Aug 312012

The City Garden Project is dead. It’s difficult to believe after all these years, but despite some horrendous death throws and twitches, the beast has been slain. Mike Shepherd looks back at the good things and the bad things that emerged from this experience.

BAD: Businessmen tried to impose their will over the rest of Aberdeen.
GOOD: The people of Aberdeen fought back and won.

Aberdeen had in recent years drifted politically into a  situation where big business interests were exerting too much control for the good of a pluralistic society.

It is shocking that economic policy for the region has been devolved to mainly business interests largely beyond political control (ACSEF).

The UTG decision shows that the people of Aberdeen can still exert a brake on the rampant will of businessmen who think they can do what they want, even to the extent of taking over a public park.

BAD: The local press proved less to be the watchdog of the community and more the poodle of big business.
GOOD:  Aberdeen Voice was formed and the internet became a forum for those who disagree with the local newsprint’s version of ‘consensus’.

Freedom of Information releases show how much of our tax money ACSEF have spent on public relations, largely channelled through the local newsprint.  However, the days whereby the Aberdeen media creates the message and controls the consensus are slipping away.  The ‘editorial column’ has now lost all credibility and the free exchange of opinion and information is passing to community pages on the internet.

BAD: Public consultations and referenda have now proved to be totally worthless.
GOOD: We still have the ballot box.

The first public consultation was effectively run as a marketing exercise and was ignored because it returned the wrong result as far as ACSEF and a section of the business community were concerned. The later public referendum was run with good intentions but business interests left nothing to chance and spent their way to a totally one-sided campaign.  Both episodes did nothing to reduce rampant cynicism amongst the disaffected. However, the results of the democratic ballot through council elections could not be ignored or swayed by one-sided campaign spending.

BAD:  National politicians sided with power and wealth against the interests of the public.
GOOD: You can still punish them for the abuse of political control through the ballot box.

The involvement of senior Scottish Government politicians in a local dispute over a public park was despicable.   Sectional party interests look to have been involved in an attempt to curry favour with wealth,  power and influence in the Aberdeen area. The politician’s willingness to get involved in a divisive local issue despite potential fallout from the electorate suggests that over-riding political objectives at a national scale were at stake.  That potential fallout from the electorate happened.

BAD:  Aberdeen Council turned over wagging paws in the air at the behest of business interests.
GOOD: We are on their case.

Of all the shockers perpetrated by our Council, the worst was to allow the proposed developers of the City Garden Project, a limited company, to influence the business case for Council borrowing of millions of pounds for the project.  To show how bad this is: under normal circumstances an “allegation” like this would have provoked outrage and perhaps lawyer’s letters; but this is not an allegation; it is all there in black and white in the council’s report.  We are now alert to the knowledge that our council can do these things. They will be watched like a hawk.

BAD: The political powers have stopped bothering with building consensus over big planning issues where conflict could arise.
GOOD: The might is right approach has failed miserably.

A big lesson from the recent history of political decisions in Aberdeen –  Involve everybody and make sure that all opinions are heard and considered seriously. If you don’t do this, expect a political quagmire of horrendous proportions – UTG, the bypass, Loirston, etc, etc. It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong, you have to do this properly and thoroughly

GOOD: A public park, Union Terrace Gardens, has been kept as a public amenity.
GOOD:  They will think twice before ever trying that again.

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  9 Responses to “UTG: The Final Verdict”

  1. Could you please explain how “the people of Aberdeen fought back and won”? this seems strange considering the referendum came out for the project. I think you will find that there will be another vote by the councillors and the true feelings of the people will come through – otherwise they will not be councillors much longer.

    Personally I thought it was a great project, hi jacked by the usual tree huggers and Johnny come latelys.

  2. A typically one sided point of view of the whole debacle. Where are the points about a democratic decision being made by the public and being overturned by the local council. you might not have liked the result, but a result it was!

  3. [Blocked by Moderator]… Sorry George, we can allow a wide range of opinion in our comments, but direct, dubious and unsubstantiated accusations of a specific nature are considered defamatory and open to prosecution. For Aberdeen Voice to publish would be to accept liability for same.

    Feel free to reword your comment with this in mind. Thanks.

  4. The local council IS democracy. The last lot shat it close to an election and weaseled out of making a decision and left it to “the people” who were then bombarded with glossy promises of deliveries from on high of sugar candy mountains and Moray Cup fountains. Councillors are paid nowadays and failed to do their job.

    Check out what you were voting for in February. The vote was about whether or not to continue examining proposals to allow the second choice Granite Web design to be built. There were and are NO plans just artists’ impressions of woolly, naive concepts.

