Nov 162015
 
picture mark runnacles 17.07.06 ..... pictures of sun worshipers having fun in the sun at m&d's amusements at strathclyde park ....... see hot weather copy.......

The ‘Bomber’ will become a focal attraction. Picture: Mark Runnacles.

With thanks to Jessica Murphy, Senior Account Executive, Citrus:Mix.

One of the biggest thrill rides in Europe will swing into action at Aberdeen’s Christmas Village later this month.
Standing at 50m high, the Bomber will become a focal attraction in the village, which is being spearheaded by Aberdeen Inspired in partnership with Aberdeen City Council and Codona’s.

The Bomber is a hugely popular high rise, high speed ride bound to attract thrill seekers looking for an adrenaline rush. Reaching a maximum force of 3.6gs riders are thrown forward at speeds of up to 90mph.

Spinning gondolas add to the adrenalin inducing sensation as visitors race towards the sky and “bomb” to the ground at top speed.

The Aberdeen Christmas Village is part of the Winter Festival, which is being organised by Aberdeen City Council. As well as a Miami family ride and festive themed cups and saucers and carousel provided and staffed by Codona’s, the village on Union Terrace will feature a spectacular outdoor ice-rink and traditional German style market made up of retail outlets and festive food and drink stands, as well as an entertainment marquee.

Breakneck Comedy has organised the line-up for the venue, which will include a host of talented comedians, bands, singers and choirs who will take to the stage to entertain the crowds.

Visitors will be able to indulge in a number of festive treats ranging from a German Bratwurst Artisan Grill and hog roast pulled pork baguettes to Christmas doughnuts and hot chocolate.

Gary Craig, chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired, said:

“We are sure that the fantastic rides provided by Codona’s will be a hugely popular part of our Aberdeen Christmas Village. Part of our remit is to increase footfall within the city centre and all the family fun that will be on offer ticks all the boxes.

“We want people to be excited about being in Aberdeen at such a lovely time of the year and the bright lights of all the rides, along with the ice-rink and other offerings will certainly bring a feel-good factor to the heart of the city. What we have created will be unique and very different for Aberdeen and builds on the attractions we have put on in previous years.”

Alfred Codona, director of Aberdeen-based family amusement firm Codona’s, said:

“We are pleased to be playing our part in bringing some fun from our usual home at the beach to the heart of the city centre. The Aberdeen Christmas Village will be a wonderful attraction which will create a great festive atmosphere.

“The rides we have chosen will provide something for everyone, whether you are looking for a thrill or something to take your family on. At Codona’s we take great pride in providing fun and entertainment for locals and visitors alike and we are looking forward to bringing that to Union Terrace.”

The world's largest mobile thrill ride, Bomber Mac 2, reaches speads of up to 60 miles and hour at 55 metres tall at The Hoppings, Newcastle's legendary fair on the Town Moor. PHOTOGRAPH: Dirk van der Werff / AQphotos.com

The Aberdeen Christmas Village will be open to the public from November 26 to January 03. A number of traffic measures will be in place for the duration of the Aberdeen Christmas Village. Please ensure you plan ahead and for more information visit http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/

Aberdeen Inspired is the banner under which the Aberdeen BID (Business Improvement District) operates.

It is a business-led initiative within the city centre in which levy payers within the BID zone contribute.

Proceeds are used to fund projects designed to improve the business district. Further information on the work of Aberdeen Inspired is available at www.aberdeeninspired.com

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Dec 312014
 

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

DictionaryTally ho, cheerio etc. ‘Tis the season of peace on earth, goodwill towards men and so on.

Well, it probably is the season of goodwill somewhere.

The North Koreans are apoplectic, the Pope is not happy, and most importantly, Aberdeen Inspired does not want anyone to question its operations, finances or plans.

Olive branches seem to be in short supply as does transparency. Alas!

Despite a well-thought out plan to hack Sony, North Korea’s dictator has failed to stop release of satirical film ‘The Interview‘. In the film fun-loving dictator Kim Jong-un was meant to have been assassinated.

As if. It’s not as if he were in any way unpopular; and he is kind to his dogs after all, feeding them frequently.

Of course he feeds his dogs people including the odd uncle or two, but at least Kim’s kind to animals.

There is a great tradition of lovely military parades in North Korea, and even if there’s nothing to eat, there is great emphasis on jobs creation, with a nuclear weapon programme we can all be proud of. Hacks into Sony’s systems revealed such bombshells as not all actors and actresses are well loved by studio execs, and not everyone likes everyone.

George Clooney stuck his nose in as he so often does this time to defend Sony, satire and free speech. Clooney is well known for standing up for Tibet, which as far as I can tell is just some rebellious part of China. He really should stick to acting. After all, we can’t have our celebrities getting involved in causes, even someone like Clooney who grew up in a family where journalism was valued and activism encouraged.

He now has a duty as a role model to be as good-looking and as bland as possible. I’m mostly surprised the North Koreans bothered to get involved; it’s not as if there is any power in a satirical movie, song or even column. Except the other week when the American right wing got upset by John Fogarty, Bruce Springsteen and David Grohl performing ‘Fortunate Son.’

The Pope made a speech with thinly veiled criticism of those who seek power, scheme, climb and plot. Maybe we should invite him here to Aberdeen so he can experience a society without toadying, crawling, and scheming; where merit trumps money, and virtue triumphs over value for money.

As to Aberdeen Inspired, I am certain now that this transparent organization will answer the questions I put to it (first in August) any day now.

