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.

Dec 152011
 

Voice’s Suzanne Kelly provides further detail regarding The Scottish Information Commission’s decision on Aberdeen City Council’s handling of FOI requests regarding  sales to and contracts won by Stewart Milne related companies.

 

This week the Supreme Court sided with Aberdeen City Council and rejected Stewart Milne’s appeal concerning profit-sharing on a land deal.

Milne bought land from Aberdeen City Council (property worth some £5 million was sold to him for c £375,000) with a clause stipulating Milne had to share any related profits with the seller, Aberdeen City Council.

After lengthy appeals, the Milne Group must pay £1.7 million pounds to Aberdeen City Council (legal costs are at present unknown).

Precisely how and why the cash-strapped City Council made this deal still remains unclear.  Once acquired, the property was sold from one arm of the Milne group of companies to another, and on this basis, Milne’s position was that there were no profits to share.  The Courts have disagreed.

This issue spurred a freedom of information request to the City Council.

What land had been sold to Milne-related companies?  What contracts had been awarded to the Milne companies?   Was a group of companies receiving preferential treatment by being sold public assets without the assets going on the open market to the highest bidder?  Was a construction firm buying land at considerable discount with one hand, and at the same time under-bidding competition to win work?

It is a year (and a few days) since the initial FOI request was lodged with Aberdeen City Council.  Late replies, denials that information was held, assertions that information was too difficult and costly to obtain were some of the obstacles in the way of obtaining information.

If not for the Information Commission, there would be no chance of this information – concerning public assets and the public purse – coming to light.  As it is, the City has until 23 January to finally comply.  At that time it must either disclose the information or lodge an appeal against the decision.

The decision will be disclosed to the public  around 16th December.  In the meantime, here are some of the important issues and facts to emerge from the Information Commissioner’s decision.

On 10 December 2010 a FOI request was sent to Aberdeen City.  Such requests are to be answered within a specific time frame and are backed up by legislation.

The City failed to respond in time. Aberdeen’s representatives said the information was not easy to obtain, would cost over £600 pounds to collect, and that some of the data was immune from disclosure.  When the request was largely turned down, an internal investigation by ACC into its handling of the affair was requested as the law permits.  The City was sorry it was late in responding, but it was not going to release the information.

Findings:

The Information Commissioner’s office was supplied with the entire (lengthy) chain of emails from the first request through the refusal and the internal investigation.  The Commissioner will soon release its report into ‘Case 243/2011’ and these points are among the findings:-

  • ACC FAILED to comply with Part 1 of the Information (Scotland) Regulations 2002 (FOISA)
  • ACC  FAILED to comply with the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004
  • ACC FAILED in dealing with the request by wrongly claiming that section 12(1) of FOISA was applicable to the request
  • ACC FAILED to provide reasonable advice and assistance under Section 15(1) of FOISA.
  • ACC FAILED to meet statutory timescales for handling the request

Background:

The comprehensive decision from the Commission covers the history, legal issues and relevant points of my request.  The Background section covers my initial questions to Aberdeen:

1. List of property (including but not limited to land, buildings, building services, material goods, etc.) Aberdeen City sold to the Stewart Milne Group, Stewart Milne Homes and/or any associated companies, and/or directly to Mr Stewart Milne. List to show property name/description, date of sale, sale price, minutes/reports of the City Council approving/recommending the sale, and if available the market value at time of sale.

2. List of property or services (including but not limited to land, buildings, building services, material goods, etc.), the Stewart Milne Group, Stewart Milne Homes and/or any associated companies, and/or directly to Mr Stewart Milne sold, managed or built for Aberdeen City Council. List to show property name/description, date of sale, price, reports/minutes of the City Council recommending the purchase, and if available the market value at time of sale.

If any aspect of this request is not clear, then please contact me directly for clarification.

I was asked to clarify what I meant by Stewart Milne associated companies, and on the same day as the request was emailed to me, I sent this list from Companies House:-

05232604

D

STEWART-MILNE CATERING LIMITED Dissolved
SC305012 STEWART MILNE CENTRAL LIMITED
SC152943 STEWART MILNE COMMERCIAL LIMITED
SC083265 STEWART MILNE CONSTRUCTION LIMITED
SC054259 STEWART MILNE DEVELOPMENTS LIMITED
SC191167 STEWART MILNE (GLASGOW) LIMITED
SC057709 STEWART MILNE GROUP LIMITED
SC132524 STEWART MILNE HOLDINGS LIMITED
SC137803 STEWART MILNE HOME OPTIONS LIMITED
SC065403 STEWART MILNE HOMES LIMITED
SC096898 STEWART MILNE HOMES (SOUTHERN) LIMITED
SC056620 STEWART MILNE INVESTMENTS LIMITED
SC063606 STEWART MILNE INVESTMENTS (SCOTLAND) LIMITED
SC349644

D

STEWART MILNE KITCHENS AND BATHROOMS LIMITED Dissolved
SC204848 STEWART MILNE PART EXCHANGE LIMITED
SC145941 STEWART MILNE PROPERTIES LIMITED
SC192726 STEWART MILNE (WEST) LIMITED
SC305009 STEWART MILNE WESTHILL LIMITED

The City also wanted to know what time period the request covered.  This was a bit of a surprise – was the list of property sold so extensive that a cut-off date was needed?  Dates of 1980 to the present were chosen.

