Aug 212012
 

Suzanne Kelly, Chair of campaigning group ‘Democracy Watch’ called upon UK and EU regulatory agencies to investigate details of the proposed City Garden Project today. Citing both past invoices paid by the public worth hundreds of thousands of pounds and the revelation that leading businessmen plan to add £15 million towards the project’s estimated £140 million costs may have conflict of interest issues.  The project is subject to a vote of the Full Aberdeen City Council on Wednesday 22 August.

Sir Ian Wood will ‘give’ £50 million to the City if it agrees to borrow £92 million more via Tax Incremental Funding to build a ‘Granite Web’ over the existing Victorian Union Terrace Gardens.

The subject has been voted down in a previous consultation, but narrowly passed a non-binding referendum exercise.

Labour promised that it came to power it would end the scheme; Labour duly gained a majority in the May elections

In correspondence today to regulatory entities and leading political figures, Kelly writes:-

“I would ask for an investigation into the situation in Aberdeen concerning the potential development of Union Terrace Gardens with regard to procurement issues and potential conflict of interests.

“I am not a legal professional, but it certainly seems to me that people who have or had influential posts on publicly-funded quangos might have used their roles to further their own interests – this should be investigated before any moves to proceed with the ‘City Garden Project’ are approved.  The entire situation needs to be looked at in detail.

“Stewart Milne and Tom Smith have been actively pushing this scheme via their memberships and positions of influence in the publicly-funded Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future quango, ACSEF.  Milne owns the ‘Triple Kirks’ site next to the proposed area of development.  His land at present would be hard to develop or even access.  If the development of UTG goes ahead, the Triple Kirks area could only increase in value; this is obvious. 

“Milne would therefore likely stand to gain financially.  How he has been permitted to act within his ACSEF role to further a scheme which seems set to enrich him – largely at the taxpayer’s cost – should be investigated.  I did ask ACSEF to comment and they replied it was a matter for his conscience.  When millions of pounds of public money and common good land are at stake, this is not nearly good enough.

“Tom Smith likewise has used his position in ACSEF to further the plan to build a ‘granite web’ over the gardens.  He and Colin Crosby were the original directors of an entity set up named Aberdeen City Gardens Trust.  The Trust would apparently wind up managing the garden development and be in a position to handle millions of pounds – yet Smith has been allowed to pursue a role in ACSEF which directly impacts on his ACGT entity. 

“For reasons unclear to me, this Trust has been granted automatic rights to perform these valuable services without any tender exercise whatsoever being done.  I cannot help but think this is against UK and EU procurement policies and laws.

“In the end, we have a situation where common good land, owned by the people of Aberdeen, is being considered for development simply because Sir Ian Wood will ‘give’ the city £50 million towards a building project there.  He will not let us use this ‘gift’ on another site (the now vacant St Nicholas House would be one alternative); he will not entertain alternatives of any kind. 

“This scheme will take a green park and its 250 year-old trees and turn it into a turfed-over concrete jungle – with an outdoor theatre directly in front of another theatre.  The Aberdeen taxpayer is already subsidising two entertainment venues; using public funds to create a third is unacceptable.  Wood may call this a ‘gift’’ I would personally call it ‘coercion.’

“I would also ask the relevant regulators to look at the various personnel overlaps between public and private sector groups influencing this scheme – a scheme which will still cost the taxpayer £92 million at current estimate – a scheme which does not yet have a timetable, actual budget or scope.”

Kelly campaigned as chair of ‘Democracy Watch’ in the local referendum, and had this to say:-

“Labour were sceptical over agreeing to a referendum; and having participated in the exercise, I see they were right.  There was an unofficial group campaigning for the City Garden Project; and they bombarded the public with literature which I personally found misleading.

“I did try to complain to the Electoral Commission and to Advertising Standards, but neither could intervene in a referendum.   There were glossy brochures, newspapers, print and radio advertising placed by this group which far exceeded the value that the official groups were allowed to spend.  There were problems with the official material as well; the Green Party’s statement was cut off in the paper brochures for instance. 

“But to tell the public that the web would create 6,500 new jobs as this literature did seems highly unlikely.  I am told that some of the people behind this ‘unofficial’ group are also members of ACSEF and/or Aberdeen City Gardens Trust – possibly people who stand to gain financially from the project proceeding.  This makes the entire referendum exercise a mere ‘he who spends the most wins’ exercise.  I would ask the authorities which might look into my other concerns to look into this as well.”

