Oct 082012
 

Environmental charity Aberdeen Forward opened  its doors to the new Aberdeen Forward baby shop on Friday, 5th October with an official opening and coffee morning. With thanks to Gillian Marr.

A new venture for Aberdeen Forward the shop will provide good quality preloved baby goods for sale to those who need it most.

The project will compliment Aberdeen Forward’s successful Real Nappy Campaign that helps promote cloth nappies and sell preloved nappies and accessories at rock bottom prices.

Speaking about the project, Lynn Smith, CEO, said

“Expecting a new arrival in a family can be an expensive business, especially in the current economic climate.  We hope our baby store will serve not only as a resource for low income families but as a low cost alternative to buying new for all new parents.

“We’ve integrated the baby equipment into our main shop floor and are looking to provide a specialist service as time goes on.  At the moment we’re building business and are happy to accept good quality items for resale.”

The sale of the goods will support the shop and ensure that these quality items benefit the wider community while avoiding waste.

Aberdeen Forward is currently looking for donations of the following items:

  • Prams and pushchairs
  • High chairs
  • Cots (no mattresses)
  • Travel cots
  • Stair gates
  • Fire guards
  • Changing tables
  • Baby clothing
  • Bedding

We are currently not accepting the following items:

  • Toys
  • Changing mats
  • Bottles
  • Breast pumps
  • Mattresses
  • Electrical items – sterilisers/baby monitors etc.
  • Car seats

For further information or to arrange to drop off donated items please contact Tel (01224) 560360 or email admin@abzforward.plus.com

Jun 222012
 

The success of the splendid ‘Cash for Cans’ initiative by Aberdeen’s Future Choices will culminate this Saturday (June 23rd) with the unveiling of a new mini-bus for the disabled. With thanks to David Forbes.

The appeal was launched in February with the aim of collecting a million empty drinks cans which were exchanged for money to buy a second-hand mini-bus.

The charity’s chairman, David Forbes said: 

“Without the help and support of the Aberdeen community and oil companies, this appeal would not have been successful. The unveiling is our way of saying thank you”

He added;

‘We do still need your drinks cans coming in to maintain the vehicle and we appreciate everyone’s continued support.”

Dame Anne Begg – who will be assisting at the unveiling along with Lewis MacDonald and Richard Baker MSP – said:

“I am so pleased to hear that Future Choices have been successful in raising enough money to purchase a mini-bus. Transport can be one of the biggest barriers preventing disabled people from participating in community activities and this will provide the opportunity for many of them to get out of their homes.”

The event will take place at Shedocksley Baptist Church between 11.30am and 1.00pm and Light Refreshments will be provided.

May 242012
 

Voice’s Old Susannah comments on current events and enlightens us with definitions of some tricky terms with a locally topical taste. By Suzanne Kelly.

Tally Ho!  What was that great seismic shake, that sonic boom that was felt all up and down the coast this week?   The police were flooded with calls, so I’m sure the matter is all in hand and the usual suspects have been rounded up (I have an alibi, by the way).

I suspect it must be something to do either with wind farms, unsold copies of the P&J falling off a container ship, construction at the World’s Greatest Golf course, or a stampede of people leaving the Liberal Democrats.  Your theories are welcome.

And welcome to the Age of Austerity.

We’ve done the Stone Age (Isn’t that right Mr Wood – you might remember it, or am I thinking of the Granite Age?).  We’ve done Bronze, Iron and even a Golden Age (a mythical time when reason and the arts as well as science and exploration flourished).  Most recently we’ve had an Information Age (if not much of a ‘Freedom of Information’ Age as we’d been promised).  But here we are, ‘all of us in this together’, you know – it’s the Age of Austerity.

Our local millionaires are starting to feel the pinch, which is unacceptable.  It’s getting so a man can’t build houses on any greenbelt field he wants or even run a football club without people butting in, looking for tax.  It’s clearly getting harder for the Vodaphones and Oil barons to shelter money offshore in tax havens.

In yet more startling economic developments, Aberdeen Football Fans are threatening a boycott!

This is over whether or not Mr Milne acts a particular way over the fallen Rangers FC.  I would hate to think of the economic consequences of an AFC boycott – the stand might start looking a bit empty during games.  Let’s hope this never happens.  Could the remaining 31 fans keep buying tickets?  Many thanks – the economy depends on you!

But there is even more hope.  We have the talent and skills right here in Aberdeen to weather this storm.  It is just as well we can call on taxpayer-funded, unelected ACSEF and Scottish Enterprise to continue coming up with money-spinning schemes.

It’s taken years for our local business organisations and lobbyists to get Aberdeen to the shape it’s in today – another few years of more of the same is what we all want, I’m sure.  That and a granite web.

If we’re still paying Scottish Enterprise a mere £750 million per year to protect us (with a third of that going on their wages), perhaps we should have a whip-round and get them some more money?  Just a thought.

  I’m going to write to my MEP (whoever that is), and suggest they call in ACSEF

How exactly did we go from having a thriving Scotland to our current dismal position?  Old Susannah takes a look and makes some recommendations.

So  tighten those belts, re-use those tea bags, and settle down for some Austerity definitions.

European Union: (proper noun; English) the economic and social union of several European countries for the purpose of economic security, creation of a politically stable Europe, creation of a powerful economic entity, and for the guarantee of human rights.

You would have thought with the UK paying millions to the EU, (which still hasn’t managed to submit a set of independently audited accounts) we’d be nearly as successful financially as the economies of Greece, Spain and Italy.  I say give it a few more years and we will be.

Sadly, while the EU has given us peace throughout Europe, equality and human rights, it’s possibly not doing as well with the economy of Europe as it might.  In fact, I’m going to write to my MEP (whoever that is), and suggest they call in ACSEF.  ACSEF could no doubt fix whatever’s wrong with Europe.

If we just build a giant granite web linking Greece to Italy to Spain to Aberdeen, just think of the jobs creation and tourism that would mean!

Old Susannah recommends:  staying in the EU, scrapping the pound for the Euro (or maybe bring back the Greek drachma), giving more money to Greece and Italy, who have used their agricultural subsidies so well over the past decade that no one even knows how much they got or where the money went.

Special Kitty: (compound  noun) A fund set up for a certain purpose into which a variety of people or groups contribute.

Well, here comes the City Garden Project to help lift us out of austerity, raise our spirits, and raise the Denburn Valley to shopping mall street level.  Hooray!  The Evening Express tells us that no less a financial supremo than Colin Crosby says a special kitty is to be set up!  Wow!

I have two special kitties; they are Molly and Sasha, which I adopted from Cats Protection.  However Mr Crosby’s special kitty will find at least £15 million of the £140 million needed to bring us all the web of our dreams.

You know, it’s really surprising how easy it is to find some spare cash when you really need it.  If you’re not able to come up with £15 million in a pinch, then you probably deserve any austerity you’re experiencing.  I got about £0.37 from the back of my sofa, and expect there must be a spare million or two round the flat somewhere, perhaps in an old suit jacket.  I’ll keep looking.

In the meantime, Mr Crosby alludes to yet another great financial idea in the Evening Express story we all enjoyed reading.  And that is…

Endowment Fund: (compound noun; mod English) An endowment policy is a life insurance contract which would pay a lump sum after a specified period of time  – when it matures – or on death, or possibly on critical illness.

To make it even simpler, there are (according to Wikipedia) 1 Traditional With Profits Endowments , 2 Unit-linked endowment , 3 Full endowments , 4 Low cost endowment (LCE)5 Traded endowments 6 Modified endowments (U.S.).

Yes, the latest plan is to set up an endowment.  Clearly this is a great idea, as so many home-buyers who used this great scheme can tell you.  As well as the special kitty, we’re going to somehow take out an endowment.

