Sep 092011
 

Old Susannah watches the latest developments in the ‘Deen and the wider world and feels like a deer caught in headlights.  Here is this week’s look at what’s happening where and who’s doing what to whom. By Suzanne Kelly.

This Saturday is Open Doors day; I urge you to get out and visit sites in Aberdeen normally closed to the public.  (I will try and get to Marischal College – but I will also be whale-watching at Torry Battery with local expert Ian Hay at 10:30).

From noon Old Susannah will be at Marks & Spencer collecting signatures on postcards to highlight the plight of our Tullos Hill Deer. The postcards are free and will be sent to the City; please come see me.  The design is a powerful one, I think you’ll agree.

Old Susannah spent last week in France and Italy. I wandered around small towns and capital cities, and was struck at the lack of concrete, shopping malls, and ‘connectivity’.  Small, intimate spaces were around every corner – but you actually were better off walking from place to place. 

Not a single monorail was in sight either.  Small, local shops were busy with locals and tourists – there was no choice but to buy individualistic, hand-made items in most of the places I visited.  Streets were tree-lined; parks filled with interesting plants, and the pavements were amazingly clean.  Even the smallest of towns had rich programmes for retired/elderly people.

I even came across a programme to teach dog owners the importance of keeping their animals under control and cleaning up after them.   Don’t worry – nothing like this will happen here.

Sad to say I missed this year’s Offshore Europe. 

While historically a few firms hire attractive fashion models to talk to prospective clients about North Sea joint venture economics and showcase the latest in directional drilling techniques and so on, this year it seems one firm took things a bit further.  I am told swimsuit models were window dressing for one of the stands.

Perhaps this bathing-suit theme was something to do with subsea operations or ‘diving’ of some sort or other.  Whatever happened to the old-fashioned practice of giving OE visitors lots to drink? In any case, it is a good thing we have more women involved in the oil business, and the presence of glamour models should by no means be seen as a cheap publicity stunt or a large backwards step for equality.

In a happy development, the baby gull that I rescued (with a co-worker’s help) made a complete recovery at New Arc Animal Sanctuary, and will be released soon, along with a Fulmar and some ducklings. Keith at New Arc has his hands full, and is still looking for volunteers and donations.  New Arc will shortly open a charity shop in Banff, and will want your unwanted quality goods (new and used) to sell.  Get in touch with New Arc at  thenewarc1@aol.com

I realise not everyone loves birds and gulls – I’ve not forgotten Mervyn New, who happily blasted baby gulls with a gun (at his work no less).  But it seems a contributor to Aberdeen’s newest free newspaper, Aberdeen City Life, isn’t fond of them, either.

‘Fona’ McKinnon writes in City Life about the ‘Terrorists From the Sky.’  Er, they are birds and not quite terrorists; some people might object to the comparison in this run-up to the anniversary of 9/11.  Best not to feed them (terrorists I mean) in town, but it’s definitely best not to blast them with guns either.  Old Susannah wishes City Life all the best, and  is glad there is another hard copy newspaper in town.

Finally, a tired, old, Aberdeen institution has had a much-needed facelift (no, not you Kate).  Aberdeen City’s website has been re-vamped, and looks absolutely vibrant and dynamic.  (More on its contents in a minute).

Time for some timely Deen definitions.

Family Business

(modern  English compound noun) An organisation or enterprise staffed, organised and managed mainly by members of one family.

Much has been said lately about the excesses of the UK’s MPs when it comes to  claiming expenses.   Gone are the days of flipping second homes, flipping padded expenses and flipping new luxury bird houses in moats for the flipping MPs.

Much has also been said about the MPs using unpaid interns.  The interns work for free, and more often than not are people who don’t need to work for money; often internships are given out to the well connected.  But one area where the MP is still free to do as they please concerns hiring family.

Family members serve as secretaries, assistants and office managers.  The Independent Newspaper’s sister paper ‘i’ reports that the taxpayer is shelling out a few million pounds annually for the 130 or so MPs’ family members. I  am sure it must be a hardship working for mum or dad; the interviewing process must be rigorous.

I guess the jobs are  all advertised widely, and a number of candidates are shortlisted before junior  gets the job.

Closer  to home, I note that many of our elected City Council officials still have time  to run Aberdeen along world-class lines while still keeping a hand in their own  family businesses.  Some work as  assistants for family plumbing or electrical businesses.  Old Susannah knows it’s possible to do more than one job at once, but has always been confused by one little detail. 

Some of these councillors list on their  council web pages that they work for a family business – but when I look at the official register of interests, I can’t find where that work is actually  listed.  Are they working for free?  Possibly – they are all quite selfless souls.  Even so, I believe such work is  meant to be on the official register of interests.

I am still trying to get to grips with what is/is not put on the registers, and aside from one rather terse email to me from the City (which took months for them to compose), I’m just not there yet.

Of course if any of these family business companies were doing any work for the City, the relevant councillors would bow out of any relevant meetings, and there would be complete transparency.  I am sure that everything is above  board.  I just can’t find it in writing, that’s all.

‘Open Data Initiative’

(Aberdeen modern phrase) 

Just when you thought the  City had completely shown its hand and come clean about deer, trees, expenses, garden projects, planning, and selling land at less than market value – along comes:  the ‘Open Data Initiative’.  I mentioned the swish new website layout (I have to admit – it is an improvement), well one of the new-look site’s great successes is the Open Data Initiative.

I  can practically feel the suspense building, and almost hear people asking aloud “What is the Open Data Initiative”! Without any further ado – here you go:-

Open data is about increased transparency, about sharing the information we hold with the wider community to build useful applications.

We’re always looking for new ways of making it as easy as possible for developers and website owners to access and present data held by us in ways that they want – allowing you to remix, mashup and share data easily.

Use the links to the right to navigate to our various datasets available.  We’ll be adding more datasets soon, as well as pointers to online tools for making use of this data.

 http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/open_data/open_data_home.asp

I am confident the City knows about data ‘mashup’; I would in fact swear to this.  Well, what possible data are they now freeing up for us to mash and re-organise?  

Will they tell me how much they are paying the deer ‘expert’? 
Will they (finally) say how much land they sold at less than market value? 
Will they let me know if any companies doing building maintenance at council properties are Councillors’ family businesses?

Brace yourself:  if you go to the Statistics page link on the Open Data page.
(http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/open_data/statistics.asp)
You will find everything you might want to know.  About how many hits the City’s website gets per month, the population figures, and the expenditure on something called the  ‘Accord’ Card.

These are the very things I’d put on a Statistics page if I ran a city that was millions in the red.  I was dying to know how many visitors the City’s web page had in August 2010 – the answer was (of course) 214,000.  I guess that’s all of our questions answered now.

With our debt level in mind (and not being 100% certain a carpark and mall in UTG will save us from ruin), I followed a link to the February finance meeting documents.  With our newly-launched ‘Open Data’ initiative in place, surely the City will be open with its – I mean our  - finances, I thought.

Not all data is for the public of course. For instance, I was relieved to find that about half the information the Finance Committee discussed in February last year is off limits.  Have a look for yourself if you like: 
http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=146&MId=1925&Ver=4

You’ll see that many documents are withheld as they are tip top secret, must never be released, and are commercially sensitive. And thank goodness.  It’s hard to get any privacy sometimes; so I’m glad to know that privacy is respected by our City’s officials.

However, I noted that an item from this Finance meeting about ‘Managed Data Centre and Virtual Desktop Environment’ was deemed secret.
If we have an ‘open data’ policy I guess it’s reasonable to withhold information from the public on the ‘Managed Data Centre and Virtual Desktop Environment ’ -  I’m just not sure why.

But the good news is now you can see the reasons why you can’t see the items on the agenda.   And that, I suppose, is ‘Open Data’.

On that note I feel the need for a Brewdog coming on.  I will say here and now I bought a few shares in Brewdog, so please consider that my interest in Brewdog to be declared.  I bought the shares, the T-shirt, and the beers.  Why?  Because they are great.
If I had a family business, I’d like it to be Brewdog, I do declare.

- Next week:  ‘Police and Thieves’

Aug 182011
 

After months of auditions and much speculation, the North East has spoken and chosen the winner of the first ever NEX Factor. Voice’s Stephen Davy-Osborne reports, with thanks to Yasmeen Ali.

The singing contest, organised by Aberdeen based charity Malaika Africa and Cove based event management company Valley Events, encouraged teenagers to put their musical skills to the test in order to raise funds to build a learning centre for street kids in Mirerani, Tanzania.

The first rounds of auditions were held during June and July in Aberdeen, Dundee and Elgin and out of a total of 45 hopefuls including bands, ten finalists were chosen to perform at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre in the live grand final.

Whittling the ten semi finalists down to three were judges Alex Miller, Steven Milne, Joanne Randall and Ross Milne who selected Rowan Ah-See, Amber Hughes and Cara Mitchell to perform again, leaving the final decision to the audience, who chose 16-year old Rowan – from Aberdeen – as the winner of the first ever NEX Factor thanks to his fantastic voice and guitar playing skills,

Rowan Ah-See ( pictured ) walked away with the much coveted prizes of £1,000 in cash, a professional photo shoot, a recording session at a local recording studio and a luxury car to take the winner to the photo shoot.

Yasmeen Ali and Mirjam Meek were very pleased with how the evening went and with all the positive feedback received:

 “We couldn’t have wanted for a better event and it will be a challenge to do even better next year because the standard of talent was already so high”.

The sell-out evening was a huge success and the charity managed to raise nearly £6,000.

More info and Pictures of the event here: The-NEX-Factor-2011.html 

Aug 182011
 

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

The leak’s leaked.  Those nice people at Shell seem to have been economical with the truth about their North Sea oil spill; they say they have been completely open and honest.  However, some half a dozen environmental/animal groups do not think so.

I know whom I am tempted to believe.  I hope Shell can do for us what it has done for Nigeria, farmers in Northern Ireland, etc. etc.  If nothing else, it is good to know Shell has gone into public relations overdrive and is pouring oil on troubled waters.

Back on dry land, it is hard to know where to start doing a round-up of this past week’s events in the ‘Deen and the wider world.  The Road Sense AWPR appeal has failed.  Helpfully, Kate Dean posted on a Facebook discussion thread (you see – she is down with the kids for definite) stating:

“I’m amazed that this topical community hasn’t seen fit to discuss today’s Court of Session ruling on the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route.”