Kelly concludes:-

“The vast sums of public money spent on PR, consultants and advertising to push this scheme could have gone on education and community projects.  This city does not need to borrow £92 million to turn its green park into a construction zone and a potential ‘trams fiasco.’  This city does need its existing buildings occupied and unused brownfield put back into use.  Businesses continue to operate here because of our industry. 

“Unnecessary, grandiose building projects detrimental to the environment seem to me designed to enrich the rich at public expense:  this scheme must be scrapped and the roles and actions of its powerful supporters examined.”

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Feb 282012
 

A person might think that a chamber of commerce exists to promote local businesses.  Here in Aberdeen this is true as well.  But as Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly learns – the taxpayer is funding at least some of the PR work  for the City Gardens  Project – and the Chamber of Commerce and ACSEF seem to be leading the City Council by the nose.

The proposed City Gardens Project/Granite Web is a contentious idea which would see a mix of public and private interests building huge, granite ramps over Union Terrace Gardens.
While this idea may not even get off the ground, it has been a gold mine for some fortunate businesses via the Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce – at the taxpayer’s expense.

This article will primarily deal with money that the City Council was invoiced by the Chamber of Commerce for PR-related work.  Before doing so, a little recap of other financial facts will add perspective.

PriceWaterhouse Coopers have come up with some grandiose projections including the creation of some 6,500 permanent jobs and £122 million flowing into Aberdeen every year until c. 2023:  all because of the granite web.  PriceWaterhouse Coopers were first paid £41,000 and change for TIF-related work in March 2010.  Other invoices followed, and so far I have been shown by Scottish Enterprise £71,000 worth of PwC invoices.

These invoices are made out to Scottish Enterprise, and Scottish Enterprise is funded by the taxpayer.  Unfortunately, these projections have been seized upon  by the press and turned into ‘facts’  (The Press & Journal published these and other items in a box entitled ‘facts and figures’ on 19 January next to an article about the PwC projections and the garden’s many projected benefits).

The unelected and free-spending and secretive ‘Vote for the City Gardens Project Group’ have likewise promoted these figures in their literature as being reliable facts as well.  They are projections, and arguably very optimistic ones at that.  Whether or not these glowing projections (that we will have more permanent jobs from our web than London expects from its 2012 Olympics) are based on the fact that PwC is being paid by the side that wants to build the web is something the referendum voters may wish to ponder.

A Freedom of Information request I lodged with Scottish Enterprise some time ago revealed (details of which I have previously published) included:-

Item Description Date Amount
1 Technical Feasibility Study to undertake an engineering, cost and design appraisal of the development options for UTG, each incorporating an arts centre. Jun 2009 £162k
2 Architect, Design & Project management fees for a Contemporary Arts Centre project Feb 09/May 10 £226k
3 Consultation Report – City Square Project.. Mar 2010 £113,915
4 Union Terrace Gardens (TIF)-Tax Increment Financing Mar 10
Oct 10
Nov 10
£71,959.65
5 Scottish Enterprise holds 22 copies of invoices relating to ACSEF approved spend for activities relating to stakeholder engagement, events management, and communcations. [sic] 2009-10
2010-11
£51,766.60
£22,712.72

(source – Scottish Enterprise email exchange with Suzanne Kelly May 2011)

While this £648,000 was being spent, Aberdeen City Council was battling with potential job and service cuts in order to balance its books.  It seems that these costs have largely been paid by the taxpayer via Scottish Enterprise and other vehicles, and I can find nothing to show that the Wood Family Trust, which has offered £50,000,000 to further the project, has paid towards any of these costs.  The PR and promotional invoices referred to at Item 5 have been paid by the Aberdeen City taxpayer.

Before moving on to Item 5, which is the subject of this article, some of these other items are worth a further glance.

At Item 2 you will notice we are now talking about some kind of ‘Contemporary Arts Centre project’ – is Peacock already being edged out of the picture at this point?

Item 4 would seem to correspond to PriceWaterhouse Coopers invoices which I referred to.  How much more money has been spent on PWC since this May 2011 exchange is unknown.