Exactly how this will help build the granite dream of Mr Wood is abundantly clear, I’m sure. but if the scheme dies a death who gets the money? Who will fund this endowment?  Who will own the fund?  Who will manage it?

  I hear that a PR company exec is considering even more exciting funding schemes

All these are mere trivialities on the way to our economic recovery, so don’t worry about it.  If we needed to know, Colin Crosby would have told us in the Evening Express.

This endowment and special kitty are news and were worthy of a story in the Evening Express.

The City Garden Project plan has been kicking around for years, but this is news after all.  You see, the Wonder Web will cost a minimum of £140 million, and needs a £92 loan taken out by the taxpayer and yet is still short £15 million.  This is in no way related to the £15 million that we’ve been talking about for the past year and a bit – it’s a different, newsworthy £15 million.

But back to the endowment business and the Evening Express piece:

“The cash would be on top of £15 million of private money to be used to help bridge the £140 million project’s funding gap.  Colin Crosby, a director of Aberdeen City Gardens Trust, said: “Early indications reveal that the additional £15m donations will be forthcoming.” By creating an endowment fund, we will be securing the project’s long-term sustainability and ability to develop cultural programmes.”

Well, that’s good enough for me.  I am sure it’s as illuminating a piece of news and financial wizardry as we could have hoped for.

I hear that a PR company exec is considering even more exciting funding schemes..  I can only hope there is an opportunity to donate a few thousand and get your name carved in granite, or have a tree turned into mulch for a ton.  If not, I know a few graffiti artists who would paint your name on the web for a small fee.

Old Susannah recommends:  importing granite for the web from the third world, taking out an insured, index-linked modified endowment with Jennifer Claw as beneficiary, with Bling Crosby as administrator and executor, funding it via an increase in business rates amortised over time offset by a loan taken as an advance on the £122,000,000 which the web will bring to the local economy every year until 2023.

And that, as they say, is that.  Job done.

Next week:  A look at the A to Z of Aberdeen City Council.

PS:  To Dame Anne – I hope you’re on the mend!

PPS: Summer is here:  austerity or not, don’t scrimp on sunscreen, especially for your children.
Always get a nice high protection number for children, and at the start of the season for adults.  Reapply it every few hours – even if you are only going to be outside for quarter of an hour, you can still be damaged.  Old Susannah has already seen two crying toddlers who have been sunburnt, with baffled parents who had no idea why their child was upset.
Children burn far faster than we do and need lots of sunscreen all over, especially their faces (mind the eyes!!!).  The only reason I’m not more of  a wrinkled, grizzled old hag than I am is because of sunscreen.   And probably BrewDog.   To the man I saw in a beer garden who had turned beetroot red – no, you didn’t look tanned, you looked burnt (and I bet it hurt a lot when you were less lubricated).
If you want to look tanned, get there gradually (or get a spray job – it’s safer – but avoid the tango orange colour).  But if you want wrinkles, rashes, and potential skin cancer, then carry on without sunscreen. And another thing – if you are going to drag your dog all over town and/or the pub, please make sure it gets loads of water to drink frequently.  For the one or two dog owners every year who forget – don’t leave your dog alone in a car.  At all.  Ever.  That’s the official word from animal charities. Forget a dog for even a tiny amount of time in a hot, sealed car (because you’ve run into your pal, are trying on clothes in some exciting shopping mall, whatever) – and you’ve killed it. They don’t sweat.  Water won’t help – only cool.  Another reason for not leaving your dog in a car include the massive increase in pet thefts.  Sadly, most people who steal animals are not going to treat them well.  Thanks for paying attention to this stuff – it isn’t as important or as exciting, vibrant or dynamic as ACSEF – but it is important nonetheless.
Mar 012012
 

Aberdeen Voice photographer Rob and I attended Willow’s Animal Sanctuary Open Day on 25 February and had an absolutely wonderful time. Were it not for the snow which started when we were there, Rob would have had a hard time getting me to leave. Suzanne Kelly reviews a splendid day out.

It was a nice drive to Willows from Aberdeen; the countryside is beautiful.

Willows was well signposted, and a helper was on the main road to ensure people found their way.

It is a spacious and friendly haven for animals and people. Getting to know some of each was a pleasure.

I met Sue during the event, and she told me that when she and her husband moved to Scotland six years ago, they soon discovered Willows, had visited and supported them during that time and wanted to do more.

It was then that Kate found that there were like-minded people who really wanted to help, so they were introduced. Now they have a fundraising team who have thrown themselves into their task with a will.
Although they have only been together for about fifteen months, they have already raised over £9,000 through, to name but a few events, stalls at open days, coffee mornings and bingo evenings. The team now numbers eight, Sandy, Sue, Ann, David, Ashleigh, Leigh, Lorna and George.

There are many people who help with donations of prizes etc, and who help support the team in various ways. They have lots of new ideas for future events, so have confidence that the visitors will really enjoy themselves whilst supporting Willows

“Willows not only helps animals, but we’re definitely helping people as well,” Sue tells me, “We’ve seen people blossom.” 

The office has a noticeboard divided into several sections. There are general news stories and items about animal sentience.

Yes, they do think, and feel, and know both pain and fear as well as love and happiness.

One section was about the fantastic work Willows does in bringing people with special abilities together with the animals. Both sides benefit from this interaction.

We now know that people with conditions such as autism improve hugely through interaction with animals. Horses and ponies can provide unique, valuable therapeutic benefits.

Sue and I talk a bit more, and she tells me of a fairly new arrival, McGill, a gigantic horse at 18.2 hands.

“His owners had rented him out, and then of course, you never know whether there were any problems, and consequently, when he came to Willows he was very nervous. And he had some behavioural issues”, was how Sue described McGill.

Having worked with horses in my distant past, I was ready for a highly-strung encounter with a giant. Well, McGill was indeed a giant, but he had an unbelievably sweet temperament.

Rob and I stayed and stroked him for quite some time; many others did too. If this horse had had any emotional issues, they were a thing of the past. Sandi Thom has since adopted him. She originally had adopted another animal, but it had sadly passed away.

Well, we and families patted goats, sheep, pigs, llamas, ponies, horses and the most amazingly friendly selection of cats you could ever find.

The majority of them sat on a large hay bale, which the sun was hitting. They were all soaking up the sun and loved being patted.

I particularly fell for a little feline called Gingersnap, and another gentleman called Arthur.

Arthur had been living in a tin can in a bit of scrub ground when they found him.
Sadly, he lost both his ears to skin cancer, not uncommon in white cats. I was completely won over.

We finally had a chance to talk to Sandi Thom. Her family are from the general area, and they seem to have a love of horses going back generations. Sandi seemed genuinely glad to be there, and signed several autographs as we spoke.

She’d also donated a very gorgeous autographed acoustic guitar as a raffle prize. We mentioned the generosity of Paul Rodgers and his wife, who adopted some thirteen animals.

Paul has donated several signed copies of his new DVD for Willows to sell (yes, I’d bought one). Ms Thom commented that people she’d met in the music industry often seemed to have a soft spot for animals. She clearly did.

Before we left, we spoke to Mr and Mrs Reid, who seemed to enjoy visiting the horses and have been coming for quite some time.

If the snows hadn’t started and if we didn’t have a fairly long drive back to Aberdeen, I might have stayed until they threw me out.
If I didn’t already have two rescue cats which are just a touch on the needy side, I just might have adopted another.

Please visit the Willows website to learn more. Willows helps wild, domestic and farm animals – and people of all ages.

If you can help, please get in touch. http://www.willowsanimals.com/

Feb 172012
 

Old Susannah looks at the Granite Web, and the impressive effort it has taken to spin.

By Suzanne Kelly.

