May 312012
 

Voice’s Old Susannah comments on current events and enlightens us with definitions of some tricky terms with a locally topical taste. By Suzanne Kelly.

Result!  I am sure we have all been dancing in the streets as our benevolent UK coalition Government has decided NOT to introduce a tax on heated Cornish Pasties!  What a relief!  I feel much better now about the Government writing off millions of pounds in tax owed by Vodaphone (and others).  You can’t say the ConDems didn’t look after us.

And here in Aberdeen, the P&J have launched a fantastic survey proving beyond any doubt that people still want the web at all costs (well, £140 million at a minimum).

We were blitzed by hugely expensive print and radio advertising saying the web will improve our lives, make us rich, and give us thousands of permanent jobs.

We were asked to pity poor Tom Smith (of ACSEF, City Gardens Trust, etc. etc.) who the press said had been the victim of harassment and illegal spying in the run-up to the referendum.  We were not allowed to examine the voting records for evidence of potential fraud (even after people joked/boasted about selling votes) – but the referendum should be obeyed at all costs.

We don’t have the actual visuals showing what the web will look like when the ramps’ security features are up – but don’t let that worry you.  We don’t have either a business plan, or architectural plans, and we can’t afford it – but let’s just go ahead anyway, as that will make Sir Ian happy.

Of course Labour always said they did not want a referendum and they pointed out it is not legally binding.  Labour also said that if elected they would scrap the CGP – and miraculously they got elected.

Old Susannah would like to end any ambiguity regarding issues on which public opinion matters:

Public opinion does not matter on: Loirston Loch, cuts to services for the elderly or specially abled, school closures, policing, street cleaning, community centre management, programmes for young people; Tullos Hill and its deer; common good land; Redmoss green spaces; grounds of Cove Bay FC; Don Crossings and Union Terrace Gardens improvement.

Public opinion matters on:  Putting a granite web over Union Terrace Gardens and chopping down its trees

I hope that helps.

Aside from Poor Mr Milne having problems with his fans revolting and Portlethen trash accumulation, the sun shone, and people in their hundreds flocked to the FUN Beach, in order to leave litter, barbeque grilles, paddling pools and rubbish in the sand.

Old Susannah asked a guy to dispose of his empty redbull can the other day; all I can say is at least he didn’t curse me out and just ignored me instead.  Here’s to the people who join the organised beach cleans, and to the people who keep places like Torrymelinos clean on their own.

Now that we’re back to our usual weather, it’s time to get on with a look at Aberdeen City Council’s internet pages and its A-Z list of services.  Visiting the Aberdeen City Council website and trying to find a service?  You can easily look up any information you want alphabetically.

Old Susannah takes a romp through the city’s website listings and brings you highlights :-

A is for ‘3Rs’  – (NB: I make ‘3’ starting with a ‘T’. But let’s not split hairs). This great 3R scheme sees the city doing yet more PPI-type deals in which private companies perform a service or build something (like a school) and lease it back to the City for massive sums of money.  It’s as if I sold you my flat for a fraction of its value, paid you to fix it up for me, and then paid you to rent it back to me for 10 times its value.  Bargain!

Most of the rest of the UK has moved away from this disastrous concept (invented in part by our dear ex-Treasurer, ex-PM Gordon Brown in order to keep debts off the books and make the financial picture look rosy).  But here in the Deen, we’re still embracing it, with our ex-Lord Provost seemingly quite proud of his services to the 3Rs (3Rs stands for Readin’ Ritin’ and ‘Rhithmatic – to use the spelling taught in the new PPI outsourced schools).

B is for Bats – Normally you might expect a city council proud of its environment to tell you that bats are a unique and endangered species it is proud to have within its city limits, and that bats are protected by EU as well as national laws.  But the A-Z tells you nothing of the kind.  It tells you about pest control, and how much the city wants for getting rid of all sorts of critters:-

  • Insects £56 + VAT
  • Rodents [Domestic] £78.50 + VAT per course of treatment
  • Rodents [Commercial] £56 + VAT per visit
  • Bed bugs £74.50 + VAT per visit.

I suppose the difference between domestic and commercial rodents are whether or not they have ACSEF membership.

Of all the city’s money-making, nickel-and dime schemes, this one seems to be both expensive and extensively recommended, as you will see.

Aberdeen seems happy enough to scare and scatter bats in Union Terrace Gardens by allowing HMT to throw massive fireworks displays at Hogmanay.  (What was wrong with the beach as a venue one wonders?)  Doubtless the rangers were consulted and saw nothing wrong with lighting fireworks over UTG.