From what I have been subsequently sent by Scottish Enterprise, the bulk of the invoices at Item 5 were from the Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce to the City Council.  In the words of Scottish Enterprise:-

  • 9 invoices relate to financial year 2009/10 – these total £51,766.60
  • 16 invoices relate to financial year 2010/11 – these total £36,692.95. This total is higher than the original figure stated due to the invoices received after the date of that response
  • There has been no spend on the City Garden Project from the ACSEF budget during the current financial year  (SK notes – it is only February – there is time)

(source – Scottish Enterprise email to Suzanne Kelly February 2012)

Arguably a mere £88,459 is small change as Aberdeen City contemplates borrowing £92,000,000 (minimum) if the project goes ahead. However, this is money which the City paid from its own budgets – it is taxpayer money.  Should a financially-pressured city use pubic money for propaganda purposes – PR, events and photos designed to promote the City Garden Project?  Is the Wood Family Trust contributing any money towards these expenses yet?  I simply do not know.

A spreadsheet of the expenses comprising Item 5 can be found online at http://oldsusannahsjournal.yolasite.com/  I would recommend looking at these 50 or so items.

If you look at the wording in the table above, ACSEF is apparently approving this expenditure.  ACSEF is a public-private quango, and at the time of writing, Stewart Milne is on its board.  He owns the Triple Kirks land adjacent to Union Terrace Gardens, and he wants to turn this landmark into an office complex which will likely enrich him if it goes ahead in my opinion.

Despite several emails, no one in a position of power has the slightest qualm with Mr Milne potentially having a conflict of interest.    Why precisely ACSEF is allowed to commission and recommend for payment invoices to the City Council is a matter I personally find worrying.

Virtually none of the invoices from the Chamber to the City specify who / what company actually performed the services in question.  What company got all the PR work?  Who took the photos?  I do note that Zoe Corsi of the BIG Partnership is on the Chamber’s Board of Directors – as are other key players such as Tom Smith, one of the two directors of the private entity, Aberdeen City Gardens Trust.  This company seems to be in the thick of the decision-making processes; it is apparently the company which is holding onto the results of the design finalist public vote – which it refuses to release at present.

The taxpayer apparently paid for that exhibition and the public vote – and yet a private company seems to be withholding the results.  The argument has been put forth that it is no longer relevant.  Many people took the opportunity to write on the voting papers that they were against all the schemes and wanted the gardens retained and improved.

The public should have had this ‘no’ option at the final selection vote, but it seems councillors who asked for a ‘no’ option were outmoded by the Project Management Board (note – see the website listed previously for details of how all these companies and entities have interesting personnel overlaps).

It may be of interest to accountants that the party which actually performed the work not specified on these invoices, and with only a rare exception is VAT ever charged.  It would be interesting to know whether or not the Chamber of Commerce adds any fees or commission charges to the work it is invoicing the City for.

Highlights of the list of invoices include:-

  • £180 paid for a photograph showing ‘inaccessibility of Union Terrace Gardens’
  • over  £25,000 paid for ‘Stakeholder engagement’ events and so on since October 2009 to August 2010
  • £3500 paid to ‘Comedia’ for Charles Landry to attend event / speak
  • Redacted line items and handwritten notes adorn several of the invoices
  • One invoice – No. 42407 shows only one line relating to ‘coach hire’ – this is £246.  However, the total shown on this one page invoice is for £7444 – what has happened?
  • A January 2010 Advertising bill from Aberdeen Press & Journals for £ 2,820 ( See: http://fraserdenholm.blogspot)
  • £11,000 in February 2010 charged from the Chamber to the City for “Development of images, movie, powerpoint and exhibition material for City Square Project as per attached sheets”

As to the redacted text on the invoices, redacted text has started showing up in Project Monitoring  Board minutes and reports again, despite Councillor McCaig’s previous intervention to cease this practice.  One company which has had its name redacted from recent documentation is Brodies.

The value of three Brodies invoices which I received copies of is around £12,000.  One of these invoices from April 2011 is for:

“City Gardens Project – Development Constraints Report (Legal  [sic] To fee for professional services in connection with the preparation of a development constraints report relating to the title of Union Terrace Gardens, Aberdeen, and surrounding land.”

I suppose our City’s in-house legal department cannot be expected to know whether or not it has free title to Union Terrace Gardens.   Happily, experts have demonstrated the land is Common Good Land.  As such, whether any of these garden projects can or should be legitimately carried out will be a big question in the future.

Earlier we saw how ACSEF was allowed to recommend these expenditures; we have seen how the Chamber of Commerce invoices the City for ACSEF-approved costs.  If we were to put in some of the over-lapping names from ACSEF and the Chamber of Commerce into the equation, we would be able to see that:

ACSEF [including Stewart Milne, Jennifer Craw (of Wood Family Trust), Tom Smith (Director, Aberdeen City Gardens Trust), Colin Crosby (Director, Aberdeen City Gardens Trust), Callum McCaig (ACC) ]

approved invoices generated by the Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce [Colin Crosby; Zoe Corsi (BIG Partnership) , former director Tom Smith]

for the City Council [Callum McCaig]

to approve to further the aims of the Garden Project (CGP entity members include John Michie, Colin Crosby, Jennifer Craw).

