  It is time to look behind the headlines, read between the lines of the propaganda, and challenge what the city and rangers are saying.

First, let’s look at the last few weeks’ worth of media advertising.

In terms of advertising, you may have seen the anti-cull ads which were paid for by Animal Concern; these ran in the Evening Express and the Aberdeen Citizen. These quarter-page colour ads spelled out the logical reasons for opposing the cull.

Aberdeen City meanwhile took out a four-page, full colour supplement in the Aberdeen Citizen on 7 September. This for the average person would have cost at least a thousand pounds; it would be of interest to find out what the City spends on this and similar advertising in these service-cutting, low budget days.  This pull-out was to tell you how green and ecologically-minded the City is.

A portion of this supplement (approximately a third of a page in size) concerned the deer cull. Or as the City prefers to call it, the ‘City Woodlands.’ The ad says nothing about a deer cull, but calls on schools and small businesses to help plant the trees. The reader is directed to contact Ian Tallboys for further information. Businesses are told that the scheme can help:

“as part of their overall carbon management work. This will reduce the impact of their greenhouse gas emissions.”

The ad also says:

“The tree planting work will start in early 2012, ground and weather conditions permitting.”

And apparently:

 “planning of the second phase of tree for every citizen planting is almost complete, with funding applications in place.”

This is being tied to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and the woodland sites are selected:

 “to provide a living, breathing legacy and tribute to her Majesty the Queen”

There is a very good reason I have bored my readers with these details. Firstly – we already have a ‘living, breathing legacy’ on Tullos Hill. We have a diverse ecosystem supporting a vast variety of flora and fauna. We are going to kill our existing living, breathing legacy because some politicians (Cllr Malone for one) decided to do so.

If you read this ad, you would know nothing about the proposed deer cull. You might also conclude that some substantial carbon offsetting benefits had been expected in order that the City felt comfortable telling businesses the scheme would benefit them in this regard. The calculations I have previously reported, the information from animal charities, and common sense tell us that the benefits are negligible.

For one thing, we are apparently having a 21,000 seat, glow-in-the-dark football stadium built fairly close to the south of Tullos Hill with houses, offices and 1400 parking spaces. I challenge anyone to tell me that the Tullos tree scheme will offset this stadium to any meaningful degree.

It seems straightforward:  planting will go ahead, as funding applications are in place and the City’s own advertising says that planting starts in early 2012.  However, up crops some issues with what I must loosely call ‘journalism’ appearing in the Press & Journal and Evening Express.

Going back to the earlier part of his week, P&J articles advised that protestors were going to stand in front of guns.  You will have seen quotes apparently from the British Deer Society and Chris Packham saying deer culls are necessary.  These experts and their support of culls appear alongside direct quotes from my asking that:

“the city must come up with a better plan and halt this senseless cull.”

If you read these articles quickly or casually, you could easily come to the conclusion that Chris Packham and the British Deer Society support this specific Tullos cull.  At the time of writing, I have made initial contact with Packham’s agent and the Deer Society:  neither were able to confirm they had been contacted on the specific Tullos case.

In fact, both parties were interested to hear what I had to say about the history of this whole scheme.  When they get back to me, I will update everyone.

I had also given the P&J a detailed press release spelling out the major flaws in the public consultation, the opinion of the Scottish SPCA, and so on.  Not a word of this side of the story appears in print.

So – when is the cull?

The police are not saying.  The City is however saying something different to everyone who asks.  Today, 1 October, the Press & Journal have asserted the cull may be delayed by two weeks for financial reasons.,  In the 29 September Press & Journal article:

“a [City Council] spokeswoman said that Saturday was the earliest date in the hunting season that deer management can take place.  However, any such activity would be subject to weather conditions and the availability of staff, she added.”

By the way, the City have said they don’t need to give anyone any notice and can put gunmen on the hill at will.  People who understand arms, guns and hunting tell me bullets can travel very considerable distances (this is not to mention the damage and sheer agony they cause to anything that is shot).  So, we will either be suddenly excluded from the hill for the gunman/men to get killing, or they will shoot with us present.

Neighbouring residents in homes and trailer parks were appalled  and worried when I spoke to them earlier this week.  Two men told me they feed the deer in winter, and the deer are veritably tame.  Another man told me a similar story over the phone; he is distraught that the deer he has watched and fed for decades are to be shot for non-existent trees.  No one I contacted has been warned of shooters coming to the hill at the time of writing.

But I digress.  Now we come to the glaring Evening Express headline of Friday 30 September:

DEER CULL OFF… FOR NOW”

The story on Page 5 has a headline fragment ‘move to protect trees’  which makes it seem as if this is the only way to protect trees.  We all by now know this is not the case.