On 9 February 2011 the City advised that the request would be too costly, and that it did not hold information relating to property it had sold to Stewart Milne companies.  An internal inquiry into how the City handled my request was offered and accepted.   This inquiry proved rather fruitless, and on 4 May 2011 the Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner was asked to look into the case.  The investigation began.

The Information Commissioner’s office contacted Aberdeen City Council on a number of points.  One of the issues was whether or not all or part of the FOI questions should have been dealt with as an Environmental Request (EIR).  The City then told the Commissioner’s office it ‘no longer wished to withhold the information in the reports (about tenders) in their entirety.  Some but not all the information on contracts Stewart Milne companies had won in September was released.  This included information about new build work at Byron Park, Hayton Road and Rorie Hall.  The documents were heavily redacted.

It was nine months since the FOI questions were first asked of ACC.  At one stage during the Commissioner’s investigation there was an opportunity to re-state the case and explain why the information should be put in the public domain.  I wrote about the state of Aberdeen’s finances, the fairly recent criticism of the City’s fiscal operations by Audit Scotland, the lack of transparency in the City’s dealings, and my concern for the disposal of public assets without clear attempt to get the best possible market price.

The decision notes my claim that ‘public assets should be bought and sold in a fully transparent manner, especially in such a cash-strapped city as Aberdeen.’  I wondered if my efforts would be enough.  I waited.

Findings & Analysis:

One of the most important reasons for refusing the request was cost.  If the costs were truly going to exceed £600 (the threshold over which public authorities do not have to respond – but can if they wish to), then someone at ACC’s Freedom of Information Office should have offered  guidance as to how to reduce the cost of the search.  This never happened.

Aberdeen’s initial cost estimates indicated that many people would have had to spend hours on the request, and some of these hours were going to be charged at over £15 per hour.  As it turned out, the maximum hourly rate that a public entity can charge for searches is £15 per hour.   Perhaps someone in the City’s Information area should have known this?

Over the course of the dozens of e-mails exchanged, I made clear I did not accept Aberdeen’s claim that supplying a list of the property would be to arduous and too expensive.

At one point the City said some of its records were only on paper format.  I informed the Information Commission that the City holds an Excel spread sheet detailing the property that it owns and that I considered it likely that the Council would have a similar spread sheet for property it disposed of.

Aberdeen said such a record did exist, but that it didn’t show to whom property had been sold.  (This seems like a very poor state of record-keeping if it is the case).  The City said its list would be ‘meaningless’ to me.  The City estimated that it sells some 10 pieces of property per year, and we would be talking about 140 sales from 1996.  In summary, the City said it would cost £1,117.50 (a rather precise figure I thought) to get the details I was after.

Item No. 50 of the Commissioner’s decision reads:

“…the Commissioner is surprised that the Council is unable to establish the identity of the purchaser in relation to individual property disposals in a less labour intensive manner, he accepts that the Council does not have simple access to the information requested…”

Here are some other points from the report concerning the issues:-

51.       “Having considered the Council’s submissions, the Commissioner accepts that it has identified a reasonable method of locating and retrieving the information Ms Kelly has requested.  This involves two distinct stages:  firstly identifying those property sales in which the purchaser was one of the parties of interest to Ms Kelly and then secondly locating and providing, for only those transactions involving relevant purchasers, the particular pieces of information requested by Ms Kelly about that transaction.  The Commissioner is satisfied that the information requested could all be located within the file relating to the property sale.”

52.       “Turning to the Council’s estimates of the staff time required to complete this process, the investigating officer reviewed the copy of a file provided by the Council.  Although this contained over 780 pages of information, the investigating officer was able to identify the purchaser of the land or property within two minutes of opening the electronic file.  Although, in this case, the purchaser was not one of interest to Ms Kelly, the investigating officer went on to locate the types of information about the sale she had requested.  The investigating officer was able to identify and extract the relevant information from this file within a further 15 minutes.”

53.       “Having considered the Council’s (somewhat limited) submissions and the investigating officer’s review of the sample file, the Commissioner is unable to accept the Council’s estimate that it would take 30 hours to establish which files involved sales to relevant parties.  This suggests that this initial stage would take an average of just under 13 minutes per file….”

The Commissioner’s findings on the issue of retrieving the information are even more concerning than just this over-calculation on the City’s part.  Looking back to an earlier point, it seems the Council are no longer keeping records of crucial information such as how public assets are disposed of:-

43.       “The Council explained that there is no longer a comprehensive database which records all transactions…”

After a less-than-glowing recent report from Audit Scotland into Aberdeen’s property management – why is there ‘no longer a comprehensive database’ concerning important transactions?

The decision then goes to the matter of the ‘duty to provide advice and assistance’.  The Information Commissioner found

“…the Council offered no advice and assistance to Ms Kelly on how she might reduce the scope of her request…” and “Given that the Council provided no advice or assistance to Ms Kelly in either narrowing the scope of her request, or accessing some of the information of interest to her, the Commissioner finds that the Council failed to comply with its duty…”

Part of my FOI request concerned contracts won by Milne companies.  Were we selling land at very favourable rates to a bidder who might put in low bids?  Would it be possible that a contractor won work by bidding lower than the competition, but that another company connected to the contractor bought land at profit-making prices – possibly even to the detriment of the public purse?   This possibility crossed my mind.