Given the above, I suggest that the time is right for an entire re-think of how this project has been allowed to develop, and a full investigation into the demise of the Peacock plan and an investigation into the genesis of the current state of affairs might not be a bad idea as well.

While this is going on, a local care home has announced it will no longer provide 24/7 on-site staff as there is not enough money.  Residents were told to drink less fluids at night time.

Feb 102012
 

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

By Suzanne Kelly.

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

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

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

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

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

On with some definitions then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The City Garden Project – The Myths, dispelled.

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

Fine – we are all in agreement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantastic!  Let’s go!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The City Garden is a commercial development – FALSE

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

(note – see definition above of ‘propaganda’)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb 032012
 

January and February always seem to represent a low time in the year. Christmas and New Year have been and gone and there seems little to look forward to. The days remain short and the nights long. It’s usually raw cold. Unwelcoming. The opening months of the year always cause something of a gloom to hang over Mick Miller’s household. Bung in a global recession for good measure and things seem pretty bleak. Then it got worse. What’s up, Mick?

The post arrived on Monday and out of the two-for-one pizza offer junk mail fell a gaudy catalogue.
Only it wasn’t a catalogue – it had “VOTE” written on it. Promotional blurb for the City Gardens Development.

How profoundly depressing. The front ‘cover’ illustration is of some futuristic landscape from another place.
Only on closer inspection it isn’t. It’s Aberdeen, or, more accurately, a version of Aberdeen which can only have be conceived in cloud cuckoo land.

Real people, in a REAL garden.       

It’s lurid, horribly-coloured, glib and vacuous. It is pervaded by a complete sense of the unreal. Semi-transparent people wander aimlessly inside a cartoon-flowered version of reality. Children trample unrestrained, yet the flowers survive.

Out-of-scale human forms laze in some sort of airborne meadow whilst below them, in a throwback connection to the real world, trade waste bins lurk ominously. A woman of Amazonian proportions accesses a laptop whilst sitting on surprisingly unbending grass stems. The remnant spire of the Triple Kirks emerges from a scrubland of low growth stock image shrubbery.

It all looks vaguely ill-tended, neglected, as if within this futuristic vision lie the discards of the past. Or perhaps its a tacit admission that should, god forbid, this monstrosity go ahead, there is just no way that the upkeep will be affordable. Delving deeper, the background is found to comprise of a realigned His Majesty’s Theatre and a hugely-inflated and decapitated William Wallace. A victim of the guillotine perhaps?

But the history, like the whole of this charade, is just plain wrong. Landscape dressed up as farce. A cityscape for Anywhereville. Inaccurate. Disjointed. A cut-and-paste pastiche.

Opening up, things don’t improve. A drab labyrinth of pathways which look like bridges over a motorway, criss-cross manicured lawns and monoculture grasslands. In one image the sun sets….or does it rise? Either way, it’s in the wrong place. What on earth, if we are still on earth, is going on? This is lazy work, a Standard Grade project gone catastrophically wrong. Everything is confusing.

The front page image shows a gaudy flower bed appearing to lie on a lower level of the structure. Moving inside the pamphlet the same floral, er…..’bombshell’, is miraculously elevated. Or is it that those bloody bins are just absolutely HUGE? I’m confused, disturbed even.

   I’m going to have a lie down, maybe I’ll feel better and ‘it’ will all have been a bad dream. Only it won’t. It isn’t.

In the sunset image, an oddly-inclined piece of lawn totters precariously into the largely obliterated Denburn valley. In Woody Allen’s Manhatten, a character in a TV show is observed to have a toupee so badly-placed on his scalp that it looks like it has been dropped on to his head from a great height in an uncontrolled way.

This elevated savanna has the same feeling about it. There will be a need for avalanche warnings in the snowy depths of winter.

In another image, a pipe band plays beneath a Formica-lined dome with random cut-outs that give the feeling that the design is based on half a panelled football booted around Pittodrie of a Saturday afternoon. Below this, a winter scene shows people so cold they have started to vapourise as, it would appear, has the Formica football, associated terraces and denuded trees, miraculously large for such a recent planting.