Tally Ho! Yet another vibrant and dynamic week in the Granite Web City.  Whilst Friends of Union Terrace Gardens, Aberdeen against Austerity, and Democracy Watch engaged in some inexpensive grassroots campaigning by flyer, the mysterious Vote for the CGP group pulled out all the stops and spent, spent, spent.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Northsound is playing City Garden Project commercials non-stop. The Art Gallery has a swish new display showing the Garden plan in its Alice-in-Wonderland perspective and garish colours, and issues of The Granite Web compete in the ugly stakes with the A3 VFTCGP colour flyer sent out before.

News reaches Old Susannah that visitors to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary are being cheered up no end by pro-City Garden Project posters on the walls. There is no escape at work either, as employees of Wood Group (no surprise really), Nautronix, and Taqa all seem to have received lovely e-mails from bosses hinting gently that they should vote for the CGP.

I do find it very touching that employers are looking after their employees so well and giving gentle guidance which puts no pressure on them at all.

Why do I call the VFTCGP members secret? Because I was told in so many words by the BIG Partnership, which does PR for this group and, coincidentally, the artwork for the CGP, that “if the members want to stay secret, it’s up to them.”

But before I return to my Myth-busting busting activities started last week – I only got through the first four of the ten Myths the CGP team say we’re suffering from – condolences to Rangers fans.

Was this one of the top Scottish clubs? Yes.

Will this leave a massive hole in Scottish football? Yes.

Will other sides face similar financial clubs? Looks like it.

I believe one tycoon is still paying some £60,000 of his own money each time his team plays. I do hope this mogul is not getting overly financially stretched. I’d again ask the question if Loirston Loch land – in a Special Area of Conservation – should really be turned into a 21,000 seat football ground with offices and museum in this climate.

  Donald’s granny was Scottish. This gives him good cause to call Alex Salmond ‘insane’

Well, I would ask, but the continuous concrete covering of anything green in Aberdeen seems unstoppable. Thankfully, we all have one tireless, gentle campaigner who is not giving up the fight for ‘Scotland’s heritage’. Step forward, Mr Donald Trump.

You might have seen one or two small news items saying that this gentle giant wants to build the galaxy’s greatest golf course on a no-doubt-underused stretch of coastline. He’s got rid of many of the view-blocking trees, but there are horrible plans to build windfarms offshore which could actually be seen by his guests, if you can believe that!

Now, windfarms don’t actually work very efficiently yet. The technology can, and should improve. But I guess we’re all agreed there are few things in life worse than being a rich golfer who might have to look at an offshore wind farm. For those people in favour of this kind of blot on the seascape, I would remind you that you’re forgetting something very important.

Donald’s granny was Scottish. This gives him good cause to call Alex Salmond ‘insane’ for supporting renewable energy. Please try to keep that in mind, thank you.

Finally, it might have been Valentine’s Day this week, but it looks like the May to December romance between Callum McCaig and Aileen ‘Ho’Malone is over. One of them is an over-blown, over-hyped, over-rated, naïve, headline-seeking soul, blissfully unaware that they are dangerously out of their depth. The other is Callum McCaig.

No more will they share a coalition; there will be no more romps on Tullos Hill; there will be no more late-night negotiations. Maybe yet the SNP will change its tune over the ridiculous cull of deer to plant trees that cannot possibly grow on Tullos Hill. Watch this space.

  the taxpayers’ side of this great granite garden bargain is to borrow £92m and pay the loan, and its interest, back over decades.

There is certainly a current in that direction, not least fuelled by public anger and the wasting of some £43,800 to date. Still, a break-up is hard to take. Final confirmation of this great bust-up comes in newspaper stories announcing that the coalition is still absolutely fine. I am thinking of offering my condolences to Mrs Robinson, sorry, I mean Aileen.

I’m still thinking on it. PS. Message to Irene – feel better soon!

And now back to debunking the debunking of the Myths. The City Garden Project seems to be the only entity that’s been presented with these Myths, and I commented on the first four last week. Here are a few choice words on the remaining five Myths. Thank you CGP for printing these not-at-all-wild and not-at-all-made-up Myths – we’re all really onside now. Their comments are in bold. Old Susannah’s are in regular type

5. It will cost the taxpayer millions of pounds – FALSE.

Sure. All this happens for free, and you’ve not paid a penny, and you won’t pay a penny. I wonder if the CGP forgot about the £422,000, or probably more, of taxpayers’ money Scottish Enterprise has already spent on this project? And, no doubt, our CGP friends don’t think it matters that some of your city councillors voted to set aside up to £300,000 of your money for legal costs.

Old Susannah is still mulling that one over. A billionaire is ‘giving’ Aberdeen £50m, but there isn’t enough money on his side of the fence to pay the legal costs the city will incur? So, rather than getting granny a new wheelchair, or providing 24/7 care at homes which have just announced cuts etc etc, Wood wants your £300,000. But this £722,000, nearly quarter of a million pounds, is small change.  we’re going to chop down existing, healthy trees, thus getting rid of wildlife that’s called the trees home for decades, if not centuries

Multiply that figure by ten and you get close to the amount of interest on the loan Aberdeen City Council has to sign for this project to go ahead, according to one of last night’s radio show speakers. Thanks to Original FM (on 105FM) for hosting last night’s debate. Anyway, the taxpayers’ side of this great granite garden bargain is to borrow £92m and pay the loan, and its interest, back over decades.

If the 6500 new jobs don’t come in and we don’t make £122m each year (I can’t wait to see how this happens), if we go over budget, if anything goes wrong – then it will cost us an unknown additional amount of money in repayments. The trams fiasco has reached a cost of nearly one billion pounds.

But this won’t cost you a cent. Honest, guv.

6. Fake, plastic trees – FALSE.

It’s a great Radiohead song but a lousy Myth. It has been suggested that fake plastic trees will be planted in the City Gardens to act as vents for the giant car park underneath. If any fake trees are seen they will be beside the flying pigs. 186 new trees will be planted, some of them mature and many will be Scots Pines.

Old Susannah doesn’t know where to start with this alleged Myth. She does find it reassuring to find that a job in public relations entails so much creative writing talent. I know of no-one who’s heard of plastic trees being part of the plan. However, if we’re building underground, then we’ll need plants with very tiny root systems. Goodbye 250-year old elm trees, one of only a few surviving clusters of elms free from disease, and home to wildlife. In comes progress. Who needs fresh air, wildlife, shade and beauty when you can have ramps?

   we’re going to chop down existing, healthy trees, thus getting rid of wildlife that’s called the trees home for decades, if not centuries

My favourite bit is the announcement that the trees stay in the Gardens forever, as wood chip and seating. Well, you can’t say that’s not sensitive to nature. Still, the BIG Partnership’s student placement has managed to make a meal of a non-existent plastic tree myth. Perhaps someone will explain how mature trees are going to be magically planted in the new Gardens?

Where will their roots go, as there is meant to be underground parking? How do we get to have a thriving pine forest in the city centre – something that doesn’t seem possible according to experts including local architects?

If Old Susannah has this right, we’re going to chop down existing, healthy trees, thus getting rid of wildlife that’s called the trees home for decades, if not centuries, plant some new trees, and have the world’s only pine forest in a city centre.

The pines must grow faster than genetically-modified Leylandii hedges if the drawings I’ve seen are correct, and of course, no-one can fault the accuracy of these precision drawings. I like the giant transparent child romping over the flowerbeds best. So, replacing grass and trees with grass, concrete and trees can be done for only £92m. RESULT!

7. It will cost people their jobs – FALSE.

As a result of the project a projected 6500 new jobs are to be created, not taking into account the hundreds of jobs that will come as a result of the construction. In addition, a transformed city centre will breathe new life across the city, helping us become a World Energy City long after oil and gas has run dry in the North Sea. Existing businesses will be retained meaning existing jobs will be safe-guarded.