Unfortunately, whoever the City’s ‘spokeswoman’ was on Thursday has been contradicted by a ‘city council spokesman’.  I guess it is true:  ’24 hours IS a long time in politics.’  The spokesman said:

“It takes time for money to filter through.  The long-term plan for tree-planting and the deer population haven’t changed.’  According to the Reporter, D Ewen, the spokesman added ‘..it could be months before the cull started.”

You might think an accurate headline would  have been ‘Deer Cull could be months away’ – not ‘Deer Cull Off – For Now’

If you are not yet sufficiently confused as to if/when a cull will take place and whether or not the tree scheme has the funding and business community support, someone else at the City has further muddied the waters.

A councillor has been told by yet another anonymous person that no cull will start until after the trees are planted, and that won’t happen for months.  Of all the oddball anonymous City leaks, this one takes some beating.  This calls for a brief diversion as to what we are actually looking at in terms of deer per tree sapling.

First, the Forestry Commission letter – sent by me to both the Press & Journal months ago, says the previous planting which cost the taxpayer £43,800 failed due to deer browing and weeds.  Yes, and weeds.  Somehow, the city and the P&J only mention the deer as being the cause of failure.  Weeding 89,000 trees sounds like quite a job to me – I do hope they have it all planned out.

The Evening Express do write:

“And the council had to hand over £43,831 paid out by Forestry commission Scotland after it failed to protect the trees in Tullos”

But other news reports seem to pin the entire failure of the previous planting on the deer alone.

The press inaccuracies go on and on.  For instance, ‘hundreds’ signed petitions according to the Evening Express.  The figure I supplied and can document is 2,400+, (not counting community councils which represent thousands more).

Speaking of community councils, one of our city rangers has put it about that the community councils are favouring the planting and the cull.  He surely must know this is inaccurate.  I will be seeking an immediate explanation and if necessary a retraction from him and an explanation – that’s if some of the community councils don’t beat me to it.  I have read many of the community council letters of protest to the city:  the community councils are not happy.

The press make little mention of how the deer cull was planned in November but left out of the phase 2 consultation (which in its mention of rabbit management made everyone I’ve spoken with assume rabbits were the only obstacle.  Why on earth mention rabbit fencing when you are planning to shoot deer – if not to get your consultation to sail past the public?).

If the City and the mainstream press wonder why people do not trust them to deliver facts about the cull now, they need look no further than this first initial manipulation.

The new maths

I pointed out the absurdity of the City’s need to cull the deer many times, including the initial plan for 40,000 trees.  This would have had the 29 deer all chomping some 1,379 tree saplings.  But the tree figure suddenly grew (no pun intended) to Ms Watt’s claim of some 89,000 trees.

This makes our tiny deer (which live 6-7 years on average) eating 3,068 trees each.  But the Council plan to kill some 9 deer this season (unless they have changed their collective mind again) – and continue killing for years to come.  Look at the figures again:  20 deer eating 40,000 trees is 2,000 trees per deer.  Those must be hungry deer, but they are as nothing compared to 20 deer eating 89,000 trees:  this calculates to a stag-gering (pun intended) 4,450 trees per deer on Tullos Hill.  Now this is food for thought.

But the press / city leaks don’t’ stop coming.

For some reason, most of the people telling us not to worry about any cull at present are anonymous. When the tree scheme was first announced, politicians and council officials were all very keen to get their names in the news – Aileen Malone said how great everything would be for one example.

If no funding is in place, then the council wasted some serious money on its full colour advertising in the Aberdeen Citizen earlier this month. It was saying how great the tree scheme was. The ad encouraged local schools to help plant trees, and told local businesses to help, implying that the C02 offsetting benefits could help with their C02 targets.

Why would they place this ad and ask for help and sponsorship if they didn’t have funding?

The hunting – or legal hunting – season is not a very long one; this further makes me question assertions that nothing will happen for months.  The initial SNH letter of November 2010 recommends careful ‘handling’ of the public’.  Do you have the feeling we’re being handled – and possibly mis-handled?

Who is telling the truth – the city spokeswoman who said the earliest the killing can start is Saturday 1 October, the City spokesman who indicated there is no funding in place and a cull won’t start soon, the claim that the cull is delayed by two weeks because of lack of funding, or the third anonymous city person who said the killing won’t start until the trees are planted?