The Council felt harm would be done if details of contracts awarded were publicised.  I commented that there was a need for confidentiality during negotiations of a contract, but not once a deal is concluded where public money is being spent.

The Commissioner noted that my requests were about one year after the contracts were awarded.  The tenders had been evaluated; the contracts were issued.  As it turned out, the unsuccessful bidders had been advised of the details after the award – but by some kind of oversight or another on the part of Aberdeen City Council, this information was never made available to the public despite EU law making such disclosure mandatory.

This is what the Commissioner’s investigation found:-

“The Commissioner is unable to accept that a competing company would be able to gain significant insights into the relevant company’s capabilities, pricing or bidding strategies from the disclosure of this information [information re. Bids]… the commercial sensitivity of that information will have diminished with the passage of time, and in particular with the award of the contracts in the subsequent phase in the Council’s home building programme.  The Council has provided no evidence to support its submission regarding the continued risk or harm following from the disclosures of that information.”

More to come:

The decision has been released to me and the City.  They have until 23 January 2012 to lodge an appeal or comply.  The Commissioner’s intervention and in-depth analysis is greatly appreciated and clearly was much needed.

This report will be available to the public via the internet c. 16 December.  It will prove a valuable read to other researchers and anyone interested in how Aberdeen City Council handles information and requests for information.  However, one year on from asking the initial questions, there are still crucial questions unanswered:-

  • Who suggested selling land to Milne companies?  What was their position in ACC?
  • Exactly what public assets have been sold to Milne related companies?
  • Who in the City was involved in progressing and approving the sales?
  • Were any bids won by placing bids with very low likely profit margins?
  • What internal audit procedures, if any, flagged up any issues with the sales or contract awards?
  • Does anyone within this chain of decision making have any links to any of the Milne-related companies?

Further information on this subject will be forthcoming.  Aberdeen Voice will be reporting on the City’s next move.

Dec 122011
 

Aberdeen Voice  has learned that the Scottish Information Commissioner has upheld Voice reporter Suzanne Kelly’s Freedom of Information request with regard to land and property sold by Aberdeen City Council to Stewart Milne and associated companies.

Less than a week having passed since Stewart Milne’s appeal to the Supreme Court failed, the Scottish Information Commissioner has decided that the Council must provide Kelly with information on land transactions between Aberdeen City and Stewart Milne companies.

The Supreme Court had been asked to review the details of a land purchase Milne Group made from Aberdeen City Council. The Supreme Court found that Milne must pay the City £1.7 million over the land deal.

The cost of the legal action is at this point unknown.

Kelly had followed the case, and had heard from several sources that there may have been other deals regarding the property developer and the City.

In a Freedom of Information Request made to the City, Kelly asked for a list of property sold to Milne and/or associated companies and the selling price, as well as a list of contracts the Milne companies had won from Aberdeen (there are several companies connected to Stewart Milne). Kelly wanted to analyse the contracts won and land purchased. The City initially refused her request.

An appeal was lodged, and the Information Commissioner was asked to look at the history of the freedom of information request and the grounds for refusal. The Commissioner issued its findings on 9 December 2011. The Commission decided that Aberdeen City Council and its Freedom of Information officers failed to act properly on a number of issues.

Key points include:-

  • The City did not always respond to correspondence and requests in a timely manner.
  • The City said it did not have a comprehensive record keeping system and finding the information would be very difficult. Kelly proved to the Information Commissioner that the City keeps much of its property portfolio details on spreadsheets.
  • The City said it would cost over a thousand pounds to find this information.
  • Kelly received some of the requested information during the course of the investigation including details of c. £10 million worth of construction contracts won by Milne and associated companies. No information has as yet been released by Aberdeen to show what property it sold to Milne.

The property dealings of Aberdeen City council had come to the attention of Audit Scotland some time ago. In its findings Audit Scotland found:-

  • evidence of procedural and administrative deficiencies and poor record keeping,
  • cases where accurate and relevant information was not reported to elected members,
  • a lack of evidence to support the valuation at which properties were sold, and
  • cases where the Council may have achieved a better price. Overall, it appears that there is a potential loss of capital receipts which may be more than £5 million.

The City is considering a number of budget and service cuts, and this spurred Kelly on. Kelly states.

If the city is awarding contracts based even in part on low bids, then I question the wisdom and prudence of selling land at a fraction of its potential market value to a successful bidder. The City has a massive property portfolio, and if must keep detailed and accurate records of its transactions. In light of the Supreme Court decision last week, the decision from the Information Commissioner is extremely timely and most welcome. I look forward to receiving the information I have sought for so many months.”

Milne is also a director of Aberdeen Football Club. It is slated to sell its existing Pittodrie Stadium ( the UK’s first all-seater stadium ) and use the proceeds to build a stadium in greenbelt land near Loirston Loch. Planning permission was hotly contested, with local community councils objecting to the plans. The area is home to a variety of wildlife. The club’s income is thought to be in steady decline, as attendances have fallen and the team struggle to climb the league.

Says Kelly,

“I shall contact Aberdeen Council if I have not heard from them shortly, and as soon as the information is made available to me, I will report back. The Commissioner agrees that the public have a right to have the information I have fought long and hard to obtain.”

Nov 142011
 

Old Susannah pays her respects, but is unable to maintain her silence as she takes a look around what has been happening in our vibrant and dynamic city and beyond.