A lone child in a blue jacket has something so contagious that the populace in the foreground seek to distance themselves as quickly as possible. Is he the cause of the vapourisations? Oh I get it – we’re on the set of War of the Worlds and soon tattered clothing will rain down upon us from the sky. I know that was the only good bit. It all has an apocalyptic feel. I’m going to have a lie down, maybe I’ll feel better and ‘it’ will all have been a bad dream. Only it won’t. It isn’t.

Aberdeen is a beautiful city, notwithstanding some recent disastrous architectural additions. It doesn’t need or deserve such ill-thought out attentions as this abomination.

Union Terrace Gardens are an integral part of what allows Aberdeen to maintain its architectural, cultural and civic dignity. The Gardens need some tender loving care, but they don’t need annihalation by the ‘solution’ that this tacky pamphlet proposes.

A heartfelt plea. Please, people, don’t let this thing go ahead. Make sure you vote to retain Union Terrace Gardens.

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!

 

Sep 232011
 

Old Susannah looks back at the week that was. By Suzanne Kelly.

Old Susannah is enjoying a glass of ‘Hello… my name is Ingrid’ (a beautiful brew made with cloudberry) at Brewdog, and is reflecting on another busy week in the Deen.
There was the Periurban conference for one thing. This was announced last minute on the City’s website.
It was an international conference on how cities deal with land on the fringes of the urban areas. I guess people from around the world came to see how wonderfully Aberdeen treats Union Terrace Gardens, Tullos Hill, green space at Westhill and Cove, and Loirston Loch.

The two-day conference was opened by the pioneering champion of all things green: Kate Dean.

I sent in an application, and then found myself invited to the second day’s events. For some reason it seemed they didn’t want me on the first day. I heard lots of important speakers, most of whom said urban sprawl is a problem, and we must all use less resources and re-use what we can. Someone even said ‘planting trees is not a solution’ - Cllr HoMalone please take note.

We heard about city centres emptying out if there is too much urban sprawl, with shops closing and crime and social deprivation becoming a problem. I was just surprised no one from Aberdeen explained how our ‘improving’ Union Terrace Gardens into a car park, ‘cosmopolitan cafe’, the hoped-for monorail and building in the greenbelt were going to save the day. I would have loved to have heard it. 

One City Council official kept turning around in their seat to look at me; for some reason they almost looked worried I was there. Could it have been the ‘Save the Tullos Deer’ t-shirt I wore under my suit jacket?

Someone was there from a local green charity, and somehow I brought up the deer cull situation (my t-shirt might have helped). The person had no idea why the Scottish SPCA was against the cull and what the other issues were. I happily explained.

Elsewhere in the Deen, someone has decided to leave a cat in a wheelie bin. Perhaps they want as much media attention as the woman from Coventry got? You may remember Mary Bale who cruelly left a cat in a bin for hours on end and was caught out. Let’s see if we can’t find the Aberdeen copycat cat botherer and do for them what the press did for Bale.

It would likewise be a shame if shamed Banff Brothers David and Colin Reid of 22 Boyndie Street West, Banff, got any bad press for their dogfighting activity conviction and jail sentences.

This is the Scottish SPCA’s first major dogfighting conviction in Aberdeenshire (where officials denied there was a problem, you may recall), and it is cause for celebration.  The Reids must know something about other dog fighters – let’s hope they roll over.  Thankfully, some of the dogs they were abusing have been rescued.

But anyway, here I am in Brewdog wondering what to write about this week.

I am looking at a recent Press & Journal headline which screams in giant letters: ‘IS THIS THE MOST HATED MAN IN SCOTLAND?‘ As I am always happy to follow where the P&J leads, so let’s skip definitions this week and take a look at the most hated man in Scotland instead. 

Imagine one man using the legal system to the maximum for his own self-interested ends. Imagine him standing alone, unwilling to listen to the thousands of people who want him to abandon the battle.

Imagine for a minute how much taxpayer money and court time he is willing to use up.

Yes, Mr Milne may well be the most hated man in Scotland. For openers there is the legal battle which he’s taking all the way to the highest court in the UK. For those who don’t know, Milne bought land from the City Council – 11 acres in Westhill – for some £335,000. (By the way, who do the rest of us have to know to get deals like that? Jane – can you help?). The land is worth millions.

Apparently Milne agreed with the City to pay a portion of any sale/rental profit to the City. In a really sharp, not at all transparent move, the land was sold from one arm of the vast Milne empire to another Milne company. As you’d expect, such a deal cost over £500,000 to do. Or so Milne claims when his companies say there was no profit left after the sale.  Seems pretty clear to me.

