Sep 222017
 

Elizabeth Pittendrigh, Stewart Stevenson MSP and Therine Henderson at the Fraserburgh & District Older People’s stand.

With thanks to Banffshire & Buchan Coast SNP.

Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson was a guest speaker at the annual Celebrate the Difference event in Fraserburgh on Saturday.
The popular event which brings together the varied cultures and people who call Fraserburgh home and provides an afternoon of Music, Entertainment and Food as well as a showcase for the local voluntary and charitable organisations to meet with local residents.

Commenting Mr Stevenson said:

“I am delighted to have taken part in another successful Celebrate the Difference event at Fraserburgh College this weekend”

“It was good to meet people from around the world who chose to live in the Fraserburgh area and to learn a little about their heritage and culture, as well as our own. Events such as this show the fantastic community spirit we have in the North-east and I would like to thank Margaret Gault and all of the organisers who work tirelessly to make this annual event a success”

“As well the food song and dance, Celebrating the Difference provides many local organisations and voluntary groups an opportunity to highlight the important work and services they provide to the local community, after all when we celebrate the difference, we also make a difference.”

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Sep 152017
 

Members of Kintore United 2007 with Coach George Boyd (left) and Cllr Glen Reid (right).

With thanks to Aberdeenshire SNP.

East Garioch councillor Glen Reid is delighted to announce that he has reached agreement with Aberdeenshire Council to open the superb 3G all weather football pitch at Midmill School to local youth sports group. The school was opened in November 2016, but the brand new pitch has been locked up and unavailable to anyone after the school day finished at 3.15pm.

Commenting, SNP councillor for East Garioch Glen Reid said:

“Today is a great day for the community with the opening up of this pitch. It is one of the reasons that I decided to stand for election in May. As a local resident and a member of Kintore Community Council, I had raised this matter repeatedly, but had no joy. Since being elected, I have campaigned tirelessly for this facility to be accessed by our children, and it’s great to welcome the footballers of Kintore United 2007s here to the inaugural training night.”

Kintore United, who have boys and girls age group teams from primary one right through to academy years, will have access to train on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, from 6.00 until 10.00 pm initially on a trial basis until the end of the year.

Continuing, SNP councillor Glen Reid said:

“If the trial is successful, then we will be looking at adding further dates and opening the venue up to school football teams as well. I wish to thank the Aberdeenshire Council officers who listened to the frustrations of the community. The local grass pitches can be a nightmare during the winter months and even other times of the year, so this facility now offers the children guaranteed training every week in an excellent environment.”

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Jun 172016
 

By Duncan Harley

Music Hall frontage pre-hibernation 2016 - Duncan HarleyWe all have our story to tell about Aberdeen Music Hall. Rocket-Man Elton John can still remember playing his first ever Aberdeen gig at the venue in far off 1972 and many Aberdonians can still recall their shock introduction to Glam Rock a year later when Bowie plus legendary guitarist Mick Ronson brought Spiders from Mars to the Music Hall stage.

Elton and Bowie were in good company since the historic venue has hosted performances from many of the good and the great over the past 194 years.

Built to a design by Archibald Simpson the building opened in 1822 and over the decades performers as diverse as Charles Dickens, John Anderson the Great Wizard of the North plus the comedy duo Pinky and Perky have trodden the boards to entertain and amaze Aberdeen audiences. Politicians Tony Benn, Winston Churchill, and Lloyd George put in appearances and throughout its history, the building has played host to everything from concerts and bazaars to theatre and sporting events.

As the A Listed venue begins a £7m restoration and re-generation uplift, Aberdeen Performing Arts recently hosted a series of “Lights Oot!” events showcasing the diversity of the venue.

March 31st saw a first performance of APA Associate Artist’s Aidan O’Rourke and Jason Singh’s experimental sound work “Connect:ed” (sic). Created through the Connect Project and a year in the making, the work represents the culmination of a process involving musicians and vocalists from all walks of life and genres within the City and Shire.