I would dearly love to tell you the truth about the financials (have we hired a hunter?  What is the cost of the scheme from start to finish?  Why do some documents say there will be income from trees but other officials deny the same assertion?).  The fact is I asked for this information months ago – only for Valerie Watts to write back asking me to explain what I meant by ‘financials’. (in an email that mysteriously never got to me until I chased it about a month later).  I have looked for the truth and feel as if I have been deliberately misled.

When she finally answers me, I will update the position.

In any event, I would recommend everyone who cares about this issue to start spending as much time walking Tullos Hill as they can – wearing bright clothing obviously.  If you see a hunter, be safe and get away – but please then get in touch with the Aberdeen Voice straight away.

Please read news stories and listen to rumour with care. And please if you have time ask your community council and elected officials exactly what is going on.  I for one would absolutely love to know.

Sep 302011
 

By Mike Shepherd. 

A document has appeared purporting to reveal and counter ‘myths’ about the proposed Union Terrace Gardens development.  It has been posted on the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce (AGCC) website.
Some of the claims are disingenuous and others stretch the idea of a ‘myth’ somewhat.

AGCC: “Fiction: This is Sir Ian Wood’s project. Fact: The City Garden is not and never has been Sir Ian Wood’s project.”

The City Square has always been seen as Sir Ian Wood’s project. Sir Ian announced his proposal at  HM Theatre in November 2008.  The Evening Express reported the launch with the headline;

Options revealed in Sir Ian Wood’s vision for Union Terrace Gardens EE13/11/08

The same article also states:

The businessman wants to raise Aberdeen’s Union Terrace Gardens to street level and create a civic square.”

A media quote picked at random clearly shows that it has invariably been perceived as Sir Ian’s project.

Back my vision for the city or lose £50m, Sir Ian warns P&J 14/04/2010

So exactly whose vision is it then, Sir Ian?

What is referred to as ‘my vision’ is in fact the vision, aspiration and hopes of many, many Aberdonians for the future economic and civic wellbeing of our city and region as North Sea oil winds down.” BBC20/4/10

Excuse me, I don’t think so.

AGCC:  “Fiction: The City Garden Project will destroy the only green space in the city. Fact: It will create new, bigger, greener and more attractive gardens. It is about gardens and open, distinct spaces on different levels, using the natural slopes, for all sorts of activities.”

The development will destroy the existing Gardens and according to the technical feasibility study, all 78 mature trees including the old elms will be chopped down. It is hard to accept that the new “City Garden” could ever support mature trees on the existing scale.

AGCC: “Fiction: It will destroy our history and heritage. Fact: Wherever possible, the project will preserve and enhance our history and heritage.”

This is the most disingenuous of all the ‘myths’ in the document.  The first draft of the design brief for the City Squarecalls for a …

“21st century contemporary garden”

…to be built in place of the Victorian park. Union Terrace Gardens was planned by Alexander Marshall Mackenzie, who also designed many of the surrounding buildings including the Art Gallery. If Union Terrace Gardens feel as if they belong, this is the reason why. The city square WILL destroy a key part of our history and heritage.

AGCC:  “Fiction: Aberdeen City Council is selling off public land for this project. Fact: The land involved will remain in public ownership.”

This is misleading as it doesn’t explain the whole picture. The land will most likely remain with the Council for the time being. However, the ground will probably be leased for a long period, 125 years has been suggested. A lease-hold on this time-scale while technically not ownership, is nevertheless a significant property deal.  Any structure on the land, including the so-called City Garden, will not be publically owned. This will belong to the private company or trust if they get planning permission.

AGCC: “Fiction: Aberdeen City Council is spending money it cannot afford on this project, money that could be better spent elsewhere. Fact: Aberdeen City Council has not allocated any revenue expenditure to the City Garden Project, over the past year.”

We know that considerable Council officer time has been allocated to work spent on the project. We do not know if the City Garden Project intends to reimburse the Council for this or not. ACC minutes show that the Council lawyers have not yet signed  off the relevant project agreement that would allow this to happen.

AGCC: “Fiction: The City will be taking on-board future liabilities relating to the construction and operation of the City Garden.  Fact: The City has agreed to consider a TIF scheme to provide public sector funding for the project. This will involve the City borrowing funds to invest in the project. The project will stimulate new business investment and generate additional extra economic activity in the area, resulting in an increase in the amount of business rates collected in future years. This will be used to repay the loan plus the interest charges.”

Doh! – “Fiction: The City will be taking on-board future liabilities” but then we are told “This will involve the City borrowing funds to invest in the project”.

The Council are £562M in debt and cannot afford any more borrowing for anything. As has been explained on these pages before by Mick Miller, the version of TIF suggested for the City Square Project involves major financial risk. If the amount of business rates does not increase sufficiently to pay back the loan, then the Council get left holding the baby.

