Feb 242012
 

By Mike Shepherd.

The polling cards are out for the Union Terrace Gardens referendum and you have until March 1 to vote. The hype means you’ll have been bombarded with leaflets, pamphlets, news items and radio adverts.
If ‘connectivity’, a ‘21st century contemporary garden’, or ‘street-level access’ are key factors in deciding your vote, look no further; vote for the City Garden Project.

If you are undecided or swithering then read these very good reasons for voting to retain Union Terrace Gardens. 

1. Your vote will preserve the look and feel of the Granite City. Union Terrace Gardens are an integral part of the heritage of Aberdeen. Planned by the same architects who designed the Art Gallery and the frontage of Marischal College, they show an architectural harmony in the city centre which would be destroyed by a modernistic City Garden.

2. Your vote will not result in a ghastly modern structure replacing our park. Although described as the City Garden, it is in fact a mixture of buildings, flyovers, underpasses and parkland. The design has a passing resemblance to 1960s-style new town architecture. At one public meeting, someone said that the underpasses in particular were likely to end up as urban no-go areas. I have even heard a supporter of the scheme conceding that it will look dated after about five to ten years.

3. Your vote will stop a multitude of new glass box office blocks being built in the city centre. Council documents show that consideration has been given to plans to build a central business district in the city centre and encourage office block construction. The building of the City Garden Project, “will encourage development in the city centre sooner, and on a bigger scale, than might otherwise be the case without public investment in enabling infrastructure.”

4. Your vote will improve our much-loved park. Jimmy Milne, oilman and MD of Balmoral Group, has said:

“I and many of my business contemporaries, are committed to establishing a fund which will help bring the gardens back to their former glory. Without destroying our heritage, and without putting Aberdeen City further into debt, it would not be difficult to breathe fresh life into the park. Improved access, new planting, cleaning and restoration, park wardens and live events could all be relatively easily and cost effectively achieved.”

5. Your vote will ensure that the mature trees in Union Terrace Gardens will be saved. All 77 trees will be kept, including the twelve elms, some of which are at least 200 years old.

6. Your vote will stop our Council borrowing £70m they can’t afford. Aberdeen City Council, £562m in debt, is being asked to borrow £70m through a risky tax scheme to help fund the City Garden Project. If there is insufficient money to pay back the loan, Council funds will be required to service it.

7. Your vote will avoid significant disruption and pollution in the city centre for the near three years it will take to build the scheme. The technical feasibility study for the project estimates that the equivalent of 3,947 dump trucks of earth and 4,605 dump trucks of granite will be excavated from the Gardens causing ‘large environmental impacts from noise, transport, dust and energy use.’

8. Your vote will avoid the major traffic problems caused by the movement of heavy lifting equipment, dumper trucks and lorries in and out of the city centre. It is estimated that the City Garden will take almost three years to build. It is likely that there will be major traffic problems in the city for much of this time. City centre business will be impacted by this and may never recover.

9. Your vote will avoid much, if not all, of the Council’s cultural activities being displaced to the underground building in the City Garden. The council funds institutions occupying cosy, intimate venues such as the Music Hall, Lemon Tree and Belmont Cinema. A review of council-funded cultural activities will be made with a view to possible relocation to the underground concourse.

10. Your vote will avoid any consideration that the future of the HM Theatre could be in doubt. Two major performance venues will be built in the City Garden only yards from HM Theatre. Councillors have asked if this will have an impact on the future of HM Theatre. No specific assurances have been given.

Aberdeen could change forever if the City Garden is built, and probably not for the better.

We have the chance to keep the leafy, green heart of the Granite City. 

VOTE: RETAIN UNION TERRACE GARDENS

Feb 192012
 

TIF – doesn’t this American innovation in borrowing just sound fantastic?  You get to ‘unlock’ money, re-develop an area, and money comes flooding in.  What could be wrong with that?  Karin Flavill looks across the pond to the home of the junk bond and bad mortgages, and doesn’t like what she sees.

While arguments rage over the future of Union Terrace Gardens, there’s consensus about one thing.  Tax Increment Funding is a somewhat difficult concept to get to grips with.  Not because the basic definition is complex.

TIF funds development by borrowing against future business tax gains arising as a consequence of that development.   New developments mean new business rates.  The local authority keeps a portion of those business rates (from businesses that wouldn’t have moved into the area but for the development) to repay the loan.

The complexity arises in assessing how this mechanism can be applied in a manner that avoids various potential pitfalls.  TIF is still very much in the experimental stages in the UK, so we lack a domestic reference point to understand how well the process is likely to work from start to finish.

When business is attracted from one area to another by a TIF funded development, it may be at the expense of another area.  This is known as “displacement”.   The area benefiting from TIF is pleased to lure business away with its spanking new TIF-funded development.  The region losing out wants some protection against financial detriment.

The TIF scheme provides that tax increment coming at the expense of another region can’t be retained by the local authority to make TIF repayments.  Like other NDRs, those increments must be sent to Central Government who will pool them with other funds then redistribute the funds equitably among regions.

Rather than being a tool to give cities a competitive edge and win City of Culture status for celebrated developments (the vision currently being promoted in CGP supporters’ referendum campaigns), TIF was first developed in the US as a means of helping regions to improve their most blighted areas.    Gradual shifts away from this philosophy, and increasingly creative ways of arguing blight, have led to many states in the US tightening up legislation to prevent TIF from being awarded except where genuine blight is demonstrated.

Chicago is often cited as example of the TIF scheme being misused to benefit the areas that least need it.  In August last year, a report was released outlining areas for improvement in the operation of TIF in that city.  The report highlighted problems regarding the monitoring of TIF expenditure.

Taxpayers had not been afforded easy access to information that would help them understand the TIF process or to evaluate the performance of the investment.   This reduced transparency of the process.

  although the initial cost proposed was $224.3 million, ultimately the park cost $482.4 million

The harder it is for the ordinary citizen to understand the TIF process and to evaluate the success of the development it funds, the greater the potential for corruption and abuse of the process by those who do understand it, and who can make it work to their own advantage.

That some will seek and gain an advantage through cronyism is an unfortunate element of life from which no city is immune.

In the 1990s, Chicago Mayor Daley (no relation to Arthur) developed a strong attachment to a project that would come to be known as Millennium Park.  A 16-acre landscape situated over an underground parking structure, it was built on top of Railroad tracks in an existing park called Grant Park.  The architect involved was Frank Gehry who had won international acclaim for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.  The Chicago Tribune enthused that:

“The most celebrated architect in the world may soon have a chance to bring Chicago into the 21st Century”.

The park has certainly won many admirers worldwide and is, in many ways, an excellent model for what the City Garden supporters are hoping that project will become.   Properties in the immediate surrounds have become very fashionable and have increased significantly in value.