The next night the Music Hall hosted “Your Hall Your Story”. Following an introductory speech from Aberdeen Provost George Adams the evening focused on the recollections and reminiscences of the users of the venue.

Music Hall courtesy Alford Transport Museum and Toni ToddDirected by Douglas Irvine with Artistic Production by Lesley Anne Rose, compere Robert Lovie and actor Cameron Mowat led the audience of around 600 on a journey through the sometimes turbulent but always entertaining history of Aberdeen’s favourite concert venue using both live and recorded recollections told first hand by those who were actually there.

The stories came fast and furious throughout the evening. Roberta Duncan told how her father rose to international fame following a world record roller-skating endurance marathon in the main hall.His record making 61 hours performance seemingly stands to this day.

Mary Smith remembered meeting Sir John Barbirolli at a Hallé Orchestra performance, Sandy Hood recalled hearing Mahler and local councillor, former European and Commonwealth lightweight wrestler, Len Ironside told how wrestlers had a particular dislike of the Music Hall wrestling ring.

“It was up on stage” he said “which meant that you felt every bump and had every chance of being thrown out of the ring and down the ten feet to the floor. When this happened, the audience would simply lift you up and throw you back in.”

On one occasion, as this was going on, a voice rang out:

“Is there any word yet oh ma new hoose councillor?”

The final “Lights Oot!” night featured the first public performance of Aidan O’Rourke and Jason Singh’s musical piece “Hibernation”.

Played as a finale at “Hootenanny”, an evening hosted by the Scottish Ceilidh All Stars, the new work has become the final musical piece performed within the historic venue prior to the two year closure.

During renovation APA will be “Stepping Out” in and around Aberdeen with a programme of events inspired by the Music Hall stories.

When doors reopen in spring 2018 the venue will feature an upgraded and restored auditorium, a new 100 seat performance space plus a new box office, café and bar.

Text and images © Duncan Harley and Grampian Transport Museum, Image design – Toni Todd. First published in the May 2016 Leopard Magazine’

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Aug 262014
 

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

DictionaryTally Ho! There is much ado in the Granite City; Friday is the Public Meeting concerning the future of the former St Nicholas House site.

Of course the beautiful, iconic, vibrant, dynamic creative glass-box office and retail development is a foregone conclusion; it will go ahead. It may take a chunk or two out of property that is part of the Lord Provost’s House, but at least we’ll have new places to shop.

As I say, whatever speakers say in their 10 minutes of allotted time, nothing will change; the plans are unchangeable.

Then again, it was a meant to be set in stone that the land at Loirston Loch was to be kept pristine green and serene as a wildlife habitat. It’s now being surrounded by more urban sprawl.

Old Susannah was allowed 10 minutes to come in and speak about the plans for the former St Nicholas site, but as the plans are made, somehow I don’t think I’ll speak after all.

You could be forgiven for thinking that planning in Aberdeen is a ratchet which can only be torqued in favour of developers’ wishes and construction projects, and never towards conservation, clean air and green space. But there you go.

On the other hand, it may be worth showing up to this meeting, for surely some people will be speaking of the crucial need for a civic square. Sir Ian Wood will doubtless remind us of his passion for a civic square. Aberdeen City Gardens Trust and ACSEF affiliate Tom Smith will surely be leading the charge to demand we take this opportunity to  make the public gathering space that he desperately wanted the ACGT to manage.

Stewart Milne will renew his impassioned, selfless case for a city square or granite web as well, which clearly had nothing to do with his then need for parking spaces for Triple Kirks (also now to be a glass box office complex). Perhaps this is an unfair comparison for me to make; after all Union Terrace Gardens is bigger than the area now under consideration.

I’m sure it is a complete coincidence that UTG is common good land worth a small packet and that ACSEF, Wood and the ACGT were so keen to get their hands on it. I guess we need a civic square (whatever that is) an outdoor theatre (great in winter no doubt) and so on – but only if they’re to be built on top of open, green spaces owned by the people.