I asked about its finances, how one director seemingly awarded a hefty pay increase without any checks to their spouse, and why measuring ‘footfall’ by recording our every move and our mobile phone signals is more important than data protection and our right to freedom. They of course have more important things to do I’ll grant, like deciding on the next bunting colour scheme.

Alas! For some reason not every retailer remains enchanted by the BiD programme. Even stranger, some of these retailers would like to opt out now that they’ve seen the reality as compared to the promised outcomes.

I’ll never forget this great success and neither should you

Thankfully, the scheme was arranged in such a way that one you sign up to BiD, you apparently can’t decide to leave. Kind of like the Hotel California, or like a salmon swimming into one of the gargantuan funnel nets near Montrose.

I’m as sure that Santa will arrive down the chimney with a case of BrewDog as I am that I’ll get answers from Inspired.

Aberdeen’s Christmas lights are lovely; I particularly enjoyed the Union Street lights. Giant deer are silhouetted against a red background. This commemoration of the Tullos Hill Deer Slaughter in our holiday festivities reminds us all of the many sacrifices Aileen ‘HoMalone’, Chris Piper, Ranger Talboys and Peter Leonard made to bring us our Tullos Hill Forest. As such it is most welcome.

Remember pretty soon that dense forest of towering trees on Tullos will be offsetting our C02 emissions, and in a hundred years or so will offset the energy required to plant the trees in the first place. I’ll never forget this great success and neither should you. There is still time to sign a petition asking the city to fully come clean on the costs – and to save any remaining deer that may be left.

Our experts who were so certain there were too many deer (and killed 34 or 35) are now less certain of the facts, and have no clue how many deer are left in the city.

Show your support for these pocket-lining, gun-happy, self-serving political opportunists – sorry – pillars of the community by asking them to explain: sign up here. (Any problems signing up, as many people have had – send me an email and I’ll help). There is a deadline; your signature will help if you live in our fair city.

It may be the season of good will, but alas! Someone’s stolen meat (again) this year in Aberdeenshire: turkey, beef, ham and so on. Had it been venison, we could have looked to HoMalone and co for leads.

Police are said to be looking for a wealthy suspect or suspects. After all, it is a universally acknowledged truth that poor people don’t know how to cook – or so Baroness Jenkins said. She’s right of course, but this position has unfairly got her into hot water with people saying her logic is half baked. Her reasoning is that poor people go to food banks because they don’t know how to cook.

Granted, the press gave her quite a roasting (not in the football sense of the word), and she found herself in a bit of a stew. If you’re like Baroness Jenkins you’ll have a firm hand on how to prepare a meal. For the rest of us, here is a seasonal recipe you might find useful.

1. Decide what you want to eat – pheasant, turkey, steak, etc.
2. Ring bell to summon staff.
3. Give instructions to your cook.
4. Have butler select appropriate wines
5. Have ghillie shoot and pluck pheasants, hopefully taking out any lingering birds of prey that may be haranguing other birds on the estate. If no phesants can be easily found, take one of the breeding pheasants you’ll have cooped up in a squalid shed and kill it instead. Have butler set table and ring bell when dinner is ready.

I hope that will help all the lazy miscreants who have been using those food banks. Merry Christmas Baroness Jenkins. If you’re out there, please do get in touch and I’ll take you to one of Aberdeen’s food banks and the Cyreneans so you can have a word in person with the culinary-challenged poor. I am sure they’d love a chance to chat with you and all.

But with all the commercialism, controversy, poor people and so on, we’re in danger of losing the real meaning of the holiday season.

Thankfully, NHS Grampian is on hand to remind us all why we celebrate. Having solved all of their problems in the boardroom, in the slightly dirty wards, their small economic woees and so on, they have given us a Christmas gift: they have put the Sex back into Sexmass. And with that, it’s time for some definitions.

The 12 Days of Sex-mas: (Modern Scottish NHS Noun) Video made to combine the obvious synergy of a Christian religious festival and safe sex.

Hark! I bring unto you great tidings of joy, etc. etc. NHS Grampian has decided that Christmas is the best vehicle for promoting safe sex. Why didn’t we think of this before? Joy to the World, a new sex ed video has come (as it were).

The P&J reported on this really cool, hip, seasonal video.

“”Inspired by the “necknominations” that dominated the internet earlier this year, NHS Grampian has taken to social media to raise awareness of sexual health.

“In a video rendering a rewrite of the traditional festive anthem, Twelve Days of Christmas, staff from sexual health clinics in Aberdeen have tried promote safe sex in a modern way. Penny Gillies, health improvement practitioner, said:

“We wanted to pass on the message in a fun way without being preachy.

“At this time of year it’s important to remember your sexual health and if you think you may be at risk you should seek advice.

“It’s not scary and all our staff are really friendly.” “

Old Susannah doesn’t actually see the link clearly between ‘necknominations’ and this tasteful, high-class video, but there you go. The video is nearly as cool as ‘necknominations’ and no doubt the kids will be down with this, man. You can tell right away from the quote from Gillies that this won’t at all be a patronising dumbed-down video at all.

Wondering whether or not there would be similar sex videos made for Jewish, Muslim and/or other faiths, NHS Grampian was asked to give further information. Questions about cost, whose decision it was to make this brilliant film, whether or not the NHS management thought that hijacking the holiday and replacing ‘Christ’ with ‘sex’ was a sensitive thing to do, etc. were submitted. Alas!

As Aberdeen Voice is only a blog, and not a classy, established newspaper, the NHS decided that it was smarter not to answer right away, but to make us wait 30+ days. Mind you, some of the wider press (not to mention some religious types) became interested, and eventually an NHS spokeswoman wrote back to me to say:

“The video has been incredibly well received and has generated a lot of postive feedback from both the public and the media alike.  It has been viewed well in excess of 5000 times so far. No complaints have been made. The video cost nothing to produce.”