AGCC: “Fiction: The majority of Aberdeen public has voted against redeveloping Union Terrace Gardens. Fact: 11,000 people (less than 10% of the population) participated in the public consultation which revealed that just over half were against the proposal. Many of those were basing their decision on misinformation. The majority indicated a need for change and for the location to be more attractive and accessible.”

This is probably the most outrageous of the so-called myths. A public consultation was held, the public voted No by a significant majority and it was ignored. The public were told that their votes would count. Even Sir Ian Wood acknowledged this in an interview as can be seen on an STV located on Youtube.

“”The citizens of Aberdeen…  will have the right to choose. There will be full consultation, it’s coming to the end of it now and they will decide. And that’s democracy in operation. That’s great.”
http://video.stv.tv/bc/news-l2-gardens-190210/?redirect=no

The scale of participation in the consultation was significant. ACSEF, who helped set up the consultation, noted:

“11,943 people went on to submit formal responses that have been recorded in the statistics.  This is a huge response rate when compared to similar style consultations. For example, the Edinburgh Tram consultation had just under 3,500 direct responses.”

When, later ACSEF discussed the results of the consultation at a board meeting onthe 22d March 2010, they discussed how to frame the result of the consultation as a favourable outcome for the city square in spite of the No vote:

“If views are roughly split there is an opportunity to say that although the public has spoken this is only in relatively small numbers.  Those wishing to see the status quo are in the minority compared to those who wish to see change such as updating and modernising the gardens.”
http://www.acsef.co.uk/uploads/reports/21/22%20March%2010.doc

The statement that the majority indicated a need for change is misleading, the majority said no to the City Square Project and did not endorse it.

If the public were misled during the consultation, who was responsible for the misinformation?  Where did these myths come from?

It is now acknowledged by all involved that the absence of a reference design was a fundamental flaw in the consultation. The consultation asked if people supported the project or not but the common perception was that the conceptual illustrations, based on the technical study, represented a final design. Many based their decision on not liking what they believed was a final design.”
http://thecitygardenproject.com/background.asp

The proponents of the City Square do not accept that they lost the consultation fairly. They cannot believe that the public cogently preferred either the Peacock scheme or the preservation of the existing gardens to a modern city square. But this is what happened.

AGCC: “Fiction: It will be a flat, concrete square. Fact: This is not the case. The design teams have been given a very clear brief that new gardens and space which will have street level access from all four sides will use the existing topography of the site to provide a unique, dramatic and creatively landscaped setting to better reveal and blend with the surrounding historic architecture.”

OK guys, explain to me how you can ”raise the level of the Gardens to that of the surrounding streets” (the Council’s words not mine) and use the existing topography to any significant extent?  So where did the idea of a unique and dramatic setting come from?

Here is the description of the existing Gardens as noted in the City Centre Development Framework:

They have a “topography which provides a unique and dramatic setting for the surrounding historic townscape and bridges and an essential component of the identity of the City Centre. “

I suspect that this is just the start of a large PR campaign to sell the concept of the “City Garden Project” to the Aberdeen Public. It will have only a limited impact. Aberdonians are highly educated and can think for themselves. They can make their own mind up about what they want the city centre to look like, whether it is the existing Gardens or a city square at street level. They are smart enough to see what is plausible and what isn’t.

Sep 222011
 

It’s the debate we weren’t supposed to hear, it seems, and there is suspicion that the full facts were held back from publication to Aberdeen residents. Public opposition to a controversial scheme seems to be growing. With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

Local campaigners, opposed to Aberdeen City Council’s cull of the Tullos Hill roe deer, have placed advertisements in the local press and launched a postcard campaign.

The first advert appeared in Aberdeen’s Evening Express on 7 September, and it appears again in the 21 September issue of Aberdeen Citizen.

Campaigners will also be out in force in Aberdeen city centre this Saturday (24 September).

“The City Council may think they can go ahead with the cull of the roe deer unnoticed,” campaigner Suzanne Kelly said, “but the truth is the opposition is growing daily. People are watching the hill and reporting anything that might indicate a cull.”

A postcard campaign with a strong graphic encourages people to write to Aberdeen City Council Chief Executive, Valerie Watts.

