Dec 032010

By Sara-Jane Duffus.

It was astonishing on Saturday (Nov 27th) to be alerted to an article in the P&J actually sticking up for the people of Aberdeen and indeed, our fair city! It’s about time too, I might add.

Disappointingly but inevitably it was followed up on Monday with the usual jibes about the minority groups against progress.

For many months now, I’ve been patiently waiting for someone to explain to me exactly how, at a time when environment is paramount, pouring tonnes of concrete into a space and removing mature trees is progress?!

As a teenager, I couldn’t wait to get out of Aberdeen, now I find myself defending it; remonstrating those who call it grey and correcting them, that it is The Silver City, The Granite City. Granite, a massive part of our heritage, although I imagine if I live to my nineties, we will come to be known as The Concrete City.

My anger over UTG goes deeper than the obvious destruction of a beautiful space but I am increasingly frustrated that as the owner of a Grade B listed flat, I have to adhere to rules set by Historic Scotland and ACC about what I can and cannot do to my own home.

Yet the ballustrading and other structures in UT- also listed Grade B- are not afforded the same protection when the offer of a gift of £50million is offered. It should not be one rule of one person and one rule for others.

no sooner is some thing built than it is realised that it’s not fit for pur pose, that is of course, if it’s ever completed

When I questioned Historic Scotland on this, they said the final say so goes to ACC. So ACC, if you can allow UTG to be filled in, then why can’t I have double glazed uPVC windows in my third floor flat that you won’t be able to tell from street level aren’t wood (but yes, they have forced me to replace my 180 year old windows with today’s shoddy version of single glazed sash and case wood numbers) and while I’m at it, can I have a Sky satellite dish too?!

ACC are a hot topic at the moment and whether or not opinion is divided over which pet project, the recurring theme is discontentment amongst Aberdonians.

The other week I went along to the Land Use Forum meeting and listened to what I deemed ridiculous plans for cost cutting. Now, have I been missing something because I’ve always thought the role of the council was to benefit the community. They are paid to take care of the things the rest of us 9-5ers can’t. Nope, the suggestion is for the community-led groups to get together and start running things, on top of that 9-5. I still feel I’m the one thinking logically here but I was met with a bunch of blank faces as if questioning why it would be such an issue for me to be a part of running my community on top of working full time. It was the same blank faces who looked puzzled when I asked what measures had been taken to prepare for another winter potentially as bad as last year.

Wrong again! I think we’re all expected to be up early to clear our streets – apparently no one did that last year? I can’t speak for the city as I was snowed into Inverurie unable to make it to Westhill for a week but I can assure ACC that my 72 year old father was out clearing our part of the street with our 76 year-old neighbour. I’ll point out here that my Dad is a fit man but I don’t imagine all retired persons to be able to do this and nor do I think it’s too much for them to have it done for them. What exactly are we paying council tax for?! And just in case you’re thinking I’m a moany old bat – I’m only 28!

Next, the AWPR.: I was against this for so many reasons but compulsory purchase orders would top my list. Obviously I understand the need to move with the times and for improved roads but it seems that short term solutions are all that ever materialise – no sooner is something built than it is realised that it’s not fit for purpose, that is of course, if it’s ever completed.

I remember when I was a child and the hugely anticipated Inverurie Bypass was created and I asked my Mum, why have they made it single carriageway when the road either end is dual carriageway?” I’m pretty sure my Mum just laughed and said you’ll understand when you’re older. Well partly I do because I imagine it was some cost cutting measure or rush to finish the job, perhaps I should find out. But then no, I still think, why did no one think,” wouldn’t a dual carriageway be beneficial in 15 years time when there will be inevitable population growth and increased road traffic,” ?

Any chance there are more of you out there, who, regardless of which pet project you love or hate, are sick of the short term fixes, the constant waste of public money and not being listened to by councillors, miss the Aberdeen that used to win Britain in Bloom for how every many years in a row (no chance now – costs too much to plant flowers), don’t want your parks closed and leased out for ground for yet more flats, want someone to ensure your child’s safety when they’re crossing the road between school and home, would prefer well lit streets so you feel safe and don’t want the cemetery you buried your loved ones in to become a local wild life spot.