That no one put their head above the parapet to complain may be related to the fact people don’t want the NHS angry at them. It is a marvel though that the NHS, where a Band-Aid can cost in excess of ten quid to supply and apply, can make a video with no cost. No materials, no staff time, no props and no processing were required. Now that’s what I call a Christmas – sorry – Sexmas – miracle.

Christmas sales: (English compound noun) – marketing based around the winter holiday season to increase profits.

Ever notice how the sales start earlier and earlier? Me neither. But let’s not forget that the NHS – the same people who brought us the 12 days of Sexmas – have been selling our patient data. Anonamised of course – so the data purchasers can’t tell who you are.

It’s just your postcode, age, medical history and funny cough that the pharmaceutical companies – and others – can buy.

And in the same way that Inspired promise that no one can ever match up your mobile phone number, image, time spent in a store and your credit card purchases from that time period to identify you, the NHS promises that no one will ever cross-reference your illness, age and post code to identify you. Yet another Christmas miracle.

But what we should remember is the generosity of NHS Grampian at this time of year: they decided not only to agree to selling our data – they were in full Christmas spirit when they literally gave our personal medical histories away.

By leaving confidential files in supermarkets, they’ve really made it easy to pick up a quick Christmas present. It’s good to know that despite a few minor concerns – patient welfare suffering, locum doctor bills going through the roof and so on, there is still time to leave presents around for people to find.

Before leaving the happy subject of NHS Grampian, let’s spend a moment considering Malcolm Loudon, the whistle blower who has left his post.

For some reason, Mr Loudon thought that the many problems within our local NHS were severe. I guess clean wards, morale, errors and administration problems are the kind of minor details nit-pickers like Loudon think need attention. Now if he’d only help make the SeXXXmas video or something, he’d have been a happier man.

I hope that whistle-blowers like Loudon eventually get everything they deserve. And that goes double for those who persecute people like him. Let’s forget all this nonsense about patient confidentiality, dirty instruments, malpractice and so on. After all, we can watch a funny video instead! Result!

Oil Summit: (Modern Aberdonian Noun) – A plan by Aberdeen City Council to save the world’s oil industry.

More Christmas miracles! Aberdeen City Council will hold an oil summit! This will be summit else!

With Aberdeen city council lending its expertise to the oil price/employment crisis, a permanent solution is immanent. Expect crowd barriers to be erected around oil companies for starters. We can take the brilliant idea used on George Street’s closed down shops where we put up giant posters in the windows to make it look from far away as if it’s business as usual.

If we hang giant posters around any shut oil rigs or companies like we do elsewhere to make it look as if things are still running, that’s half the battle I’m sure.

Hopefully we’ll deploy a flotilla of fluroescent tabard wearing security guards to each oil company for health and safety. Perhaps we should outsource running of the oil industry to Inspired? After all, it’s amazing what a bit of bunting can do. Then again, the salary-rising policies apparently used by a certain Bid/Inspired bigwig to give her husband a pay rise might just work for our offshore energy industry as well.

And there we leave it for now. A happy 2015 to all; may your days be merry, bright, connected, vibrant, dynamic, smart and successful. And mind the crowd barriers.

On a personal note

This has been an interesting year; there have been disappointments such has having to battle and wait ages for information requests to come through.

The police don’t have to tell me anything more about the raid on George Copeland’s flat for instance – on a technicality I should have got right. The good news is that the police complaints commission have questions about how an empty flat was surrounded, eventually searched, and a man with health issues treated like a terrorist. The police will soon have to answer (I hope) questions on some other issues – more as and when.

I was honoured to have been of some small help to Anthony Baxter and Richard Phinney; thanks gentlemen for giving me a film credit. Here’s to them, the Menie residents, Tripping Up Trump and its supporters for standing up with dignity. Alex Salmond continues to refuse to visit the estate and see what his support of Trump has actually done.

Don’t worry though, other people in positions of power are very keen to come. For me though the best two stories I worked on are ones that won’t be published because after a little investigation, there were happy outcomes. Things like that make my day. I wish everyone a great New Year, and all I can say is Bring It On.

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Sep 062013
 

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

DictionaryTally Ho! It’s been such a pleasant summer in the Deen, and there is no sign yet of the great weather retreating. The Braemar Games are set for this weekend, and it should be another great year for these particularly enjoyable games.

Thanks this week to the brilliant team at Swan Vets for dealing with my ailing cat; they are compassionate, efficient, benevolent and plain speaking.  As such, they are unique in almost any field of endeavour. If only we had more people like this in the public sector (or printed press).  If only everyone respected animals as much.

For instance, things are as bad as it gets for any cetacean life near to Taji Cove, Japan – the Japanese have started their annual slaughter and hunt of these intelligent, family-orientated animals. 

We now know that dolphins communicate on a very sophisticated level; they have identifiable names for individual animals in their pod.

The Japanese however want to slowly butcher these animals (you don’t want to know how slow and painful their death is) – or worse, after being weakened and starved, some are flown (courtesy of Japan Air Lines or China Air) to aquariums around the world. Against this backdrop of unnecessary violence and sadism, India has stood up and passed new legislation against the slaughter and transport of dolphins.

This was an important and bold step; cetacean charities and experts around the world applaud this move. More information here http://www.wdcs.org/

Closer to home, the badger cull continues; science is again thrown out the window, just as it was with the ‘contiguous cull’ which saw millions of livestock destroyed, now admittedly a horrific, unnecessary act of a desperate government.

