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(This letter is an expression of my understanding of the situation; its contents and arguments are accurate as far as I am able to determine)
Dear Mr White
I am a resident of Aberdeen and as such would like to ask you to please turn down the TIF bid which a public/private, unelected minority will submit in order to ‘transform’ Union Terrace Gardens.
There are many reasons why this application should not proceed, and there are large questions over the manner in which Aberdeen City, Scottish Enterprise, private individuals and ACSEF (a public/private invention of Aberdeen City Council) have pushed ahead with their plans for the Gardens.
I am concerned at the overlapping roles individuals have. Mr Stewart Milne hopes to build office buildings adjacent to the proposed site; he is also on ACSEF and has issued warnings via letters to the press and so on that the project must go ahead. I question his impartiality.
Sir Ian Wood has apparently put a £50 million pound gift to the city in his will. The Wood Family Trust is involved with some of the many companies which have been started around the project. Ms Jennifer Craw, formerly of Scottish Enterprise Grampian is on that Trust. There is no guarantee of this £50 million materialising, and it is not to be used (as I understand it) for anything but a project in Union Terrace Gardens. This is a wholly undemocratic proposal, and it must be noted that the land is, as I understand it, Common Good Land.
The Gardens need some better care and better policing, and possibly better access for people with special abilities. It does not need to otherwise change, particularly as it is the only green city centre oasis. Its trees provide a much needed resource against the air and traffic pollution. The site Stewart Milne would turn into office adjacent to the site has Peregrine Falcons. The Gardens have rookeries, bats, and are an oasis for insect life including bees. The City has pressed ahead with housing developments and allowed a giant football stadium (at Mr Milne’s request) to be build on Loirston Loch land in an SAC Area; keeping this green park undeveloped should be considered an important environmental cornerstone for the City’s future.
The City Council pledges that it will spend no money whatsoever on this project. Some proponents are using that argument to say that no referendum should be held. At least two City officers are ‘voluntarily’ spending over 10 hours each per week on pushing the project forward; these are Jan Falconer and Gerry Brough.
Aside from these many considerations, the basic fact is that people are not going to come to Aberdeen on the basis that it has transformed its existing Victorian Gardens (with listed, ancient trees) into some new form of venture. Excellent schools, hospitals and services are important to people when choosing where to live – and these are the very things that are being cut by Aberdeen.
If part of the bid is for creating a ‘performance’ space, I would point out that the taxpayer is already supporting the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre. There are existing private and public exhibition spaces. A new space would be a direct competitor for these existing businesses, and I question whether Scottish Enterprise should spend any more public money in pursuing this project. It has already spent over £400,000.
The schemes that have been proposed are not only impractical and unattractive; they are wholly unnecessary and above all unaffordable. The City is cutting core services and closing schools; it however still continues to concentrate efforts on changing the gardens. Concrete walkways are proposed; these are impractical. A giant monolith likewise is proposed; it bears no relation to the existing, distinctive architecture. A giant glass tunnel would require massive amounts of maintenance. None of these schemes demonstrate anything at all that is desirable or that would demonstrably enhance the city. In fact, building more car parking will encourage more car use; building new shops will simply empty out the existing shops more quickly.
The architects selected, I believe, have all done projects which have gone over budgets by millions. The City is in debt already, and it is unclear who would pick up the tab for a failed project or an over-budget project.
The City said it is not biased, but its ‘BiD’ project team have distributed a draft letter and are asking businesses to ask you to approve the TIF bid. As a private citizen, my views on this project have been ignored (there was a previous consultation in which 55% – possibly more as there was a fault with computer voting) rejected plans to change Union Terrace Gardens. A current poll on Facebook by STV shows 75% of those voting want the gardens retained.
As a last point (although I still have other issues which are important to me), it is not that long ago that Aberdeen City was found lacking by Audit Scotland in terms of its commercial activities. This is hardly the right time to proceed with such a large project with such long-term implications.
Please do not saddle me and future generations with a financial burden for a project which we do not want.