Things continue to be vibrant and dynamic this week in the Granite City.  On Friday 11 November some 4o-plus people gathered for a minute’s silence to mark those who fell in war.  Robert Martin who works nearby in Golden Square told me he first started coming to Union Terrace Gardens for the traditional minute of silence a few years back.
“What better, more peaceful place is there in the heart of the City to have the minute of silence,” he commented.

A gardener tried to tell the group they should be at the war memorial instead – he could not understand that we were all happier in the Denburn Valley.

For the record, this was not a celebration of nationalism, or glorification of war; it was a gesture of respect for those who lost their lives in war.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just stop killing each other, and sort out economic and social problems another way?  Maybe that day will still come.

Then there was the enjoyable opening night at Peacock for its winter exhibition.  The 400 or so works are on show until 23 December and  are all for sale.  Alicia Bruce is offering small prints of her iconic photo portraits from the Menie Estate which had such a good reception when she exhibited at Peacock.  There are abstracts, portraits, beautiful drawings, and even one or two offerings of mine.

A quick word about litter.

During the week I asked an older man who’d dropped litter to please pick it up.  He explained (with some interesting vocabulary words which I must look up) that ‘he didn’t know me’, ‘he didn’t have to’ and ‘I could not make him.’  It was a very impressive display indeed.

Days later I was at Sainsbury’s Berryden, and groups of students (probably just over 20 people in total) had stopped by the store to get their lunch.  They had wrappers, bags, papers, serviettes, bottles and so on.  And as I waited for a bus, I saw each and every student put their trash in the trashcan near the bus stop.

I am pretty sure they were from St Machar.  My appreciation to them and the other people who do the right thing.  It’s not difficult, it’s not brain surgery.  It does however make a huge difference.

But whatever you were doing this week, everyone’s thoughts were with one brave man who is fighting a valiant struggle of his own.  Yes, Stewart Milne’s case went to the Supreme Court on Thursday.

The Press & Journal had no room for this story on the day, due to the breaking news that geothermal energy exists.  This astonishing front page special even had a picture of a volcano to illustrate it.  I had personally expected a story about a cow with a ladder on its neck, but the geothermal story did the trick, and between it and the massive ads for Milne Homes, no room remained for the little matter of our City being called to the Supreme Court.

Then, Friday, the P&J did run with a story on Milne, which leads neatly to a little definition or two.

Negotiate: (verb, Eng) to settle a conflict or disagreement by compromise.

Those of us who read the Press & Journal story will have felt sorry for Stewart Milne.  He claimed the matter could have been settled had Aberdeen City council accepted his offer of negotiation.

According to the P&J, Stewart Milne Group claimed:

“We have offered to go to independent arbitration on several occasions over a long period of time,”

Usually negotiations happen when both sides have a valid argument or case to make.  To refresh everyone’s memory, the City sold land at Westhill to Mr M for far less than it was worth – the City’s clever business plan was not to sell the land on the open market, but sell directly to Milne (I am sure there was a great reason).

He got a great price on the understanding the City would eventually get any sale profit.  In a really clever and not at all dodgy-looking business manoeuvre, the land moved from one arm of the vast Milne empire to the next, at a cost around £500k –apparently more than what the 11 acres cost in the first place.  This was perfectly normal, and could have happened to anyone.  Quite truthfully, Milne then indicated that there was no profit to share.

This giant poster in no way looks like a desperate advertising ploy, but it does paper over some cracks nicely.

The City and subsequent courts have disagreed with Mr Milne’s logic (shocking!), and rather than enter ‘negotiation’ over the £1.7 million under dispute, the City decided to see the case all the way through.  Milne could have accepted the last court’s verdict, but he appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.  If you’ve only got £60 million, then you’ve got to hold onto every penny these days.

The trial was televised, and although Old Susannah is no legal expert, it didn’t look all that great for Stew.

Now we just have to wait for the outcome – at which point no doubt everyone’s favourite football club owner will immediately give Aberdeen the £1.7 million it is owed, plus court costs.  I think an apology is also due, and hope the City are drafting one to Mr Milne for taking things this far.

This expensive litigation obviously in no way impacts on the role Mr Milne plays in ACSEF, the City and Shire’s invention which is helping us out of economic chaos.  Aside from the bang-up job ACSEF has done so far for our city’s shops, it’s created a brilliant logo for itself, and now has a great big vibrant, dynamic mural at McCombie Court.  This giant poster in no way looks like a desperate advertising ploy, but it does paper over some cracks nicely.

In light of Stewart’s logic concerning negotiation, the next time you get mugged or have your wallet snatched, don’t go to the law.  Just find out who’s got your money and negotiate to get some of it back.  Sorted.

Reading this story about how Stew wanted to negotiate, I wonder if I’m not having déjà vu.  This sense comes from the P&J article some time back, when Milne and everyone’s favourite forum, ACSEF, were taking over Peacock Visual Art’s project and turning it into the great City Garden Scheme.

Just before the final, decisive and divisive voting on the project took place, ACSEF / Milne said that Peacock had been offered some kind of 11th hour alternative, but were unwilling to strike a deal.  Of course if you read the full story, you would have eventually discovered Peacock said ‘we were never contacted about any deal.’

I hope in future any Peacock person, Aberdeen City legal rep, etc. will just ‘negotiate’ when Stewart wants something – it will save the taxpayer lots of money to just go along with him from the start.