As pointed out, vaccines were an option; American technology could have seen portable diagnostic equipment used.  Instead, we had massive bonfires and animals often destroyed inhumanely, and completely unnecessarily. http://www.farmersguardian.com/home/news-analysis/foot-and-mouth-10-years-on-culling-was-pure-madness/37404.article

We need to re-examine how DEFRA and other animal/environmental agencies always leap to culling as the solution when vaccination and other remedies to animal-related problems exist and are possible.

There is a poisoning of a bird of prey being reported nearly daily now; endangered, rare species are being deliberately targeted. Given the plight of wild animals in the UK, you’d almost think a powerful pro-hunting/culling lobby existed that pressured these organisations from the outside and infiltrated them, working inside them to make pro-culling policy take precedence.

It must be very gratifying writing these endless pro-city garden project stories

But surely not. As long as you’re not a seal, a badger, an ailing cow which could have been inoculated, a bird of prey or any form of deer, this is a great island to be a wild animal. (I hope to get back to my series on ‘cull of the wild’ soon, but recent developments at Menie and UTG have kept me a touch busy).

It’s also been a confusing week, with free paper Metro reporting a decrease in support for the ‘YES’ campaign, and our very own Evening Express claiming the reverse.  It’s almost as if you can’t believe what you believe in some papers sometimes.

The EE’s chief reporter David Ewen went on an investigative journalism binge this week. He’s broken the story that John Michie, owner of avant-garde chemist Michie’s on Union Street wants to build in the garden. Hard to believe that Michie has come down in favour of such an act; after all there was barely any sign of enthusiasm from him for the previous proposals (except for the frothing at the mouth).

More on this altruistic Aberdeen Journals Ltd. campaign to ‘mend our broken heart’ (ie building something in UTG) shortly.  With his command of economics, city planning, environmental issues and surgical spirit, we’re as good as saved now. He’s of course been on ACSEF for years, a fact that the EE neglected for some reason.

It must be very gratifying writing these endless pro-city garden project stories; I do wonder whether the editor subtly suggests them to his reporters, or if they all clamber to be the one chosen to write more pro web prose. More on that in a moment.

Finally, that poor Mr Cameron hasn’t managed to convince his own MPs let alone Parliament that the best way to help the Syrian people is with airstrikes. In fact there was open hostility when the idea of intervention went to the vote. You could be forgiven for wondering if the LibDem / Conservative coalition has a few stress fractures. But don’t worry, the ever-strategic Ken Clark is coming to Cameron’s rescue.

So, nice weather and nice veterinarians aside, perhaps it is time for some definitions with that.

Military Action: (Mod Eng. compound noun) Waging battle, physical intervention in a problem. (Clearly not waging war of course)

That poor Mr Cameron; he’s going to start wondering who is friends are. All he wanted was a bit of support in the House of Commons from his fellow Torys to help the Syrian people – with a little bit of military action.

Children in Syria are being tortured, starved, orphaned, and recently burnt to death in a school. Old Susannah would love to tell you how this amounts to a ‘civil’ war, or indeed what wars have ever been civil. Over a million people have been made homeless; unknown numbers have been killed, tortured, disappeared.

Clearly what we need to do is bomb them.

Some weak-livered hippies think we need to be sending medical aid, shelter, food, rescuing people and working round the clock for a diplomatic end to this civil war. How disappointing that some of this ilk seem to have got into the House.

Poor Cameron must have been feeling down as dozens of his own MPs voted against him. Luckily, that nice Mr Clarke as come to the rescue. He’s said Cameron was only doing what the Americans wanted him to do by raising the vote.

“Mr Clarke, the Minister Without Portfolio, has disclosed that the Americans “wanted us to make this vote very quickly”. He said that the Government “did not have time” to ensure that it had enough support from MPs to win the vote. “
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/Cameron-told-to-hold-quick-Syria-vote

 Well, the coalition may have lost control of the House, but thankfully, the Americans are still setting the House’s agenda. Phew. For anyone who thinks blankets rather than bombing is the answer (with food and medicine thrown in), more info here. http://www.redcross.org.uk/syriacrisis

Broken Heart Campaign: (modern Aberdonian media propaganda phrase) To make everyone in Aberdeen happy by building something – anything in UTG.

When all is dark, when you can’t get a good VAT deal on regenerating brown field sites (which we have just a few of in central Aberdeen), when billionaires aren’t getting their way by commandeering common good land  for their cronies to manage, who ya gonna call? Evening Express!

Using all of its muscle without a thought of trying to sell more papers or keep its advertisers happy, Damian Bates’ organ is going to mend our broken heart! I didn’t know we had one, but there you go. Shops will fill up – we just have to build in the garden.

Perhaps a train stop makes some kind of sense for accessibility obsessives, but then again, if wheelchair users can get in the gardens now, what is the point.

When we have some specific actual architectural drawings, we can see what they’re on about. These, unlike those pretty web drawings, will show any safety features, HVAC details, and any underground structures (which will be opposed if they alter the park). However much cheerleading Wood, Michie and their pals do, there are just a few minor obstacles to consider.

There will be adherence to EU and UK procurement procedures. Aberdeen City Gardens Trust is not going to automatically get control of so much as a blade of grass: the whole thing is going out to tender (architecturally too, Halliday Fraser  Munro take note).

There will be environmental impact studies. There will be a public design vote with completely transparent results, which will include the chance to vote for improving the gardens, not building in them.

There is a difference between mending a broken heart and fixing something that’s not broken

There will be, unlike the lovely web, something called a project. A project, for the benefit of any ACSEF members still reading, requires a defined scope of the work to be carried out, a timescale for the work, and (sorry ACSEF) a detailed budget which will be adhered to.