These 6500 jobs are going to be wonderful! What will they be? Well, for openers we’ve seen how well Union Square has protected high street businesses. Our small high street shops are struggling whilst multinationals got a cheap rent deal in Union Square. But clearly what we need is….more shops. Surely there is nothing we’d rather do than shop, and you can’t have enough shops can you? It’s not as if a glut of shops will ever result in shop closures, price wars and endless sales, especially ‘Going out of business’ sales.

I wonder if there is any reason that a cafe culture has never really taken off in Aberdeen? Could it be that it’s often too cold, too windy or too rainy? Could it be because the City Council consistently refused to allow anyone to run a snack bar or coffee kiosk in the shelter of Union Terrace Gardens? Clearly not. One wave of the granite wand, and just like those convincing concept drawings, we’ll all be sitting outdoors in short-sleeved shirts, drinking decaf mocha lattes while Toto play on the brand new stage, in front of the existing indoor theatre.

Right. The taxpayer is propping up the AECC with extra money since it can’t make enough by holding events. Same for the Lemon Tree. But the new theatre won’t have any problems making a massive profit and creating loads of jobs.

 So, ‘how many theatres should a taxpayer prop up?’ is one question.

I for one can’t wait to sit through an outdoor electronic folk music competition in February. But, by winter, this theatre will be an ice rink, thereby competing with the ice rink the city tried to kill off before.

But no, there won’t be any harm to jobs. We’ll need people to cut down the trees and get rid of the wildlife. Then there will be jobs cleaning the graffiti off the Web. Yes, the Web will create more permanent jobs in small Aberdeen than the 2012 Olympics will create in Greater London. Rest as assured as I am on that point.

8. It will be entirely made from concrete – FALSE.

Obviously concrete will be used – would you like to relax, visit an exhibition or attend a concert on top of a cardboard box? The project has been carefully designed so there will be 95% more open, green space with a series of pathways providing access for people through, across and in and out of the gardens. These paths will be made of granite, crushed granite and wood.

By now, Old Susannah is finding the content of the dispelled Myths by BIG just a little bit patronising and smarmy. They thought they had to talk us out of believing in plastic trees. Now they explain that we need to sit on something more robust than a cardboard box. Thanks for that! Appreciated.

So, ‘how many theatres should a taxpayer prop up?’ is one question. ‘How many competing businesses should Scottish Enterprise suggest?’ is quite another. They used to have rules on displacement and suchlike, but these seem to have gone, probably about the same time as your employer started to tell you how to vote.

This project has been carefully designed. Of course it has. More green space, but somehow it manages to have a giant concrete, sorry, granite theatre which takes up some 15% minimum of the existing Gardens. They count the giant granite potato-crisp shaped thingy over the stage as green space.

 what if the architects were to give us some drawings showing how these ramps will work safely now rather than later?

Of course it won’t sustain any wildlife, and at best will be a thin wedge of sod over concrete, but if they want to call it green space, fine.

I guess these people call anything green space if they can colour it green with Crayolas on their paper plan.

Looking at the slope of the ramps both up and downwards, I’m wondering how the aged, infirm or wheelchair-bound are going to find this system easier than the current access. The current access could use an additional ramp and you could probably do this for less than £92m as well. For the truly baffled, there is ground level access on the north side, not far from the theatre. This is where vehicles somehow manage to get in.

Clearly there is no other way to ‘relax and visit an exhibition or attend a concert in this town.’ Let’s borrow £92 million and build this beauty.

9. There will be no railings in the Granite Web, people will fall from the paths – FALSE.

Safety will be paramount. The concept design shows the various walkways at different levels but the final design will show how these work safely. And, seriously, do you think any development in a country obsessed with health and safety would get off the ground without proper safety measures?

Our PR work placement is patronising us again. I might be old, but here’s a crazy idea – what if the architects were to give us some drawings showing how these ramps will work safely now rather than later? Are they going to be enclosed, and of course, not at all potential rat traps? Are they going to have fencing that somehow won’t look like Stalag 17? How will wheelchair users go up and down these steep ramps? Details, details.

Well, Old Susannah has run out of space for one week. We will return to normal definitions next week, and take a closer look at who is behind ‘Vote for the City Garden Project’. You will, of course, want to know what businesses are in this group, to make sure you can reward them with your custom. Or not.

Finally, many thanks to those brave business people who have stuck out their necks in favour of saving our city’s only unique, free, green garden.

That’s you, J Milne. It is appreciated.

Feb 102012
 

Old Susannah wades in with her chainsaw rattling in the direction of Union Terrace Gardens, but the elms need not fear, she is only out to cut through the misinformation presented as ‘myth busting’ by the City Garden Project.

By Suzanne Kelly.

Old Susannah has been busy with Union Terrace Gardens this past week, like so many of us.  Another few short weeks, and the people will have voted one way or the other as to whether or not our environment, heritage and common good land are better served up with concrete ramps or not.

Then I can get back to the important work of singing the praises of our elected officials, unelected quangos and council officers, and local millionaires.

Before I get down to the Gardens situation, I thought I’d look back at all the wonderful artwork that the City’s children sent in for the Christmas time art competition and event in the gardens, organised and funded in large part by the Bothwell family.

Hundreds of children sent in their artwork, and at this chilly time of the year with Christmas past, they make a cheerful reminder of a great day, and what it’s like to be a child again.  And each and every one of the childrens’ artwork exceeds by miles the A3 takaway flyer sent by a group of anonymous business people telling you we must vote for the granite web.

Do have a look – you will be glad that you did.
http://oldsusannahsjournalchildrenschristmasartwork.yolasite.com/

On with some definitions then.

Propaganda:  (noun) Material, slogans, misinformation designed to advance a particular point of view often by discrediting or ignoring opposition.

My email inbox is bursting this week with details of employers who are sending their employees all of the leaflets, letters and testimonials which support the garden project.  Most of these are written in the names of associations or groups which have – but crucially do not declare in the literature in question – a member or members who are directly involved with promoting the scheme.  This is very clever indeed.

An employee wants to be told by their boss how they should think and want and vote.  It would therefore be most unfortunate if the employees were given some way to read the many arguments against going ahead with an undefined project with an undefined budget using an as-yet untested in the UK financial borrowing mechanism with a debt-ridden city council borrowing money.

Let us hope therefore that suitable precautions are taken to prevent employees reading the literature from different groups available at the following:-
http://oldsusannahsjournal.yolasite.com/

Myth:  (noun) work of fiction, often including gods, goddesses and challenges and tasks.

Not since the rainbow bridge of Asgard joined heaven and earth, not since the legend of Hercules and his impossible labours has there been a tale as far-fetched as that of the granite web that launched 6,500 jobs and paved the streets annually with £122,000,000.  Sure, it may look more like one of the circles of Hades or the Minotaur’s maze, but the web is already passing into myth.

Those clever people who bring us this gift from the gods are worried we mortals can’t undertand the benefits, and are misunderstanding (or mythunderstanding) their benevolent intentions.  They’ve written a handy guide (something called a ‘blog’) The City Garden Project – The Myths, dispelled’ which can be found at:-
http://www.voteforcitygarden.co.uk/blog/17-the-city-garden-project-the-myths-dispelled

And to its words in bold italics, are my little responses.

The City Garden Project – The Myths, dispelled.

  • We want you to make your decision based on truth, not incorrect claims, speculation and downright nonsense!

Fine – we are all in agreement.

  • Myths have been at the heart of the campaign against the City Garden Project and if some of them were true then the opposition could be justified.

Which myths and what are they?  Where did you get them from?  I remember the initial consultation:  we were shown a beautiful, expensive colour brochure (which the taxpayer had funded) – the cover of which had a flat concrete giant square with some plants in planters.  Later on we were told the project was not going to look like the picture.  Maybe we could have saved some taxpayer money and time by waiting for a consultation and poll until such time we knew what the proponents had up their collective sleeve.  But it is not for us to question the gods.