I told our Katie:

“To Ms Dean – nice to see you weighing in. I think you will find this ‘topical community’ and the Aberdeen Voice have historically dealt with both sides of the AWPR story. As the Voice is a weekly publication, no doubt some contributors will send in relevant items for next week’s issue. You would be welcome to write a piece as well”.

Alas!  Kate relied:

“I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to contribute to a publication which habitually refers to me in such a derogatory and insulting fashion”

I tried to explain that my writings are ‘satire’ (well, for the most part). Of course there is not much tradition of important politicians being satirised in Great Britain – well, only since the time of King John, and more recently Hogarth, Spitting Image and Private Eye.   (I would have also replied: “XXXX XXX XXX XXX XXX XXXXX”, but I could not figure out how to do redacted text on FB).  Perhaps I just do not know the meaning of the word ‘appropriate’ – time to see what can be learnt from Kate’s examples (see definitions).

Perhaps Kate thinks that is the end of the AWPR matter, and the necessary, environmentally-friendly, economical road will go ahead.  Well, we will see.  PS – my Facebook Home page tells me to suggest friends for Kate.  Any ideas?

And we have another nursing scandal; this time at Woolmanhill.

A nurse has allegedly been over-drugging patients, and gave a person a salt-cellar instead of their inhaler.  We are getting close to a medical scandal a week.  I wonder if all the cutbacks to frontline services might be related to frontline services going down the pan.

Old Susannah’s had a senior moment; I remembered writing about the brilliant designs shortlisted for the gardens, and thought I had done so in a column.  Turns out I had only done so on Facebook.  While trying to find what I did write, I googled my way upon this quotation:

“The gardens have the potential to be transformed in to a popular, attractive and vibrant green space in the heart of the city. The gardens have come under increasing pressure in recent years, with various schemes put forward to raise their level and develop them as a leisure facility. Care must be taken not to over-develop the space and potentially risk losing its essential drama and historical landform”.

- 2007, AberdeenCityCouncil Report

The above was the conclusion the City came to in (yet another expensive) report in 2007.  Since then a few things have changed, and commonsense has prevailed:  the only thing wrong with Aberdeen is that UTG is not vibrant and dynamic.  This is why we are all going broke, crime is shooting up, the independent shops are closing, and the streets are filthy:  it is the gardens – they are not used enough and are in a valley!

We may or may not get a vote on the Gardens’ future – but we have lined up five designers who have form when it comes to doubling and trebling their budgets.  I guess if you want something as beautiful, as functional and elegant as the Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park, it’s going to cost.  Then again, an inflatable Jacuzzi (on sale via ‘Groupon’) would have been as pretty and functional – and costs a few million less.

I’m sure it’s because I didn’t study architecture in great depth, but at first glance I thought the shortlist was the most predictable collection of expensive hacks to ever build boring and unsuitable creations, obviously my mistake.

Still, the Diana Memorial Fountain designer is one of our fine finalists!  I hope you are as excited as I am.  Since I did not go into detail about the talented designers Malcolm Reading has lined up to fix our city’s problems and how much it is likely to cost and since I cannot find my writings on the matter to begin with, (but I did mention some of the references rxpell uses), here is a good article from rxpell that sums things up nicely:
http://rxpell.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/a-look-at-the-city-square-short-leet/

This article will help you decide which of our five finalists to vote for.  If you get a vote.  We do not know for sure, even though HoMalone’s promised us a vote, which would include leaving the gardens as they are.  But this is Aberdeen, and the government’s position changes more often than the weather.

(I would love to say I have been out at nice dinners and working my way through the ever-changing Brewdog menu, but for the time being my doctors have me on lockdown, and am forced to live off rice, tofu and yoghurt drinks.  Somehow this does not really suit me.  Still, I will be back doing the rounds as soon as I can).  But now for some definitions.

Appropriate:

1.  (adjective) fitting, proper, suitable, in accord with acceptable norms.
Am I ever embarrassed by Kate’s telling me that it ‘is not appropriate’ for her to write in the Voice, as we are derogatory about her.  Shame-faced, I asked myself what can I learn from her example of what is appropriate behaviour?  I came up with a few examples.

What is appropriate:

  • To be a supporter of the Cove Rangers, to be the president of its fan club,  have a husband who is a Scottish Football Association referee, and to be administrator of the family plumbing business (Brian J Dean) which sponsors the club – and to endorse plans to build it a new stadium without any qualms or conflict
  • To make comments to the media about how wonderful a new stadium for the Cove Rangers team would be, yet to sit as convener of the Loirston Loch hearing (despite opposition from community councillors) which is tied to Cove Rangers’ future
  • To comment to the Loirston Loch hearing that you attended a meeting where virtually all present voted against the stadium going ahead, but that you were sure a man there wanted to vote in favour of the stadium – but was afraid to (mind-reading is a skill every councillor should have)
  • When implementing swingeing budget cuts (and having thousands of people march against them calling for your resignation) to reply ‘I was elected to do a job and I am going to do it’
  • To accept dozens of tickets to concerts and events at the AECC in a single year, despite guidelines suggesting this might not be ‘appropriate’

Thank you Ms Dean – I will indeed learn much from you, and will continue my studies.

And to whom but Aberdeen’s first citizen should I next turn towards to learn about appropriate behaviour:  Mr Milne has it nailed.  Out of the goodness of his heart, he allowed people to actually comment on his stylish plan for Triple Kirks (the Press & Journal obligingly called the area an ‘eyesore’ in an article.  There goes that bothersome blurring of ‘editorial’ and ‘article’ again, which of course is not appropriate).

Those who did comment on the Triple Kirks plans marvelled at the giant glass boxes (never mind the peregrines).  At least Milne said as much, claiming the majority loved his ground-breaking design.

(Hmm, if only there were some nearby, empty space that could be converted to parking, the scheme would be even easier to approve – if they could come up with some kind of a plan…).  Anyway, those few who objected and left email addresses got a very appropriate follow-up email from a Milne company, which reads along the lines of:

“From: “sales@stewartmilne.com”

“Many thanks for your enquiry. We will forward details and information to you shortly. We’re here to ensure that buying your new home is easy and enjoyable, so if we can help any further, just let us know.   Sell Your Home in 5 Days”

Now if I were a sceptical, cynical person, I would ask myself:  is writing to people who opposed your plans and offering to get them a new home in an ‘easy and enjoyable’ manner something that could be construed as a bribe?  Well, the City says everything is fine, so I guess it is all appropriate.  I have dismissed the idea that offering sales help to people who were against you is at all wrong.

I hope this has cleared up what is appropriate and what is not.

Appropriate:

2. (verb) – to take by deceit or force that which belongs to another.
See: Union Terrace Gardens, City Garden Project, ACSEF, Donald Trump, Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Tradition:

(noun) custom or activity rooted in the past.
People are funny about their traditions.  We are being told by the City Council that painting the Lord  Provost’s portrait – and celebrating the glorious event with an expensive party is OK – as it is tradition.

Foxhunting (no, not with golf clubs and tame foxes, Mr Forbes) was a United Kingdom tradition going back hundreds of years; it was deemed cruel and barbaric, and therefore has been made illegal.  The Catalonia area of Spain has recently given bullfighting the coup de grace –  it is hard to imagine anything more barbaric than bullfighting masquerading as a ‘sport’.

I came under criticism (on Facebook again – I really must stay away from that thing) for saying Spain should consider doing away with bullfighting.  (PS – if you really think the bull has a chance, and there is no prolonged torture or pain, and it is a brave matador that fights a bull with only a cape to protect himself, then think again – PETA will put you right).

Someone said I was showing ignorance of Spanish culture and tradition.  Their point was that tradition was more important than the animal issues. I say “bull”.

The city could not afford to replace broken windows in schools only a few years ago, but wants to shell out on canapés for its elected officials and the usual suspects to celebrate the fact that its Provost is an oil painting.  Too right.  Without these traditions, we would start moving forward.  And the future is uncertain.  It is best to cling to what previous generations did – it is safe (well, maybe).

If we always paid for a portrait, then we had better keep paying for a portrait.  We might have to cut a few services, but let us stick to whatever was the more traditional course of action.  It is important to bear in mind that all traditions are equal in value and all are good.  Perhaps we could bring back ducking witches in the loch?  Yes, to question traditions is to question culture and nationalism – and where would be without nationalism?

In my world, it is the 21st Century.  The whole world is under different pressures than it was when these wonderful traditions came about.  There should be more enlightenment and compassion than brutality and superstition; we have run out of excuses.  But then I turn on the news, and realise that I have got it wrong again.

Old Susannah is now out to catch something for dinner, and possibly bash a few enemies over the head with my wooden club.  Now where did I leave my bow and arrows?

Next week:  hopefully some FOI news, more definitions, and a back-to-school special look at education.

Aug 042011
 

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

Tartan Day.   

 A few impressive pipe bands, some knights in armour, and the Lord and Lady Provost paying tribute to the legacy of William Wallace.   Wallace famously fought for independence for his people against the rich and powerful tyrants of the day, who thought they were above the law.

You might say Wallace took ‘direct action’ to extremes.  How pleased he would have been to think our Provost and Council uphold the principles for which he was hung, drawn and quartered.

His statue of course overlooks the remains of the historic Denburn Valley, known to you and me as Union Terrace Gardens: also known to Wood and Milne as a cashcow.  How exactly the Wallace monument will look adjacent to any of the mysterious, unexplained, undisclosed £140 million pound proposals will be anyone’s guess.  

No doubt we will wind up with something that sensitively ‘connects’ the Victorian park to the impressive granite architecture.  In short expect glass, concrete, parking spaces and a monorail platform.  I suppose we could always take Wallace down and sell him for scrap metal to help with the UTG fundraising.  He’d have wanted it that way I am certain.

A few interesting titbits have been coming in from here and there.  Ms Valerie Watts showed up to speak to a Community Council Forum earlier this week, but she was unamused to be asked about the Tullos Hill roe deer cull.

Ms Watts also owes me a reply to a formal complaint on the whole Tullos issue; I’ve chased it up (again) today.

In fact the City is launching a PR offensive, and has offered to have officers present the tree proposal to community councils.  You might want to contact your council for details – the question and answer sessions (if any) alone should be worth showing up for.  We are told the community councils ‘only know what’s been in the media’, and don’t know the whole facts.