There will be no further expenditure by ACSEF or any other quango on propaganda (we spent £125 or so on a photo ‘showing the gardens are inaccessible’ just for openers) and no more public money doled out to consultants (if you want to know more about the half million pounds of public money swallowed so far for this proposed land grab – sorry heart-mending project – is, have a look at  https://aberdeenvoice.com/2012/02/the-great-city-gardens-project-gravy-train/ )

The moral authority of the Evening Express is beyond reproach – or is that beyond the pale? Considering Mrs Bates makes her money from the much trumpeted Trump course which the EE and P&J are always happy to talk up, you have to wonder. Perhaps there is a Bates uncle or auntie on ACSEF? Is it the advertising revenues and the dwindling circulation rate that’s behind this heart propaganda?

I think we should be told (but we won’t be).

There is a difference between mending a broken heart and fixing something that’s not broken. Lower the business rates, start some initiatives to give our talented fashion, craft and arts students and practitioners empty store space to regenerate the town centre, stop building new stores (the mall didn’t exactly help the high street, and a first year economic student could have told us that).

But we need that green space, and what’s more we own it. We don’t need Smith managing it for us. Regenerate the brown field and in so doing stop the urban sprawl.  No open heart surgery required.

One way or the other, EE involvement, ACSEF involvement or not – there is going to be no more cronyism, no more secrecy and no more propaganda. And that’s a shame for a few people. Sorry.

Well, if they’re going to continue with the monomania, so must I.

Next week:  more on recent Trump-related developments, possibly some city of culture bid skulduggery uncovered too…

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Jan 192012
 

Old Susannah tries to get to grips with the newspapers, the actual news, and council-speak.  By Suzanne Kelly.

Dancing in the streets is assured today, for tomorrow we will be dancing on the concrete ramps!  (hopefully without falling off of them).  Rejoice!  Result!  The lovely ramp / Teletubbies design has been selected (just in the nick of time for the Referendum, mind) to ‘transform’ Union Terrace Gardens.

Old Susannah has been laid low by a cold/cough, so no outings of  late to Brewdog or anywhere really.  This has given me plenty of time to catch up on my leisure reading, so I’ve now read tons of minutes, board reports, registers of interest and so on.   But I’ll soon celebrate this good news with a brewdog or two.

I was so glad to have bought the Evening Express on the 17th; it had taken its own 50-person poll and guess what?  Yes, 59% of people polled want to ‘transform’ the gardens!  Fantastic!  Perhaps we should just knock the Referendum on the head now and go with those results.

To those few remaining NIMUTGs / NIMBYs / Luddites out there who think the vibrant and dynamic scheme to put concrete ramps over Union Terrace Gardens is nothing but the old boy network flexing its muscles to give some of the more hard-up members work, money and real estate, I say no.  There is no conspiracy.  There is nothing untoward going on.  (Can I have a directorship now?)

If anything looks funny, be it overlapping interests and board memberships, coincidental office block developments in the area, or what have you, here are some useful definitions to allay any fears.  Rest assured – in a few short years when you’re looking over your plastic hedge in the Monorail Café as the band plays in the Dr Bochel outdoor auditorium, you’ll look back and be glad that your tax money was well spent in convincing people what’s really important.

The Gardens dominate the news and the definitions this week as well.

City Garden Project Minutes: (compound noun) a series of documents charting the apolitical, beneficial, transparent proceedings of the Project team appointees.

We’ve already seen that there is no overlap between the City, Chamber of Commerce, BiD,  a couple of multi-millionaires and some council officials.  Here’s a little quote from the September City Gardens Project Implementation Team which shows as much:-

“Agreed that it would be helpful if ACSEF and Aberdeen Grampian Chamber of Commerce could provide supportive letters to the key decision makers within the Scottish Futures Trust.  The web link to the submission to be forwarded to ACSEF, the Chamber and BID”.

and now to illustrate the total independence of the Implementation Team, let’s put some names in brackets for the organisations listed above of people connected to the City Gardens Project as well:

“Agreed that it would be helpful if ACSEF(John Michie, Jennifer Craw, Colin Crosby, Tom Smith, Callum McCaig) and Aberdeen Grampian Chamber of Commerce (John Michie, Colin Crosby) could provide supportive letters to the key decision makers within the Scottish Futures Trust.  The web link to the submission to be forwarded to ACSEF, the Chamber and BID (Callum McCaig, John Michie – Chair)”.

It’s going to be a hard slog for these people to get themselves on side, don’t you agree?  Or perhaps that’s what’s meant by ‘having a word with yourself.’

For a more complete de-bunking of any lingering doubts, have a look at this little link, showing the members of some of our homegrown organisations.  http://oldsusannahsjournal.yolasite.com/

Overlap: Adjective – for two or more items to share similar components, area or characteristics.

If you have looked at the spread sheet on the above link, you will see there is just a touch of overlap.  Believe it or not, there are people who are involved in a quango here, a committee there – and all of them relating in some way to the desire to improve Union Terrace Gardens.

That nice Mr Michie gets around quite a bit, as do Messrs Collier and Crosby.  Never before have so few done so much in so many organisations against the wishes of so many.  Referendum or no, I think this lot are unstoppable.

Bad Timing: (Eng Phrase) events which in some way conflict with each other or subvert other events.

This will be a tough one to explain, so here is a wee example.  The deadline for registering a group for the Union Terrace Gardens Referendum was 13 January – so far, so good.  The deadline for these groups to submit a 300 word statement as to why people should vote for or against Teletubby land – sorry the dynamic ramp system which will turn Aberdeen into Barcelona– is 20th January at 5pm.  The Referendum is a month away.