In fact, when I think of Loirston Loch, the Triple Kirks glass box scheme, Pittodrie and so on, I wonder if we haven’t just started to say yes to him already.

Geography: (noun) study of terrain, locations, types of environments and areas.

If you are out there, Pete Leonard, Director of Housing, perhaps you might consider a geography lesson or two.  Pete insists Tullos Hill is ‘urban’.  The hill is next to all the lovely industrial estates which have helped make Aberdeen the profitable centre of the universe it is, but the hill just isn’t all that ‘urban’.  It’s covered with plants, grasses, wildlife, pre-historic cairns and so on.

Here in Aberdeen, there is a complete separation of contractors and councillors

On the word of Mr Leonard, I went to Tullos Hill the other day assuming it had been urbanised.   I looked for fast food, a coffee or a monorail ride, but there was nothing of the kind to be found.

It struck me that Ms Malone (who has lately been very, very quiet) might want to look for a new initiative to push. Perhaps if she abandoned the ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme and maybe had ‘a monolith for every citizen’ and/or ‘monorail for every citizen’ scheme, it might increase her popularity.  As I hear it, an improvement in her popularity stakes is currently the only possible direction.

Aside from Tullos, other urban areas in our city are easy to recognise by the well-maintained roads and footpaths, the general cleanliness, the complete lack of any crime, and all the many open local shops.

Corruption: (noun, English) a state of dishonesty, lack of integrity, self-interested behaviour of a person or body in a position of trust.

Edinburgh has faced accusations of council corruption. (“At least it couldn’t happen in Aberdeen!” I can practically hear you say.)

For openers, according to the BBC, the hospitality records are incomplete. ( This contrasts with our city’s up-to-date, perfectly set out, fully inclusive records which seem to indicate some councillors went to absolutely no events whatsoever in 2009 and or 2010).  But that’s the least of Edinburgh’s problems.

Edinburgh’s councillors are in the firing line for ‘possible fraud and serious wrongdoing’ with regard to building works and property.

Audit Scotland could not decide if the city was just a wee bit disorganised, or if there was a whiff of corruption

It also looks like a city councillor had a holiday paid for by a contractor.  Here in Aberdeen, there is a complete separation of contractors and councillors.  In those rare occasions when a councillor is somehow connected to a contractor, then they stay well out of any possible conflict situations.

Some years ago we had our own little trouble with Audit Scotland, you may remember.

They had a few uncertainties after a detailed investigation of our city’s property selling activities.  There were questions as to why so many properties were being sold below value.  Audit Scotland did tell the city to stop selling property at knock-down prices, and otherwise pay attention to details – like who is actually buying your property and what it should sell for.  In the end, Audit Scotland could not decide if the city was just a wee bit disorganised, or if there was a whiff of corruption.  In the end, they invited our local police to look into the issues.

After a completely thorough, detailed investigation, the police found nothing untoward.  Old Susannah is not sure when the investigation was conducted.  Then again, I’m not sure when exactly Stewart Milne Group started advertising on police cars, either.

Next week hopefully a Milne court and FOI case update; a fond look back at the careers of John Stewart and Neil Fletcher, who are not going to run for re-election in May.

Stop press Christmas Gift Solution:  Tired of the usual old boring gifts – the handbag-sized bottle of vodka, the city council carriage clock or branded pen?  Look no further for your gift requirements:  The City is selling photo prints of its greatest moments.  Rather than taking a picture of St Nicholas House or the ACSEF logo yourself to make a welcome gift for a loved one, just go to the City’s website.

What is the most popular subject on sale?  Why the Lord Provost of course!  There are only about 750 photos of him in action this year but fret not: there are two other years of Lord Provost photos as well.  Make a lovely print on canvas, or can be sent to an artist to create a portrait in oils.  I just might buy a photo of the Lord Provost handing over a gift and turn it into a mug, a mug for some reasons being the first thing that springs to mind.
See: http://aberdeencitycouncil.newsprints.co.uk/

Stop press 2:  there will be a further extension for getting your entries in for the Union Terrace Gardens art competition  – more news soon!

 

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 122011
 

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

Old Susannah’s fighting a nasty little digestive problem at the moment – but I’m more worried about the rioting that may soon hit Aberdeenshire.  I thought rioting had already broken out when I was making my way home on Friday night through town, but then I realised it was just the usual weekend crew and all was business as usual.

It’s just as well our highly-placed police officials have announced that crime levels are going down in the ‘deen, otherwise the recent spate of attacks and assaults would have me worried.

I am assured there is no correlation between any high-ranking police performance bonuses and the crime stats decreasing.  As we know, statistics are facts which can never be manipulated.  As for the average policeman on the beat, I am sure they will happily swallow the proposed cuts to their wages with good grace.

Looks like there might be a one-man riot in the Menie area; for some reason the Government is not doing what Donald Trump wants at the moment, and might actually allow a giant windfarm to obscure his view.

This windfarm could mean double-trouble.  Not only might all the rich people lined up to buy the 900  holiday homes now change their minds if it means looking at wind turbines, but any change in the wind might make someone’s hair (or wig) look funny.  More on that later, but I hope the government will see sense.

(By the way, I think windfarms have a long way to develop and I am not completely sure we are proceeding in the right manner.  But at least they are an attempt to solve our energy problems.  Whereas I think Donald’s development is obviously proceeding in the right manner, and will solve all of our employment and economic problems.  Then again, I am heavily medicated at present).