Yes, Milne is appealing (but not to most of us).

You’d have thought that our very generous Council wouldn’t go bothering Stew for a mere 1.7 million pounds (goodness knows the City can waste that much with ease), but it seems the City will be trying to claw back the money.

The courts found in the City’s favour – but Milne would rather drag us on through the legal system and cost the taxpayer more money than shell out.

Yes, Milne is appealing (but not to most of us). Of course if you weigh this against all the associated costs, then there probably won’t be much financial gain. Here’s a clever idea: let’s stop selling our assets at less money than they are worth. Who knows?  We might wind up less than the £50 million in debt we currently are.  But back to Milne.

We come to the subject of the once-beautiful game. Someone’s decided it’s much better to do land deals than try and win matches.

Milne will develop Pittodrie (which could have been rennovated – this has been done elsewhere in the UK) and build in the greenbelt well out of town.  Loirston Loch will be greatly improved by the new stadium. What the remaining wildlife will make of the lack of land, the cars, the additional pollution and inevitable trash is another matter.

I wonder what it’s like to be less popular than the Donald? Will the Dons become the Donalds?

The bottom line is the stadium will glow in the dark (!) and we can have Elton John and Rod Stewart concerts!. (Who cares that two BBC stories this week prove another link between ill health and car exhaust fumes, and Scotland’s wildlife continues to diminish?)

You would have thought that AFC fans would be jumping for joy at the chance to drive/bus/walk to Loirston. Instead, many of them want Milne to jump ship. Things are so desperate that some fans are actively inviting Donald Trump to invest in the club.  Ouch.

I wonder what it’s like to be less popular than the Donald? Will the Dons become the Donalds? Mr Milne might want to stay away from Facebook or AFC fan sites for a wee while, where there is just a hint of dissatisfaction. Such ingratitude – and after all he’s done to us. Sorry – I mean ‘for us’.

Stew’s not very popular in the city centre either. In his proposal for Triple Kirks, he’s promised us more office buildings. Result!

So who’d have thought that putting two glass box buildings next to the Triple Kirk spire (and probably chasing those pesky peregrine falcons away in the process) could make you unpopular? There will be office space – and who wants anything more than more office space?

I’m afraid to say Mr Milne is now as popular with golfers as fox-batterer Forbes would be at an animal rights meeting.

The only problem is parking (not that that is hindering him developing Pittodrie or in creating the stadium – neither has adequate parking in their plans). Where on earth will Stew find any parking solutions close to Triple Kirks? If only there was some empty, under-used space nearby – maybe something that ‘only has grass’ in it. He could have car parking, the offices would go ahead without a hitch, he’d rake in some money.

People would be amazingly grateful: we would get parking, shopping and ‘cosmopolitan cafes’ – where we can sit and drink coffee year round and be, er, cosmopolitan. If only Stew or his pal Ian could think of some solution to the problem, it would mean more money for Milne. There are some people who think the consultation should have been handled by the city with a lengthy consultation, and that the listed status of Triple Kirks carried a bit of weight.  These people were of course wrong.

And let’s face it: Milne could be low on cash.  Am I alone in thinking he’s short?  He’s chasing a mere 1.7 million through the courts (when he’s supposedly worth about 60 million). He’s about to lay off workers up and down Scotland – he says he can’t afford them.

Perhaps he expanded a bit too quickly? Perhaps he thought new building would continue for ever? Well – with our City Council it just might.

It seems a little ironic that the City is giving Milne contracts (some recent ones total over ten million) while he is both dragging the city through the courts and firing Aberdonians in the building trade. But the people who are in charge know best. 

For reasons of space, I’ll limit this to just one more aspect of the man’s popularity. I’m afraid to say Mr Milne is now as popular with golfers as fox-batterer Forbes would be at an animal rights meeting. It seems that the Portlethen community council and those who use Portlethen Golf Club are up in arms over Milne’s plans to build 153 houses so close to the course that there may be a few problems. Safe to say, people are teed off.

There you have it. The Press & Journal had their own front-page suggestion for ‘the most hated man in Scotland.’ Some of us have a different candidate for that title.

Last word: City Council employees: stop criticising your wonderful employers and managers on the Intranet. First: they don’t like it and are drafting all kinds of means to stop your free speech. Second: that’s my job. I understand they may participate in a 24-hour ‘tweeting’ session to say what excellent services they’ve got going. You are cordially uninvited to tweet back.

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.