Still so far, so good.  Then we come to next week. On 25th January the full council is going to vote on a report about the Gardens project – the report has various clauses which seem to indicate this thing might cost the City money after all – who would have guessed it??? But by then it will be too late for any of the statements going in the Referendum voting pack to be altered.

On 25 January it will also be too early to know what the referendum result will be – but the city is still going to vote on some very crucial items.  Why you might ask is this happening now? Why would the city want to do this before the referendum and before the new council is elected in May – only a few  months away?

It couldn’t possibly be so that any potential voters see the City voting to go ahead and decide that voting in the referendum (which is not binding of course) is pointless.  It is not to discourage, dispirit or mislead – obviously not.  I think this haste all just has to do with saving time.  I did ask this question of the council – and they’ve told me not to worry my old head about it.  Fair enough then.

PS ….

I am currently less than pleased that the City cannot (or will not) provide me with a list of property that the Mortification Board is responsible for – the FOI folk have told me to come down and look through the archives.  I still can’t believe Councillor West (leader of the Morticians – sorry Mortification Board) doesn’t have this info.

However – I am happy with him on this one score, and I thought  it worth sharing.  So, here are some extracts from old minutes from the City Garden Project Monitoring Board – cast your mind back to August – this is what was being said…

“Councillor Yuill asked Mr Brough to confirm whether there would be a ‘no action’ option on the card. Mr Brough replied that there would NOT be a ‘no action’ option at this stage because the feedback was part of a tendering process to select the best of six designs. Once the best design has been selected, other parties, such as the Council, may wish to determine whether the status quo was preferable to the chosen design. However the Project Management Board do not see this as their role. Their job is simply to come up with the best possible design for a proposed City Garden Project.

Councillor West asked that it be noted that every week the councillors of the Monitoring group have asked for the ‘no action’ option to be part of the public display and this has been passed on to the Management Board by Mr Brough. The Councillors stated that they were very disappointed that this was still not an option”.

You might ask yourself who is driving this project.  It’s not the citizens.  It’s not the councillors.  The answer just might lie on my spread sheet.

Next week – A Milne special issue, some Trump gossip, and more.

Oct 282011
 

Old Susannah reflects on what’s been going on, who’s got designs on our City, who’s doing what out of the goodness of their heart, and wonders if there’s enough ‘connectivity’ yet.  By Suzanne Kelly.

It was another busy week in the Granite City. Have been busy decorating cupcakes with Sweet Lily Adams (it’s a hard life), and trying out new Jo Malone perfumes (I love their Gardenia cologne, and the orange blossom candle is my favourite).

NB: Jo Malone has absolutely nothing to do with Ho Malone, although the idea of Aileen and I having champagne and canapés together of an evening is an enticing prospect.
She is meant to email me back about the financials for the deer cull (we might not have enough money to kill stuff you see– or it could be a bluff).

Once she does write back, I’ll suggest that the two of us go out for drinks and dinner. Watch this space.

I actually went to some shopping malls without being accosted by guards, and I tried to avoid looking at the six design finalists more than was absolutely necessary. It was truly a car crash of an exhibition:  I had to force myself to look, and then in horror could not look away again.  Whatever the organisers say, not everyone at the show is convinced by the scheme or any of the designs by a long way.

The show has had a profound impact on me as has the TIF application – I think of these things and unavoidably burst out laughing.  You have to hand it to these people  – the emperor has no clothes on, but thinks it all looks fantastic.  If you are free on 1st November, The Moorings is hosting its own alternative design competition – details on Facebook, where the alternatives are far more popular than the official site.

For some reason when I was back at the Academy shopping centre for the first time since my last little visit, my mind turned to the old Benny Hill show.

The other week when the guards were chasing me round the Academy and St Nicks (for taking photos), I could practically hear the Benny Hill theme tune in my head.  If you remember, the wealthy, ageing Benny Hill surrounded himself with pretty blondes, and promised everyone that they would be generously remembered in his will. In the end, almost no one inherited a cent.

What on earth made me think of a rich, older man making promises to leave money to lots of people (including blonde actresses) I couldn’t tell you. The mind works in funny ways.  I must have got something stuck in my craw.

Obviously it was not as vibrant as being in a shopping mall, but I took my turn on Tullos Hill Monday night (yes, we are keeping a watch on the hill – if you want to get involved, get in touch) and saw a solitary deer on two occasions. 

It was obviously vermin, as it was peacefully doing nothing.  I am sure this little vegetarian would have eaten thousands of trees of a single evening.  A well-meaning man had a dog off a lead – the dog chased said deer away.  The man saw nothing wrong with this, saying his (fairly small) dog would not be able to catch the deer.  True, but not quite the point though is it?

Please let your dog run free if it will respond when you call it back.  If not, well, then don’t.  Wild creatures can be petrified in these circumstances.  In the past week and a bit we’ve a child badly bitten by a dog, a dog attacking another dog, and a charming man using his dog to attack police.  It’s just as well we got rid of dog licensing, isn’t it?

But onwards with a few definitions.

Charitable:

(adjective) generous, unselfish, giving behaviour.

Many of us here at Aberdeen Voice help out our favourite charities and causes when we can. But our efforts are quite second rate when compared to the heroic, unselfish, self-sacrifice practiced by some of the City Council’s officers. Step forward Mr Gerry Brough and Ms Jan Falconer.

These two have been working in part on a voluntary basis to make sure that we get something built in boring old UTG.  It is very generous of their employer, Aberdeen City Council to allow them to toil away on the garden project.