Media’s fault of course.  Nothing to do with the council not giving the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from the start of this great plan.  Of course if people wanted to write to Ms Watts to either support or reject the cull (or ask how the £43,800 ‘repayment’ was accidentally forgotten when I asked about it), all they have to do is drop an email to her at chiefexecutive@aberdeencity.gov.uk.

Feel free to ask any questions you want; but as a health and safety precaution, do not hold your breath until the answer arrives. At this rate we won’t get on with any definitions, so without any further ado, I will get stuck in.

Association of Community Councils

(noun) a collective body promoting the importance of community councils.  A not-for-profit body with the following aims  (well at least until it is culled next year):

  • “To encourage exchanges of information between Community Councils.
  • “To promote examples of best practice in the work of Community Councils
  • “To offer impartial and unbiased advice, training and information to Community Councils
  • “To facilitate communication between national bodies and Community Councils
  • “To preserve the independence of each Community Council
  • “To ascertain, collect, and express nationally, the views of Community Councils.
    From: http://www.ascc.org.uk/about

Unfortunately, it’s very, very expensive to run this Association.  It costs a massive £70,000 per year to run*, so obviously this forum for sharing ideas and experiences to strengthen community councils must be culled.

Aberdeen has its own unique way of dealing with community councils – it ignores them.  When it comes to consultations about deer, travellers, Union Terrace Gardens, closing schools or cutting services, our City Councillors generously take decisions without unduly burdening the elected community councillors.

Nigg Community Council was told, not asked, about the takeover of its park by Cove Bay Rangers football club (fan club president:  Ms Kate Dean).  They were told, not asked over the deer cull and the Loirston Loch stadium.  Just this week Nigg CC for some reason objected to a housing officer’s plans to throw Calder Park open to travellers for a few months.

What’s wrong with not being asked about this great plan in advance, I wonder?

This is all part of the City’s ‘consultation’ and ‘transparency’ drive.  Once the Association of Community Councils is gone, the Community Councils will be on their own.   In fact I’m surprised we haven’t had city councillors trying to kill off the community councils yet.  Some of these councils get nearly £3,000 a year or so to help people in their communities.

Perhaps it would be better to leave important matters to our tried and tested, honest, reliable, transparent, vibrant central government officials and councillors (well, the ones who keep out of jail and don’t get arrested for kerb crawling anyway.  Great minds like HoMalone, The Fletch and The Dean and so on).  I know I can barely get through a day on my own without their guidance.

The Association stood up for the community councils, shared best practice, shared experiences, and helped people (me directly for one) -  no wonder it had to go. 

*Note:   £70K doesn’t’ get you much these days.  Aberdeen’s ‘Change Manager’ earns £80,000 per  year. Scottish Enterprise costs some £750 million per year.  And ACSEF’s annual running costs?  No one knows for certain.

Streamline

(verb)  to abbreviate, shorten, abridge an object or procedure.

Central Government has recently announced it wants to ‘stop’ people creating future impediments to great projects like the AWPR.  The Loirston Loch stadium, being plunked in the heart of greenbelt land, never even got called in.

Time for more projects like the stadium to be ‘streamlined.’

You will have seen the dreadful news this week.  There was nothing sensationalist or alarmist in the Evening Express headline which told us in effect ‘Not building the AWPR costs £1 million per month’!  Absolutely shocking!  To think that people who don’t want this road built actually are standing up and using their legal rights to challenge it!  They even have the nerve to challenge the public/private funding mechanism the government wants to use to pay for the dream highway.

Obviously I believe it costs at least £1 million a month not to build the road – but you might want to have a look at what the Road Sense people think actually building the road will cost:-  http://www.road-sense.org/AWPR-MortgagingYourFuture.html .

I wouldn’t worry too much about their figures.  The road isn’t going to cost you a great deal of money.  However your children and their children’s cost for the road is another story, but like Scarlett O’Hara – with PPI financing, you can ‘worry about it tomorrow.’  Financially, it is as sensible as the funding plans for the ‘transformation’ of Union Terrace Gardens.

‘Streamlining’ planning applications can only be a good thing.

If anyone out there can figure out how much the AWPR has already cost in consultants and consultations, I’d really like to hear from you. Let’s be fair – there was a consultation.   A great big costly travelling consultation, with bells and whistles.

Of course the routes suggested in the very expensive consultation have nothing to do whatsoever with the road plans as they stand now, but let’s not split hairs. Money is very tight right now. We’ve got to cut corners (if we’re going to have the dosh to keep a couple of wars and our banks going).. The suggestion of ‘streamlining’ the justice system to get rid of pesky jury trials was a great idea – we may still get that one.

‘Streamlining’ planning applications can only be a good thing.

It is very reassuring to know that Alex Salmond is putting his mind to this worthy end.  We really should have made it easier for that nice Mr Trump from America to build the world’s greatest environmental disaster – sorry – golf course at Menie…  Look how much good it’s doing for everyone!  Jobs creations!  Tourists!  Holiday Homes!  Stabilised Sand dunes (my personal favourite).  So if we don’t immediately agree to start building the £191 million pound road (old estimate), then we are losing £1 million per month – if not per day!

This can’t go on.  I wouldn’t dare to question this statistic, as it was in print and must be accurate.  (By the way, assuming the costs haven’t risen from the £191 million, the new AWPR can be yours in only 16 years at £1 million per month – or twice that with PPI financing).

Let’s just start saying ‘yes’ to everything.  We have a government that wants to build as much stuff as it can, and it doesn’t want the likes of us to have to worry about the details.  I think they’re just trying to be helpful.  To someone.

Direct Action

(mod English noun)  form of protest where the protestors stage some kind of highly visible challenge to opponents, to call attention (especially media attention) to an issue or problem . 

This form of protest is increasingly popular with environmental and economic activists.  And it freaks the government out completely – which is totally wrong of course.

In a long-forgotten age, if your elected officials acted improperly or against the common good, you could write a letter and expect some form of answer.  If you didn’t get the answer you wanted, you could stage a protest march, get petitions signed, and so on.

It’s not as if our Government is scared of protestors.

If you still had no success with your cause in the good old days, you could take to the forests and rob the rich and give to the poor, or board a ship filled with tea from England and throw its contents into Boston Harbour.  Or have a revolution.

But no one ever remembers such events these days, and writing letters and starting petitions is much, well –safer.  Still, it’s a bit easier to ignore a petition than the Boston Tea Party.  Robin Hood is remembered as a hero, and King John the villain.  Who I wonder are our future heroes and villains?  Whose statues will be revered at the future Union Terrace car park and shopping mall?

It’s not as if our Government is scared of protestors.  If they were, they would have (for instance) put an undercover cop like Mr Mark Kennedy in place to spy on environmental protestors for seven years.  It does look like the poor policeman went ‘native’ in the end, and the courts did not think much of the police tactics used.

Such unwarranted police paranoia would never override principles of a democratic, free society.  But as the Met are not prepared to discuss this matter (even though it’s been all over the newspapers), we have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Old Susannah will introduce ‘Just Do It’ next week at the Belmont; there will be discussion afterwards as well. 

‘Just Do It’ follows a group of environmental protestors as they meet their assorted targets and enemies head on. If you’re free on Friday 12 Aug at 6.30, please do come along.   I have had a preview of the film, and can promise it will raise a few interesting issues. (Rumours that the sale of deer antler headbands are about to go through the roof in Aberdeen are unconfirmed).

Jul 222011
 

Last week in the first of this two part investigation, Suzanne Kelly described how The City Council and its officials were dealing with the Tullos Hill roe deer cull and tree-planting issues. Part 1 also covered the decades of arson on ‘The Gramps’, the excellent quality of Tullos Hill as it is, local community councils’ opposition to the cull, and the considerable public anger at the City’s refusal to even consider modifying its plans.

The hill itself is a wildlife haven; the very important gorse providing homes to bees and birds.  There are fields of wildflowers (the spectacular Dame’s Violets for instance), and it is a recreation area.

This is why our City Council – as a LibDem election pledge – want to turn it into some gargantuan 40,000-tree profit-making (ie lumber-producing) forest.

We now look at other important aspects of this issue, challenge the government to comment, and propose some actions.

The Gorse is always Greener

‘Kissing is out of fashion when the gorse is not in bloom’ goes an old saying – based on the fact gorse virtually always has blossoms.  This is an extremely useful plant for bees.  If you’ve not been made aware, bee populations around the world are in serious trouble.

As long as we still want our plants to be pollinated so we keep eating, we are well advised to do all we can to encourage bees.  My research leads me to conclude that gorse is far better for bees and several other species than trees are (particularly trees which will be cut down for profit when the Council chooses).

Don’t take my word for the importance of gorse.  Do take Dr. Ian Rotherham’s word:-

“Gorse is an incredibly valuable habitat for wildlife – supporting a diversity of invertebrates and many birds and mammals. It provides dense cover plus abundant nesting sites, invertebrate food associated with the gorse, and of course the blaze of flowers during much of the year. Butterflies, bees, hoverflies, spiders, badgers, whinchats, stonechats, yellowhammers, chaffinches, linnets, greenfinches, meadow pipits and skylarks for example, all thrive in gorse-rich areas.

“As the biomass of gorse builds up it loses vigour and beings to die back. If there is a fire then the gorse is reduced to ground level and will quickly regenerate for the next 30-40 years or so. Clearly fire risk can be a problem but not for the gorse or the associated wildlife (except at the immediate time of a conflagration).

“Cyclical cutting of gorse, grazing, and cutting of fire-breaks are positive ways to reduce risk and damage but to maintain what is a rich but often unappreciated wildlife habitat. The establishment of a friends group to watch over the area would also help reduce risk. The gorse in bloom is also a wonderful landscape feature. A plantation wood does not provide a biodiversity resource or a landscape feature to match this. Trees are often planted at the expense of the wildlife habitats and landscape features because of the misconception that they are inherently better for wildlife – which they are not – and because money is available as grants to do this.”

(  Dr  Rotherham is a Professor of Environmental Geography, Reader in Tourism & Environmental Change, International Research Coordinator, associated with universities around the world. He is editor of several important academic publications including International Journal of Urban Forestry, Journal of Practical Ecology & Conservation, and International Urban Ecology Review )

I would be interested to hear from any City Council officer, ranger or pro -Tullos Hill tree plantation consultant wishing to comment on Dr Rotherham’s statement. 