Then again they are happy to plunk a 21,000 seat stadium in an SAC at Loirston, and happily arranged for the eradication of our pesky deer.  So what if bats, the peregrines,now ‘discouraged’ from their usual roost at Triple Kirks by Mr Milne, and other animals living in the park were exposed to fireworks?

We might be about the only town centre with this mix of animals anywhere in Europe, but we’ve got webs and offices to build, so let’s use subtle tactics like fireworks to get rid of our annoying wildlife. Again, using any of the tons of empty offices buildings isn’t nearly as important as ensuring construction companies can make lots of dosh.  So – mind the bedbugs.

Sadly, the council omitted to say how much it charges to kill your deer.

C is for Civic Receptions – like the one we just held for the outgoing Provost.  I never did get my invitation to this £4,000 tradition, which could not possibly have been cut back on.  Then again, me and another independent candidate never got our passes for the vote count.

C is also for Cat – the link on the City’s website will for some strange reason take you back to the page where you can get pest control to get rid of your rodents.  Hopefully our more bloodthirstier council personnel haven’t started exterminating cats just yet.  (I can’t wait to get to ‘R’ to see if there is a ‘rats’ listing – but it looks so far like it is politically correct to say ‘rodent’, not ‘rat’).  Note ‘C’ is also for ‘complaint’ – but doubtless no one needs to complain to the city about anything.

D is for Debt Counselling – Old Susannah is not sure she’d take financial advice from a city which hadn’t known it was over £50,000,000 in debt some years back, which had written off £11 million in bad debts in the recent past, and was cutting back on essentials but buying portraits and sending Lord Provosts off to Japan.

However, if you are a football club owner and builder who needs to know how to stop losing money when your team plays or needs help shifting ‘luxury’ flats – do feel free to use this service.  D is also for ‘dog’ and ‘dog fouling’ – at least the ‘dog’ link didn’t take me to the pest control site again.  As to dog fouling – as I stay in Torry, I really have no idea what this means.

E is for Earwig – yes you guessed it – which takes you back to the vermin control pricelist.  Quite frankly, I would probably look in the yellow pages before I went to the City’s site for info on earwigs.  Speaking of earwigging, Old Susannah is hearing some very interesting stories emerging from LibDem HQ.  Can the Liberals lose any more members?  Maybe it can.

E is also for Environment – Were you expecting info on air pollution, the polluted burn at East Tullos (more on that next week), EU environmental projects and protection placed on animals?  Well, the link for ‘environment’ takes you to:

And what does it say about conservation areas?  “Conservation areas are designated by the planning authority as being areas of special architectural or historical interest.” – so it’s only the build environment we seem to be concerned with at the council.  That would explain quite a lot.

F is for Freedom of Information – yes, the council are proud to explain what your rights are, and what the law says.  I cannot tell you how swiftly, accurately, completely and transparently all of my FOI requests have been answered.  But do watch this space.  I am expecting some more info soon – hopefully sooner than my request about property sold to Milne-related companies and contracts these companies also won from the city.

That only took a  year and the Information Commissioner’s involvement.  Sadly, the FOI team at the city were found to be in the wrong on five different counts on that one.  Yes, F is also for five.  F is also for ‘feral cats’.  Yes, you have guessed correctly – the council’s website  for ‘feral cats’ takes you back to the pest & vermin control site.

There must be an awful lot of killing planned for this town.  Yes, F is also for fleas, flies and foxes – all of course linking to the vermin control page.

G is for ‘Green Space Audit – believe it or not, green spaces are open, usually green (! really!) spaces  in and around city centres.  We have a strategy.  One which is supposed to …

“…  provide attractive and appealing places throughout the city, particularly in those areas identified by the open space audit as low in quality. However within a context of serious financial constraint, it promotes innovative and radical ways of maintaining and managing these open spaces.”

Presumably within our serious financial constraint to manage our green heritage there is a fair amount of room for turning meadows into barren rocky hills,but no doubt Tullos will be tree-covered soon, even if it is a few months since the gorse was largely destroyed, shooting deer (and lots of other things too by the sounds of it), and especially borrowing 90 million pounds to put a granite web over a valley, and turn its earth into a stadium, with seating from the destruction of ancient trees.  Yes, that’s quite a strategy.

Well, that’s enough alphabet for now.  I’m going to go celebrate with a Cornish pasty, heated as hot as I can make it.  Oh, and a new BrewDog prototype beer:  American Saison.  This delicious offering is made from leaves and berries (like the Cair No Mohr wines I adore).