For others there has been a hefty price tag.  For example, although the initial cost proposed was $224.3 million, ultimately the park cost $482.4 million.  The park has come at a very high price to Chicago residents in terms of cuts to funding of public services and job cuts that were necessitated by the cost of the park.  Salt is rubbed into the wound, on occasion, when the park is closed to the public so that corporate functions may be held there.

During and after the building of the park, Mayor Daley was frequently criticised for alleged cronyism in the awarding of contracts.   Other areas of the city continued to deteriorate, while their inhabitants observed the increasing wealth and prosperity of those parts of the city that benefited from TIF funded schemes.
Areas that never suffered from true blight in the first place, but which were a focus of interest for developers, politicians, owners of business premises and others who could make the TIF scheme work for them.

In some ways it’s puzzling that we, supposedly a far more socialist nation than the US, are applying a model of TIF so similar to that model which states in the US have been increasingly trying to move away from by drafting legislation that aims to help TIF function in accordance with its original aims.

There has always been a tendency for conservatives to condemn the poor for their reliance on state sponsored welfare, but in recent years have people started questioning more vigorously the exploitation of taxpayer financed schemes by the some of the biggest players in business (players who have traditionally, but not always accurately, been lauded for their self-sufficiency).

TIF deserves close attention for its potential to increase this problem.  Failure to know, or care about, the original philosophy of TIF leaves us less alert to its potential for misuse that could worsen existing inequalities in our society.

The UK version of TIF springs from recommendations in a 2008 report by PWC and Core Group Cities for an alternative method of funding developments in core group cities (the 8 largest regional cities in England).   The report is here.  

It begins with commentary on the economic successes of the core group cities, and highlights continuing problems relating to unemployment and deprivation in some neighbourhoods.    It states an aim to “rejuvenate communities, provide new employment opportunities and stimulate further economic growth.”

  Promoters of the CGP dismiss the possibility of serious overspending as scaremongering

The report then discusses the increasing political emphasis on a devolved approach to economic  development .   A defining aspect of TIF is that it permits local authorities greater autonomy in the matter of funding developments once they have been granted the TIF loan.

For this to happen, they must submit a detailed business plan to the SFT who make recommendations to central government regarding feasibility.

PWC, having been involved in the UK version of TIF from its conception, is ideally positioned  to assist local authorities with the preparation and submission of their business plans.  Finance and Resources Committee meeting minutes from September 2010 discuss PWC’s remit in preparing a TIF business plan for approval by the SFT.  The minutes refer to several important city projects the Council would wish to progress, whether or not the City Garden project went ahead.
See: https://docs.google.com …committees.aberdeencity …pwc+tif+business+plan

“The terms of PWC’s assignment make it clear that they are required to produce a business case that ensures zero financial risk for the Council.”

The Council states that it will make no financial contribution to the City Garden Project.  The development must be funded wholly by private contributions and by the TIF loan and completed within the budget.

Promoters of the CGP dismiss the possibility of serious overspending as scaremongering.  Chicago’s Millennium Park experience demonstrates, however, how this can and does happen.   As a response to such concerns, Sir Ian Wood has pledged an extra £35 million.   It’s not clear what will happen if the cost exceeds this.

Despite ACC’s insistence that PWC present a business case involving zero risk to the Council, the draft business case completed in January of this year contains no such promise.  It focuses on minimising risk and balancing the risks involved in carrying out the project against the risks involved in doing nothing.

Outlining the need to attract investment and talented professionals to Aberdeen to assure future prosperity, the plan refers particularly to the energy industry.  Due to the oil and gas industry being regarded as the primary targets for investment in Aberdeen, and Aberdeen’s existing status as the main centre in Scotland for this industry, PWC anticipate displacement being low (10%).   A low anticipated displacement figure is essential for arguing the likely success of a business plan.

  PWC appears to anticipate investment by that industry increasing in Aberdeen, alongside the increasing depletion of oil and gas reserves

Work is expected to be completed over a 5 year period beginning this year, with TIF borrowing being carried out in stages (the first draw down taking place in 2014).  The proposed development is expected to create approximately 2 million square feet of commercial space and to speed up the development of a further 1.4 million square feet of commercial space.

The CCRS (City Centre Regeneration Scheme) predicts 6,500 new jobs resulting from the development.  It should be noted, though, that that figure is a “by 2039” prediction.

The business plan states:

“Oil and gas reserves will run out over time, perhaps 30 years, and Aberdeen is looking ahead. It knows it needs to adapt its industrial base and re-examine how it creates wealth and prosperity.   Aberdeen is confident it can do so.”

This project is to be completed in 2017, and its success relies significantly on a very low displacement figure of 10%.  In presenting this figure PWC relies on the oil and gas industry, already present in Aberdeen (and therefore not being taken from other areas) being the main sources of increased investment in Aberdeen.   Confusingly, PWC appears to anticipate investment by that industry increasing in Aberdeen, alongside the increasing depletion of oil and gas reserves in the North Sea.

Perhaps in anticipation of confusion about this assertion, much is made of the possibilities relating to renewable energy – an industry Aberdeen must embrace and develop expertise in, regardless of Donald Trump’s views.  The question is whether developments in other areas area will not only compensate for the steadily diminishing presence of the oil industry, but expand to the point where the business plan can work as anticipated.

Regarding the City Garden proposed as a replacement for UTG, the report comments…

“While there is no direct benefit the fact that the City Gardens Project becomes a reality and underpins the CCRS will benefit Aberdeen’s wider population and business community.”

During a recent BBC Scotland debate, campaigner Mike Shepherd (a geologist with years of experience in, and expert knowledge of, the energy sector) was shouted down and jeered at by pro CGP hecklers.  The latter have tended to define opponents of the City Garden Project as tree-huggers and luddites who will be crushed by the wheels of change.   UTG has also been described, throughout the debate, as a dangerous area…despite police reports indicating far lower crime levels in UTG than in surrounding street level areas.

The debate has often been an acrimonious one, featuring conflicts of various kinds.  Already the TIF pilot scheme in the UK form originally advocated by PWC has brought deep divisions to Aberdeen.  It seems set to be promoting a cheerfully unapologetic attitude, amongst some in our community, with regard to social exclusion.

A popularly cited reason for getting rid of UTG is that this will also rid the city centre of people with drug and alcohol related problems.   Presumably, relegating them to more blighted areas that would, were TIF being applied in a manner consistent with its original aims, be the areas actually benefiting from this scheme.

 

Jan 272012
 

The business case for TIF and the City Garden Project by Mike Shepherd

The Technical Feasibility Study for the City Square Project was published in 2009. A key problem area was identified early on:

“The difficulty in quantifying the economic gain is considerable. To describe the benefits in cultural and civic terms and to focus on the future raison d’être of the City of Aberdeen will become the means of explaining the benefits. However it is very difficult to make these benefits seem tangible. Yet this is precisely what will have to be done for a proposal to succeed.”