The advertising campaign spells out some of the many reasons why opponents are so fierce in condemning the Council’s plans. These reasons include:

  • The cull was already being planned (as per correspondence in November 2010 between Aberdeen City Council and Scottish Natural Heritage) but was kept out of the Phase 2 public consultation. This consultation mentioned rabbits and therefore gave the impression that these were the only species affected by the massive tree plantation. Current public objections would have been made during the consultation had the public been properly informed that a cull was planned. Many people therefore feel misled by the Council and the scheme’s main proponent, Councillor Aileen Malone.
  • The Scottish SPCA calls the cull ‘abhorrent and absurd’ – to kill animals to protect trees that aren’t even planted and which could go elsewhere, is wrong. They will support culling only for animal welfare reasons
  • The City Council recently had to return £43,800 to the Forestry Commission for a failed planting on Tullos Hill. It certainly seems the Council tried to keep that information under wraps. Taxpayers could spend over £100,000 if further planting goes wrong, according to the Forestry Commission
  • Since the cull was made public, several community councils, representing tens of thousands of local residents, condemned it and complained about the lack of proper consultation. Over 2,400 people locally signed petitions, and hundreds of letters of protest were sent to the Council. Still the Council refuses to back down
  • The Council has turned down or ignored offers from experts including Animal Concern to provide other non-lethal solutions, of which there are many
  • There is already an eco-system on Tullos Hill which includes flora and fauna; changing it makes no sense

A hunter in camouflage gear with a gun on Tullos Hill was reported to police by a dog-walker on 5 September, but the police are neither confirming the report nor supplying any further information at present.

Earlier this month, the City Council mentioned the tree planting scheme, but not the deer cull, in a full colour, four page Aberdeen Citizen supplement touting its environmental credentials.  Campaigners against the cull have not yet been able to find out the cost to the public of this supplement.

Anyone opposed to this cull or who wants further information can contact: www.tullosdeer@yahoo.co.uk

“The response the advertisement received when first launched was overwhelming; the email inbox is overflowing with people – 100% of whom oppose the Council’s plans and the handling of the whole affair. I do hope that commonsense will prevail and this scheme will be altered to spare the deer. With a previous planting on the hill already costing the taxpayer £43,800 – the City must come up with a better plan and halt this senseless cull,” said Kelly.

The cull could begin in October this year; it is likely that the killing would continue for several years.

Sep 012011
 

A look at more contradictory information from different arms of the council – with deadly consequences for the Tullos Hill Roe Deer by Suzanne Kelly.

In the first instalment of ‘Truth’, I revealed part of Valerie Watts’ response to my formal complaint.
This contained the shocking story of how we have already paid £43,800 for a previous failed plantation on Tullos Hill – and that Ms Watts failed to clarify the existence of this debt when asked.
In fact, Aberdeen Council (ie the taxpayer) “could be liable for a reclaim of up to £120,333.91” if trees to be planted fail, says a Forestry Commission Scotland letter.

The second part of the story will examine Watt’s response in more depth, revealing yet more contradiction; council use of general statements to justify the specific Tullos Hill situation; and the deliberate snubbing of experts who offered objections to as well as solutions to this completely arbitrary tree-planting.

As detailed in Part One, I launched a formal protest following my researches into the details of the tree scheme and the cull; these can be found in Aberdeen Voice. I found no fewer than 10 main points, which I felt the Council should be called to account on.
See: http://aberdeenvoice.com/2010/12/10-more-reasons-to-call-off-the-deer-cull/

The Council and I have traded emails back and forth. My specific, targeted questions are largely going unanswered. Either that, or I get sweeping, non-specific statements (such as ‘deer culling is perfectly normal’ – which has nothing to do with killing deer to protect trees that could be elsewhere – or not planted at all). This all wound up in my formally complaining, and the initial response from Ms Watts was much in the same vein as what I had heard before. I sent a reply, which I had to chase twice.

The first time I chased my reply was 8 July. The Council now say that they sent a reply to me on 11 July, and this date appears on a letter sent via email (although there is no trace of it in my inbox).

Interestingly, their first letter, also sent by email, was addressed to me at my home, and was posted. The second letter the city says it sent on 11 July did not include my street address, and certainly did not ever reach me in the post. I do wonder why they would change their method of communication.

But there are larger points at stake.

Time is running out, and this article cannot touch on all the new information or recap all of the previous points raised. There are previous stories still available on Aberdeen Voice, and a good deal of information can be found on the internet.

If at the end of reading this and other articles you decide you want the deer spared, then please contact your councillors as soon as you can, as well as the City Council. Your voice can make a difference yet. Details of councillors can be found at:
http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/mgMemberIndex.aspx?bcr=1

Here is a selection of some (certainly not all) of the issues arising from my last letter from Valerie Watts – the one that never arrived either in the –post or by email at the time it was meant to have been sent. Sadly, I am not getting any closer to getting any definitive, meaningful answers, which the following examples will show. It is time for everyone concerned for the deer to consider other forms of action.