Next week:  more of the city’s website alphabet – and some head-scratching over the city’s wiping £26 million of debt off for the AECC.  Hmmm.

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Feb 232012
 

Next Friday (March 2nd) we will know the fate of Union Terrace Gardens. The results of the public referendum will be announced then. Will there be wild celebrations in the park itself or will the champagne corks be popping in the boardrooms? writes Mike Shepherd.

The Importance of Union Terrace Gardens 

I agree with the comment that in your mental map of Aberdeen, Union Terrace Gardens is at the centre of it. This observation gets right to the core of the controversy.
I’ve heard Sir Ian Wood dismiss the idea of building a civic square on the St Nicholas site. As far as he is concerned the Denburn is the heart of Aberdeen, and that’s where the civic square / garden should go.

The fate of our park will be highly symbolic for the future of Aberdeen city centre. If you agree to retain the Gardens, it’s a statement that heritage matters in the city centre and there is a will to maintain the historical nature of down-town Aberdeen.

On the other hand by agreeing to build a modern park and structure, this would probably give the green light to extensive development of the city centre. As the TIF business report for the City Garden Project states, the scheme could stimulate the establishment of a central business district and the accelerated construction of city centre office blocks.

The alternative is so much more attractive. With Jimmy Milne’s business fund we could sympathetically restore Union Terrace Gardens at a fraction of the cost. It would be a marker for preserving our city centre heritage.

The Erosion of the Character of the Granite City

My background is geology and I grew up near Rubislaw Quarry.  The geology of Scotland varies so much, it means that each town and city has its own distinctive building stone. This creates a strong sense of place and belonging unique to each part of Scotland.

I was born in Aberdeen and I love the granite buildings with a passion. It breaks my heart when one is pulled down and a concrete and glass box of no redeeming character is put in its place. I would agree with the sentiment expressed in the old Aberdeen City Plan (very tellingly omitted from the new plan that has just been approved):

“The standard of design in new development has been raised as a widespread cause for concern during the preparation of this Local Plan. This is one reason why new development can raise so much hostility amongst the public and this situation must change. The City has such a rich and relatively intact heritage of older buildings that shortcomings of newer ones are all the more obvious. It is necessary to encourage better design.”

The loss of Union Terrace Gardens could be the start of Aberdeen losing its special character as the Granite City. More and more old buildings may be lost, until the city starts to look like everywhere else. This would sadden me immensely.

A Test for Local Democracy

I also see the Union Terrace Gardens as a test case for local democracy. Despite the public referendum, local democracy has failed miserably on the issue. The development of Union Terrace Gardens was imposed on the public from the start with no serious attempt to build consensus. A so-called public consultation was run essentially as a marketing exercise, and when it failed to convince the Aberdeen public, it was conveniently ignored.

The recently held ‘public consultation’ on the design is remarkable in that the results were not even made public. Even the referendum has been lop-sided, with a massive public relations exercise on one side combined with a local press willing to publish anything it gets. There have been some new lows in recent days (see Richard Pelling’s article on the subject).

Will the public assert themselves against the machine? I hope and trust they will. If not, expect much more of the same.

A Waste of Public Money

Recently I received an email from the managing director of an oil service company in Aberdeen. He described the idea of using Central Government funds for the City Garden Project as a terrible waste of investment and infrastructure money. His opinion is that the city centre development will not affect the decision by oil companies and personnel to move to Aberdeen or otherwise.

“Companies invest in Aberdeen because of the fantastic talent pool, the high standard of living, the stable fiscal regime (assuming Osborne doesn’t have any more surprises), the access to West Africa and other merging oil & gas regions which are increasingly supported from Aberdeen.”

I agree. What is calamitous is that if Aberdeen Council was going to apply for TIF funding, they could have found much better projects than Sir Ian Wood’s city garden. How about these:

a. Revamping the Beach area

b. De-bottlenecking Aberdeen’s congested roads

c. Building the AREG renewable energy centre

 – And just about any other project you could think of.

If the City Garden Project goes ahead, we will have replaced a park with a park. Is this what we should be doing with public investment money in Aberdeen? Most certainly not.

If you agree with any of this and you haven’t voted yet; vote Retain Union Terrace Gardens (the option that does not destroy our Granite City).

Oct 282011
 

A new music event in Aberdeen aims to rock up support for Aberdeen Royal Infirmary after saving the life of the father of a local musician. With thanks to Eoin Smith.

Jimstock, a one-day music festival held in Aberdeen’s Beach Ballroom on the 5th of November, is the brainchild of well-known local musician Jamie Rodden, 27.
With the help of a cast of Aberdeen’s most popular bands and singers, he aims to rake in cash for the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary departments that helped his dad Jim Rodden, 55, recover from heart surgery earlier this year.