Three years later, and with the scheme rebranded as the City Garden Project, they are still struggling to give any clear explanation for the economic benefit.

The business case for Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) was presented to Council on Wednesday. TIF is a mechanism whereby a local authority borrows money from central government funds to finance a development project. Any new business rates created by the project are used to pay off the loan and interest. It is intended to act as a self-financing mechanism.

The City Garden Project has a nominal cost of £140m, of which the promised private sector contribution is £70m. Aberdeen City Council is being asked to underwrite a £70m loan through a TIF scheme. This is part of a larger plan to redevelop the city centre which includes knocking down St Nicholas House, the Denburn car park and health centre area.

The TIF business case presented to councillors is, however, seriously flawed.

http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=18350

An Attractive Aberdeen

The main justification for the City Garden Project is that it would apparently create a high quality city centre to make Aberdeen more attractive. This is supposed to act to retain and draw in energy and other professionals, together with an increased number of visitors.

Research shows that talented people choose place rather than job when making location decisions. As an Energy City, Aberdeen competes for skilled people with….areas like Abu Dhabi, Kuala Lumpur, Houston and Perth (Australia).”

Yet, a survey published two months ago makes this claim somewhat questionable.

ABERDEEN has been rated one of the world’s top cities to live in for the second year in a row, a survey published today reveals.  Quality of life in the Granite City is ranked above that of Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Houston and Dubai in the study, which is used by governments and multinational firms to help decide where to send staff.”

http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/2536835

Jobs Creation

Most controversial is the claim that regeneration of the city centre could create 6,500 jobs.

The report sets out how his figure was derived. A questionnaire was sent out by the Council to companies and a small number of interested parties in Aberdeen with the intention of assessing the economic impact of the city centre redevelopment. One of the target groups comprised key developers, land owners and agents. Of the 35 parties in this group, only one replied to the questionnaire. They then contacted all remaining 34 developers by phone. Even then, when directly approached, only six of the 34 were prepared to speak to them.

Unfortunately this question did not garner any responses

The developers were asked ‘to identify the extent to which the delivery of each of the five development schemes would result in uplift in development potential for housing, retail outlets, office space, business units, hotels, tourism and leisure in the City Centre’.

However:

“No respondents identified the project as having any impacts on the development potential for business/industrial units in the City Centre”.

Then:

The next question in the survey requested developers to provide an indication (in quantifiable terms such as the number of units, square footage etc) of the extent to which the identified benefits would impact upon their organisation’s investment plans and/or objectives. Unfortunately this question did not garner any responses as consultees felt it was too soon and/or complex to attribute impacts in these terms.”

That questionnaire wasn’t that much help then.

“Additionally it was apparent that individual developers and other respondents identified potential uplifts in activity and recognised that the timing of investments would be brought forward as a result of TIF. However, many of these developers still had expectations that, irrespective of future economic conditions or City Centre Regeneration Scheme (CCRS) , their specific sites will be taken forward. It was apparent that individual developers and other respondents identified potential uplifts in activity and recognised that the timing of investments would be brought forward as a result of TIF. However, many of these developers still had expectations that, irrespective of future economic conditions or CCRS, their specific sites will be taken forward.” (HA!)

SO WHAT DID THEY DO NEXT ?

“In balancing these different responses (i.e. CCRS will act as a stimulus to market uplift in general versus developers views that each individual site is likely to be taken forward anyway) the Council, ACGT Enterprises and their advisors have initially assumed a profile of development under the no CCRS scenario whereby:

“None of the cultural, leisure or retail elements of the CCRS projects will be taken forward;

“At least one major site totalling 0.720 million square feet will be taken forward in the anticipated timescales projected by developers regardless of CCRS; and,

“On the remaining sites identified, 1.369 million square feet will go forward without TIF over the 25 year period considered, but such developments will lag, on average, three years behind the profile assumed with CCRS.

“On the remaining sites identified, 2,029 million square feet of development (out of total development potential of 3.468 million square feet) will not go forward without the CCRS, over the proposed 25 year TIF period.”

THIS IS THE KEY BIT

“the Council, ACGT Enterprises and their advisors have initially assumed a profile of development “

AND THEN …

Took the 2,029 million square feet figure, multiplied it by ‘standard job density ratios,’ and came up with 6,500 jobs.

Assumptions?

So what happened next?

“In balancing these different responses (ie CCRS will act as a stimulus to market uplift in general versus developers views that each individual site is likely to be taken forward anyway) the Council, Aberdeen City Garden Trust Enterprises and their advisors have initially assumed a profile of development under the no CCRS scenario whereby:

…. 2,029 million square feet of development (out of total development potential of 3.468 million square feet) will not go forward without the CCRS, over the proposed 25 year TIF period.”

The footage was multiplied by standard figures which relate development area to the number of jobs likely to be created, hence 6,500 jobs.

The key word here is ‘assumed’. An exercise in speculation somehow translated into a press statement that the City Garden Project will create 6,500 jobs. This wild claim led to much scepticism. It was pointed out that the London Olympics are only predicted to create 3,000 new jobs.

The Risks

The discussion on project risks is somewhat lightweight. One concern is the possibility of massive cost over-run on the project. The report even tacitly recognises the possibility:

“It has demonstrated with the redevelopment of Marischal College that it can have a major project delivered on time and under budget. This is a rare accomplishment in such large projects.”

In June 2010, I gave a deputation to a Council meeting where I asked who would pay for any cost over-run on the City Garden Project. The then Chief Executive, Sue Bruce, decreed that the private sector would pay, not the Council. Since that meeting, there has clearly been little progress on the matter. The report mentions that:

“Before entering into any TIF arrangement, ACC will endeavour to structure an arrangement with its private sector contributors that minimises ACC’s risk exposure.”

The Council should walk away from the project unless it gets a legally-binding commitment from the private sector to cover all costs of any project over-run. The major financial problems caused in Edinburgh Council as a result of the projected £200m-plus overspend on the trams project should be foremost in councillors’ minds, one would hope.

TIF can be a risky way to borrow money. The risks are understood by the Council:

“For most TIF projects the most significant risk would be in relation to the business rates identified not materialising or being delayed. This would result in ACC having insufficient revenues available through the TIF mechanism to service and repay their borrowings.”

There is another risk. The loan will be in place for a period of 25 years, gradually being paid off, it is hoped, by new business rates. Like a mortgage, interest will accrue on the unpaid part of the loan. The business case assumes an interest rate of 5.2% over the 25 year period. Should interest rates rise by only 1%, then there will be a predicted shortfall of £20.7m left to pay after 25 years.

Careful reading of the TIF business case for the City Garden Project shows that it is based on unexplained assumptions, optimistic extrapolations and will involve financial risk for the Council. Yet the public are being told otherwise.

Tuesday’s ‘Press & Journal’ quoted a City Garden Trust director, who mentioned they had polled 50 people in Aberdeen. Those against the City Garden Project had said the city could not afford the project.