Income from trees? Depends who’s talking

Various council officers and rangers have written to me saying that there will be ‘income streams’ from the trees.

In fact, some of the reports say that some income can be relied upon from this giant forest in time. I asked Ms Watts for the financials. She replied:

“There is no business plan to justify the potential future timber crop and subsequent potential income stream.”

Either Ms Watts is right and the rangers and others who mentioned an income from the trees are wrong – or the City is confused. In fact, here is what the public consultation for phase 2 said:-

“… the trees should be well established and require minimal maintenance before they start generating income”

Which leads us to Watts’ comments on the public consultation.

Public Consultation: ‘was robust’

We have already established what a flawed, misleading document this phase 2 consultation exercise was, but Ms Watts insists the consultation was ‘robust’.

Those supporting the tree scheme are adamant that the consultation was never about the method of tree planting, and it was not relevant. This is the excuse they give when asked why shooting the Tullos deer was not in the document.

If it had been mentioned, the scheme would never have passed the public consultation in a million years. But people like me and those I have spoken to cite this passage from the public consultation as the reason we thought the deer were safe:-

“Where necessary some sites will require rabbit fencing to minimize damage from rabbits…”

If you read this document, you would come to the conclusion that animal damage had been considered: why mention fencing to control rabbits and not mention damage from other animals? I concluded –as did dozens of others (and more) that if deer were a problem, they would likewise have been mentioned.

We now know that in November 2010 the Council and Scottish Natural Heritage were already planning to shoot the deer to plant these trees: they just decided not to tell us this.

The Scottish Natural Heritage letter suggests handling the public over the deer. Well, the public has most definitely been misled by this poor excuse for a consultation. It was biased. It withheld information. To date, no one has come forward despite my requests to say they were the author of this document; the author certainly has some questions to answer.

See: shhh-dont-mention-the-pre-planned-deer-cull

The Media can’t see the Trees for the Forest

Perhaps the most pompous claim Ms Watts makes is that the media got the facts wrong, and that the community councils got misinformation from the media, so didn’t understand the scheme.

I find it a bit late in the day to blame the media – does Ms Watts include the P&J, EE, BBC, STV, Northsound, and the Scotsman as well as Aberdeen Voice? Where and when did the City’s Public Relations staff counter any inaccuracies in the media? In fact Ms Aileen Malone, convener of the housing committee and large proponent of this plan spoke to the media on many occasions. Here is what Watts wrote on the matter:-

“Aberdeen City Council has no control over how the media report Council meetings. In this case the media did not accurately report on the decisions of this Committee and have continued to publish inaccurate information about this project. They have published their interpretation of the committee decisions.”

It should be noted that when the media have published inaccuracies in the past the Council swiftly jumps in to make corrections when it suits them. We saw the recent debacle of the City countering its own press office’s release about the frequency and costs of using outside consultants. I also recall a Press & Journal editorial stating that the P&J would apologise when it made errors, but would not apologise for publishing information the City released and subsequently retracted.

Scottish SPCA don’t understand the project – says Watts

The work and the position of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is world-renowned and respected. Except here.

The Scottish SPCA issued a statement specifically about the Tullos cull: they called it ‘abhorrent and absurd to kill deer to protect non-existent trees.’ Ms Watts doesn’t believe the Scottish SPCA are clever enough to have formulated its stance, and writes the following:-

“You quote the Scottish SPCA in your response. We* have been unable to find any evidence from the charities [sic – she must mean charity’s] policies that it has one that is against culling.

“We are in the process of checking this with the organization. We believe that the quote from Mr Mike Flynn is based on inaccurate reporting of the committee decision in the media. If the SSPCA were financially able to and prepared to relocate the deer legally within the project timescales, then the City would be amenable to them doing so.”

However, this amazing about-face needs examining, regarding allowing the deer to be relocated. The Council and the Scottish Natural Heritage made their positions clear previously that moving deer was not a solution.

I wrote to the Scottish SPCA to get their feedback on Watt’s paragraph above, and spoke to Mike Flynn on 26th August. He explained the difficulties in catching and moving deer, and says this idea just does not work. Mike confirmed the Scottish SPCA’s position on culling: it is to be carried out only where there are clear animal welfare issues or public safety issues.

Flynn confirmed that a person from the City did contact the Scottish SPCA to ask for its policy on culling. He was not happy that Watts believes he didn’t understand the issues and had been misinformed by the media. He understands, and is happy to stand by the previously-stated position: it is abhorrent and absurd to cull the Tullos Hill Roe Deer to plant trees. And whatever anyone at ACC may say, Mr Flynn is right.