  • But, whether by mischief-making or simply misinterpretation, the rumours have been rife.

So here we have an implication of mischief-making.  Was it the god Loki at work?  Or of the opposition being too thick to be able to ‘interpret’ what is proposed.  I have not personally heard ANY RUMOURS.  I have read serious questions about the project’s economic, ecological, sociological and regeneration benefits.

I have read people asking where the ventilation will be for underground car parking.  That is one example of the sort of criticisms and questions that I’ve experienced.  ‘Dante’s Inferno’ has a version of heaven, hell and earth without any ventilation, so I guess these miracles can happen here as well.  

  • So, let’s dispel some of these myths! 

Fantastic!  Let’s go!

1. The “green lung” of our city will be lost – FALSE. 

The City Garden will double the amount of green space in our city centre. The new “green lung” will be more usable, more accessible and brought into the sun-light. New garden areas will be created, including a colourful, blossoming area, a forest, a Learning Garden, a quiet tree-lined Bosque area with street furniture and open green space for relaxing in or having a picnic.

Patches of grass do not clean the pollutants and particulates out of a city – established, large, leafy trees do.  As the goal posts keep moving on what trees are to be lost by the City Garden Project engineers, it is hard to imagine which trees are going.

I am still very disappointed we will not have a MONOLITH at which we can make sacrifices to the gods.  I guess we’ll just have to sacrifice the trees, animals, birds, and money to these new gods instead.  But are you going to be reassured that the existing mature trees are somehow going to be replaced overnight by trees with equal pollution / C02 management capabilities by people – sorry gods – who think they can plunk a pine forest in the midst of a city centre?

Most people question where the trees’ roots will be – nearly all trees have extremely large, spreading root systems which require soil.  By the way these roots and soil are what prevents flooding.  I have read points made by experts who say it is not viable to grow a pine forest in the middle of a city centre for a number of reasons.  I don’t know the science – but I look forward to the City Garden Project team showing me examples of such cities.

  I do enjoy looking at the photos of people sitting on the concrete wedge over the ‘stage’ area which is covered with a bit of sod.

There are examples of cities with great open plazas which flood as there is insufficient soil / tree roots to absorb  heavy rains.  At least rain isn’t much of a problem here in North East Scotland.  As to bringing everything into the sunshine, err, the sun shines in the valley as it is – with the added advantage of the valley providing a very valuable wind break.

At Tullos Hill the soil matrix is very poor – which in the words of the soil report prepared by the Forestry Commission leaves any trees planted subject to ‘wind throw’.  If the roots don’t have a good firm earthy soil to hold onto, then a strong wind – like the kind that will inevitably blow across any area brought to street level – may well bring trees toppling on top of the granite web – or people.

Just by elevating a hunk of potato-chip shaped concrete and putting a few inches of sod over it, you are not creating a natural green lung/habitat/area,  even if it is the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen.  As far as doubling the space of the gardens, I do enjoy looking at the photos of people sitting on the concrete wedge over the ‘stage’ area which is covered with a bit of sod.

There is a woman sitting in a chair – a very neat trick indeed for such a steep slope.  Maybe she has a specially-constructed chair with short legs at the back and longer ones in the front?  Perhaps she is a goddess and is floating?  But as many observers point out, the ‘concept’ drawings are inconsistent in this and other ways, such as changing scale.

No, if you are losing the mature, healthy trees that are there – which are home to animals such as EU protected bats and rooks – you are indeed losing a major part of what makes the park valuable to our health.  There is no doubt of this in my mind, so I’m glad we have such a great team of pro-garden project personnel ready willing and able to explain all.  They’ve just not got round to it yet.

2. The city can’t afford the City Garden Project – FALSE.  ( Seriously? )

We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a £182m investment in our city at NO cost to the City Council or the citizens of Aberdeen.

One way or the other, the citizen is going to pay.  IF the scheme somehow goes perfectly to plan and we have a bunch of new shops (without hurting further the existing ones) the business rates will be used to repay a loan – a loan at an unknown rate of interest on an as-yet to be determined sum.

And if it doesn’t go well, and Aberdeen gets its very own Trams project fiasco to match Edinburgh’s – the City has to find a way to pay for the TIF.  As far as the donations from private sources are concerned, at last report Sir Ian had promised to put the £50 million he pledged into his will.  Well, if I were one of his children, I’d contest the will if it ever came to that:  an ageing parent throwing £50 million on concrete webs should convince any court that something is wrong upstairs, and a will might get thrown out.

  Some say taking a loan is borrowing money.  But seems we would just be ‘unlocking’ funds – so no problem there.

But who is our mystery £5 million pound donor?  If this is a public project (debatable – the Aberdeen City  Gardens Trust is a private limited company with two people in it), then the public should know where all of the money is coming from.  If someone pledges money, what guarantee is there it will come in?  Some of our current millionaires are feeling the economic pinch, sad but true.

And if are they using this £5 million promise as a lever to tip the balance of public opinion towards the scheme  – then if they stand to gain personally, then we should be told.

I hear varying reports that other private people are pledging something like £20 million.  Now that’s a myth I’d like more info on.

Once in a lifetime?  How on earth is that conclusion reached?  That claims sounds  very much like the scaremongering the pro garden project have been accusing others of.  There are six trial TIF schemes at present.  There may well be more.  But if this were a once in a lifetime chance, then all the more reason to take our time and make a cohesive, desirable bid, perhaps even one based on something less nebulous than a scheme that has a forest one week, an ice rink the next – and so other many unknowns to it.

TIF is only in the pilot stage in Scotland – so let’s get in there first!  Test case Aberdeen!  Some say taking a loan is borrowing money.  But seems we would just be ‘unlocking’ funds – so no problem there.

A minor detail, as we’ll all be rolling in dosh in no time, but do we know the interest rates on the £182 -192 million pounds Aberdeen City Council is going to borrow?  I’ve not been told.  Over to you, City Garden Project.

Again I will say that mere mortals choose to live in an area that is clean, safe and has excellent schools and hospitals.  I must have missed the part when someone proposed to the City Council that it should cut services and schools, and replace green space and our environmental heritage for concrete.

I don’t remember agreeing to continuously expand the City’s footprint into its green space while there are so many empty buildings in the city centre.  I guess I wasn’t paying attention that day – probably got distracted by reading about a cute baby competition in the news or something.

  • 40% of the cost of the City Garden has already been secured. The Scottish Government have pledged that, if the development is supported by the public, a TIF will be used to fund the rest of the costs for the City Garden Project. 

Fine.  Let’s see the legal papers showing exactly how much has been pledged and how ironclad or otherwise these pledges are.  Forty percent?  What is the figure?  We still do not have any genuine, concrete, specific project (no timescale, no costings done, and no precise scope – these are what you learn in ‘Projects 101’ are the building blocks).  You cannot  possibly say you have 40% of the money you need for something which you don’t even have defined or costed.  Not without godlike wisdom anyway.

  • TIF is a bit like a mortgage. The cost of the “property” is £182m. The “property” is the City Centre Regeneration Scheme (Aberdeen Art Gallery, St Nicholas and North Denburn redevelopments, the new public realm and the City Garden Project). The £55m of philanthropic donations already secured for the City Garden, along with the £15m to follow from the private sector, is the deposit.   

First, please define ‘the new public realm’ for me – just so that we are all talking about one specific defined term, thanks.  I’ll bet TIF is a bit like a mortgage:  if you don’t pay up, you lose your property.  Again Aberdeen City Council are going to borrow the money via TIF.  Not Ian Wood.  Nor the private limited ‘Aberdeen City Gardens Trust Company’.

Just as well we’re told it will bring in over a hundred million a year – we’ll be needing it.