“When the funding was explained and the economic benefits outlined, ten of these people changed their minds. “

This is what I would have told them instead.

“Your house needs doing up, you are heavily in debt, you can barely find the cash for the essentials in life. Should you take out an enormous mortgage for a new patio and garden? No!”

Jan 122012
 

Voice reviewed ‘When The Clyde Ran Red’ a few weeks ago. So impressed was David Innes with Maggie Craig’s excellent take on a vital part of Scottish history, that he spent an afternoon in her cosy kitchen on the wrong side of the Balloch, discussing the book’s background, her passion for the subject, and much more besides. Here is Part One of that interview.

How much of your background is in ‘When The Clyde Ran Red’?

A lot of my background. My dad was very involved with Labour politics and was an Inverness town councillor in the 1940s. He moved to Glasgow and became election agent for Cyril Bence, the Labour MP for Dunbartonshire East after Davie Kirkwood, in the early 1950s.

My dad was born in Coatbridge in 1913, so grew up during the Depression. We were told stories about them going over the farmer’s dyke to nick a few neeps and the farmer turning a blind eye because he knew everyone was really hungry.

In fact my dad’s in the book. I discovered a big pile of my dad’s papers which showed he’d written to the Commissioner of Distressed Areas about the Scottish Allotments Scheme for the Unemployed. He was a great gardener and a railwayman and you know how these two things go together.

People say, “Let’s not talk about politics”, and you think, “If you ignore politics it won’t ignore you”. It was my dad’s lifeblood. I remember him crying about a neighbour’s baby who’d died and they’d no money even for a coffin. This would have been, I suppose, in the early 1930s. They wrapped the baby up in brown paper, and he said, “Tied up like a bloody parcel”, because nobody had any money.

There was always the big hoose and the mine owners. He went apoplectic about Sir Alec Douglas Home, who they were working for at one point, because they were living in the lap of luxury when their workers were living in poverty.

My dad was one of about ten and they were really a bright, clever family, and there was this idea that girls who were clever were going to work in factories at 14 and the boys didn’t get a chance either. It was such a waste of potential.

I remember my aunt telling me about how the doctor would come out. It cost five shillings, but they’d a good doctor who’d say, “I’ll get it next time, Liz”. My aunt says they were on first name terms with the doctor, who must have been an idealistic man who saw himself on the same level as the miners he was treating. When you think of some doctors now who insist on their status, it’s an interesting turnaround.

You grew up in the Glasgow area?

I grew up in Clydebank. My dad then got a job as station master which moved us from Clydebank to Bearsden, quite an interesting culture shock! My mother had come from a farm, and the station house we lived in came with a third of an acre of ground which my dad was proud of. It was semi-rural. He came from Carnwath and loved being in the country.

If you go there now the industry’s gone and it’s back to being a rural area. A lot of these Clydeside places were. There were shipyards and tenements, but you went up to the farm to buy eggs. I think there was a love of the land even in industrial areas.

My mother’s from Barthol Chapel on the Haddo House Estate and she used to talk about Lord and Lady Aberdeen. I don’t think her family was as poor as my dad’s, but she told me that her mother sometimes had to sell their butter and buy margarine. That really hit me – the one benefit of being on the land is that your children are going to have healthy food, but that wasn’t always the case.

I think their rural background helped them speak fantastic Scots. There are words my mother used that we still use, like “fair forfochen”. Because my dad came from what he called the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire he had that rich Scots and that’s all running through the book too.

I think there’s an obvious really good prose rhythm in the book, and that possibly explains it, but it’s your passion for the subject that really shines through.

I grew up with it and thought a couple of years ago that it was time I wrote another non-fiction book. I thought, “What do I feel passionately about?” and the book’s the answer.

I went and looked at some of the other books and some of them are pretty dreadful. The Legend of Red Clydeside is hard going, and you come up against the party line quite often. The Marx Memorial Library gave me permission to quote from Helen Crawford which a lot of people said they wouldn’t allow.

You also have to make a judgement about what’s been written and have to say to yourself when reading some of the memoirs, “You’re presenting yourself in a bit of a heroic light here”. I love the wee vignettes, and I don’t think they’re frivolous. Like when James Maxton gives Davie Kirkwood a clean hanky when he gets arrested because he always liked to have one. Somehow you think, “Well, that’s true!”

I think I had a passion to write about it because it seems to have been forgotten. People are talking about austerity nowadays, and I think, “Not yet”. We’re not at the level of poverty where people couldn’t go to work because they didn’t have a pair of shoes, or they had to share a pair of shoes with their sister.

We’re now seeing the prospect of our children doing less well than we did, which is very hard because you want your children to do better than you’ve done. Both my husband and myself are working class kids who’ve made good but you feel as though you’re almost being hit for that – the idea that if you can afford to send your kids to university, you have to bear this cost. This is fine, but you don’t have the cushion that someone like David Cameron has. I had to have a full grant to go to university otherwise I couldn’t have gone.

Next week: The author speaks about her books on the Jacobites, ‘Bare-Arsed Banditti: The Men of the ‘45’ and ‘Damn Rebel Bitches; The Women of the ‘45’, and how this period of Scottish history is misunderstood and worthy of re-evaluation.

Those of you who want to meet Maggie and hear a bit more about her influences have the opportunity on Saturday 21 January when she and fellow writer Kenneth Steven will be at The Central Library, Aberdeen at 11.00 to talk about their love of books.

Nov 082011
 

Issued on behalf of Nestrans by The BIG Partnership. With thanks to Dave Macdermid. 

Nestrans, the statutory regional transport partnership for the North-east of Scotland, has written to the Department of Transport (DfT) as part of the UK Government’s aviation consultation and in response to questions posed by the DfT in its scoping document looking to develop a sustainable framework for UK aviation.

Chair of Nestrans Ian Yuill believes any future air travel policy implemented by the European Union, which is currently considering changes to the landing slot rules, has the potential to make a hugely significant impact, both positive and negative.

“In what was a fairly detailed response, we have highlighted the impact aviation has on our economy and the impact of our economy in the north east on the UK economy as well as the different impacts of aviation for the peripheral regions of the UK compared to the more central areas where surface transport is a viable option.

“While we welcome the proposed introduction of High Speed Rail to central Scotland, it is not, and never will be, viable to extend it to the North east and therefore it is absolutely crucial that existing air links between ourselves and Heathrow are protected. As a region, our economy is dependent on international travel and the logical hub to achieve this is Heathrow.

“Within our submission, we have included many key statistics including the fact the percentage of Scotland’s air traffic through Aberdeen is 13.3% for a population catchment of 8.9% while the proportion of business travellers is 56% compared to 30% for Edinburgh and Glasgow.

“The link between Aberdeen Airport and Heathrow is particularly important in several ways, including access to other parts of organisations, particularly headquarters functions, for inward investors; access to markets for indigenous companies and for inward investors seeking to use a region as a base of operations within a world area; access to suppliers of goods and services from around the world and access to knowledge partners and complementary businesses.