Time for some more medicine and some definitions.

In The Black

(modern English phrase) to be in profit; origin of this phrase from accountancy standard practice of recording positive figures in black ink and negatives in red ink. 

Aberdeen City Council may be millions in the red (with more debt to consultants piling up by the minute), but at least we are well in the black when it comes to carbon. The city produces an eye-watering quantity of the black stuff – here are some figures from an old City report: (insert picture here- table of carbon figures)

Aberdeen City Council, May 2004, “Carbon Management Programme – Outcomes & Action Plan”

So looking at this table, as a guess in 2004, staff survey figures indicated that some 22% of staff answering the survey said their car commute to work produced some 20,300 tonnes of carbon in 2002/03.  I’m told we’re doing a bang-up job of reducing carbon production now.

The construction of the Loirston Loch stadium will have a carbon footprint.  The buses being arranged to get all the fans to and from the stadium will have a carbon footprint.  The city didn’t count its air travel in the 2002/03 figures.  But other than these small blips, we’re going to plant some trees.  Problem solved.

Back in the day when the ‘tree for every citizen’ plan was new, Mr Lochhead of  the Scottish Government and Aileen Malone were quoted in a lovely, warm Aberdeen press release.  Here are some of the great things it said:-

“Many of the woodlands being created will be in the middle of communities – in one case right underneath a tower block – so they will provide a focal point for community involvement, leisure and recreation”. “They will also soften the urban environment and – by soaking up around 15,000 tonnes of CO2 over 50 years – help provide a greener, cleaner future for the people of Aberdeen.”

I can almost see the forest under the tower block now.

If the press release was referring to the one in Balnagask, I think they’ll find the trees were largely vandalised.   I can’t think of any crime, vandalism or fire risks associated with a woodland right under a tower block, so let’s move on.

Back to the carbon question.  Wow! -  Fifteen thousand tonnes of carbon sucked up by the 94,000 trees in only 50 years.

I’m sure that the lack of straightforward answers had nothing political about it at all

So – if in 2002/03 the City’s buildings, transport, street lights made 7,740,000 tonnes of carbon PER YEAR, then HoMalone’s trees – all of them if they all grow – will offset one year’s worth of City Carbon in a mere 50 years.

Or, looked at another way, if all the trees mature, then each year they would suck up around 0.2% of that pollution each year.  Shall I throw away my asthma inhaler now, or wait? (NB – I never had asthma until I moved to Torry.  I sometimes wonder if there are any pollutants in the sweet-smelling air, but I swiftly dismiss such thoughts as I cough on exhaust fumes on UnWellington Road).

This is almost enough to make me change my mind about killing – sorry ‘managing’ – the deer to plant HoMalone’s trees.  But not quite.

If you are out there Ms Malone, please be assured that I am thinking of you – and so are some ten thousand voters.  Go ahead and try killing the deer.  Just start hitting the ‘help wanted’ section if you continue to press on.  C’mon Aileen – time is wasting, call off your dogs.  And hunters/cullers/’managers’. If you want suggestions as to where to put the trees, several readers have written to me, and I would gladly pass their (uncensored) comments on.

Before I leave the subject of how our fearless, pioneering City officials are dealing with carbon pollution, two last thoughts.  I asked this question of several environment agencies and the council – and none would answer it:

“When the Loirston Loch stadium is in operation, will there be more, less, or the same amount of air pollution and particulates in the area as there are now?” 

That’s right – no one would commit to an answer.  Too difficult to guess, as all those trees (if not burnt to the ground) will be sucking up so much area carbon. I’m sure that the lack of straightforward answers had nothing political about it at all. The last thoughts contained in the City’s 2002/03 report are kind of scary ones unless you are a fan of the Big Brother school of government.

At the end of the publication ‘Aberdeen City Council Carbon Management Programme Carbon Management Plan’ there is a list of ‘future possibilities’ which include:-

  • Install Active Directory software to PCs: This will allow PCs to be remotely monitored and will allow default printer settings (black and white/double sided) to be set to all corporate PCs. A test phase is to be conducted before March 2010 and roll out will be completed by April 2010.
  • Private Household Renovation: planners to only allow extensions if further work is done on the building to bring it up to current energy standards i.e. insulation levels.

Council staff take heart – your computers will be ‘monitored’.  Of course there are ways to print documents without having to monitor staff, but staff won’t mind shedding a few privacy rights for the privilege of improving the highly-scientific carbon stats.  Private homeowners – get ready to jump through future hoops if you want to renovate your home.   Rest assured in the knowledge it’s all for the best.

Put the wind up

(slang expression, English c WWII) to make someone anxious or nervous; specific origin unknown, but attributed to WWII English infantry.

Unfortunately, someone’s put the wind up Donald Trump. Instead of the usual hot air billowing out from the blowhole of this huge Moby Dick, he’s got aesthetic worries.

No, not about his hair or the one or two wrinkles around his eyes – but someone has the temerity to think about spoiling his view from the Menie Estate. If anyone knows about aesthetics it is the creator of Trump Tower, with its giant brassy-gold letter ‘Ts’ in the lobby and its shiny pink marble cladding – not to mention the gold-plating on the Trump jet.  Money can buy class.

Menie wrongs.  Donald is against wind power, you see, and a windfarm may go up near his estate.