In the meantime, Ian Talboys, Countryside Ranger for Aberdeen wrote to me on 6 June:-

“The amount of gorse on the site will be substantially reduced to make way for the tree planting
which again reduces the risk of wilful fires”.

Why should a countryside ranger particularly be keen to change an ecosystem such as  Tullos to a profit-making, lumber-producing forest?  Where is the evidence that replacing gorse with saplings and trees will reduce wilful fire risk?

City  Council ‘austerity’ and ‘budget’ cuts

I spoke to a person connected to the countryside services for the Council.  They advised me that like virtually every branch of our local government, they are now expected to find income streams and do all they can to make money.

It is not enough that our environment is under threat from over-development, pollution and loss of biodiversity – our environmental conservation activities are supposed to make money for the City.  Would our rangers’ time be better served in patrolling the fire-prone areas, educating people and engaging in active conservation, or are we asking them to look for grants such as the tree-planting ones and to make money at all costs?

If I get an answer to this question, I will share it with you.  Again, I invite comment from the City.

I still await a reply as to how this timber business is going to be set up, and for a copy of the business plan.  Should any of this information ever be forthcoming from our elected officials, I will share it with you.  Again, should any City proponents of the scheme like to come forward and (finally) explain how the timber business will work, I invite them to do so.

It has just been announced that despite negotiations with Unions being incomplete, the City has signed an agreement with external consultants to make £120 million worth of budget savings over a five-year period (cost of these consultants has been estimated at between £500k to £600k).  Perhaps they will have their own opinion as to the viability of a timber business venture on an arson hotspot which has already resulted in the City returning £43,800 to the Forestry Commission…

Failed Tree Planting, Failed Open Government, Failed Freedom of Information Requests

In a ten-point complaint I clearly asked for clarification of a £44,000 debt for a failed tree plantation which I had heard of.  The City’s Chief Executive Valerie Watts wrote in early June to deny any money was owed.

Proof that this payment was made was given to me almost immediately  after Watts’ denial – but as of 21 July,Wattshas not explained the failure to disclose the repayment.

The proof is a letter the Forestry Commission sent to the City earlier this year which was copied to Ian Talboys.  The question is whether Watts knew of the letter when she wrote to me or not.  Until she explains her answer, the whole planting programme should be put on hold.  It is not just returning money for the past failure (we had to pay interest) but the implications for this new planting that need to be considered, which could be significant for the cash-strapped council’s taxpayers.

Watts was made aware of this repayment by me, and possibly earlier by others.  What is beyond the pale is that Freedom of information Officers continued for some weeks afterward to advise that no debt was owed.  All of the requests I have seen referenced the £44k figure; mine specifically asked for clarification of the matter.

If the City tries to use the excuse that since the debt was paid in March and the questions arrived in June, then that would be the most disingenuous logic coming from Town Hall in memory.  I am sure it is beyond the Council’s lowest standard to try and make pretence of using such a childish defence.  When we will get the truth is crucial – they must not be allowed to stall this matter until cull season opens.  If anyone trying to prevent the cull could ask their elected officials to have these issues addressed and investigated fully as an urgent matter, it will help.  I have asked the FOI office to explain whether or not it discovered this letter in its search to answer my question.  I have asked it to advise whether or not it made a deliberate decision to not disclose this letter.  I await the outcome of the investigation.

Yet another Freedom of Information anomaly exists regarding Grampian Fire.

Fire power

The previous article covered the problems of arson.  Confusion emerges as to the number of fires.  There was a FOI request response from Grampian Fire which shows a nominal number of deliberate fires.  At the time of writing I await permission to share or reproduce these figures, as they are apparently ‘copyright’.  I have officially applied to print them, but cannot do so until Grampian Fire’s officials approve my written request.

However I came across an internet document which shows a rather different, substantially higher number of fires than the FOI request revealed, entitled  ‘Grampian Fire and Rescue Service Category 2 – Advancing Community and Citizen Well-being’ .  This document states there were over 70 fires for 2006, and claims the figures were going down; it had partial 2008 figures and said only 11 fires started that year.  It is worth mentioning that there have been at least half a dozen fires in the Gramps since May of this year.  In any event, the paper’s numbers are not the same as the recently supplied figures, which are lower.

I will try to discover an explanation for the discrepancy, and will cover whatever explanation Grampian Fire sends in another article. Both email addresses for the FOI officer and the above paper’s writer are at the address ‘@grampianfrs.org.uk’, which leads me to conclude the same organisation might be responsible for distributing contradictory figures.

I add this to the ever growing list of things I am trying to discover, and yet all the while a cull remains the City’s goal, and the clock is ticking.

SNH – Natural Heritage as long as it’s not inconvenient

Scottish Natural History have been taking great pains to gain media coverage recently (BBC and local press), saying in effect that deer are great, but to stop them being killed in road accidents and over-populating, they have to be ‘managed.’  They launched a consultation, which many animal groups felt had a strong bias towards hunting and culling red deer and roe deer equally.  First, what kind of animal are we talking about exactly?

What are roe deer?

Recognition: Small deer, reddish brown in summer, grey in winter. Males have short antlers, erect with no more than three points.

Height: Average height at shoulder 60-75cm (that is less than 3 foot tall). Males slightly larger than females.

Weight: Adults 10-25kg

Lifespan: The maximum age recorded for wild roe is 16 years, but most die before 7 years.

Diet: Their diet is varied and includes buds and leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs, bramble, rose, ivy, herbs, conifers, ferns, heather and grasses.

By permission, the Mammal Society,
http://www.mammal.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&id=228

So in short these tiny creatures, of which we seemingly have 30 on Tullos Hill alone jeopardise a 40,00 tree plantation.  (The Council has made absolutely no mention of how they will tackle the weed problem cited by the Forestry Commission as a partial reason for the previous expensive failure – again, I have asked for this information with no reply).

Glasgow has made a strong statement against these types of culls which can be found at:
http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/291204/0089678.pdf  and the relevant section starts on page 5.”

Here are some relevant extracts:-

“….collaborative deer management is not necessary for Roe deer in urban environments as there is no scientific justification for this.

2.4 There is no mention of the positive role of wild deer on natural habitats. Large herbivores help to create and retain glades and rides within woodlands, which provide habitat for a range of other species.

2.5 This section of the Bill has the potential to perpetuate and reinforce the perception of deer as pest species. Whilst this will promote the interests of a minority who have a vested interest in deer management principally through culling, it goes against the reason for the inclusion of native wild deer on the Scottish Biodiversity List, Le. the appreciation of these animals by the general public who wish to see them left unharmed.

2.6 Glasgow City Council believes that this section in its present form promotes an unbalanced view of the rationale behind deer management, whilst acknowledging that there is scientific justification for the management of red deer in parts of the Highlands.

Deer in Scotland – General Comments.

2.7 GCC object to the blanket statement that ‘Deer therefore need to be managed … ‘ for the following reasons:

• The terms manage/managed/management are not defined but appear to relate to culling deer, which is not the usual definition of management. This needs to be clarified.

• If the above is the case, then deer do not always require to be culled because in some areas an increase in population size could be beneficial.

•Red Deer and Roe Deer are quite different animals not only in size but also in habits etc. Why are they covered by one piece of legislation and why do they both have to be managed?”

The various animal charities I’ve communicated with all remain against this cull and have their own experts who explain the flaws in the entire premise.

Can we have some urban trees please?

A personal observation.  The section of Aberdeen I live in, Torry, has fewer trees on its main streets than any other part of the world I’ve lived in, city or suburb.  The streets are however covered with cars and trucks 24/7, and the exhaust fumes have air quality implications.

A few trees would do a good deal to clean the air.  It would be costly and difficult to plant and protect them.  But it would not be impossible.  We know from the Council’s websites that parts of Aberdeen (Wellington Road in particular) have serious air pollution issues.  We also know trees help reduce vehicular pollution.  In the course of my research I learned that the indigenous fir trees for the Grampian area have been greatly depleted over time – yet there is no plan to replace these native species.

Conclusion:  Stop this destructive, unwanted plan now and cancel any deer cull.  Plant fewer trees.  Plant in other locations

Unanswered questions
  • Regarding the business plan for the proposed forest.  How much will it make?  How disruptive would this plantation be to the area residents and businesses? 
  • Why does the City insist only a ‘minority’ of people are against this cull when elected bodies have objected on behalf of their communities?   If the Community Councils are lining up against this scheme – which started life as a Liberal Democrat election pledge – is it not just time to dump it?
  • Why didn’t the City disclose the £43,800 failure when asked to clarify whether a £44,000 debt existed?  
  • As the failure was due to deer and weeds – what are we doing about the weeds?  What kinds of pesticides will be used?  What are the risks and implications?
  • If the scheme is ‘cost neutral’ – who exactly pays the (low-seeming) estimate of some £2,500 per year for ten years to shoot the deer?
  • Have council employees been discouraged from expressing opinions against the cull? (My sources tell me this is the case).
  • Why take the scheme up at all if it must be done at the lowest cost – which is shooting the deer?  Who is hold a gun to the City’s head and forcing it to change Tullos Hill into something it is not?  What is the reluctance to just stop this scheme now?  Has the City made any effort at all to get sponsors to pay for the non-lethal options?  (Note: BAA and Wood Group have contributed for the phase 1 scheme – neither seem keen to be associated with this deer-culling phase 2.  Concerned people may wish to contact these and other companies to state opposition to phase 2).
  • What are the real arson risks once a forest is established on this windy hill (if indeed it is not too windy for trees to be established in great number)?   Is it possible the situation could be as severe a problem as the forest fires that plague the US and Europe?  What are the correct figures for the arson attacks?
A final summary

Last week a media contact asked me to supply the statement below, which sums up my conclusions and reflects the opinions of the vast majority of the people I have spoken with:-

The public have in no way given up on stopping the deer cull on Tullos Hill. Tullos is an important and beautiful ecosystem as it is, and the deer population has been stable for many years.   

Putting up signs to warn motorists that deer are in the area is sensible; putting 40,000 trees on this arson hotspot is not sensible.  Four Community Councils have told the Council they do not want the trees if it means a cull – these elected councils represent thousands of people. 

The City had to repay £43,800 for a planting on Tullos that failed due to deer browsing AND weeds.  The City initially omitted this when I asked for clarification- and I patiently await sensible answers to this and other questions. The tree planting was a Liberal Democrat election promise – it is amusing that it is this unpopular promise they are so stubborn about keeping. 