“The recent news that BA is set to purchase BMI, and the likely resultant consolidation of services only highlights the need to be able to protect the current BA service of six rotations each weekday between Aberdeen and Heathrow and we are sincerely hoping this is given due and proper consideration by the Government as part of this consultation which will impact future air policy.”

The EU is currently considering the European regulations separately from the UK policy consultation and any UK policy developed will have to suit any amended EU rule. 

Oct 132011
 

Mike Shepherd, Chairman of the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens, puts the case for keeping Union Terrace Gardens.

Union Terrace Gardens are a vital part of Aberdeen’s heritage.

The city centre park was planned by Alexander Marshall Mackenzie, the architect who also designed the Art Gallery, St Marks and the frontage of Marischal College.

If Union Terrace Gardens feel as if they belong in the city, it is because there is a harmony between the park and the surrounding buildings, several of which were designed by Marshall Mackenzie.

There is a sense of architectural authenticity. This authenticity would be lost if a six-acre modern square is built, which would be surrounded by Victorian granite buildings. The singer Annie Lennox has described this possibility as an act of civic vandalism.

Aberdeen’s heritage matters.

The beautiful granite buildings give us a sense of place and belonging. We identify with our heritage, and Aberdonians are proud of their beautiful city. The replacement of the old with the new, artlessly done, erodes the unique feel of Aberdeen, and starts to make our city look like everywhere else.

The Gardens are beautiful and spectacular.

The Gardens provide shelter below street level under the hustle and bustle of the city centre. The shelter is enhanced by the 78 mature trees in the Gardens, all of which will be chopped down if a modern city square is to be built according to the technical feasibility study.

An Aberdeen Council document states the following:

Union Terrace Gardens has many qualities to be exploited and enhanced including:

– Topography which provides a unique and dramatic setting for the surrounding historic townscape and bridges, and an essential component of the identity of the City Centre

– The character of buildings to the rear of Belmont Street

– The setting for His Majesty’s Theatre, St Mark’s and the Central Library, Denburn Viaduct and Union Bridge

– Green space and mature trees

– One of the last locations where the historic relationship of Union Street to the old city can be appreciated

(Source: Aberdeen City Council,Aberdeen City Centre – Developing a Vision for the Future, May 2010).

The development of Union Terrace Gardens is not a done deal.

There are many obstacles in the way of the so-called City Garden Project, such that it is unlikely to happen.  The project depends on the Council borrowing £70M to fund the project through Tax Incremental Financing. The council, who are £562M in debt, cannot afford to take any more risks on borrowing.

There is no public consensus for the project: indeed a consultation held two years ago rejected the scheme. The politicians are hoping to address these concerns by holding a referendum, which will inevitably support the retention of the existing Gardens.

There is a much better alternative to building a modern and intrusive city square in the middle of the Granite City.

The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens group are committed to the sympathetic restoration of our city centre park. We intend to act in a similar capacity to the Friends of Duthie Park; Duthie park will benefit from the funds attracted by the Friends and will be restored to its former glory. Likewise, the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens intend to return Union Terrace Gardens to a fully-functioning park again.

It wouldn’t take much.

Our park needs some tender loving care, new toilets, a play pen, improved access. We have organised social events in the Gardens and we are instrumental in making Union Terrace Gardens a fun place to visit. It is a park that is a key part of Aberdeen’s heritage, the green heart of the Granite City.

We are a community group dedicated to the future of Union Terrace Gardens.

– Join us, help us in our aims; find out more from our website www.friendsofutg.co.uk

Sep 302011
 

In last week’s Voice, we carried part one of A Change of Name, a chapter from Dr David Kennedy’s forthcoming book in which he outlined how significant pressure had been applied to merge The University of Aberdeen with its perceived less-worthy educational neighbour, RGIT. In the second part of the chapter, we hear of the passionate fight to preserve RGIT and have it elevated to university status in 1992.

So, here we were in 1991 with the prospect of merger very much as proposed by our old friend from Napier way back in 1989. All of the older central institutions were under threat, but the greatest injustice was to those that already had delegated powers from the CNAA to award their own degrees: the technical institutions in Dundee, Paisley and Aberdeen.
Had the Secretary of State inverted the position of the five technological institutions in Scotland, leaving Napier and Glasgow at the bottom, he would have been much nearer the mark in everything but size, and size was simply due to an accident of location.

I know the advertisers tell us that size matters, but quality is even more important.  Small can be beautiful.

This massive injustice needed to be fought and the battle for the survival of the Institute was on.  I prepared a document setting out the very powerful case for the Institute and then went to see a group of members of the Aberdeen District Council.  They were impressed by what they read and the answers given to their questions.  Once they were clear about what was at stake, they readily agreed to ask their Council to support our case.

An all-party group from the District Council gave enthusiastic support and decided, if necessary, to lobby Parliament in our favour.  Money was set aside for this to happen.  The Council also sent a formal request to the local enterprise company seeking its backing for the institute.  While the board members of the company fully supported the request, its chairman (Ian Wood – a local businessman) felt the issue was too political and should therefore not be supported.  Due to the diplomacy of its chief executive, a letter of support was suitably worded and sent off to The Scottish Office.

Copies of the campaign document were sent out far and wide, including the Prime Minister and most of his senior cabinet colleagues.  The response was overwhelming. 

Although some quangos were unwilling to commit themselves because of their fear of government reprisals, ordinary people had no such qualms and responded in their hundreds and perhaps even thousands, across all walks of life and across all generations.  From across Scotland the letters poured into The Scottish Office, many being copied to me.

For the first time, I realised just how much an educational institution can mean to a community.  John Gray, who had founded the Institute in 1885, had done them a great service and they greatly valued what he had done.

Many of the letters were very eloquent, some were very moving, but I think the one I treasured most came from a very special person, a honest man who was courageous and true, and sadly, something of a rarity among politicians: Alick Buchanan-Smith.  Alick wrote on 26 August to give us his full support, just a day or two before his premature death.

There were many other letters of support, including a senior government minister, Michael Howard, who knew personally of the work of the Institute.  The Prime Minister did not reply in person, but nor did he dismiss it out of hand.  My letter eventually found its way down to The Scottish Office for reply.  The Head of the Higher Education Division wrote: 

“You now have a reply from Mr Michael Forsyth … and there is little I can usefully add.  I would, however, re-emphasise that it is not right to suggest that a decision has been taken on this matter when the intention is in fact to take decisions only after consultations and careful consideration of the arguments”.

Once again, the point was being deliberately ignored.  Decisions had been taken.  Napier had been allowed to call itself a polytechnic and no reply was ever given to my queries about the criteria applied, when these criteria were determined and by whom, nor of the purpose of the exercise, remembering that it all took place in 1988.