* (somehow Ms Watts is now a group or is using the royal ‘we’ –she does not spell out who she means when she says ‘we’)

My Opinion and Conclusions Summarised

• The main conclusion I reach from months of research and asking questions is that I will be given different information from every council official, officer and elected member I speak to.

• They are united in one thing: they want the deer shot and the trees planted at all costs.

• The expert they hired after a tender process (note – the cost of this expert should be queried) is not interested in other experts’ opinions: this is no longer detached scientific expertise, but dogma.

• They are not actually as united as they think they are. There is increasing SNP resistance to this plan, which must be encouraged. Ms Malone insists the ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme was a Lib Dem election pledge. Ms Watts writes the Lib Dems and SNP jointly pursue this scheme, which “… has the mandate of the people of Aberdeen.” This Mandate is most definitely in the past tense – now that we know what the planting means for our deer and other existing wildlife.

• Most importantly: it is not too late to stop this insane scheme!

Watts next? – my opinion

A radio presenter had invited me and Aileen Malone to speak about the deer situation some months back.

Aileen was far too busy to spare the 20 minutes of a Sunday morning for this phone-in debate. A shame – as she could have rectified all the ‘misunderstandings’ which Watts claims the media are putting about. The show’s researchers were told I was not part of any group. And, I am not.

Still, the presenter seemed keen to draw me into an argument about direct action and getting people to stand in front of guns. I do not want to tell anyone to do anything, particularly anything to do with gun-toting shoot-to-kill mercenaries. However, it is plain that reason, logic, expense and the will of the people are being thrown out the window.

Before I had seen Emily James’ film about average people taking direct action, ‘Just Do It’ (at the Belmont a few weeks ago), I would not have considered taking steps to directly intervene in this tree plan. I am now re-thinking my position. When campaigning and logic have no effect, other (peaceful) means may be needed.

In the meantime, please get in touch with your elected representatives. Details of councillors can be found at:
http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/mgMemberIndex.aspx?bcr=1

Tell them what you do and do not want to happen regarding Tullos Hill. Stopping this cull is not down to me or any one group – it is down to everyone.

If anyone wants a postcard to send the City, or a poster to put in their window, or to be kept informed of any developments, please write to oldsusannah@aberdeenvoice.com – sooner rather than later.

Aug 182011
 

 An update on the Council – and non-council designs on Union Terrace Gardens by Mike Shepherd

Six architects are busy designing a modern square and a subsurface concourse for the proposed development of Union Terrace Gardens. The public can expect to see these designs in early October. The architects have been given a design brief by the project implementation team for the City Garden Project, telling them what it is they are expected to design.

Only part of the brief has been made public; most of our councillors still have not been fully informed as to what the architects are being asked to do with our public, open, green space.

Yet, the intention had been for the councillors to sign off the design brief, but this never happened. Councillors are informed about the City Garden Project in a series of meetings for a group called the Project Monitoring Board. The minutes of the meetings are posted on the council website. The April minutes state:

“MRC (Malcolm Reading Company – the company managing the competition) will produce a comprehensive design brief and this will be submitted to Council on 29 June 2011, for ratification, before being issued to the short listed companies.”

Two months later, the June minutes stated:

“Mr Brough informed the group that the project management group had met on Monday the 6th June and had discussed and also amended a draft of the brief that Malcolm Reading has written up. The final brief will go to council on the 29th of June for noting. Mr Brough informed the group that the brief for the design didn’t go into much detail and may seem vague as the brief needed to allow some leeway and not be too prescriptive to the architects.”

This document was provided to councillors and gave some vague details as to what was expected of the architects including a specification for “ a contemporary 21st century garden”. I was present at the Council meeting on 29 June and the design brief was never discussed. There was a lengthy debate on allowing smoking in homeless accommodation and that was more or less it. I asked the council executive why the design brief had not come up. I received this reply on 3 July, just after the council meeting:

“I reported to the Project Monitoring Group what was intended at the time of the meeting. However, it was subsequently decided, by members involved in determining the Agenda for Council meetings, that there was no need to obtain Council approval for this and that it should go to Council as an attachment to the normal quarterly City Garden Project Bulletin report.

“Also, the brief still has to be finalised, by the addition of various technical annexes, before being issued to short-listed companies on 21 July.”