    At least apprise yourself of some facts before commenting. It gives any point you may try to make a bit more credible.

    We can’t afford it (there’s a recession on and the real public spending cuts in Scotland have yet to be implemented) and the business case wouldn’t even make it past the desk of a Channel 5 comedy commissioning meeting, it being so far-fetched, vague and more full of holes than a second hand dartboard.

    Just sayin.

  5. Twofaced, Freddy, have you conveniently forgot that the public rejected the project in the first (and only fairly conducted) consultation back in 2010? Or does ‘democracy’ only count when it goes your way by a small margin swung by massive pressure from one side with unlimited spending power after multiple attempts? What about the design vote where the public vote was also ignored because it didn’t go the way big business behind this whole scam wanted? Sure that’s democratic, pretend it didn’t happen! Or that none of these votes was legally binding except the councils rejection of the project? Democracy certainly isn’t well served by uninformed and uneducated hypocrites like yourselves. Freddy-come-lately, by all means inform us all about how CGP was rejected in 2010.. didn’t think so!

  6. Excellent way to win an argument… hurl insults!
    I am not a Chav nor a moron. I would say I am quite informed and certainly educated However if you want to resort to petty name calling by all means knock yourself out.

    The Cyard, I have read the business case, and forgive me but I am more likely to trust the findings of a suitably qualified experienced person reporting on these matters than somebody totally opposed to the project. There is a shortage of suitably qualified or experienced staff in Aberdeen, and we need to attract these staff if Aberdeen is to continue to prosper. This requires significant investment in Infrastructure which the TIF was going to do. it wasn’t just about the City Garden Project. Yes it might have been a big part of it but so was other projects like the St Nicholas House redevelopment and the Art Gallery redevelopment.

    You’ll probably tell me that these are just big business’ creating more profit for themselves but unfortunately the council have little or no money, so the only investment is going to from Business.

  7. Aye, 3-1 on aggregate. UTG was 2-0 ahead before CGP paid a fortune to bring the score back to 2-1 but Crockett sealed it with a late third from a Boulton cross to relegate CGP for good.

    Councillors are held accountable for decisions taken, electors, or voters in a loaded referendum are not. The new régime has taken responsibility. The last lot, as I said above, shat it, shirked their responsibility and organised a one-sided referendum on the orders of their masters in Holyrood, who would be spitting blood if Westminster interfered in something that they hold dear.

  8. This article has got it spot on. For the last two generations, two attempts have been made to secure this prime city centre location by the business community. Their last attempt was particularly nasty. As previously said, the original consultation resulted in a “no” vote. Then there was the further consultation, where models of the various proposals were put to the public. Again, their choice was disregarded. Finally we had the very one-sided referendum, full of dubious assertions (disproved by a leading economist) and a vast imbalance in funding between the two sides, to ensure they won the day. The business community should hang their heads in shame on this one. Labour made the cancellation of this project a major plank in their manifesto and received increased support primarily because of this. The percentage of the citizenry voting in the Local Government elections was much greater than that of the “referendum,” – around 20% participated, as I recollect. Labour should be congratulated for dumping this project, potentially saving the city from plunging further in to debt. At the end of the day, no one actually knew what the finished article would be, given the “artists impressions” were totally misleading along with the fact that no firm decisions had been put forward for the content of the “garden”. No one, with any sense, buys a pig in a poke.

  9. Ron,

    You have your facts wrong, the percentage turnout was much bigger in the referendum than the local election, I believe around 50% of the citizens voted in the referendum whilst the council election saw a poor turnout of less than 20%.

    I do also hope you realise that Labour pushed ahead with the plans to borrow the money, they actually asked for £92 Million to spruce the place up a bit, this is something the CGP opponents have went strangely quiet on, only a couple weeks ago they were screaming the project would bankrupt the City. The government have told the Council they have little chance of getting the money.

    Where does that leave us now? Well we won’t be seeing any investment in our City centre, Mr Wood has pulled his £50 Million off the table and the government are going to say no to the £92 Million, the new rates money from the estates popping up in BOD and Dyce will now go straight to the government to no doubt be spent in the Central belt and Aberdeen will slide further into decline.

    I can’t help but think that Labour and the anti CGP people just didn’t think this one through, the one glimmer of light comes from a comment from Cllr McCaig in todays EE, “It is almost inevitable that the City Garden Project will come back to council within the next 12 Months” .

    We can only hope for the sake of our City that this comment comes true.

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