On Saturday the 29th of October a group opposing the City Gardens Project gathered outside the design exhibition on Belmont Street. It was a diverse gathering as Chicho Sanchez reports.
In attendance were individuals from around the city as well as members of the ‘Friends of Union Terrace Gardens’ campaign. A healthy level of debate was maintained throughout the day between those in favour, those not in favour, and those still on the fence. A nice little microcosm of local democracy.
However, this changed when multi-millionaire house builder and ACSEF (Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future) board member Stewart Milne, who had earlier entered the exhibition, left the building.
He began quietly discussing with protestors the issues they were raising but before long became visibly agitated and began insulting the group. Milne called protestors “selfish” and “very narrow-minded”.
Here is a video of the incident with some background information on Milne himself, Ian Wood and ACSEF.
ACSEF deserves special interest from the public. It is “funded by Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils and Scottish Enterprise” and its function is to “drive(s) economic development in the region”. Its board comprises 16 members from both the private and public sectors.
However, 10 of the 16 members are the local business elite and there are only 2 councillors to represent the electorate. Concerns are being raised about the influence ACSEF and its board members are having on local policy making. Andy Wightman, the land rights expert and author of ‘The Poor Had No Lawyers’ stated:
“There is a crisis in local governance in Aberdeen-shire and the north-east rooted (I think) in a development model that derives from a frontier mentality of economic development that relies on subventions of external capital to unaccountable local elites.”
“The City Council (and Aberdeenshire) is completely under control of the business community. ACSEF, an unelected group of businessmen and developers with one city councillor and one shire one, is making policy. At each meeting of Aberdeenshire Council’s Infrastructure Services Committee there is a report detailing ACSEF’s latest activities and decisions.
“The officers’ recommendation used to be to ‘note the report’. Now it is to ‘endorse the actions of ACSEF’. There is no discussion and no opportunity to challenge or change what ACSEF decided a couple of months ago. But the endorsement means that whatever ACSEF says automatically becomes council policy a few weeks later. Democratic control has gone. The council is taking direct instructions from these businessmen.”
As HMS Democracy sails off into the sunset with ACSEF and Aberdeen City and Shire Councils on board, it’s about time we grabbed our speed boat and went after them. It’s about time we began scrutinising and challenging the logic behind this cosy arrangement.
We should be looking at the board members, their track records and their personal opinions and decide collectively if they can in fact act in the interest of the majority. If we decide that they can’t, we need to start making plans to remedy the situation.
Please watch the video and visit ACSEF WATCH ABERDEEN on Facebook to join in the debate.