If criteria existed for this, why were they not publicised and applied to the other Scottish institutions with degree-awarding powers?  According to Mr Forsyth’s letter, “explicit and well-defined criteria” exist which justify according degree-awarding powers and university status to Napier and Glasgow polytechnics, but not to any other grant-aided college in Scotland.

I noted that the Minister had not said these were the criteria that WERE USED in the case of Napier, only that criteria NOW exist that would justify the decision taken by The Scottish Office.  This was simply tricky-micky, political evasion.

A press conference launched the Institute’s campaign.  The launch was extremely well attended and the arrangements made by our Press Officer were excellent.  We got off to a brilliant start.  The problem then was, how to keep up the momentum and stop the campaign running out of steam.

At this point I told him very bluntly just what I thought of his threat to hurt students as a way of trying to coerce me.  

Our Press Officer, June Davis, better known a year or two earlier as the ‘Torry quine’, was superb.  She arranged interviews with a long sequence of North East notables who had responded to our request for support.  These interviews were written up and fed to the media, so that rarely a day went by without some comment of interest and support.

Then there were the visits to the Institute, not from supporters, but from The Scottish Office.  They came on the flimsiest of pretexts to see what was going on.  I received a phone call from another of The Scottish Office worthies.  He told me in a very brusque manner that if I kept on with my campaign I wouldn’t get an honour.

In language only slightly more moderate than that used to me by the oil company chiefs at the time of the Piper Alpha disaster, I told him how much I longed for an honour and how worried I was at the prospect of not receiving one.

Being a civil servant, he couldn’t understand my levity.  He then said that they could easily have me sacked.  I told him that I hoped to leave the job anyway and that my Governors were not too happy about my going at such an early age.  He then threatened to make the institution suffer financially.  At this point I told him very bluntly just what I thought of his threat to hurt students as a way of trying to coerce me.

The untimely death of Alick Buchanan-Smith meant a by-election in his North East constituency of Kincardine and Deeside.  This was a difficult time for the Government.

Disbanding the Gordon Highlanders; de-commissioning of the fishing fleet; and the creation in Aberdeen of the first of the hospital trusts that was widely perceived as some kind of attack on the health service caused some disaffection.  Of all these issues, the one that could be resolved with least cost was to settle the future of RGIT.

MPs kept up the pressure in the House, harrying the Minister about the criteria for degree-awarding powers.  At last, the Secretary of State and his Minister saw that they would have to concede.  The Scottish Office suggested I might invite the Minister to come to the Institute and meet with senior staff.  I readily agreed and arrangements were made for him to attend our annual management conference.

When the Minister came into the room to address the staff he ostentatiously ‘left the door open’.  Although he made no unequivocal statement about degree-awarding powers, it was abundantly clear that that was the burden of his message.  It was exactly one week before the by-election for the Kincardine and Deeside seat.

The battle had clearly been won.

Although the battle was now over, this was by no means the end of the matter.  New articles and instruments of governance had to be drafted and submitted for vetting.

The acid test would be whether our university remained true to its traditions and mission

Whereas most statutory instruments are drafted by civil servants, in this case it was for each institution to propose the powers it wished to exercise and to set these out in an appropriate fashion.  This was an extremely important task, since it laid down the pattern of governance that, once settled, could not easily be amended.

After twenty years of senior management in education there were aspects in the existing arrangements that I believed could be improved upon.  I did not favour the division of staff into academic and non-academic.  All had a part to play in creating a successful organisation.

One of the problems is how to exert enough control to safeguard public funds, without becoming excessively overbearing and in effect, usurp the authority of those appointed to exercise it?  Although important, systems alone are not enough.  So these were the things I had in mind while writing the draft articles and instruments.

Although approved by the Governing Body, it was not acceptable to The Scottish Office.  I was forced to follow the existing model, which had been designed by civil servants many years before.  Being accepted by them meant that it was also acceptable to the Privy Council, and so at last the job was complete.

On Friday, 12 June 1992, the Institute formally adopted the name of The Robert Gordon University. Aberdeen, once again, had two universities.

The acid test would be whether our university remained true to its traditions and mission, or whether, like so many before, it adopted the traditions and mission of the old universities.  If it adopted their values then, without doubt, our own had been vanquished and they had won.

Who can say what the future will bring?  In order to at least make clear what I believe RGIT stood for, what the former mechanics institutes had stood for, what the old crafts and trades had stood for, we had a parchment prepared that set out our mission.

The Robert Gordon University is pledged to produce versatile and resourceful practitioners who are relevantly qualified for their chosen professions and vocations within an educational environment that fosters innovation, enterprise and an enthusiasm for excellence”.

This was formally presented to the City of Aberdeen as an earnest of our intentions.  No doubt it is mouldering somewhere in a basement of one or other civic building, but perhaps many years into the future someone will come upon it and know just what we stood for on that memorable day.

 

 

Sep 222011
 

Dr David Kennedy served as  Principal of RGIT/RGU, having been appointed in November 1984  and took up the post on 1 May 1985.  He retired in September 1997. Aberdeen Voice is delighted to present, in two parts, Chapter One of his forthcoming book wherein he recalls the educational debate of the early 1990s and reveals behind the scenes moves to merge Aberdeen’s two higher education establishments.

1991 was an eventful year for higher education in Britain. Colleges operating under the aegis of the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) had conducted a lengthy campaign for parity of esteem with universities, which had now met with success.

A Government White Paper published on 20 May 1991 set out the proposals for all polytechnics to have the right to award their own degrees and to decide on the name by which they chose to be known.

Significantly, it also set out the closure of the CNAA, thus forcing those colleges without degree-awarding powers to seek an association with a neighbouring university.  But it did hold out the possibility for some colleges to qualify for degree-awarding powers at some future time.

Here in Scotland, the immediate expectation was that the five major Scottish central institutions, which were fully equivalent in all but name with the English polytechnics, would also become universities.

In launching the White Paper, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr Ian Lang, confirmed that polytechnics would become universities.  He went on to say that other colleges would have to wait until criteria were devised by which they might be judged on their suitability for the university title.  He stressed that the title of university had a very special distinction in the United Kingdom and government had to be sure before letting just any old institution call itself a university.

I took the precaution of phoning The Scottish Office to check the accuracy of what had been reported.  This was confirmed, but with regret over Mr Lang’s addition about the distinction of the title ‘university’ to the speech they had prepared for him.

In 1986, two local authority colleges, one in Edinburgh and the other in Glasgow, were brought under the direct funding of the SED.  They became central institutions. 

The one in Edinburgh had a close link with the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr Malcolm Rifkind.    His wife had worked at the college where she enjoyed a happy relationship with her colleagues.  The college principal became an educational adviser to the Conservative Party in Scotland, SCUA, and within a couple of years Napier College triumphantly announced itself as Napier Polytechnic Edinburgh.

 The latter must have known what was going on, but kept it from the rest of us.   