Finally, Peter Leonard has written to say that the Community Councils don’t understand the issues and they only know what they got from the media.  I find his remarks unbelievably patronising and insulting, particularly when it was down to the Council to communicate the details of its scheme in the first place. 

The Council kept the deer cull out of the phase 2 public consultation and is now claiming people don’t have the facts.  This is wholly unacceptable, and I am pleased that my sources tell me there is a great deal of unrest, with an official calling the situation ‘a hot potato’. 

Unfortunately the lack of timely, sensible answers looks to many people as if the City is stalling and hopes to get away with a cull.  There will be no cull without repercussions at the ballot box in May.

I am creating a presentation to give to any community council that wants it, particularly aimed at those councils which will have the City’s experts present their side.  Direct action is being considered by some animal rights/concern groups.

If you have any feelings one way or the other, then I urge you to contact your elected representatives (you may also wish to contact Scottish Representatives Roseanna Cunningham and Stewart Stevenson who are backing the proposal). 

Good luck to the roe deer and the wishes of the people of Aberdeen in the face of our government.

 Image Credit: Roe Deer Standing Still © Catalin Pobega | Dreamstime.com

Jul 152011
 

In the first of two parts, Suzanne Kelly offers an update into what is and is not happening on the hill.

There may have not been much about the controversial Tullos Hill Roe Deer Cull in the media of late; therefore it’s time for an update.

The relative quiet in the media is not for lack of investigation, protest and anger on the community’s part.

As for the City and its LibDem councillors and officials, they are either spreading incorrect information (denying the past failure and £44k debt which resulted), or not answering questions at all (I eagerly await overdue answers on a number of fronts).

The question is:  are they trying to stall a proper investigation until they start shooting in September?  It looks as if stalling might indeed be their strategy.

There are so many outstanding issues, questions and problems with the Tullos Hill deer cull that this article needs to be split into two parts.  This part will look at the location chosen for the trees, Community Council’s stances and the small matter of arson.

Next week will cover issues including the SNH, the unanswered Freedom of Information requests and formal complaints, the importance of the gorse-covered hill as it exists (an expert writes), and the curious case of the £43,800 Forestry Commission ‘repayment.’  This repayment  Ms Watts either forgot about or didn’t know about when last she wrote to me.

Interestingly, Freedom of Information requests on this point are still being answered that no such debt exists. 

Either the council is being very very accurate (the debt was repaid late this March, but it most definitely existed), or someone was keen to keep the repayment quiet.  If so, they failed just as they failed in their bid to keep the cull quiet).

Before we get into the details, a small ray of hope: unnamed sources confirm that there is unease within the corridors of power over this ridiculous plan, with officials calling the situation ‘a hot potato’ and a ‘can of worms’.  Take heart from that, but please continue reading this article.

If at the end of it you decide you don’t want the cull, then write to your elected officials and Aberdeen City Chief Executive Valerie Watts, making it clear you will vote against anyone in May who has voted for this cull.

See: http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/mgMemberIndex.aspx?bcr=1

Deer have lived in relative security (bar the arsonists and Aileen Malone) on Tullos Hill for many decades; they delight the residents of Torry and Kincorth as well as people visiting from further afield. 

The hill is a wildlife haven as it is with the very important gorse providing homes to bees and birds, fields of wildflowers (the spectacular Dame’s Violets for instance).

It has bronze age cairns set dramatically on its summit (currently un-obscured by trees), and it is a recreation area.  This is why our City Council – as a LibDem election pledge – want to turn it into some gargantuan 40,000-tree profit-making (i.e. lumber-producing) forest.

Of all the Liberal Democrat promises, killing the deer and planting the trees is about the only one in the UK they are adamant about sticking to.

They told the community councils and the public at large what a great thing this forest would be – but as previously demonstrated, they and SNH deliberately sought to keep a cull of the Tullos Hill roe deer secret.  Without a cull, there is no money for planting all these trees (although we could have had experts advising us – for free – how to plant trees without culling deer:  it just would have cost money).  Why then we are insisting on a forest of this size or a forest at all, and why on Tullos Hill?

Location, Location, Location

If we accept without question that trees must be planted because we can get grants for doing so as long as they reach growth targets, then where to put them? 

The easily-accessible Loirston Loch greenbelt area has several young trees on it – all in tree protector sleeves (the same sleeves which the SNH November letter tells us are rejected because they have ‘visual impact’ among other reasons – someone at ACC took this decision to reject tree protectors for us all with no recourse to the public or local councils).  There was a splendidly suitable area for these trees – but we are putting a football / community stadium on this piece of ground now.

This virtually flat land is easily reached by car (Tullos at present has no parking and is mainly reached by several footpaths), is not on a windswept hill, and is not as remote as Tullos – therefore less desirable to arsonists.  It is a largely open field with grasses and some vegetation in very moist, nearly marshy ground.

Loirston was not the only option either.  But this is Aberdeen:   Tullos Hill is apparently the only choice we have, according to our Council.  They are happy to sacrifice greenbelt at Loirston and elsewhere for stadiums, offices and housing – but are adamant that an existing, stable ecosystem must become a forest:  and they will not answer us why.

Fire on the Mountain

For all the City rangers’ and Grampian Fire’s attempts to be ‘down with the kids’, the arson issue remains the burning question:  why put 40,000  young trees on a windswept hill with access issues which is next to settlements and industry when we can’t keep the arsonists out?

Ranger Ian Talboys is at pains to play down the arson issue.   In an email to myself, 6 June 2011 he states:

“As the trees to be planted are mainly broadleaved species which do not readily burn in the way gorse does the risk of fire is reduced.   The conifers in the scheme will be mixed in with the broadleaved species again reducing the risk of large scale fire damage….. The recent statistics have shown a substantial reduction in wilful fire raising on the site, despite the recent incidents.

“It is however encouraging that the Police have charged a number of youths in connection with these fires as a result of intelligence gained from the local community and following the work we have been doing with the local schools over the last 5 years.  In the last couple of years there have been very few fires on Tullos Hill, a total of some 11 fires were reported for 2010 on Kincorth Hill and Tullos Hill combined….”

Mr Talboys also talks about getting rid of the gorse, which:

“reduces the risk of wilful fires”

Gorse is a vital part of the ecosystem, particularly on Tullos Hill which we will look at later.  However it is disappointing that the attitude is to get rid of a natural feature which supports wildlife because it is more flammable (allegedly) than trees – rather than to simply stop the arsonists.

Who are the arsonists, and is Talboys right that the fires are decreasing?  So far this year there have been at least a dozen fires.  Two men aged 27 and 23 are being charged with starting fires on 3 July:  so much for the idea of stopping the schoolchildren starting fires, which is the strategy Talboys promotes.

American studies identify half a dozen types of arsonists; these two would fit into the ‘excitement-motivated’ arson category, often men between 18-30.  Blaming children was the favourite option; it is now discredited.  The Council may wish to do more research on this one.

You may be interested to know that Talboy’s figures are slightly at odds with figures supplied by Grampian Fire.  Then again, media reports would seem to say there have been more fires than either of these sources.  I would love to tell you what Grampian Fire had to say:  but they have qualified that their statistics are subject to copyright and are for personal use and not publication!  I await clarification and will report once they explain themselves.

At least someone in power loves Tullos.  When the fires were blazing in May of this year, Fraser Burr of Grampian Fire (Risk Reduction) told the BBC:

“It would be a shame to see such a beautiful area of the city, enjoyed by hundreds throughout the year, ruined by wilful fire raising”. – (BBC News 22 May 2011)

I spoke to a New York-based former fire department captain; he seriously disputes Talboy’s contention that young or mature trees are relatively safe from fire. California for one example habitually fights forest fires that are vast in area; the size of the trees makes the fire considerably more dangerous than a few burning gorse bushes.  Wind makes the problem far worse.

Fact:  Tullos Hill is extremely windy at times.  People often need to be evacuated from their homes when the fires rage (also seen in Europe) – who will promise this will not happen here with 40,000 trees virtually on top of residential and industrial areas as Tullos is?  My fire-fighter source said ‘there is no magic plant that doesn’t burn’.

He also posed a hypothetical question and asked me why these people are so fixed on planting these trees in this location.  I have asked, but I have no answer.  He then jokingly said ‘who’s getting kickback?’  We both laughed.

Your Community Councils at work

When the truth came out about the secret cull plans, community councils and citizens (in their thousands) condemned the plan and the way the City handled the public ‘phase 2’ consultation.  How did your local community council react?

I am writing this piece on the 13th of July.  The Minute of the Housing & Environment Committee meeting of May 10 is still not available on the Council’s website a mere 2 months after the fact.  It was at this meeting that Andy Finlayson and I had both put in delegations to speak about the deer cull and Tullos Hill, for all the reasons that had emerged since the cull was first brought up.

It was because there was no written report on the deer – only a verbal one which had been requested by Malone – that we were not automatically allowed to speak.  Abuse of process springs to mind.  In the event, the matter of our delegations was put to a vote and only a handful of councillors supported letting the truth be heard.

I have been waiting to check the accuracy of these Minutes; for one thing I admit I got confused as to whether Andy Finlayson was from Nigg or rather from Cove (which I now understand to be the truth).  Finlayson was the other would-be speaker.  Maybe after another two months have passed, the Minutes will be published and I can double-check this point.

But take note:  in another two months it will be the season for the cull:  could our City be deliberately stalling us until it is too late for the deer?

Community Councils are your elected local representatives.  The City has a duty to consult with them on local issues – something sadly lacking on this issue, let alone the massive Loirston AFC football ground which will fragment the greenbelt.  Nigg CC is very busy with this important issue.

The City is not consulting, and it is certainly not listening.  Here are what the Councils are saying – how did yours react?

Kincorth (population 8,300) -  ‘Abhorrence’

Kincorth Community Council resolved at its May 2011 meeting:

“Item 10.1 The City Council has agreed to the killing of the deer on Tullos Hill but have stated it will be done as humanely as possible. The Chair asked the Secretary to write indication our abhorrence at this decision”.

Kincorth spokesperson Graham Bennett, quoted in the Press & Journal, 13 May:

“We are all united.  We deplore the willingness of the City Council to cull the deer.  We all agreed we didn’t want a tree planted for every citizen.  These are defenceless animals.  We would rather do without the trees and have the deer.”

I spoke to a member of Kincorth CC; they are all outraged and want the hill to remain as it is, with the deer continuing to live there.  My contact cites the fact that the ‘phase 2 consultation’ said nothing about the deer cull, yet mentioned rabbit fencing.