Back to the mathematics.  OK – let’s assume the £55 million is £50m of Ian Wood’s, plus the mystery philanthropist.

We should also be told who the £15 million is coming from, but leaving that aside, that’s apparently £70 million pounds.

Some people would question what kind of tax breaks if any will be given to the donors, and whether or not the tax that does not get into the treasury (because it’s being put in a hole in the ground) would be of benefit to our ever-dwindling services instead.

Right – 70 million is forty percent of 175 million.  We have just been told that the ‘cost of the property is 182 million’.  Sorry – I would have thought that the 182 million is the value of the assets, but there it is.  Just for the record: forty percent of 182 million is 72.8 million.  And just so you know, Scottish Enterprise had by May of this year spent over £420,000 on this project on consultations and PR and the like, and the City Council have just agreed to spend up to £300,000 of our money on the legal costs.

Just as well we’re told it will bring in over a hundred million a year – we’ll be needing it.  Hands up anyone who suspects this project will have many little extras here and there.  Do you think at the end of the day the estimates we are getting now (nebulous as they are) will:  a.  stay exactly the same, b.  decrease and cost less than we think, or c.  cost more?

  • The City Council takes out a loan to pay for the remainder. This loan is paid back over 25 years using the income from the new business rates raised. The City is therefore being given both the deposit and the income to pay back the loan – clever eh? That’s why TIFs are so widely used in the States and promoted in Scotland by the Government. But remember a TIF can only be used for this – not for anything else and if we don’t use our TIF, other cities will!

Well, it is indeed time for some myth- busting, because depending on who you listen to, this either is or is not a commercial venture.  TIF is supposed to be for commercial ventures – and it is unclear how anything but a commercial venture can make the millions in loan repayments we would need to make.

In fact, I seem to recall seeing a video of one of the ‘philanthropists’  saying this is ‘Not a commercial venture’.  ‘Clever eh?’  – I am not exactly convinced.  I do think risky, untested, potentially fiscally disastrous.

And overall, unnecessary to my way of thinking.  Nothing is wrong with the gardens.  We could regenerate the city’s shops by lowering our extremely high business rates.  Making more shopping spaces, eating places and entertainment venues creates more competition for the venues we have.

Did you know we as taxpayers are subsidising the AECC and the Lemon Tree – and now they want us to borrow money to build competition for these venues we’re already paying for?  It would be to my way of thinking like betting on several horses in a race.  You might win on one of them, but you will lose money.

3. The City Garden is a commercial development – FALSE

This is about creating a new civic space and gardens that will be brought back into daily use… 

(note – see definition above of ‘propaganda’)

…and become part of the daily life of the people of Aberdeen. The space will include exciting new venues for everyone to use and enjoy including a cultural and arts centre, a 500-seat black box theatre and 5,000 seat amphitheatre and stage.  

See my quotes above about these theatre/stage options.  We don’t need them.  We’re already paying for such venues.  The writer of this paper has first set out to ‘bust myths’.  However, they are lapsing into emotive, subjective prose when they say how wonderful this will all be.  We don’t know that – we don’t know anything of the kind.

But now we get to the ‘venues for everyone to use and enjoy’.  Right.  At present, we can come and go as we please when the gardens are open.  No one can prevent us from enjoying the space as we see fit – no one can charge us any fee to use the gardens.  Why?  Because they belong to each and every one of us as Common Good Land.  Are these ‘non-commercial’ theatres going  to be free of any admission charge?  If yes, then fine – they are not commercial.  If no – then they can’t make money and pay off the TIF loan.

And if they charge you money to be on your common good land, then whoever holds the deeds to the land, it is no longer common good land in reality.  Are we going to borrow millions to make a theatre that is free to go to?  If so, why don’t we just close the AECC and Lemon Tree and be done with them?

Who is responsible for joining up all these fuzzy, competing concepts – and why aren’t they actually doing it?

  • The land and all the facilities will remain in the ownership of the City of Aberdeen and its citizens.  

Oh yes, we’ll still own it – but better, wiser, richer people will control it.  You might own it – but try going to a concert for free or getting one of the 25-30 car parking spaces free.  There is every possibility that one private entity or another (why does the two-person Aberdeen City Gardens Trust spring to my mind?) will get a very long lease at a very low rate.  In terms of ownership, ‘possession is 9/10 of the law’.

4. Union Terrace Gardens will be turned into a giant car park – FALSE.

I don’t know where our friends picked up this ‘myth’  - I’ve not heard it.  But there you go.

Parking is at a premium in the city and while many people would indeed wish to see more car-parking in the centre, it will not be in the City Garden. There will be between 25 and 30 underground parking spaces to service the new development.  Old Susannah is no mathematical genius like the ones who work out our city’s budgets; but if we are putting in a 5,000 seat venue and a smaller venue in a city centre already pressured for car parking spaces, then I predict some car parking and car congestion problems.  Wild conclusion I know.

However, if there are 30 underground spaces, they will still need ventilation.  Nothing like that is shown on the plans I’ve seen yet.  But back to the maths.  If we have 5,000 people going to see a Robbie Williams tribute act in the brand new space and 30 parking spaces available at the venue, there just might be a little bit of an issue.

That nice Mr Milne (owner of Triple Kirks – soon to be developed, Chair of ACSEF, one of the anonymity-seeking businesspeople behind the beautiful Vote for the City Gardens Project…) seems to need some car parking space for his beautiful glass box offices which will be adjacent to this great ‘non-commercial’ granite web.  I guess the 30 spaces will take care of that nicely.  Either that, or there will be more than 30 spaces.  A lot more.

As I posted on Facebook this week, it comes down to these points (leaving out the environmental carnage and the Common Good Status, that is):

  • 1. Is TIF a tried and tested financial model in the UK? Not yet.
  • 2. Do we know exactly what this project will cost? No – because the scope is unknown and ever-changing. That is one of the main flaws with Edinburgh’s trams scheme – it kept changing – and now we are looking at nearly one billion cost for it.
  • 3. Is the design fully fleshed out enough for anyone who supports it to fully explain the engineering (vents, how will trees – esp. pines grow, how will ramps be made safe, etc)? No.
  • 4. As the taxpayer is already propping up entertainment venues with tax money, venues that cannot survive without financial aid, does it make any financial sense to create venues to compete with them? No.

So – if you’re not sure about any of these points  – and who is? – then maybe we should not rush into anything.

Feb 102012
 

City support organisation the Friends of Duthie Park (FODP) has welcomed the news that an action group has been formed to investigate ways of re-establishing Hazlehead Park as a top Aberdeen attraction, Dave Macdermid informs Voice.

Tony Dawson, FODP Chair commented:

 “I was delighted to hear that an Action Group had been formed for Hazlehead Park. In recent years, it has visibly suffered from a lack of investment.

“However, all is not lost, as can be seen with the developments in Duthie Park, itself visited by over 700,000 people annually.

“This year will see significant restoration works to Duthie Park and its iconic Winter Gardens, thanks to the grant awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The ponds and mound will be completely revamped, as will several other areas, to benefit the people of Aberdeen and tourists from all over the world, allowing the Park once again to be an attraction we can truly be proud to have in our city.

“A substantial amount of work has gone into the £5m HLF-funded project. For this, Aberdeen City Council, and the dedicated officials involved, deserve great credit especially in these cash-strapped times.

“It was the largest HLF project in the UK for 2011 and this year will see the regeneration of large parts of this great Park.

“The Friends wish every success to the Hazlehead Park Action Group and are more than happy to support them wherever necessary. But why stop there? What about Victoria , Westburn and Seaton Parks as well as Johnston Gardens? Let’s get support organisations set up from those parks’ users. It’s amazing how far a bit of enthusiasm and commitment can go and we cannot depend on the City Council to do it all. Such successful projects can go a long way towards restoring civic pride in our great city.”