This was despite the fact that the Scottish Office had hitherto adamantly refused to allow Scottish institutions to use the title polytechnic and had turned down a number of earlier proposals to do so.

Seemingly, having bedazzled the Scottish Office with Napier stardust, its principal went on with great confidence to say that their next name change would be to that of university.

This was in 1988.

The longer established and more mature institutions were surprised that the expected blast from the Scottish Office never materialised.  We were to learn later to our cost why this was.

Two years after Napier, and shortly before the publication of the White Paper, Glasgow College of Technology changed its name to Glasgow Polytechnic and advertised the fact as “having earned a few more letters” after its name!  Its Principal told me that they had used the word ‘earned’, because they had undergone a thorough vetting by The Scottish Office.  The latter must have known what was going on, but kept it from the rest of us.  We were never told about any change in policy, nor that the title of polytechnic was of such profound significance in Scottish higher education.

Many non-polytechnic colleges in England had grown in size and maturity and were clamouring for polytechnic status.  Government asked the funding council responsible for polytechnics and colleges to recommend the criteria for polytechnic designation.  It did this towards the end of 1989: long after Napier had changed its name!  The criteria were accepted and a handful of new polytechnics were created.  RGIT would have satisfied the required conditions.

Meantime, the Principal of Napier Polytechnic did a little kite flying for the Scottish Office. 

He circulated a paper suggesting there were too many institutions of higher education in Scotland and proposing possible mergers.  ‘Mergermania’ was in the air.

No one at RGIT had been consulted about this and the announcement caused quite a stir. 

During the seventies, universities, unlike colleges in the non-university sector, had been funded to pay for staffing and space in advance of any expansion.  This was before the experts had got to work on their predictions of demographic decline, but well after the decline in the birth rate had started.

By the eighties, universities found themselves with an embarrassment of riches: too much space, too many staff, and too many under-utilised resources.  Swinnington-Dyer of the University Grants Committee spent much of his time trying to rectify the funding follies of earlier times.  The University of Aberdeen was one of those particularly badly hit, as was the university in Cardiff, which perhaps suffered most of all as a result. Edinburgh University had to sell off some of its art treasures to pay its debts.

First mention of a merger between the two institutions in Aberdeen occurred early in 1981, when the principal of the university issued a press statement to the effect that his university would be taking over RGIT.  No one at RGIT had been consulted about this and the announcement caused quite a stir.  Unsurprisingly, there was considerable resistance to the suggestion.

Shortly after my appointment to RGIT, the principal of the university invited me over for lunch in order to explain the rationale of his plans for merger between our two institutions.

The institute would be asset-stripped of degree courses, students, and estate, leaving a rump of sub-degree work to be done by whichever staff were left.  The sale of the estate would pay for staff redundancies and the university would be immeasurably strengthened and enlarged.

This view received strong support from some local people.  I was told my position would be protected: a professorial title and an attractive salary, because universities were free to pay professors on a very wide scale.

For my part, I explained that I had already refused the title of professor – being of a Quakerish disposition, titles have never been high in my order of priorities – and nor was money an over-riding concern since, being somewhat abstemious, I had more than enough to meet my needs.  However, I understood the point that was being made very well.  In their position, I might have agreed with it.  But I had a different set of responsibilities, not least to students and staff of the institution for which I carried responsibility. 

A senior official in The Scottish Office told me that three influential businessmen had persuaded the Secretary of State of the benefits of a merger.  If RGIT were denied the right to award its own degrees it would be forced to seek the help of another degree-awarding body, which, of course, would have to be done on terms dictated by that body.  Their hope was that the Institute would merge with its local university.

A local parliamentary candidate (Nicol Stephen) issued a press statement of ‘the plot by the Scottish Office to get rid of Aberdeen’s world famous Robert Gordon Institute of Technology’.

Voice will carry part 2 of A Change of Name next week recalling the fight to save the much-loved and respected RGIT from being absorbed by a predatory neighbour; of the triumph in attaining university status on the abolition of the CNAA; and the bestowal of full degree-awarding power on the new university.

Sep 162011
 

With thanks to Dave Watt.   

HiroshimaNagasaki Atomic Bombings – 66 years On’ Exhibition


AbCND has arranged a photographic exhibition in the City Library running from 19th to 30th Sept. The exhibition depicts the devastation caused by the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Nuclear weapons burn people to ashes at temperatures of thousands of degrees and release radiation that damages every cell in a victim’s body.  During the two attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the resultant radiation induced illnesses over two hundred thousand people have died.

There are about twenty three thousand nuclear warheads in the world today, each posing a direct threat to the survival of humanity.

For further details see:www.banthebomb.org/AbCND 
Aug 042011
 

Old Susannah looks back at the week that was and wonders who’s up to what and why.  By Suzanne Kelly.

Tartan Day.   

 A few impressive pipe bands, some knights in armour, and the Lord and Lady Provost paying tribute to the legacy of William Wallace.   Wallace famously fought for independence for his people against the rich and powerful tyrants of the day, who thought they were above the law.

You might say Wallace took ‘direct action’ to extremes.  How pleased he would have been to think our Provost and Council uphold the principles for which he was hung, drawn and quartered.

His statue of course overlooks the remains of the historic Denburn Valley, known to you and me as Union Terrace Gardens: also known to Wood and Milne as a cashcow.  How exactly the Wallace monument will look adjacent to any of the mysterious, unexplained, undisclosed £140 million pound proposals will be anyone’s guess.  

No doubt we will wind up with something that sensitively ‘connects’ the Victorian park to the impressive granite architecture.  In short expect glass, concrete, parking spaces and a monorail platform.  I suppose we could always take Wallace down and sell him for scrap metal to help with the UTG fundraising.  He’d have wanted it that way I am certain.

A few interesting titbits have been coming in from here and there.  Ms Valerie Watts showed up to speak to a Community Council Forum earlier this week, but she was unamused to be asked about the Tullos Hill roe deer cull.

Ms Watts also owes me a reply to a formal complaint on the whole Tullos issue; I’ve chased it up (again) today.

In fact the City is launching a PR offensive, and has offered to have officers present the tree proposal to community councils.  You might want to contact your council for details – the question and answer sessions (if any) alone should be worth showing up for.  We are told the community councils ‘only know what’s been in the media’, and don’t know the whole facts.

Media’s fault of course.  Nothing to do with the council not giving the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from the start of this great plan.  Of course if people wanted to write to Ms Watts to either support or reject the cull (or ask how the £43,800 ‘repayment’ was accidentally forgotten when I asked about it), all they have to do is drop an email to her at chiefexecutive@aberdeencity.gov.uk.

Feel free to ask any questions you want; but as a health and safety precaution, do not hold your breath until the answer arrives. At this rate we won’t get on with any definitions, so without any further ado, I will get stuck in.