Well there’s a Scottish election happening in May which will change the council rule and then local council elections in 2012. Let’s not sit back and hope that the people elected will act on our part, let’s elect people who will do the job and if they don’t, it’s about time we started holding them to account. Take a good look at Aberdeen, do you like what you see or do you think it could be a thousand times better if it were run by people who loved it?!

C’mon Aberdeen, lets stand up and be counted!

Oct 012010

Old Susannah gets to grips with more tricky terms.

A Quick Word on Willows Animal Sanctuary
Aberdeen City Council can find £200K for public relations firms to find out why people don’t want to get rid of Union Terrace Gardens.  Ian Wood can offer £50 Million to the City if it spends twice as much in getting rid of Union Terrace Gardens.  While the rest of us can’t hope to do anything as grand or important, Old Susannah would ask if anyone out there can please make a donation to Willows Animal Sanctuary in Fraserburgh which is in desperate need of money and animal feed (feed is being collected for all kinds of animals for Willows at Love and Roses, South Crown Street, Aberdeen).

Please visit to see what good work they do, and how you can help them survive.

The unfortunate reality is that when we are in hard, uncertain economic times, two things go wrong for animals.  Firstly, people cannot always afford to keep making donations to charities, and funding for many good causes from the private sector falls (which is why we are lucky to have such a compassionate, caring local government).  The second is that in hard times animals get cruelly dumped as people can’t afford food or veterinary care.  Willows is a major player in helping animals in the North East – please help if you can.

Property Maintenance
This may come as a surprise, but if you are a homeowner, then you should maintain your property.  Yes, really.  If you were unsure whether you should let your roof leak or your stairwells collapse, then Aberdeen City Council has come to your rescue.

Inspectors are visiting your streets as I write, looking at your gutters, stairs and slates, and if anything’s amiss, then a  dedicated team of inspectors will send you a glossy colour brochure and a letter telling you what you should do.  The keener inspector will ask to be let into your building, garden or home with no prior appointment.  (The phrase ‘Just say no’ springs to mind).

Old Susannah has received such a letter, advising that her building’s occupants ‘might want to look at their guttering’.  The letter helpfully says that the Council cannot force us to make any repairs – AT THE MOMENT.  Strangely enough, there is nothing to advise where the extra money will be coming from to make the suggested repairs.  It is gratifying to know that the Council can free up money and resources to tell private property owners what they should do.  Over the past few years I have seen people trip and injure themselves on the City’s hazardous, uneven pavements, and I know people who have waited months in Council flats for serious repairs including leaks.

A few years ago a woman was injured when her council flat ceiling fell in on her.  A certain local builder whose kitchen floors are prone to give way if too many people are on them,  may or may not have heard from the Council.  But as we all know kitchens are dangerous places, and only a few people should ever be in one at any given time.  I also understand from reliable sources  that there may be a slow-down on Council flat refurbishments and workers are being temporarily (?) laid off.  ‘Practice what you preach’ will appear in a forthcoming definition.

Project Management
Project management should be simple:  a project needs three things:  a budget, a timescale, and a ‘scope’ of exactly what the project should be, make, or accomplish.  About this time last year, NESTRANS (our friendly North East transportation quango/board) told an Aberdeen Civic Forum that it did not know how much the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route would cost or where the money was coming from.  It also could not say where the route would be going exactly.  Other than such trivialities, the AWPR will no doubt be a triumph.  The speaker did assure us however, that the project would happen in 2012.  Watch this space.

Bad Debts
The City Council HAS shown signs of improvement lately.  This year we are only (?) writing off £2.8 million pounds of ‘bad debt’ this year.  This is a vast improvement on the £11 million it wrote off a few years back.  It seems it’s just too hard to get money from some people who owe tax, parking fines, other fees – so we just declare it ‘bad debt’ and that’s that.  An affluent, economically sound city like Aberdeen can afford to do so.  Especially now that it has found some way to borrow £200 million worth of taxpayer’s money from the central government – which somehow is not going to cost us anything.  Well, unless you are a taxpayer.  Then you are loaning the City Council money.  No prizes for guessing that they want to put most of this into getting rid of  Union Terrace Gardens (sorry, building a prosperous civic square with parking and shops) – and have no interest in reinstating the many services it  has cut .

Sep 172010

By Sue Edwards.