This is one of the strongest points of contention – the public and community councils were deliberately kept in the dark about the deer cull.  This is proved clearly in the 25 November letter the SNH sent to the City Council, stating the need to ‘manage’ the public over the cull.

It seems SNH are fully aware that culling these animals in general is an issue – but to kill animals in order to protect non-existent trees is ‘abhorrent’.  (More about the SNH and its recent deer consultation next week).  The word ‘abhorrent’ is also how the Scottish Society for the Protection of Animals and Kincorth Community Council describe this LibDem plan.

Torry  (population c 9,400) -  Unanimous condemnation of the cull

Torry Community Council allowed me to speak at its meeting in May on the cull; they had been informed about the trees in some detail – minus the crucial detail of the deer cull.  

The 14 members present voted unanimously to condemn the cull and to write to the City to protest the cull and the lack of consultation.  Talboys specifically communicated with Torry about the trees, without ever mentioning a deer cull.

To put it mildly, the Council and the residents of Torry are Not Happy.

Cove & Altens (population 7,100) -  Chairman gagged by Malone

On 10th May Cove’s Chairman Andy Finlayson attempted to address the Housing & Environment Committee over the cull and all the issues which had arisen (lack of consultation with CCs, no reference made in the public consultation documents, etc.).

Aileen Malone initially referred to him as the ‘gentleman from Cove Community Centre’ as opposed to his status as duly-elected Council member.  On the technicality of there being no written report on the deer – only a verbal one – Cove’s representative was unable to raise the many points which the Council had kept out of the public domain which were relevant to the tree scheme.

“We are totally against it, basically… the community council is unanimous and everyone in the area we speak to is against it…the message is, stuff the trees – we would rather have the deer.” – Andy Finlayson, Chair, Cove & Altens CC, Press & Journal 13 May 2011

Nigg  (population 8,200)  – a history of concern for animal welfare

I think the majority of the Community Council are against it (the cull)” – James Brownhill, Nigg CC – Press & Journal, 13 May 2011

Nigg is committed to preserving its greenbelt land as its actions and its website attest.  It is doing all it can to stop the ridiculous AFC stadium plans which will see a 21,000 seat stadium plunked in the middle of the greenbelt to its permanent injury.  A year ago, the Nigg Community Council April Minutes had this entry:

“Lochinch Visitors Centre Deer-  thanks to activity of Cllr Cooney, Nigg CC, Jenny Gall and Vivienne McCulloch, deer had been saved from culling and will live out their lives in their current (but reduced) enclosure.”

Before the furore broke out over Tullos Hill, Councillor Neil Cooney and others from Nigg were already going to bat against needless slaughter of our indigenous animals when tame deer were earmarked for needless slaughter.

One year later at its 14 April 2011 meeting, Nigg CC resolved:

“Proposed Deer Cull Tullos Hill – Majority against proposal. Lack of deer management policy holding up planting of trees under ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme.”

Nigg’s Council met again on 12 May 2011 after the Housing Committee’s undemocratic debacle over the deer and would-be speakers.  Nigg’s minutes read:

“Proposed Deer Cull Tullos Hill. Decision to cull deer city-wide approved by ACC Councillors. SNH recommended cull to save deer from starvation. Nigg CC still not happy with this decision”.

I disagree with the comment about starvation, and wonder if SNH have actually said the deer at Tullos will starve – they are in no present danger of that as things stand.  But this is a very minor point concerning the minutes.  When it comes to accuracy in Minute taking, Cults has managed to create an interesting document indeed.

Cults:  (population 10,824)  - An important debate with Cllr Aileen Malone

I spoke to Cults Bieldside Milltimber Community Council on 26 May where Aileen Malone and I finally had the debate she had so far resisted (again, she would not let me speak to the Housing committee which she convenes; and she was too busy one Sunday morning in May to spare 20 minutes to debate the issue with me on Northsound).

In my initial request to speak to Cults, I sent them newspaper cuttings that Torry, Kincorth, Nigg and Cove & Altens Community Councils were opposed to the scheme, as well as the Scottish SPCA.  I sent them articles on the SNH letter which shows the City wanted to keep the cull quiet.  In these circumstances I was asking Cults CC to let me address its May meeting and specifically to follow suit.

The community council meeting that ensued was interesting (and heated) on several points.  Mike Shepherd of Friends of Union Terrace Gardens was there to discuss the future of the gardens, and Aileen Malone stated that there would definitely be a public vote on whether to go ahead with any scheme for Union Terrace Gardens.

At my request she repeated this was the truth, and that the only question unresolved was whether residents in the shire as well as the city would get a vote.

I wrote an article on this Cults BM CC meeting.  I wrote it that night and the next day with my own shorthand notes taken on the night (amongst other things, I have been a secretary minuting meetings for some 25 years, and like to think I have some skill and experience in this area).

My notes reflect that Cults BM CC was going to write to Aberdeen City Council to express a position opposed to the Tullos Cull; I asked the secretary on the night if I could have a copy of any letter they sent; the secretary agreed.
See: you’re-shooting-yourself-in-the-foot-cults-cc-tells-malone

This is what came out in the Cults BM CC Minutes for that meeting:

“Tullos Hill Deer Cull (Peter Reiss)

The Community Council had been made aware of resentment in parts of the city towards the plans to cull some of the local roe deer, seemingly triggered by the need to limit damage to new trees to be planted on Tullos Hill. Suzanne Kelly a Torry resident had written to CBMCC to ask if the CC would take a position on this matter.

In discussion the following points were made:

- The tree planting drive is an election commitment of the current LibDem administration

- Funding from EU and other sources requires best practice and best value for money.

- Due to problems with earlier plantings, City will not get any more funding for tree planting unless a robust roe deer management programme is in place,

- Deer have no natural predators in Scotland. Aberdeenshire, Moray and private estates have a deer cull policy in place. Aberdeen City has management programmes for several other wild animals – e.g., rabbits – but not one for deer.

- A management programme that includes an annual deer cull of about 30 animals has been agreed recently by the City’s Environment Committee. This is a city wide programme but will help to reduce damage to new plantings in Tullos  where some 10 to 15 deer will be culled.

- Objectors say that there has been insufficient consultation on this programme. They would prefer fencing or other positive tree protection rather than killing deer. They are extremely unhappy about the Committee’s request to them to raise £225 000 for 10 years deer fencing as there is no council money to pay for that alternative.

The CC resolved that the deer culling policy appears to be a separate issue not just related to the planting of trees.

Post –meeting note: City tree specialists have been invited to speak in the next community council meeting.”

(Cults Bieldside Milltimber Community Council Minute 26 May 2011)

I have added italics to the excerpt above where the minutes have gone back to repeating verbatim the City Council’s double-speak, sweeping statements about deer culls in general.  Readers of previous stories or Council documents will find a familiar ring to the Cults minutes.

General tree planting issues aside, the Tullos Hill deer have survived in the existing ecosystem – an ecosystem enjoyed by the public as well which the neighbouring Community Councils have clearly said they want kept as is.

I have  also italicised the ‘post meeting note’ wherein someone has invited tree specialists to speak at the June meeting (I would have gone to that had I been informed or had I seen these May minutes in time).  So, without any counterpoint some ‘tree experts’ were called in to explain the City’s perspective on killing deer and planting trees.  Again, who was there to explain all of the issues specific to Tullos?

I will look at those minutes when they are issued.   

It now transpires that Peter Leonard, council officer, is deploying council tree experts to speak to the community councils.  This is what Leonard has to say (I have put the particularly objectionable phrases in bold) in a Freedom of Information Request answer:

The Community Councils who have objected have not been in possession of the full picture of the project, some who have no planting areas within their areas will have had no information about the project from the team delivering the project as there was no requirement to consult on a project that was not within their area.

“Officers from Housing and Environment have offered to attend the community councils who have written in opposing the cull (Kincorth & Leggart and Cults Bieldside and Milltimber, Cove and Altens Community Councils) to present the full picture about The Tree for Every Citizen Project including the deer management proposals so they can make an informed decision.

To date any decision they will have made will have been based on the information published in the media which has not given the full and balanced picture. Officers will be prepared to undertake similar presentations to other community councils covering areas where there are sites proposed for tree planting if invited.”

Personally, I find his comments about the community councils’ decision-making process extremely patronising: how does he know where these elected groups got information from and why does he assume it is only from the media? If people are not in full possession of all the facts this is the Council’s fault – they launched the ‘phase 2 consultation’ over six months ago, and it was a very flawed document. I certainly have been asking for information since then, largely without any real answer.

There is currently no plantation of young trees on Tullos requiring a cull.  The whole point is that there do not need to be this number of trees there, and the local community councils representing some 25,000 people said they do not want the trees.

Attention city officials and councillors:

These two reasons alone should be enough to stop your plans.  But if this is not enough for you, then we will examine your past planting failure and your cavalier attitude towards facts as well as other issues next week. 

Do feel free to weigh in – remember, Aberdeen Voice wants articles from all points of view.  Nothing is stopping you from making your point.

 

Jun 102011
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Aberdeen Voice’s photographer and IT technical master (otherwise known as Rob) and I paid a visit this past Easter Sunday to Loirston Loch.

It was a quiet afternoon; there were only a few anglers and a handful of walkers.  Most people were probably at home with families for the Easter Holiday, and Rob and I took full advantage of the lack of people to explore the area.

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It was too early in the season for many flowers to be out, but we saw some very delicate wildflowers, some bluebells about to blossom, and some primrose.

There were several swans on the loch, which was still but for the occasional movement of those fishing. You could easily forget that Union Square was up the road.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t forget that a giant stadium will forever ruin this tranquillity.

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One of the first sights that met our eyes was the now-famous welcome sign.

The sign was erected by the City Council and tells Loirston’s visitors why the land should not be built on.
I was almost surprised the Council had not removed it. (I had written a letter that was printed in the Scotsman, when I first heard the area was earmarked for Aberdeen Football Club’s new home; this was in May 2009).

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It is still inconceivable that anyone could possibly consider destroying this nature sanctuary.

Supposedly Loirston is in an SAC.  Plunking a 21,000-seat stadium down, which will ‘glow red in the dark’ with 1400 parking spaces will fragment the greenbelt.  Building a giant structure in the fields near the loch will take valuable hunting, living and breeding area away from the wildlife.  This is being euphemistically billed by stadium supporters as ‘creating a wildlife corridor.’