It’s not as if I think the city’s officers don’t listen to the public or formulate plans and carry them out no matter what. But considering the deer cull and tree planting at Tullos, I could be forgiven for thinking so.

On a less contentious note, I saw the amazing, singular Jeremy Paxman in his Edinburgh Festival premier. For some reason he was acting nice; guess it was all part of the show for clearly he must be scathing and sarcastic all the time. The tickets had sold out quickly for some reason or other.

At one point he explained why he wasn’t always nice and kind to elected officials. Apparently, there are some elected officials who are dishonest, inept, bumbling, self-serving and dishonest. I’d never have thought it. At least we’re safe from that kind of thing in the Deen.

Clearly we don’t always appreciate the saintly self-sacrificing nature of our elected officials, experts and public figures.  Perhaps a few timely definitions may help engender more respect from us for our betters.

But first:  a competition.  A bottle of BrewDog to the first correct answer pulled from the hat on Friday:-

Q1. Garden Talk: Match the person to the quote

  1. wanted  “to create a hub, a focal point for future generations, which will draw together the retail and cultural aspects of the city.”
  2. 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 [voting to keep the gardens as they were and improve them] was still not an option.”
  3. “This [Granite Web] ingenious and inspiring design for Aberdeen’s key public space gives the city a new social landscape but one rooted in its extraordinarily rich heritage and natural assets.”
  4. “Right enough, there have been more people in the gardens recently but they seem to go in to have their photograph taken and wave placards, rather than to play draughts or spot trains as they did many years ago.”
  5. “there would NOT be a ‘no action’ option [to vote to leave the gardens alone ]at this stage because the feedback was part of a tendering process to select the best of six designs [allowing the public to reject the scheme would, of course, saved the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds and a divisive referendum.  no one outside of private company ACTG has seen all of the votes or been allowed to count the votes against the scheme cast]”

a) Morris the Monkey – fictional character used by BiG Partnership to promote building in UTG (presumably either no one else wanted the job, or a fictional character was all they could afford to explain the benefits of a £140 million pound granite spaghetti junction).

b) Sir Ian Wood the Monkey (Scottish Enterprise, Wood Group, Wood Family Trust).

c) Sir Duncan Rice the Monkey – chair of this, that and the other and the design committee.

d) Gerry Brough the Monkey – long-gone ACC employee gently persuading us to have a granite web (and nothing but a granite web) known for his gentle temper and soft words.  Missed by no one.

e) Councillor West.

Q2. How many times over the years has First Minister Alex Salmond visited the Menie Estate residents to hear concerns living under Donald Trump’s stewardship of the estate?

a) 10
b) 20
c) 0
d) 0 – but he will accept an invitation to visit and will come to see Anthony Baxter’s and Richard Phinney’s new film ‘A Dangerous Game’ on 5 September in Aberdeen

Q3. Mixed bag:  match the number to the fact

  1. 5,847
  2. 7
  3. 1,378
  4. £50,000,000
  5. £50,000,000
  6. more than 16,000
  7. £15,000,000 approximately
  8. 65,000

a)  Approximate amount of money sitting in The Wood Family Trust to be used for charitable works (eventually).

b)  Number of people signing David Milne’s petition asking for an investigation held into propriety and handling of planning permission granted to Donald Trump at the Menie Estate.

c)   Number of people who voted for the granite web during the UTG design consultation.

d)  Amount of money shielded by tax from certain oil giant’s empire’s offshore payroll scheme.

e)  Sum of money pledged by Sir Ian Wood to create Granite Web.

f)   Number of people in Scotland reliant on food banks according to one charity.

g)  Number of people who voted for the winter garden design during the UTG design consultation.

h)   Number of people who turned down David Milne’s petition on Trump

Q4. How much oil do we have left?

a)  24bn barrels of oil could be recovered – First Minister Alex Salmond.

b)  12 – 24 billion barrels of oil potential  – Sir Ian Wood, report of February 2014.

c)  ‘Sir Ian claimed there are about 15bn to 16.5bn barrels of recoverable oil left, and that the figure from the White Paper is 45% to 60% too high’. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-28867487

d)  “hard-pushed” to extract 15bn barrels – Melfort Campbell.

e)  no one really knows for certain – everyone else.