The Scottish Green Party has announced that Aberdeenshire councillor Dr Martin Ford will top the party’s North-East regional list for next year’s Scottish Parliament elections followed by local branch convenor Rhonda Reekie.

One of the North-east’s best-known political figures, Councillor Ford has for over twenty years consistently argued the case for stronger action to tackle climate change. He is a strong advocate for improving public transport.

Recently, he has played a leading role in championing the rights of the home-owners at Menie threatened by the expansion of Donald Trump’s planned golf resort.

Councillor Ford has argued that the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route is unaffordable and that, with limited funding available, priority should be given to badly needed new school buildings instead.

Councillor Martin Ford said:
“The North-East desperately needs some new MSPs. No-one in Parliament currently represents the thousands of North-East residents who want to see priority to given to investing in education, instead of expensive and ineffective road building. The vast majority of North-East MSPs have remained completely silent on the threat of eviction hanging over the residents at Menie. All of them are backing transport schemes that will increase carbon emissions while claiming to be committed to tackling climate change.”

We have the opportunity to re-draw Scotland’s political landscape next year

“The North-East needs a strong Green voice in Holyrood, someone local people can trust and who will put the community’s interest before short-term and unsustainable profiteering. I am therefore most grateful to the Scottish Green Party’s membership for giving me the chance to be their top candidate and I will fight for every vote across the North-East next May.”

The Scottish Green Party is confident of increasing its representation at Holyrood next year. In the North-East, with an experienced and well-known lead candidate, the Party has high hopes of success, having held a seat here between 2003 and 2007. In addition, an extra seat has been added to the North-East list to reflect population change, reducing the percentage of votes required to secure election next May. If the Greens poll more than about 6 per cent of the party votes in the North-East next year, Councillor Ford will become one of the North-East’s representatives at Holyrood.

Patrick Harvie MSP, the Scottish Green Party’s co-convenor, said:
“The 2011 election will be an important moment, where Scots can vote for a positive agenda of social justice and safeguarding the environment instead of the failed centre-right agenda of the rest. Every other political party at Holyrood supported that agenda – growth obsessed, free market dominated and environmentally reckless – while the Greens predicted their failure.”

“Now a vicious programme of public service cuts is proposed as the solution. The alternative is to cut the vanity projects and protect the vital services; to realise the opportunities of a low-waste, low-energy, low-carbon economy; and to put quality of life ahead of the selfish values of the right which have dominated our politics for far too long. We have the opportunity to re-draw Scotland’s political landscape next year. I urge everyone who wants to see that happen to get involved with the Greens and help make it a reality.”

We will be campaigning to protect the green spaces in our cities, towns and villages – including supporting the campaign to preserve Union Terrace Gardens

“Martin Ford has proved himself to be a person of enormous integrity and courage, prepared to stand up for local people no matter the pressure others have tried to put him under. The people of the North-East deserve a chance to vote for representatives they can trust, and in both Martin and Rhonda they have exactly that.”

Rhonda Reekie said:
“Greens will be fighting a positive campaign. Against the background of cuts to both the Scottish and council budgets, we will be arguing for priority to be given to protecting vital public services. We will be pressing for effective action to fight climate change – for example by redirecting transport spending to public transport improvements. We will be campaigning to protect the green spaces in our cities, towns and villages – including supporting the campaign to preserve Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen.”

“The Green Party can win in the North-East next year. Shiona Baird was elected here in 2003. We have proved ourselves in the Scottish Parliament and now have a presence at Westminster too. A Green vote next year will make a real difference and get Green MSPs elected.”

Martin Ford was first elected to Aberdeenshire Council eleven years ago, and served as chairman of the Council’s Audit Committee for five years and then chairman of the Infrastructure Services Committee, until the Council removed him in retaliation for his vote against Donald Trump’s golf resort. Amongst his other roles, Martin was chairman of the North-East Scotland Rail Freight Development Group for ten years and led the successful campaign to get the rail line between Aberdeen and the Central Belt upgraded. A botanist by training, Martin has a Ph.D. in plant ecology.

Rhonda Reekie has been Branch Convenor of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Greens for 4 years and is vice-chair of Bucksburn and Newhills Community Council. Rhonda fought Aberdeen South in the general elections of 2005 and 2010 and stood on the North-East list in 2007 for the Scottish Green Party.