Well, The Donald will not take that lying down (although a good long lie down might do him good). He’s threatening to take all legal action he can.   This apparently includes taking whatever Scottish entity he sees fit to an American court.

Can he do that ?  Yes he can.

Does the Don do this kind of thing often?  Yes he does.

Are any of his lawsuits frivolous means of attempting to intimidate (legally and financially) those he sues?  Obviously not. Do rest assured contractors and municipal governments – Donald Trump hardly ever sues your ilk, and doesn’t always win when he does.  Don’t let that thought get the wind up you, now.  You might wind up in court, but you have the gratitude of the electorate which you have earned, and you will get what you have earned from them.

Mis-statement

(modern English) to accidentally say something that is not completely accurate.  To be ‘economical with the actuality’.  Definitely not to lie.

Donald where’s your troosers?  Mr Trump was – believe it or not- caught in one or two ‘mis-statement’s in interviews in the past.  Come to think of it that is an understatement of mis-statements.  How such a privacy-loving man manages to get caught up in so much publicity is a mystery.

One of these factually-challenged statements concerned his Rancho Palos Verdes, California golf course; he said he was building 75 mansions on it.  In fact, six were built and three sold as of latest news reports.  I make that kind of mistake all the time; I can never remember if I have one flat in Torry, or 86.  Obviously the 900 homes he is building in Menie are all going ahead and will all be sold.

The two events are unrelated.  Aberdeenshire, RGU, Alex ‘fishy’ Salmond and a host of others believe in Trump.  That should be good enough for you and me. It’s not as if he’ll sell the land off now that the planning permission is in place – nothing short of creating the ‘world’s greatest golf course’ will do, and he won’t rest until he’s done it. I for one have complete faith in the intellectual prowess and ethics of our local government when it ensures my environment is protected and all land deals and planning consent matters are handled above board.

Question:  Who will be playing on this course? 

If it costs you at present over $695 a year to play golf at Trump’s LA course for only $160 a go, then I foresee a problem.  If you introduce such a low rate here in Scotland, then every oil exec will be skiving off work to spend all their time playing around.  Nothing will ever get done, and the greens will be crowded day and night.  See you there!  (When it’s finished).

I will keep an eye open on the flat-swapping sites to see if anyone will trade their new Menie home for my Torry Flat.  Or maybe not – I would far rather stay in Torry.

For some fine examples of the word ‘mis-statement’ in use, the following link will be of interest:  http://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-eliot-spitzer-lawsuit-video-2011-4

Sometimes I wonder if the doings in Aberdeen aren’t what’s giving me a stomach ache.  But for now, back to bed for me, and at least I sleep sounder than some of our officials do – or should do anyway.  

Next week:  A deer update from the City which begs for the word ‘disingenuous’ to be defined.

Jun 102011
 

Voice’s Old Susannah casts her eye over recent events, stories, and terms and phrases familiar as well as freshly ‘spun’, which will be forever etched in the consciousness of the people of Aberdeen and the Northeast.

Summer in Aberdeen.  Lighting the barbeque (rain permitting) then standing around it (to warm your hands up) while someone inevitably insists on taking over the cooking, ensuring you get a burger burnt on the outside yet still frozen inside.

Old Susannah is off for a spray-tan tomorrow so she’ll be bright orange (or maybe not) for the season’s most important event – the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens picnic.  My picnic basket has been dusted off, a few brewdogs put in the deep freeze, and raingear laid out (just in case) for the big day Saturday.

If you think the City’s economic future doesn’t depend on putting a carpark where the verdant remnant of the Denburn Valley is, then I will see you there Saturday.

Old Susannah was at the RGU students’ fashion show last Thursday as a guest of one of the lecturers; the designs on show were impressively creative and individualistic.  It was a professional, enjoyable show, but I hope they do better on the drink front next time.  I guess it is possible to have clothing that’s not been sewn in the third world by children in sweatshops after all.

The mini bottle of unchilled white wine however was not to my group’s taste, and we made a break for it to Cafe 52 for some cold beer and wine.  Since then, I’ve had a wee bit of my time taken up looking into the deer cull.  It’s not too late (I hope) to stop this madness.

But now it’s time for a definition or two.

Mathematics: (noun) classical discipline encompassing algebra, geometry, trigonometry; numeracy.

Maths was never my strongpoint.  I still haven’t figured out how we can guarantee our economic future by getting a TIF loan for £100 million or more while being £50 million in debt to get rid of Union Terrace Gardens.

Thankfully, that’s what ACSEF and the Council tell me will happen, and I’m quite prepared to take their word for it.  I’m not even smart enough to figure out how a Stadium at Loirston Loch for 21,000 people can work on 1400 parking places (or how the stadium’s plan to have 80 buses reach Loirston from College Street in 15 minutes flat is feasible.  I personally can’t get a bus from Torry to Nigg when it’s busy that takes less than half an hour.  Obviously I’m doing something wrong.).

I’m working on my math skills in the hopes I too can see how black and white our city’s thinking must be.

I guess I also have to work on the mathematics behind the Haudagain Roundabout situation and the proposed Paper mill housing development.  It is good to know that Aberdeen is the best in the UK at something – and it’s official:  we are the best at roundabout traffic jams.  I’d always thought traffic moved just a wee bit slowly in the part of town as people stopped to admire the lovely roundabout itself.  However, as ever:  the City has a plan.