Jamie states:

“Dad ended up staying in Wards 19, 20 and 21, and struck up a real relationship with the staff there. They got him through a very difficult time. The proceeds from the event will go to those wards as a thank you gesture.”

What medics initially thought was a muscle injury turned out to be the start of a terrifying period for the family. Jim, himself a stalwart of the local music scene, who runs the Cellar 35 Open Mic night, said:

“I was complaining of pain for weeks, but the doctor had put it down to muscular pain. One night it got so awful; my chest was thumping, and at one point I felt as though I was nailed to the floor. I thought to myself, ‘This is it.’ I thought I was going to die.”

Jim was admitted to hospital after his heart attack in May and underwent gruelling triple bypass surgery. A further operation was needed when Jim suffered another attack six weeks later.

The dad-of-three said:

 “I met a tremendous group of people at the hospital who made my time there much easier.  I’m still friends with many of them.”

The local community has rallied round in support of Jimstock, with Aberdeen City Council and Grampian Police lending their support alongside other Aberdeen organisations.

Local music blog – Hercules Moments is covering Jimstock, while Cinergi – the Aberdeen University Film-Making Society – plans to produce a documentary of the event, which will be screened in the Belmont Cinema in early 2012.

But the crux of Jimstock is the live music. Jamie and his own band Shy James will be taking to the stage alongside Jim and a host of other top local talent including Stanley, country rocker Amy Sawers, The Lorelei and The Tijuana Sun.

Jamie added:

“We have a special guest headliner for the show – a band who are making a great name for themselves at the moment – but I won’t reveal who they are until the Monday before the event. The support I’ve had so far has been fantastic, and I am truly grateful to everyone involved.”

Tickets for Jimstock cost £15 and are available from One Up,Belmont Street,Aberdeen.

More information can be found at www.facebook.com/jimstock2011

 

Aug 082011
 

Fighting Wildlife Crime in Aberdeenshire is an on-going struggle.  Grampian Wildlife Crime Officers rely on the public to catch criminals as well as to hopefully prevent crime.  Andy Turner puts Aberdeen Voice readers in the picture.

3373.  No, these aren’t the latest winning lottery numbers, but it is the total land area of Grampian Police Force coverage in square miles.
This number can present a bit of a problem for Wildlife Crime Officers.

Divided equally among the 12 Wildlife Crime officers in Grampian, each officer would have a beat of around 281 square miles!

That’s an awful lot of ground to cover and can make for problems in terms of detection, investigation and enforcement of Wildlife Crime.

Wildlife Crime continues to blight Scotland’s outstanding natural heritage.  It can impact upon rare and iconic species, often involves cruelty to animals, can destroy specially protected habitats and interfere with legitimate countryside management and recreation.

In fact the term ‘Wildlife Crime’ covers a huge spectrum of criminal activity, and can occur in both the countryside and urban areas.

Wildlife Crime Officers in Grampian have dealt with cases of poaching (deer, fish and game) crimes against badgers, hare coursing, crimes against birds including: poisoning, trapping, shooting, disturbance, nest destruction and egg collecting, disturbance of marine mammals, crimes against bats, the taking/killing of Fresh Water Pearl Mussels, CITES offences in connection with the trade in endangered species, damage to protected sites and crimes against protected plants to name a few.

The huge diversity of wildlife crime calls for a diverse approach to tackle the problem.  To this end the Grampian Police are part of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland or PAWS.  PAWS has representation from police, government agencies such as Scottish Natural Heritage, conservation organisations like RSPB, land management sector and others with the common aim to stamp out wildlife crime through education, awareness raising and enforcement.

Like other crimes, Wildlife Crime is committed by a very small minority of people who either knowingly flaunt the law or commit crime through lack of awareness.

Wildlife crime can often be linked to other rural crime, and for this reasons suspects should never be approached by the public.

While the police keep records of each reported Wildlife Crime, it is hard to establish the true extent of Wildlife Crime that occurs in Grampian and Scotland as a whole.

This is due in the main to one of Scotland’s greatest commodities: its vast areas of countryside, countryside where crime is possibly going on undetected or unreported.

In July 2010 Grampian Police employed a Wildlife Crime Education Officer (WCEO), the first post of its kind in the UK.  The aim of the post is prevention of wildlife crime by raising awareness of the problem, education and encouraging improved reporting.  The WCEO will be working with land managers, conservation groups, outdoor access and sports groups, schools and universities for the duration of the 3 year post.