It was Jan who spoke to the Torry Community Council about UTG some months ago (Gordon MacIntosh had a dinner to go to instead of seeing Torry), and she promised everything would be spelled out and transparent.

I am convinced she is right – everyone on the City Gardens Project and associated companies has everything perfectly clear. And once the diggers move in, the rest of us will see what’s happening too.  Here is a statement from a report, spelling out how she works:-

 “I have only recently started in this project and the work I have undertaken other than attending meetings is administrative. My hourly rate exclusive of on-costs is £26. I work an average of 50 hours per week making an average of 200 per 4 weeks I work while I am contracted to 148 hours (37 hrs per week). I regard all other administrative and desk-based tasks as taking place during this 11  additional unpaid weekly hours (52 hours per 4 weeks less 8 hours for a flexi-day leaving 11 hrs per week)–which represents a cost saving of £2288 since working on this project from 2 February 2011. (i.e. 11 hours x 8 weeks @ 26 per hour = £3,120). Outwith this is Community Meetings to which I attended the Torry Community Council Meeting for 3 hours in my own time representing an additional saving of £78. This is my choice as I wish the project to be a success whilst following the Council’s instruction”.

Again, the real philanthropist is Sir Ian Wood, without whose promise of putting something into his will, we would not be where we are today.  (Hmm – who’s supplying the office space, light/heat, printers, consumables for all these extra hours?  What is the EU working time directive?  Just curious.)

Mr Brough has occasionally become a wee bit heated when discussing the whole situation, and has written to some local opponents of the new gardens that they are just jealous of Ian.   Here is an example of Gerry’s unselfish nature, hidden behind the sometimes less-than-genteel facade:-

“My hourly rate, excluding on-costs, is £46. However, I work an average of 55 hours per week. Therefore, I would regard all other administrative and desk-based tasks relating to the City garden project as taking place during the 17.5 additional unpaid weekly hours that I work for the council – which represents a cost saving of £20,125 since 6 October 2010 (i.e. 17.5 hours x 25 weeks @ £46 per hour = . £20,125). Indeed, it would be possible to claim that all City Garden work is effectively more than made up for by this additional no-cost time input. Consequently, it can be argued that any input to the City Garden Project is effectively on a voluntary basis, at no cost to the council”.

Bargain!  Only £46  per hour, and he’s willing to work extra at that rate!  I am impressed!  In fact, the amazing report that these quotes come from can be found at:

…. it has some real gems – like the fact they see no legal problems with getting the land and only 10 Freedom of Information Requests had to be dealt with.  You will be amazed as you read this; please be my guest.

While you and I could never hope to equal these giants of giving, who expect nothing in return for their efforts (not even a private sector job or promotion of some kind I am sure), I will take a moment to say that many local charities for people and animals need your help now.  Check out Voluntary Services, Contact the Elderly, Willows, New Arc  just for starters.

They are all in need of money, goods and if you’ve none of those to spare, they need your time.  Obviously you won’t get a carpark named after you, but you might wind up chatting to great people on a Contact the Elderly event, help out with animals, or do one of a hundred other things worth doing.  If you can, then please do get in touch.

Neutrality:

(adjective) impartiality, indifference,

Aberdeen City will not – so some claim – spend a single penny on anything to do with the City Garden Project.  Its officers might be volunteering their time and sitting on boards, companies and committees about changing our dreary Union Terrace Gardens from something Victorian to something 1950s – but it won’t cost us.

The people in Aberdeen who brought us the BiD funding are completely neutral and indifferent to whether or not the City Gardens Project borrows 70 million (probably a wee bit more – say 100 million) through TIF Funding.

This is proved by the BiD people sending out a very smart draft letter for businesses to send.  Here are some extracts from the text that an Aberdeen City employee is sending to local businesses (text in blue is mine):

“I have been asked by ACSEF (to) highlight [sic] that additional support is also required from local businesses to ensure that Aberdeen City can access TIF funding”. 

Well, that’s neutral enough for me.

“We would be grateful if you could consider writing to Barry White, Chief Executive, Scottish Futures Trust, 11-15 Thistle Street, Edinburgh EH2 1DF in support of Aberdeen City Council’s TIF (Tax Incremental Financing) submission” 

Aberdeen City is only asking businesses to write to the Scottish Futures people; it’s not biased at all.

“The TIF being proposed by Aberdeen City Council would unlock up to £80 million to deliver a range of city centre improvements as part of the city centre masterplan. At the heart of the city centre regeneration is the City Garden Project, which has already secured a commitment of £55 million of private sector investment with a further £15 million planned.”

Nothing wrong with a little unlocking, I say.  Who can argue with this factual paragraph?  Yes, sounds quite impartial to me.

“TIF is an invaluable and innovative tool for stimulating greater investment and regeneration, achieving major city centre transformation, and retaining and attracting existing and new business investment. It is therefore vital for Aberdeen to be selected as one of Scotland’s six remaining TIF pilot projects” 

Yes, they are saying TIF is great and it is vital for Aberdeen to get TIF, but I’m sure they really are as neutral as they first claimed.

“We hope that you will demonstrate your support for the Aberdeen TIF submission by making it clear that the Scottish Government needs to demonstrate its support for Aberdeen City and Shire by investing in the regeneration of Aberdeen city centre which, unlike Scotland’s other major cities, has received little or no public infrastructure investment over the last fifty years.”  

Yes, it is only fair that Aberdeen gets its own tram fiasco by having a big infrastructure project.  I do seem to remember that Audit Scotland thought things were so messed up here that we weren’t supposed to do anything big for a while.  But you can’t fault the City’s claim of neutrality just because they are asking businesses to beg for TIF.