Rob spotted a Heron overhead; it was majestic.  On my previous visit I saw a buzzard in flight.  Will these and other creatures return when there are football crowds next door?

We noted the use of tree guards – an option apparently not suitable for the planned tree plantation up the road at Tullos Hill.

Rob and I looked around the perimeter of the area and near the Lochinch Farm Interpretation Centre.  The City is great at making sweeping statements about biodiversity and reducing CO2 emissions – how precisely this squares with the planned stadium is another matter.

s

I recalled the public hearing on the Stadium plan; Nigg Community Council was an objector, and had been left out of relevant consultations.

The Tullos Hill deer cull has likewise not properly consulted with Torry Community Council, and like the Loirston Loch situation – the public’s opinion seems to have no weight whatsoever with our elected officials.

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It’s likely Stewart Milne and the proponents of the stadium feel that the stadium is a done deal.  They will find that this is certainly not the case.

Planning permission has been granted, and the Scottish Parliament did not call in the plan.  This is not the same as having the stadium built.
There are several communities and community councils opposing the stadium.

If you can find the time, do go visit Loirston.  If after your visit you have feelings one way or another about building the stadium, its offices and parking, etc. in the area, please do tell your elected representative.  It’s not too late to do something.

More from me on Loirston in the near future.

 

Feb 182011
 

Voice’s Old Susannah comments on current events ducking under the radar as well as making the headlines,  and enlightens us with definitions of some tricky terms with a locally topical taste.

It seems the Ministry of Defence is in hot water again, although I don’t see what the fuss is all about.  The Armed Forces had to make budget cuts (probably because of all those planes they bought can’t actually fly), and are letting people go.

In keeping with their historically tight budget controls, people being made redundant were informed by email, thereby saving the expense of postage stamps and letters and avoiding the tedious exercise of telling people face-to-face they would soon be jobless.

What they probably should have done was to leave a portable computer on a train with the info in it – that seems to be how they usually prefer to release information.

I guess it might have been a bit inconvenient to the people on the front lines in Afghanistan getting these emails, but remember, these are professional soldiers.  No doubt they will read the email announcing their joblessness, and just get on with the war (or police action, or intervention, or whatever exactly we’re calling this one at the moment).  It’s not as if the thought of unemployment might prey on their minds when they are on the front lines trying to stay alive, and since the UK economy is in such rosy shape, no doubt these folks will have a choice of high-flying jobs at their fingertips when they get back home.

For those lucky unemployed ex-soldiers, if they’re coming home to Aberdeen, we’ll have a host of jobs related to the Community Arena.  Yes, Dr (of what I don’t know) Margaret Bochel has delivered a report following the Loirston hearing:  the Community Arena Stadium will be an iconic building that will attract people from all over the world and make us all rich.  Pollution, greenbelt and animal habitats pale into insignificance when compared to the importance of a new home for the Dons.

In case you didn’t know the people involved in this scheme include someone from the Cove Bay Rangers, who have a related scheme.
And yes, it is just a coincidence that Kate Dean’s husband is connected to CBR (STOP PRESS:  I have just received the following advice about Mr Dean’s connection to the CBR:  “…the information on the ACC website refers to Cove Rangers Supporters Club, which is very different from the Board of Cove Rangers.  As Mr Dean is also a referee, I was told that it is unlikely that the information on the website is correct as it would not be appropriate for him to be Chair of the Supporters Club”.  Old Susannah must apologise for thinking there would be some kind of link between the supporters club and the football team itself. Silly mistake.

I don’t think there can be much fun at Glencraft just now – it’s one obstacle after another.
Manager Andy Laing – who has given years to keeping the dream of Glencraft alive – has been given a little rent increase by our beloved City Council.  In the old days the rent was just £1, reflecting the social importance of the business.  And what was the rent increase our Council came up with for this historic factory which does so much for people with sight impairment or who face other ability challenges?

While the new rent fee wouldn’t even pay for a decent consultant, Glencraft now have to find £120,000. This isn’t a great deal of money after all; it’s only 1% of the £11 million the City wrote off the other year in bad debts.

it is plain to see that we’ve got the best trained councillors in the northern hemisphere solving our problems

Glencraft will manage no doubt; if not, then it is a dog-eat-dog economy after all.  But in case you want to show your support, get to Glencraft next time you need a piece of furniture however large or small (or even go and buy a scented candle).  Old Susannah bought a lovely wooden chest there recently, and will be back soon.  Glencraft is open evenings and Saturdays.

Finally a small complaint – the Post Office doesn’t seem to be running very smoothly at the moment.  I keep checking my letterbox, but still the Valentines cards from Dean and Milne haven’t arrived.  Posties – please check your bags; many thanks.

Words in the news this week…

Training

The sharpest City Council minds know they need to stay on top of the latest developments and trends, or they will be left behind, looking like old-fashioned throwbacks unaware of current best practice in a changing world.  Training is the answer.  To train (verb) is the ‘act of imparting or receiving information or skills’.  Last financial year, Aberdeen City Councillors only had £10,000 or so spent on their training needs (just slightly over the figure Ms Dean claimed in expenses that year), but this was money well spent.  The City’s web pages don’t readily show who went on the courses, where they were held or how long they lasted, but it is plain to see that we’ve got the best trained councillors in the northern hemisphere solving our problems.

We do know what the courses were called, and you will be impressed to hear that they included ‘Best Practice in Employment Services’ which will explain the recent smooth handling of the Council’s staffing / salary issues.  The employer/employee relationships at the Council don’t just happen by accident – it is all a matter of tact and diplomacy, fostered by a great training programme.

Another training course you and I pay for, ‘Equality is Essential for Elected Members’ springs to mind; I guess Councillors are told not to discriminate, and that would explain why men and women at the Council are paid equally.  This would also explain why Glencraft, recipient of a rent rise from £1 to £120,000 this year, are being treated just like everyone else.  I suppose that in these cash-strapped times, any councillor or dignitary receiving a peppercorn rent will have been handed a similar rent rise.

The more intellectual councillor can attend courses such as “Hot Topic – Granite City Grit”, “Access to Information”, and “Safe and Stronger”.    I can see the Grit being a hard issue to get a grip on, seeing as we can’t afford any and the ‘Access to Information’ course is not an easy matter either, seeing as they now want to close a half dozen libraries, so information will be harder to come by.  ‘Safer and Stronger’ might involve how to work out at the gym, but I suspect it refers to the safer and stronger economy we have because of the plans of our elected officials.

But the course that clearly has had the most impact?  The “Public Value Seminar” of course.

There also is something called a “Distributed Leadership Seminar”; perhaps this is where the Liberal Democrat / SNP ‘coalition’ learns how to share the leadership of the City in such a seamless fashion.  But the course that clearly has had the most impact?  The “Public Value Seminar” of course.

Association for Public Service Excellence (noun)

A federation set up to recognise outstanding performance throughout the UK by elected officials and local governments.

John Stewart will happily explain his role representing Aberdeen City Council on the Association for Public Service Excellence board to anyone who wants to know, but as he’s a busy man just now, I’ll give it a go.

The “Association for Public Service Excellence” or ‘APSE’ to its friends serves several useful functions in today’s society, keeping the public in the luxurious style it is accustomed to.  Community Councillors from across the UK get together for an Awards Ceremony, no doubt the taxpayer funds the trip and hotel out of gratitude.  I am pretty sure that the BAFTA and Oscar/Academy Awards were started as a reaction to the publicity and glamour that APSE award ceremonies attract.

You will in no way be surprised to hear that Aberdeen has nearly won some awards.  Did you know that in the 2010 APES awards, Aberdeen was a runner up in the Best Employee and Equality Initiative category – sponsored by Unison?  It is a strange thing that we didn’t win it.  After all, we have paid men and women equally for a few days now and Unison officials do work closely with the Council, even if it is in the context of Unison trying to save its members from job losses and salary cuts.

Other awards we nearly won were for our ‘Best community & Neighbourhood Initiatives” -  who else has the foresight to close every community and neighbourhood local service they can and replace them with a giant stadium out of town?  How did we lose that one?

I could not find any photographs of Nicole Kidman or Brad Pitt at the last APSE award ceremony, but there are lovely shots of local councillors from across the UK in their finest evening attire; just visit the APSE website for all the glamour you would expect.  Better luck next year!  Keep your award acceptance speech handy, Mr. Stewart:  You’ll be needing it one of these years.

Outsource (verb)

To outsource or privatise is to take an asset or service from the public sector (City Council for instance), and sell it off to a private company or invent a ‘private’ company to do what taxpayer money has paid local government to do in the first place.  The benefit is that the taxpayer is liberated from responsibility in future for the asset – this is also known as ‘selling off the family silver’.  We have seen for instance how much more efficient and affordable our trains became after privatisation.

If I can’t understand how this will save money in the long term, that’s just my lack of education

Pensioners in retirement homes in Aberdeen rejoice!  No doubt following consultation with you and your families, the City are considering putting your care in the hands of the Private Sector.  You see, the Council needs to save money, and it costs money to care for you.  So if we take the money the taxpayers contribute to the city, give it to a private company that is in business to make money, your homes will magically cost less to run.

To ensure everything goes smoothly, some councillors are suggesting councillors be on the board of the company that will run your homes.  Since private companies need to turn profits unlike (obviously) the city, there may be a few changes and a few corners cut, but seeing as how this would never happen without your agreement, congratulations on this wise business move.  If I can’t understand how this will save money in the long term, that’s just my lack of education.  Still, when has the Council ever steered us wrong?

Marks & Spencer Dine in for Two for a Tenner follow up:

Some time back I wrote about the Marks & Spencer ‘Dine in for 2 for £10′ offers, and how they were destroying the fabric and morals of our otherwise genteel society, and how the SNP were working to save us by getting the Scottish Parliament to ban M&S from making these offers.

Well, I need to confess:  I’ve done a deal with M&S. There I was last weekend in M&S, looking for sensible socks and radishes, when I heard a crowd of excited people.  When I looked up, all became clear.  In giant red and pink signs, Marks & Sparks was offering yet another deal involving alcohol.  But no £10 deal this time – no, the price had been doubled.

