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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  19 Responses to “Campaigner Calls For CGP Investigation”

  1. Well said Suzanne!

  2. Excellent article.

  3. Let me get this right; the CHAIR of campaigning group DEMOCRACY WATCH wants to ignore a DEMOCRATIC vote because her side didn’t win! hahahaha

    You couldn’t make this up, brilliant.

    • If the referendum had been run fairly, then I would have agreed with you but .. to quote from the article above :-

      “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. “

  4. Denis,

    Commonly known as excuses for bad losers, I saw probably more anti CGP propoganda than pro, look at this site for example, 100% anti CGP and this is a “independant” site.

    The anti people will get their wish today and imo it will set Aberdeen back years, who wants to invest in a City where a village mentality is rife.

    • George, whilst Aberdeen Voice welcomes your input and regards your opinion as valid as anyone elses, We would like to point out that Aberdeen Voice as an organisation does not have an opinion on UTG/CGP, and the reason you are seeing an imbalance is simply because almost all articles contributed to AV are from people who are against the development.

      We do not censor, over-edit nor refuse to publish articles based on the writer’s opinion provided the content fulfills criteria which all publications are bound by.

      Perhaps if other publications and media outlets operated similarly, Aberdeen Voice would not be the only/go-to option for writers whose views arise from a particular band of the political spectrum. Until this changes, I’m afraid our unbiased, independent publication is just gonna have to lean one way or another.

      ….. Anyway, just wanted to point this out ( as I believe I have previously ) …. carry on .. 🙂

  5. George,
    Are you aware that the first democratic vote was the public consultation vote which was conveniently
    brushed aside by Sir Ian and his ACSEF cronies simply because THAT vote did not give them the result they wanted
    I think if you seriously look into anti’s stance you shall find they are not against the Gardens having a makeover but what is being considered is not a makeover. Anyway the idea that The Granite Web
    is going the rejuvenate the city centre is plain bonkers.Union Street is dead simply because shopping habits have changed and more and more people are shopping online or going to places like Union Square. A street full of financial institutions, night clubs ,coffee shops and charity shops is not condusive
    to attracting people back to it. Building the Granite Web shall not alter that fact and the rest of the planned scheme I’m afraid does not add up. This is not just my opinion but is that of a London economist

  6. And there we have, a city dying on its arse throws away the only real opportunity for saving it.

    Have you people seen the state of the city centre, its populated by junkies and alkies with businesses folding and shops empty everywhere, and we throw away the only real regeneration option on offer.

    Last one turn out the lights, a dark day for Aberdeen and democracy.

    • So the only way to save the city is to spend 140 million on some gardens? how’s that work then?

  7. Kelly, how do you feel about the following since you suggested we couldn’t afford the £92 million?

    “Councillors voted 22-20 against the project instead supporting a proposal the Independent Alliance Group, led by councillor Marie Boulton, to use the TIF money to regenerate Union Street, the Arts Centre, the Music Hall, the Lemon Tree and the Mither Kirk.”

  8. Bob,

    I never even knew about the consultation, hardly anyone did, the only fair option was to ask everyone, they did and we answered yes.

    Now we’re still having to borrow the money but don’t get the major project we asked for.

    They even respect democracy in Russia these days.

    • “They even respect democracy in Russia these days.”

      What did I miss? Did Putin offer to send Pussy Riot over to perform at the City Garden Project’s opening?

      A non-binding referendum intended to gauge public opinion produced a vote of 45,301 for the City Garden Project design and 41,175 against it. As a consultation exercise, it was far from being a decisive result….and in such circumstances, I think most impartial adjudicators would probably regard it as fair to take some account of the imbalance created by the use (on one side) of an expensive PR campaign.

      For whatever reason, the pro CGP businessmen who instructed that expensive PR campaign didn’t think the imbalance mattered. The general consensus among them perhaps being “the ends we want justifies the means.” However, if you’re going to very clearly benefit from inequality one minute (when factors like cash flow and the political make-up of the local Council are in your favour) you’re in a weak position to complain about inequity when a new Council, one less supportive of your aims, is democratically elected.

      To pursue that argument regardless is hypocrisy. When you’re feeling unassailable you might think “who cares about democracy? Getting what I want is all that matters.” Now suddenly, this week, democracy becomes something that matters. The problem is, if you’ve never cared much for issues like fairness, equality and democracy because you’ve never had to, you’re probably going to come a cropper when you try to participate in debates about these concepts.

      If the majority of Aberdonians were strongly in support of the CGP, then they should have voted a pro-CGP Council in – and then the plans would have been accepted by the Council. That’s democracy. I know it’s disappointing for anybody who feels they didn’t get the best democracy money can buy.

      The people who clicked on a link and clicked “vote for the city garden project” months back, when the Big Partnership PR company told them to, evidently weren’t sufficiently interested to participate in the local Elections. You can blame them for that, or you can blame democracy for requiring people to put on a coat and visit a polling station, rather than just clicking on a couple of links….but to argue that this outcome isn’t democratic shows a lack of understanding about what democracy is, and what it requires of all of us.

  9. Bob,

    Funny you should mention London, I was there on holiday last week, Trafalger square and Piccadily circus were both mobbed with people, if you create a natural gathering place people will come and spend time there, in turn the surrounding areas will thrive. This anti progress movement in Aberdeen is strangling us, it’s the dour “nothing wrong with it” attitude that has got us where we are.

  10. Now the Full Council has thrown the plan out, maybe Sir Ian will put his donation to something the city needs. the “Sir Ian Wood Cancer Centre” sounds pretty good to me.

  11. Stupid and illogical article. What a daft and odious woman

  12. Karin,

    You appear to have not noticed that the SNP polled more votes than Labour, you also appear to have forgot that local elections are not decided on a one issue mandate.

    The only fair vote was the single issue referendum, we were all asked if we wanted the CGP, the people of Aberdeen spoke and voted for it, we’re all more than capable of making an informed judgement and we did, the arguments from your side are pure sour grapes, you and others are ignoring democracy, something I never thought I’d live to see in my Country.

    Labour will get hammered in the next local election, the majority who never bother with local politics as all sides are self serving fools will turn out in huge numbers to get this undemocratic idiots out of office.

    Local councils shouldn’t even be run by politicians but that’s a different argument for another day.

  13. It is factually inaccurate to say that Labour secured a majority in the local elections. They are the single largest party (although they came second in the number of votes) but are in coalition with the Tories and independents.

    The pro CGP parties did secure more votes and seats than Labour.

    The vote against the CGP was secured because two Lib Dem councillors – elected on a manifesto which said the Lib Dems would respect the referendum result – voted against. Perhaps the self-appointed Democracy Watcher would like to investigate that.

    • “Perhaps the self-appointed Democracy Watcher would like to investigate that.”

      I wouldn’t hold your breath, it’s only a issue for the democracy watchers when the result doesn’t suit them. Good post btw.

  14. Hireton, your statement re.the Lib Dems is factually inaccurate. The Lib Dems are quick to state that they do not operate a whip system, so any pledge as a party to ‘respect the referendum result’ is meaningless as well as ambiguous. As it was, 3 LD candidates went public with their personal opposition to the CGP, and those 3 were among the 5 who were successful in the election.

    I see George has shown what a hypocrite he is, he only compliments writers who say what suits his own view, without checking if their arguments hold water. Tell you what George, why don’t you go investigate your a**e just to ascertain it’s not actually your elbow.

    ( No offence Hireton, but it’s no great compliment getting praise from a guy who supports the English Defence League. At least it seems as if you read the article before challenging it’s substance. I’m not sure George actually gets beyond the title. )

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