Association of Community Councils

(noun) a collective body promoting the importance of community councils.  A not-for-profit body with the following aims  (well at least until it is culled next year):

  • “To encourage exchanges of information between Community Councils.
  • “To promote examples of best practice in the work of Community Councils
  • “To offer impartial and unbiased advice, training and information to Community Councils
  • “To facilitate communication between national bodies and Community Councils
  • “To preserve the independence of each Community Council
  • “To ascertain, collect, and express nationally, the views of Community Councils.
    From: http://www.ascc.org.uk/about

Unfortunately, it’s very, very expensive to run this Association.  It costs a massive £70,000 per year to run*, so obviously this forum for sharing ideas and experiences to strengthen community councils must be culled.

Aberdeen has its own unique way of dealing with community councils – it ignores them.  When it comes to consultations about deer, travellers, Union Terrace Gardens, closing schools or cutting services, our City Councillors generously take decisions without unduly burdening the elected community councillors.

Nigg Community Council was told, not asked, about the takeover of its park by Cove Bay Rangers football club (fan club president:  Ms Kate Dean).  They were told, not asked over the deer cull and the Loirston Loch stadium.  Just this week Nigg CC for some reason objected to a housing officer’s plans to throw Calder Park open to travellers for a few months.

What’s wrong with not being asked about this great plan in advance, I wonder?

This is all part of the City’s ‘consultation’ and ‘transparency’ drive.  Once the Association of Community Councils is gone, the Community Councils will be on their own.   In fact I’m surprised we haven’t had city councillors trying to kill off the community councils yet.  Some of these councils get nearly £3,000 a year or so to help people in their communities.

Perhaps it would be better to leave important matters to our tried and tested, honest, reliable, transparent, vibrant central government officials and councillors (well, the ones who keep out of jail and don’t get arrested for kerb crawling anyway.  Great minds like HoMalone, The Fletch and The Dean and so on).  I know I can barely get through a day on my own without their guidance.

The Association stood up for the community councils, shared best practice, shared experiences, and helped people (me directly for one) –  no wonder it had to go. 

*Note:   £70K doesn’t’ get you much these days.  Aberdeen’s ‘Change Manager’ earns £80,000 per  year. Scottish Enterprise costs some £750 million per year.  And ACSEF’s annual running costs?  No one knows for certain.

Streamline

(verb)  to abbreviate, shorten, abridge an object or procedure.

Central Government has recently announced it wants to ‘stop’ people creating future impediments to great projects like the AWPR.  The Loirston Loch stadium, being plunked in the heart of greenbelt land, never even got called in.

Time for more projects like the stadium to be ‘streamlined.’

You will have seen the dreadful news this week.  There was nothing sensationalist or alarmist in the Evening Express headline which told us in effect ‘Not building the AWPR costs £1 million per month’!  Absolutely shocking!  To think that people who don’t want this road built actually are standing up and using their legal rights to challenge it!  They even have the nerve to challenge the public/private funding mechanism the government wants to use to pay for the dream highway.

Obviously I believe it costs at least £1 million a month not to build the road – but you might want to have a look at what the Road Sense people think actually building the road will cost:-  http://www.road-sense.org/AWPR-MortgagingYourFuture.html .

I wouldn’t worry too much about their figures.  The road isn’t going to cost you a great deal of money.  However your children and their children’s cost for the road is another story, but like Scarlett O’Hara – with PPI financing, you can ‘worry about it tomorrow.’  Financially, it is as sensible as the funding plans for the ‘transformation’ of Union Terrace Gardens.

‘Streamlining’ planning applications can only be a good thing.

If anyone out there can figure out how much the AWPR has already cost in consultants and consultations, I’d really like to hear from you. Let’s be fair – there was a consultation.   A great big costly travelling consultation, with bells and whistles.

Of course the routes suggested in the very expensive consultation have nothing to do whatsoever with the road plans as they stand now, but let’s not split hairs. Money is very tight right now. We’ve got to cut corners (if we’re going to have the dosh to keep a couple of wars and our banks going).. The suggestion of ‘streamlining’ the justice system to get rid of pesky jury trials was a great idea – we may still get that one.

‘Streamlining’ planning applications can only be a good thing.

It is very reassuring to know that Alex Salmond is putting his mind to this worthy end.  We really should have made it easier for that nice Mr Trump from America to build the world’s greatest environmental disaster – sorry – golf course at Menie…  Look how much good it’s doing for everyone!  Jobs creations!  Tourists!  Holiday Homes!  Stabilised Sand dunes (my personal favourite).  So if we don’t immediately agree to start building the £191 million pound road (old estimate), then we are losing £1 million per month – if not per day!

This can’t go on.  I wouldn’t dare to question this statistic, as it was in print and must be accurate.  (By the way, assuming the costs haven’t risen from the £191 million, the new AWPR can be yours in only 16 years at £1 million per month – or twice that with PPI financing).

Let’s just start saying ‘yes’ to everything.  We have a government that wants to build as much stuff as it can, and it doesn’t want the likes of us to have to worry about the details.  I think they’re just trying to be helpful.  To someone.

Direct Action

(mod English noun)  form of protest where the protestors stage some kind of highly visible challenge to opponents, to call attention (especially media attention) to an issue or problem . 

This form of protest is increasingly popular with environmental and economic activists.  And it freaks the government out completely – which is totally wrong of course.

In a long-forgotten age, if your elected officials acted improperly or against the common good, you could write a letter and expect some form of answer.  If you didn’t get the answer you wanted, you could stage a protest march, get petitions signed, and so on.

It’s not as if our Government is scared of protestors.

If you still had no success with your cause in the good old days, you could take to the forests and rob the rich and give to the poor, or board a ship filled with tea from England and throw its contents into Boston Harbour.  Or have a revolution.

But no one ever remembers such events these days, and writing letters and starting petitions is much, well –safer.  Still, it’s a bit easier to ignore a petition than the Boston Tea Party.  Robin Hood is remembered as a hero, and King John the villain.  Who I wonder are our future heroes and villains?  Whose statues will be revered at the future Union Terrace car park and shopping mall?

It’s not as if our Government is scared of protestors.  If they were, they would have (for instance) put an undercover cop like Mr Mark Kennedy in place to spy on environmental protestors for seven years.  It does look like the poor policeman went ‘native’ in the end, and the courts did not think much of the police tactics used.

Such unwarranted police paranoia would never override principles of a democratic, free society.  But as the Met are not prepared to discuss this matter (even though it’s been all over the newspapers), we have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Old Susannah will introduce ‘Just Do It’ next week at the Belmont; there will be discussion afterwards as well. 

‘Just Do It’ follows a group of environmental protestors as they meet their assorted targets and enemies head on. If you’re free on Friday 12 Aug at 6.30, please do come along.   I have had a preview of the film, and can promise it will raise a few interesting issues. (Rumours that the sale of deer antler headbands are about to go through the roof in Aberdeen are unconfirmed).