A man offered me a box of candy if I took the deal (I think this is referred to as a ‘sweetener’), and as a swarm of people of all ages around me fought over strawberries and mashed potato side dishes, I knew I had been sucked in.  So – I recklessly blew my entire food budget, and have nothing to show for it but two sirloin steaks, a bag of salad (‘leaf’ or ‘herb’ they call it), strawberries, scallops, chocolates – and of course booze – which is the real reason anyone buys into this scheme at all.  Yes, there are now two ‘Irish Coffees’ as they are known, sitting in my kitchen.   I  can think of nothing else – they came specially ‘prepared’ for me in glass containers which I can re-use – making it pretty certain I will be making more Irish Coffee in the future:  this is another insidious way M&S keep me coming back for more.

Will I keep both Irish Coffees for myself?  Share one?  Have one now and another another time?  Will I be able to handle it, or will I wake up days later in a police cell, holding an empty coffee glass and a half-eaten box of chocolates?  Don’t let this happen to you – tell the SNP you fully support their plan to stop Marks & Spencer. It’s too late for me – I’m used to eating decent pre-packaged food and nice steaks with wine. I hope you learn from my mistakes and save yourselves.

Coming soon:  statutory consultee, expert, ‘green spaces new places’ initiative; greed

Jan 212011
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

An epic eight plus hour public hearing was held on Friday 14 January at the Town House to discuss the future for the greenbelt land and wildlife at Loirston Loch. Will the wildlife haven  continue to exist or will a 21,000 seat football pitch for Aberdeen Football Club be built?

The Press & Journal covered this matter the next day with two articles on Page Two, and an editorial. No prizes will be given for those who guessed the P&J are fully behind the AFC Stadium scheme.

Before going further I will put my cards on the table:  I am against building in the greenbelt in principle, particularly when such a giant scheme is proposed, which clearly will have a negative effect on the whole area.  I will explain my opinions more later – but they are based on environmental and social concerns.  I do not stand to either gain or lose a cent if it is built or not.  Sadly, there is no hint in the Press & Journal pro-stadium articles that a source of stories as well as advertisements are AFC and Mr Milne, whose homes are often featured or advertised.  You might ask yourself if their support of their advertisers is wholly based on journalistic integrity.

Ms Kate Dean convened the meeting.  At least one Community Council had formally objected to her taking this role (as did I by e-mail).  A list of facts and allegations at the start of the hearing were presented which seemed to imply she would carry a bias towards the planning application going through.

The City (it was alleged) had favoured the Loirston site; City money had been spent towards the proposal’s investigation, a possibility of land ownership conflict may have existed, and Kate’s connection to Cove Bay were all cited as grounds for her not to act as convener or even attend this hearing.

Indeed Ms Dean had declared her interest at a different ACC meeting, and decided on that occasion she would not be able to take part.

At this hearing she merely said she was not and had never been on the Cove Rangers Board (although she did not take the opportunity to clarify her role in the Cove Rangers Supporters’ club).

Having said she would show no bias, how did she do?

At some points Ms Dean allowed questions that called upon the individual objectors to make conclusions. It was clear that most objectors had never been in such a formal situation before.   For instance, community council representatives were asked to explain how they concluded that there was little or no support for the stadium.

this document did not mention that MSP Richard Baker had written in opposition to the plan, or that MP Anne Begg had forwarded correspondence from her constituents against it.

Some of those questioned said that they had asked at their community council meetings for opinions, had canvassed the wider community, and that they had received many comments against and found a solitary comment in favour.  Some mentioned apathy, and were asked to expand on this term.  It was repeated at different points that there exists a view, rightly or wrongly, that Mr Milne seems to get his own way in Aberdeen.

Ms Dean offered that this was untrue.   Well, maybe he doesn’t win 100% of the time with planners – but his goal average so far looks impressive.

One of the points raised by objectors concerned traffic and pedestrian safety.  This issue had also been one of many raised by the police.  Some of the councillors who seemed in favour of the proposal asked whether any objections from statutory consultees had been received.  The answer to this in black and white was no.

The real answer was that the fire services had chosen to abstain from giving an opinion, and that the police had raised at least half a dozen serious safety/policing concerns.  Not saying ‘No’ is not the same as giving approval. Also, the Council document prepared for the hearing stated that MSP Brian Adams had given the project his blessing.  For some reason, this document did not mention that MSP Richard Baker had written in opposition to the plan, or that MP Anne Begg had forwarded correspondence from her constituents against it.

The RSPB was not a statutory consultee.  It wrote to me – which I quoted at the meeting – to say that from an early stage it had been against the Loirston site’s selection.  They used the phrases in writing to me that “no real mitigation was possible” and that “no sensible person” could favour building this stadium on Loirston.

How was this summarised in the Environmental Statement (which taxpayers seem to have contributed to – the Council spent £180K so far on investigating the stadium)?  The RSPB position was summarised as ‘not to build too close to the Loch’.  Ms Dean as convener did not seek to clarify how such a disparity could occur.  Nor did she seek to investigate how the environmental council expert and the environment survey said that there would be no significant air pollution risks.  My speech to the hearing referred to the City’s own data which clearly say that Wellington Road already has air pollution problems.  I asked how getting 21,000 people into 1400 car parking spaces and using 80 buses (the applicant’s estimate of how many buses would be needed) down to the site would result in no increase in pollution.  Ms Dean did not express any interest.

Ms Dean described her experience at the Thistle. She said she was there, and a man near her ‘nearly put his  hand up’

On the subject of danger to pedestrians on Wellington Road, Ms Dean asked the objector ‘What is the difference between Wellington Road and King Street – current  home of Aberdeen FC?’  The objector was able to explain the obvious difference in terms of speed limits, road type and presence of HGVs on Wellington Road.

Three community councils jointly held a meeting the previous evening at the Thistle Hotel, Altens.  Everyone was welcome; it was standing room only.  (See Aberdeen voice article published 14th Jan. )

When a show of hands for or against the proposal was asked for, virtually all present voted against it.  When this was brought up at the hearing, Ms Dean described her experience at the Thistle.  She said she was there, and a man near her ‘nearly put his  hand up’.  She said that he seemed to be afraid to do so, and ‘only half put his hand up’.  Dean also felt that there were probably a few more present that likewise felt afraid to vote in favour of the stadium.

I cannot quote her verbatim on this point – but the objective, impartial convener clearly concluded that people were for the stadium in her mind, but afraid to say so.  So – a meeting room filled with hundreds of residents might have had one or two people afraid for some reason to vote in favour – this obviously still shows the majority were against it.  Whether or not you are for or against this proposal, does anyone think that a convener of an important hearing should add her personal conclusions as to how someone might or might not have wanted to vote, which coincidentally favours her perceived bias?

This meeting had many eye-openers.

I for one had taken it for granted that Pittodrie could not possibly have been remodelled or improved: the papers said it, and I made the mistake of believing it.

One of the 23 opponents gave an excellent speech stating how Norwich FC managed to improve its facilities one side at a time.  Why Pittodrie can’t do the same was back as a legitimate question – no one had an answer for it.

Amusingly, along with 80 buses to be supplied by First Bus to whisk people to Loirston, we are apparently given some sketchy parking options – Businesses in Altens take note:  approximately half of the 1400 spaces are promised to club officials and employees.  Since there is not sufficient car parking on the actual site, the plan seems to now include either making Cove and Altens open season for parking and making residents buy parking permits, then having parking spaces for rent at the oil industry sites and sites of other users of Altens Industrial estate.

I do not know how the oil companies will react, but considering the commercial and strategic value of their property, I doubt having concert goers and football fans coming and going at all hours of the weekend will be seen as a security bonus.  No obvious risks to the oil companies there then – just hundreds of happy, well behaved people parking at all hours of the nights and weekends on normally secured oil industry premises.

Yes, I personally don’t want the stadium on Loirston:  I intend to profit instead by having owls, buzzards, osprey, various other birds, protected species such as otters and bats, badgers and wild plants including orchids flourish there instead.  The question is where do your elected representatives sit?  If they are not representing you, then perhaps it is time to get new representatives.

The press is meant to be ‘the fourth estate’ – an impartial witness to what goes on in the branches of government and business.  I have admitted I am partial – but I’ve read both sides and made a conclusion not based on what I can gain from it financially or otherwise.

Did the P&J tell you this development is planned for legally protected greenbelt land?

Did the P&J explain how crowded the Thistle Hotel , Altens meeting was with virtually no supporters for the plan?

Did the article mention the wildlife that depends on the site for food?

Not a bit.

It’s editorial page was only slightly more openly in favour than the ‘articles’ – it accused opponents of the AFC scheme of ‘nimbyism’ – i.e. ‘not in my back yard’ as the reason for the objections.

Those of us at the hearing (and I didn’t see a single person in favour of the development at the hearing in the public gallery of the 20+ people present) do not want the greenbelt destroyed – which is a far cry from ‘nimbyism’.  But when have the P&J let facts get in the way of a good story or indeed of revenue.

Jan 212011
 

By Bob Smith.

Tak a trip oot bye Cove
It’s aneuch ti mak ye greet
Nae langer a quiet wee hamlet
Wi sma hoosies alang Main Street

Fit hiv they deen ti the village
Hooses thrown up here an there
The auld pairt still his tranquility
The rest is hard ti bear

Hae a waak up past the skweel
An ye’ll see fit I div mean
Aa the paths aroon Whitehills
Are nae langer ti be seen

The lang street fit’s Loirston Road
Wi it’s affshoot the “Hennie Raw”

His still a lot o hoosies
Fit are bonnie bricht an braw

Gyang wakkin doon the Main Street
Past the weel kent Cove Bay Hotel
The closer ye cam ti the shore
The air his aat tangy smell

Kids used ti be able ti sledge
Doon the brae an ower the brig
If they wir ti try iss nooadays
Some graves they wid hae ti dig

A bonnie freenly place wis Cove
Far ye eence stoppit for a blether
Wi muckle hoosin developments and sic
Fowk noo  at the eyn o their tether

Thoosans o hooses aa roon aboot

For fowk fa wark in Aiberdeen
Nae thocht for life’s quality
Fit aul “Covers” wid hae seen

Div the kids still play at the shore?
Div they waak on the parapets?
Div they swing on pulley ropes still?
Faar the fisher fowk hung their nets

Harry Gordon  he sang iss song
“Tak me back ti Cove”
If Harry wis here nooadays
He’d say na na by jove

Developers an planners are let loose
On villages fae Don ti the Tay
Can we stop iss mass invasion
O ither villages like Cove Bay

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2010