And here is the mathematical sense behind it:

Take: 1 x congested roundabout

Subtract: 100 nearby Middlefield houses to be bulldozed

Add: 900 private dwellings (builder:  one Mr S Milne) near congested roundabout

Add: shops, offices, a medical centre, business units and riverside bistro (builder:  Mr Milne)

Equals = minimal impact on roundabout traffic.

That’s right.  There will be minimal impact on the roundabout per our Council.

Personally I would have thought that the massive number of people trying to get a table at the riverside bistro alone would have led to traffic standstill; I hope to have an invitation to the opening night.  The medical centre makes a nice addition to any housing scheme of this size; it is the Vaseline that lets these great housing plans slide through planning departments.  It will be an extremely useful medical centre, as all of the people stuck on the roundabout will need treatment for C02 inhalation and dehydration.

My other mathematical ignorance concerns the Tullos Hill deer:

Take: 30 deer (Council’s estimate) which normally live 5-7 years

Subtract: (I mean ‘kill’ – sorry, I mean ‘cull’) 9 male deer this year

Balance: 21 deer

Plant: 40,000 trees

Number of trees left for each deer to eat =  1,904

Old Susannah can eat and drink with the best of them, but had no idea how hungry these tiny little deer must be:  1,904 trees is a fair amount per deer.  If each deer ate only 5% of this figure, that’s still 95.2 saplings for each deer (of the remaining herd after we’ve ‘managed’ 9 males as the City wishes).  It is a complete mystery to me how these hungry critters manage to survive on Tullos at all given the lack of trees.  Alas, I have no degree in forestry, so it looks like I must take the experts’ advice:  deer are dangerous vermin which if left unchecked will eat.

Not in Crisis: (mod English phrase) – phrase used to reassure others that a given situation is under control or no cause for concern.

If you follow football (a game somewhat similar to what they do at Pittodrie), then you will know that FIFA is ‘not in crisis’.  For you or me allegations of corruption, vote-rigging, bribery and dishonesty might spell a bit of trouble.  For the Federation Internationale de Football Associations, such issues can be shrugged off.  It is because of FIFA’s high moral stance that footballers the world ‘round behave with such dignity, ethics and honesty.

Behind every great organisation there is a great man.

Milne Homes has Stewart; the Wood Group PSN has Sir Ian, and FIFA has President Blatter.  Mr Blatter is so very popular that no one ran against him in the latest FIFA presidential election.  Or something like that.  I guess the question is does a mere £100 million ‘inducement’ really amount to a bribe?  I think not.  FIFA does have a ‘Standards Statute’, which is a modern fiction classic.  It reads in part:

“The Standard Statues contain all the provisions that are intrinsic to any constitutive texts worthy of such description.  We are therefore calling upon the Associations to examine these statutes meticulously and incorporate all of the articles and principles covered into their own statutes – for their own benefit and for the Good of the Game” – Joseph S Blatter

I love a good read, and gave the Statues a once-over.  However, I did not find the proper etiquette for accepting brown envelopes filled with money.  Perhaps someone here in Aberdeen can help with that.  In any event, it is hoped that all the world’s football associations will soon behave as Mr Blatter wishes.  Heaven forbid anything happens to put the beautiful game into disrepute.

Quasi-serious note

Last Christmas I put in a serious note about the holidays not having to be the beautiful family and friend-filled affairs that the TV commercials present.

Not everyone had 20 friends round their tree drinking eggnog before a horse-drawn sleigh ride.  Summer is rather the same.  The media tells you that you must look fantastic in your bathing suit (if it ever gets warm enough to put it on).  You must play volleyball on a sandy sunny beach and drink orange soda the same colour as your skin.

Don’t for a moment assume that everyone will be having tropical holidays and drinking cocktails from coconut shells under palm trees.  The economy is not great (despite the best efforts of ACSEF and ACC).  You might have your worries.  Take a ‘staycation’.  Visit Scotland.  Visit Tullos Hill for that matter.

But don’t let some false media advertising imagery fool you.  And if you are like many people struggling with one thing and another, remember:  at least you’re not Ryan Giggs.

May 202011
 

By Bob Smith.

The MS Europa wis ower big
Ti berth in oor hairbour watters
We ACSEF chiels are already  thinkin
The toon’s reputation’s in tatters 

We canna lose future tourist fowk
So eence mair we’ll use a trick
We’ll get aa oor PR billies
Ti lay it on richt thick

Us ACSEF chiels are the lads
Ti organise things in the city
We’ll jist hae a bunch o CPOs
Gien ti the fowk faa bide in Fittie

We’ll knock doon aa their hoosies
Syne mak the hairbour fine an big
An great muckle cruise liners can sail
Past the golf course ower at Nigg

Ach we ken the fowk in Fittie
Wull be tearin oot their hair
It’s for the gweed o the toon
So we dinna bliddy care 

Noo there’ll be a lot o protest
So we’ll hae ti be richt fly
An git oor freens in the cooncil
Ti agree plans on the sly

Michty me we’re richt clivver
Eence mair we’ve worked a con
Noo fit aboot some ither plans
Fer a marina on the Don?

The Poetry Mannie’s used poetic licence
Fin writin iss poem’s verses
Bit shud iss fiction come ti pass
We’ll kick ACSEF fowk up their erses

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2011