The Friends of Duthie Park AGM will take place on Tuesday 6 March at 1900 in the Winter Gardens and is open to all. To add to a successful year for the group, Tony is appealing for additional expertise in specific areas.

“We have a wonderful committee but everyone is a volunteer and we could certainly do with some help in fundraising, IT and last, but definitely not least, in finding more people who would be willing to help by being the voice of Spike, the Talking Cactus!”

Anyone who is interested in assisting the FODP can attend the AGM or contact: info@friendsofduthiepark.co.uk .

Jan 122012
 

On January 2nd an Aberdeen-based member of Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) took part in a new project to re-plant trees in previously devastated areas of Palestine.  Dave Black, along with other members of the Stop the JNF international delegation, joined individuals from a nearby refugee camp, trade union representatives, youth activists, Stop the Wall campaigners and representatives of political parties. The group planted 111 trees, representing the number of years that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) has been in existence, playing a key role in Israel’s policy of displacing and dispossessing Palestinians.

The JNF controls land that the organisation openly decrees is solely for the benefit of Jewish people; non-Jewish people are not able to live or work on the land and it can only be sold or rented to Jewish people.
The organisation is a quasi-governmental one, with extremely close ties to the state; it is often referred to as a para-statal organisation.

Despite the JNF’s clearly discriminatory policies, the Israeli state maintains this strong relationship with the organisation.

The trees were planted in Tulkarem district, formerly one of the richest and most important districts of Palestine. In 1948, most of its lands were taken and dozens of villages destroyed. The JNF played a key role in the destruction of some of these villages and the ethnic cleansing of their population.

The land where the trees have been planted, in the city of Tulkarem, was historically part of the agricultural land of the city. However, in 2002 the Israeli military bulldozed the entire stretch of land, supposedly for “security reasons”.  Tulkarem has also been one of the districts most affected byIsrael’s illegal separation wall, which has destroyed some 8.4 square kilometres of olive and other fruit trees, 37.3 km of water networks, 15 km of agricultural roads, as well as irrigated agricultural land in Tulkarem, Qalqiliya and Jenin districts.

Despite poor weather on the day there was a large turnout and the event was welcomed by those involved.  A representative from the Palestinian Farmer’s Union explained the importance of such events that bring different groups together:

“the participation of farmers, youth groups, friends from various organisations and others increases belief in the justice of our cause and the belief that we are not working alone against the Occupation. The land that was so important land to us was uprooted by the Occupation”. 

He also added that the event was timely because of the ongoing attacks by settlers on Palestinian land.

Aberdeen’s ties to the project were already significant as the local branch of SPSC last year raised £650 for the Plant-a-Tree in Palestine project.

Over 5 days the group walked 84 miles along the path of Hadrian’s Wall, raising awareness of the Stop the JNF campaign and also of the separation wall.

The group’s efforts went towards funding the planting event in Tulkarem.  It is hoped that the Plant-a-Tree in Palestine project will build to support the ongoing struggle of Palestinians to rebuild by providing resources for villages to plant trees that are indigenous to Palestine’s natural environment and agricultural life.

The delegation included members of Palestine solidarity and campaign groups in Scotland, England, the United States, France, Austria, as well as a representative of Midlothian Trade Unions Council.  The main activity of the delegation was 5 days of fact-finding and educational visits around Israel and the West Bank, followed by the day of tree planting in Tulkarem.

The group visited Al-Araqib in the Naqab/Negev desert, a Bedouin village which has been destroyed 33 times since July 22nd 2010.  The trees of the village have been destroyed and thus the village’s livelihood and the JNF has been instrumental in displacing the Bedouin people of this area.

Within clear view of the village that remains is the Ambassadors Forest, one of the JNF’s many forests in Israel.  As the delegation spoke with villagers, including the sheikh of the village, a truck drove by on the sandy, desert road.  The truck was on its way to provide water for the new JNF trees; the wrong trees planted at the wrong time, thus requiring much additional water.  The village of Al Araqib has no water supplied to it, but instead villages have to watch trucks drive past on their way to irrigate trees that are steadily taking over their land.

The group also spoke to a staff member of the UK ambassador’s officer in Israel, who was visiting the village in preparation for the visit of the British ambassador and Parliament Under Secretary of State Alistair Burt.

The chance meeting allowed the British members of the delegation to raise the issue of the UK’s complicity with the JNF and Israeli crimes, and specifically Early Day Motion (1677) which was tabled last year and currently has over 50 signatories.

The Early Day Motion outlines the discriminatory nature of the JNF and calls for the revocation of the JNF’s charity status in the UK.  The motion also criticises the Prime Minister’s patronage of the JNF, a situation which was addressed for the first time since the foundation of the JNF when David Cameron stepped down as patron last year.

For the first time since its creation not one of the three main party leaders in the UK are patrons of the organisation.

Later in the week delegates visited refugees in Ramallah (in the West Bank) who had originally lived in the Palestinian village of Imwas.  The refugees told the group the fate of their village in 1967 when it was overrun by Israeli forces set on taking the Latrun Salient, a hillside seen as a key strategic target.

Photos were shown, taken from exactly the same position, that illustrated the dramatic changes to the village and land in the 1960s and 70s.  The first photo showed part of the thriving village, the final one showing what is now known as Canada Park.

Canada Park is one of the many parks and forests that JNF has been responsible for establishing in Israel, or in this case Israel and the West Bank.  Sections of the park, such as where the village of Imwas once stood, are within the Palestinian side of the “Green line”, or armistice line drawn up at the end of the 1967 war.  However, there is no sign of this and almost all visitors to the park remain oblivious, nor is it explained that the walls of the park entrance are built with the bricks of the houses of Imwas.

Delegates visited the park along with Said, a direct descendant of a family which was displaced from Imwas.  Said stood with his own children at the remains of his father’s house, now only the barest of remnants.  The group was also shown the other remaining evidence of the village: unmarked, unprotected memories scattered around the archaeological set-piece of Roman Baths for tourists to enjoy.  The gravestones of villagers stand just a few feet from one of the park’s picnic benches – a stark, chilling image.

Another JNF park, British park, was also visited.  This was of special interest to the UK participants on the delegation.

The park is built over 2 Palestinian villages: Ajjur and Zakariyya. The villages were 2 of the roughly 500 villages where massacres and forced population transfer of Palestinians from their lands in 1948.

This period is known by Palestinians as the Nakba – Arabic for “catastrophe”.

The JNF played a key part in planning the Nakba and then went on to expropriate the land of Palestinian refugees and proceeded to build parks, such as British Park, on the land using funds raised by the JNF around the world.

In 1948 the village of Ajjur was populated by 3000 people. Three of the original houses of Ajjur remain today, including what was previously a clinic and is now a winery serving the new Israeli towns that now intersperse British Park.  Where the market of Ajjur once stood is now inhabited by a play-park and some, presumably, “British” sheep; a favourite picnic spot for those visiting British Park.

On the fifth day of the delegation the group visited Al-Walaja, a town that was established in the West Bank after the original village of Walaja was destroyed; the JNF went on to build the Kennedy memorial on the land.  After years of living in caves near the original town, the new town was established and former residents could return to some form of normality.  Normality, that is, until the development of Israel’s illegal Separation Wall, which is set to once again devastate the village.

The wall is still under construction and already surrounds much of the town, but when complete will completely surround the town.  Residents will be forced to use an access road controlled by the Israeli military if they wish to leave. This wall will cut residents off from much of their agricultural land, and will inevitably lead to displacement away from the town as residents look to find viable employment.

The locations visited by the delegation left those involved in no doubt of the JNF’s deep complicity in crimes against Palestinians, past and present.

Witnessing the situation that faces so many Palestinians inevitably shocked, saddened and deeply moved those involved.