This makes it clear that the brief had not been completed by the time of the council meeting on 29 June, and that ‘members’ had pulled the item from the agenda. The document provided to councillors was not a finalised version. I wrote an open letter to councillors criticising the decision not to allow councillors to ratify the design brief. http://aberdeenvoice.com/2011/07/an-open-letter-to-our-councillors-city-garden-project/

“You have now lost control over the City Garden Project. A non-elected body has now made decisions as to what our city centre should look like. They have decreed that the Denburn should have a “contemporary 21st century garden”, not you. It is this body that is also deciding what the large underground concourse should be used for. If conference and exhibition facilities are to be provided, then this will clearly have implications for the future of the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre at the Bridge of Don. However, this is not a decision that you will have any control over unless you turn down the city square plans.”

The public should be extremely worried about the loss of democratic control over the City’s assets. The public was ignored when they voted against the City Square in a public consultation last year, now the powers given to our councillors are being bypassed too.”

This was repeated in a letter in the Scotsman and later partly republished by Private Eye. The result was a major row in the council chambers, which still has not died down yet. Some councillors and council officials were very upset at the statement that councillors had lost control over the City Garden Project. Others were annoyed that they had not been allowed to debate the design brief. Labour Councillor Willie Young asked a series of questions at this week’s Council meeting.

http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=1972

One of the questions was:

“To ask the Chief Executive if it is normal for third parties who currently do not own, lease or have any pecuniary property rights over a public asset such as Union Terrace Gardens to actively promote, encourage architectural design briefs on an asset they currently do not own, lease or have any pecuniary right over?”

The Chief Executive replied to this as follows:

“No. Any party does so at their own financial risk. However, the Council by virtue of their decision of May 2010 and those of subsequent meetings have noted and encouraged the course of action undertaken by the City Gardens Trust.”

The following request was also made:

“Council agrees that in order to provide proper scrutiny over an area of land currently under the City Council’s direct control, and to ensure that no citizen or citizens of Aberdeen can accuse the Council of “losing control” over the City Garden Project, as well as to ensure beyond reasonable doubt that there will be a local democratic audit of plans for an area of the city centre that many Aberdonians care passionately about, Council undertakes without delay to determine a design brief to be provided to architects which meets the requirements of the citizens of Aberdeen as approved by elected members, the democratically elected guardians of this fine city.”

This was not debated at the Council meeting on Wednesday. However, I’m told it will come up for discussion at a later Enterprise, Planning and Infrastructure sub-committee meeting.

I would ask councillors to stand up and assert themselves on this issue. You are our elected representatives. There should be local democratic control over our public open green space, its function and its utility.  It’s not up to a bunch of businessmen and their friends to decide what our city centre should look like. Nobody voted for them.

Jul 082011
 

Is control over the future of the City Centre and its Victorian Union Terrace Gardens falling into the hands of unaccountable, unelected agents?  Mike Shepherd believes it is, and sends his thoughts to our Councillors.

Councillors,

Council documents make it clear that you were expected to sign off the design brief for the City Garden Project at the full council meeting on June 29th.  The design brief is intended not only to give specifications for the civic square covering the Denburn, but also to provide details for the usage of the large underground space beneath the square.

There is a problem however; the full specifications for the design brief did not appear to be ready in time for the 29th of June.

Although a design brief has been issued, you have only been informed of the usage of only 6,000 square metres of the 56,000 square metres of accommodation space under the civic square (for an arts centre).

There is also intent to provide conference, exhibition and meeting space of unspecified size. The open space is described as a contemporary 21stcentury garden.

Given that these plans are designated for council-owned land, that the area is zoned as public green space in the local plan and the council have been asked to borrow £70million through a TIF scheme to fund it, then it would be reasonable to expect councillors to approve the specifications for the site.

You have now lost control over the City Garden Project. A non-elected body has now made decisions as to what our city centre should look like.

It now turns out that this will not be the case. You are not being asked to approve the design brief.  I have been informed by a council officer that:

“it was decided, by members involved in determining the agenda for Council meetings, that there was no need to obtain Council approval for this.”

The intention is to hand out the design brief to short-listed companies for the architectural competition on the 21st of July. The next full council meeting is not until the 17th August.

You have now lost control over the City Garden Project. A non-elected body has now made decisions as to what our city centre should look like. They have decreed that the Denburn should have a “contemporary 21st century garden”, not you. It is this body that is also deciding what the large underground concourse should be used for. If conference and exhibition facilities are to be  provided, then this will clearly have implications for the future of the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre at the Bridge of Don.  However, this is not a decision that you will have any control over unless you turn down the city square plans.

The public should be extremely worried about the loss of democratic control over the City’s assets. The public were ignored when they voted against the City Square in a public consultation last year, now the powers given to our councillors are being bypassed too.

I would ask you to assert your right to decide on our behalf what happens in our city. I would request that you insist that the approval or otherwise of the City Square design brief should be a matter for the council meeting on the 17thof August.

Mike Shepherd.