Some of you out there might be starting to doubt whether or not the Aberdeen City BiD people are neutral when it comes to the City Garden Project getting TIF funding.  This excerpt from a letter from a Bid Bod should end any doubt:

 “Aberdeen BID is entirely neutral with regard to the City Garden project …”

So yes, Aberdeen City Council and its BiD people are neutral, they are just keeping businesses in the loop, and giving them a letter of support to sign so we can borrow somewhere between 70 million and 100 million (depends who you ask, really) for your great-grandchildren to pay off for building Teletubbyland. Neutrality to match the volunteer work, you might think.

It might sound like it’s asking for help from businesses getting TIF, but they have said they are  impartial so that’s that.

One tiny part of this impartial letter requires a little more study:

I draw your attention to what might be a typo (or a Freudian slip) in this letter which I found amusing (underlining is mine)

“ACSEF is a public private sector partnership that seeks to grow the economy and enhance its quality of life through a joined-up approach. With the private sector standing shoulder to shoulder with the private sector, ACSEF has facilitated, influenced and delivered a variety of major projects that are helping the region and Scotland to meet its growth targets”

Is the private sector going to stand shoulder to shoulder with itself – or is that exactly what the creation of ACSEF with taxpayer money has created and what we should be grateful for?  Answers on a form letter, please.

Just to show that I too understand neutrality, here is a link to a letter you can send to Barry White.

Tell him you don’t want a giant worm or a monolith that will cost someone, somewhere down the line tens of millions – if not one hundred million pounds.  Tell Barry the designs are awful, and the city needs to attract people with excellent schools, great medical facilities, safe, clean streets, and support services for those who need them.

No one is going to live in our city because it has more parking, more offices or a few giant concrete ramps where once 400 year-old trees once stood.  Use this letter as it is; customise it, or send your own to :  Barry.White@scottishfuturestrust.org.uk

Next week:

The  mystery of the uncomprehending Chief Executive, and the Case of the Missing Postcards in which Valerie Watts only receives 35 of the hundreds of anti-cull postcards created – over 60 of which were hand delivered by Old Susannah to a security guard who commented ‘loads came in’ that week – and the week before.  Where are the missing postcards?  Did deer eat them?  Answers on a postcard please – or get one of the remaining postcards and send it to the City – pop into Lush for your card – and some very nice ‘candy cane’ soap.

 

Oct 222010
 

By Dave Guthrie.

As the public purse-strings draw tighter, local government has been looking at alternative financing to carry through development and redevelopment projects. After many years of borrowing and spending beyond their means, the obvious – perhaps the only – source remaining is the private sector.

Last year Oxford Economics, in a report on Aberdeen, said that during the economic downturn opportunities would present themselves with quality resources being available to businesses and organisations much cheaper than at the city’s economic peak in 2007 and that a lower cost-base could be achieved without trade-off against quality of location or accommodation.

By definition the private sector – business and commercial interests – exist to make a profit, expand and pay dividends to shareholders. There can be public benefits – increased employment etc. – but these are essentially by-products. Any public/private partnership will therefore involve some compromise on both sides. Aberdeen City Council has been exploring several innovative funding mechanisms with the aim of carrying through their City Masterplan.

The three main ones are:

Tax Incremental Funding [TIF],

The City Development Company [CDC],

and the Business Improvement District [BID].

TIF.

This is a financial model pioneered and now widely used in the US. It allows a local authority to borrow money for specific infrastructure developments. The loan is secured against expected tax revenue increases resulting from the development. [new businesses attracted to the area, higher taxes etc.] allowing repayment over a 10 to 20 year period. The Scottish Government has sent out encouraging signals about this scheme and in January of this year Edinburgh City Council’s proposal to borrow £84m for the redevelopment of Leith Port was approved. Glasgow City Council and North Lanarkshire Council have similar plans in the pipeline. As does Aberdeen City Council.

Borrowing against future unknown tax revenues is not without its risks, however. Responsibility for any shortfall would be an important issue and councils are likely to choose partnership with a commercial developer thus sharing the risk. Another danger is that a TIF-supported development may not actually produce increased tax revenue, just move it from one area to another. In the US, TIF projects compete with one another. [In Chicago there are now 500 such schemes].

So, TIF is a tried and tested model for kick-starting large development schemes but like other funding models it is complex and not without its dangers.

CDC:

A City Development Company is a mechanism which allows local authorities to use their assets to attract long-term investment from the private sector to finance regeneration projects. Also known as a Local Asset Based Vehicle [LABV], it provides a route whereby public and private sectors pool land, finance, expertise and powers and allocate risks and returns from targeted projects

An Aberdeen CDC [AC/DC?] would seek to identify and ‘remediate’ pockets of ‘market failure’ within the city, capturing value for targeted beneficiaries. Suggested examples so far include; Union Terrace Gardens, Bon Accord Baths, Denburn Health Centre and Park, St Nicholas House, Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, Chapel Street Car Park, Summerhill Education Centre, Granitehill and Greenferns. The City Council would be encouraged to ‘leverage’ these assets through the CDC in partnership with the private sector.

BID

Aberdeen Business Improvement District is a proposal being implemented by Aberdeen City Centre Association in partnership with the City Council. Funded jointly by a compulsory levy on businesses within the area supplemented by the local authority, the BID aims to provide a more vibrant and viable town centre and encourage more input from business managers and owners towards regeneration of the area.

The area covered by BID is likely to include Union Street and most of the city centre from Union Square and Guild Street in the south to John Street in the North.