However, none of the delegates failed to be inspired and in awe of the resistance of the Palestinian people who fail to lie down and accept the injustice that has been forced upon them.

Many different forms of resistance were seen, some large and obvious and some more subtle but no less impressive.  The commitment to resistance of those that were encounters served to emphasise the important of the ongoing efforts around the world to show solidarity with Palestinians, such as the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment campaign against Israel.

The Plant-a-Tree in Palestine project is one such way in which people can resist the injustices enforced by the JNF and the Israeli government.

The project will never be able to compete with the financial clout of the JNF and the 240 million trees that this has allowed the organisation to plant in Israel and the West Bank.  However, the project does allow a positive way to act against such crimes, enabling Palestinians to resist ongoing attempts at dispossession.

As Stop the Wall Co-ordinator Jamal Juma pointed out, it is also serves as an ideal way to educate those affected, Palestinians young and old, about the role of the JNF in the dispossession of their homes.  The project also offers great potential for future collaboration between Palestinians and the international community to take part in non-violent resistance against the Israeli government’s attempts to entrench the illegal occupation of the West Bank, dispossess Palestinians within Israel of even more of their lands, and take away the rights, enshrined in international law, of 7 million refugees to return to their homes in Israel.

For more on the Stop the JNF campaign:   www.stopthejnf.org
Join the Palestine campaign in Aberdeen:  Aberdeen@scottishpsc.org.uk
Visit:
 www.Facebook.com/Spscaberdeen

Dec 092011
 

Old Susannah reviews the news of Aberdeen’s who’s who for you, blow by blow. 


A chilly wind blows through town today; it is almost as if the very heavens are in sympathy with Mr Milne, who has lost his £1.7 million pound battle in the Supreme Court.

Who’d have thought it possible? It’s not as if Mr Milne is used to having any losses. So – what’s been going on this week?

The answer is Blowin in the Wind.

Wind Damage: (compound noun) damage to person, property or land caused by extremes in atmospheric wind speed.

The winds have knocked down our brand new City Holiday lights as well, which don’t seem quite so vibrant even if they were briefly very dynamic as they crashed to the ground.  Don’t you worry – I am sure that the City has these brand new lights fully insured.

I don’t know if our ever-dwindling Common Good fund bore the cost of these fabulous lights (I feel better looking at them and bet you do, too), but I know it was money well spent.  Then again, it could have been bought from BiD money, the wonderful scheme wherein some city centre shops voted to stump up money to clean up our high street.

Who could have ever guessed that a gust of wind could show up in the Northeast of Scotland in December, and that giant balls might not have been the best thing to hang over the heads of our pedestrians?  I would say it is a massive  ‘balls up’, but sadly, the balls are going down.  I shall think on these lights fondly, as I  realise this was the best possible expenditure the City could have made.

(I will put out of my mind the story that a  homeless person may have died from exposure on our beach.  The city can’t pay for everything, you know).

Blown off Course: (phrase) To have a person or thing forced off of its course  by adverse wind conditions.

Also because of the wind, there is one less bird of prey at the Scottish Parliament.  A peregrine falcon was being exercised, and a gust of wind blew it off course; it was lost.  Some pigeon fancier who lived very nearby took his trusty gun and blasted this annoying falcon out of the skies.  I guess we’d best re-prioritise and start protecting our endangered pigeons.

Mr Hutchison, of Newmills, Fife, was found guilty of maliciously shooting and killing a working falcon with a .22 air rifle.  Nice work!

Under the Wind: (phrase) to be in a place protected from the wind

And where in Aberdeen can one (in normal circumstances) avoid strong winds?  Why in the sheltering Denburn Valley of course, otherwise known as Union Terrace Gardens.  It is currently a valley, but we are told it must be raised to the level of the rest of Union Street.  It’s this valley that is the cause of all of our woes.  Nit-picking people might ask what will this fantastic public square be like with gale force winds blowing across its flat street-level surface.

I think it might just get a little windy.  Still, we will all be sheltering under the glass worm.  Even if the drawings of this glass thing show that it is open at the bottom and sides, there is no reason to think it won’t be a really cozy place to enjoy your frappucino.  I might not be that comfortable on the monorail John Stewart proposes when the winds blow 90 mph, but I’ll certainly be on it as often as I can otherwise.

Gusts: (noun) short,  strong bursts of wind.

Old Susannah was  on the road to and from Peterhead today, and thought it was a bit windy.  How wonderful – for who loves wind more than the rich and famous?  Rock stars, actors and actresses, millionaires – these people of course love the winds of north Scotland in winter.  With Mr Trump soon to open the universe’s greatest golf course, the jet-setting rich will be queuing up for a place in the holiday homes in the winter months.

I can just imagine Brad and Angelina walking hand-in-hand on the shore in the kind of weather we’re having right now. These resort visitors will be very important gusts indeed.

Hello! Magazine will have to open a branch office in Aberdeen once Donald’s up and running.  Just as well he fixed those previously moving sand dunes!  They might have moved!  With Don jun (junior Donald Trump – a child or clone I think) on hand this week to see things through, we’ll be rolling in dosh and created jobs before you know it. There is only one obstacle left to conquer.

Windmills: (noun) devices  for capturing energy from wind and harnessing it for practical purposes.

We will not have  these important VIPS if we also go ahead and build windmills that they might  actually have to look at while they stroll the no-longer-moving sand dunes in  February.  As the 90 mile per hour wind howls in their faces as they attempt to golf before the sun goes down at 4pm, the last thing we want to do is make them look at windmills.  These offshore Satanic mills must be stopped at all costs.  The offshore wind turbines must not go ahead – but is there someone up to the job?

Blowhard: (noun) a person who boasts or brags in an irritating fashion.  A loud, brash, showy individual.

I know Donald Trump has a very large staff  working round the clock on his successful developments.  I only hope there is somewhere hidden in the Donald Trump organisation someone who  is a blowhard who can stand up against the windfarm plans.  If anyone with any experience of the Donald Trump organisation can think of  anyone in it who can be a bit of an obnoxious, aggressive irritating blowhard, please get in touch.

Blowing hot and cold: (phrase) to have contradictory characteristics

You could have been forgiven for thinking Mr Milne had some nerve taking us to the Supreme Court.  It would be unkind to suggest such a thing.
Person or persons unknown in Aberdeen City Council sold him land at a discount for a fraction of its cost, and he agreed to share any profit.  It’s not Stew’s fault i selling this land (worth £5.6 million which cost him all of £375,000) meant his legal costs were over £500,000.  It must have been complex, selling land from your left hand to your right hand – the companies involved were Milne entities.  Why exactly he had to sell from one part of his empire to another is a business matter we couldn’t possibly understand.  It might look as if he wanted to avoid sharing profit with Aberdeen City, but I am sure that was the furthest thing from his mind.

Our City council tells us it always gets value for money.  Fantastic. Our city council sold Milne land for some 5,225,000 less than it was worth.  Our city council cannot possibly afford a referendum on whether or not to build a giant worm and/or monolith where we have the Denburn Valley.

I could be wrong, but on the odd occasion I think ACC just might blow hot and cold.

Putting the Wind up: (phrase) to make nervous or upset.

Attention councillors:  the elections are in May.  This may put the wind up some of you.  You know who you are.  Gerry Brough is getting the wind up as well – he wants the garden project underway before the elections.  I don’t think so Ger.  Some council officers might want to start clearing their desks (and no doubt shredding documents) soon, too.

Next week:  Part 1 of  ‘An Aberdeen Christmas Carol’ (with apologies to Charles Dickens).  Unfortunately I am at a loss as to what local  I can possibly cast as a mean, domineering, money-loving megalomaniac.  No doubt something will come to me, touch wood.

 

Oct 132011
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vermin:

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

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

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

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

Parasite:

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

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

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

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

“Cultural” spaces:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good night all.