Around 530,000 live in the Grampian Force area.  The population in general is becoming more mobile, and access to the countryside for recreation is more readily available now than ever before, with pursuits such as mountain biking and hill walking on the increase.

While this access needs to be carefully managed, it does present an ideal opportunity to arm those using the countryside with the facts about wildlife crime and the impacts of crime on both wildlife and people. For those working in the countryside this means enabling them to work in an informed and importantly a safe and legal way.  For those accessing the countryside this means reporting any suspected wildlife crime incidents thereby making the Wildlife Crime Officers 281 mile beat a bit more manageable!

It is important to remember however that for reporting to be effective it must be genuine, timely, accurate and detailed.  If these four conditions are met there is scope for Wildlife Crime officers to focus efforts by responding to real incidents, and reduce time spent scouring the countryside following a poor lead or inaccurate information.

In Grampian Force area alone the Wildlife Crime Unit can receive over 50 calls per month, ranging from hare coursing at Elgin, dolphin disturbance at Aberdeen harbour to salmon poaching on Deeside.

Among the genuine reports are others which can relate to road kill, natural deaths or even miniature penguins at Aberdeen beach – which turned out to be young guillemots.

Legal countryside management practices can sometimes be misconstrued for illegal practices.  In extreme cases legal cage traps, spring traps and snares have been tripped or vandalised, and call birds released by people who misunderstand or disagree with their purpose.  Despite personal views people should never take the law into their own hands.

I do not want to discourage the public from picking up the phone to call the police – in fact it is quite the opposite – but try to have all the information at hand to help the police deal with the call in the best possible way.

By following this simple checklist (below) when reporting a wildlife crime, and hopefully through awareness rising, effective reporting and enforcement it might be possible to establish a true picture of wildlife crime, and to help stamp it out throughout Scotland.

Visit the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland (PAWS) for further information on wildlife crime.
www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Environment/Wildlife-Habitats/paw-scotland

If you suspect a wildlife crime is/has taken place:

DO:

  • Report any suspicious activity as soon as possible to your Force Service Centre and ask to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer
  • Take a note of the date, time and weather conditions.
  • If possible, identify a map reference or ideally a GPS reading of both the incident scene and location from where you witnessed the incident.
  • Note a description of person/s involved including gender, age, height, clothing etc.
  • Write down any vehicle registration numbers, make, model, and colour that may be involved.
  • Identify other witnesses and obtain their name and contact details.
  • If possible, video or photograph the scene, or make a rough sketch.
  • Cover up any suspected poisoned baits or victims to prevent any animal / person coming into contact with them.
  • Do report. Even if you are not sure – report the incident. The evidence of wildlife crime is not always obvious. 

DO NOT:

  • Do not disturb the scene by moving items or walking about unnecessarily.
  • Do not touch dead animals or birds, especially if you suspect that poison may have been used. 
  • Do not interfere with legal countryside practices such as the legal use of traps and snares, hides, high seats and shooting butts.

NEVER:

  • Never approach suspects or intervene if you suspect someone is committing a wildlife crime – you may put yourself in danger.
Apr 152011
 

By Stephen Davy-Osborne.

With the recent fair weather and the school holidays in full-swing, many visitors to Aberdeen beach may have noticed an addition to Broad Hill.

Situated between the Beach Ballroom and Pittodrie, the small hill is well known as a spot to avoid on a blustery day, but with better weather on the horizon the installation of a new open-air exhibition could not have chosen a better location.

BY ORDER OF ME is a collection of wooden signs scattered across the hill, and is the collective work of visual artist Rachel O’Neill, writer Davey Anderson and 54 pupils from Kingsford Primary School. The collaboration, organised by Extreme Aberdeen and the National Theatre Scotland, in partnership with the City Council’s Art Education team, set out to challenge the way visitors interact with their surroundings.

The signs themselves were inspired by the many prohibitive signs found across the city, and were created to represent many young people’s view of a an urban landscape that is cluttered with signage ordering what can and cannot be done: No Ball Games, No Skateboarding, Keep Off the Grass, to name but a few.

With such signs as “No Kissing on the Hill, I Mean It”, it is evident that those taking in the fresh sea breeze are being encouraged to ponder the world from a different point of view.

While they are not inviting visitors to run amok on Broad Hill (although one sign does state we should run down the hill screaming) the purpose remains to encourage visitors to enjoy their surroundings and the spectacular views across the bay to one side, and the city sky-line to the other. The exhibition will be in place until early next spring.

For further information please visit www.nationaltheatrescotland.com