And now time for one brief but poignant definition

Suffering (English gerund) the state of being in pain, discomfort, hardship

Never let it be said that Old Susannah turns a blind eye to the hardships faced by some of our older people, and the forces that conspire to break up families.  With today’s economic problems, some men are having to slave long, hard hours and travel extensively to keep their families together.  I am of course thinking about our depute Lord Provost John Reynolds, his wife and family. And so are you.

It all started innocently enough; some spoilsports were questioning the necessity of some of the wee trips the depute was going to make. Well, quite rightly Mrs depute Lord Provost wrote a letter to the Press & Journal. Standing by her man, she explained:

“I am his wife of  nearly 45 years [you can feel the pain], I have supported his work as a councillor and kept quiet when things have been said that upsets us as a family.

“Your piece has changed all that and I will not sit back and let you make it appear he is going off on ‘cooncil jaunts’. ..During his years as Lord Provost, 70 hours weeks became the norm… John was asked to take on the role of promoting Aberdeen and its oil-related industries abroad because he is passionate about the city and everything it has to offer.”

Alas! One of his upcoming trips to the US to go to a conference was booked on the assumption the conference was yearly, not biannual. But it’s going ahead anyway, so we can demonstrate ‘we’re open for business’ according to Jenny Laing, Council Leader. Reynolds said

“because it was approved there was still business to be done in Louisiana, doors that can be opened for Aberdeen businesses particularly, but also bringing Louisiana companies with their technology over to Aberdeen.”

One killjoy, Cllr Yuill said:

“we should remove this visit on the basis that the committee agreed to it based on inaccurate information.” 

I’m sure any private sector business wouldn’t mind finding out its employees were jetting out to non-existent events without any disciplinary action being taken. And if a person booking travel at taxpayer expense doesn’t have time to check out whether the conference actually exists that they’re booking someone to travel to, that’s pretty understandable as well.

It’s not as if the council has never taken decisions based on inaccurate information before, is it?

In my part of the world, the private sector has to watch costs. Bring in business? Private companies  send out literature and presentations are made in teleconferences. Touting for business on spec? The internet is cheaper and just that little bit more environmentally friendly. It’s just that little bit easier to spend taxpayer money isn’t it?

We are assuredly open for business. Perhaps the depute Lord Provost will find our next Donald Trump on one of his jaunts, or another businessman determined to take the small boats off the tiny harbour in Cove. I can’t wait.

But while Reynolds is looking for business in America, it’s just a shame that his family life has had to suffer. The drinks receptions, the public events, the hospitality – all very wearing after a bit don’t you know.

Perhaps we should not have forced him into being a councillor, being a depute / Lord Provost. So if you’re a nurse working double shifts, an oil rig worker, in the police, fire department or in teaching, just think how comparatively lucky you have it. Perhaps if things get rougher, you’ll see a few of our hard-done by councillors on your next visit to the food bank.

Next week: A new version of who’s who in the city and shire – what councillors are in what quangos and groups; what businessmen have cosy links to what politicians, and more.

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Nov 232012
 

By Bob Smith.

O fit a stramash wis on twitter
Cooncillors made theirsels look feel
Tryin tae be affa clivver
Wi tweets fae chiel tae chiel

Awa an growe up is ma cry
Yer supposed tae be worthy o votes
An nae behaving like numpties
As tho ye war ill-trickit goats

Bit then again they’re cooncillors
Fit mair div we really expect
Aye sneerin an snarlin at each ither
An nae showin ony bliddy respect

Ye buggers – fowk did elect ye
Tae dee fit’s best fer us aa
Nae struttin aroon like bubblyjocks
Or cocks fa like tae craw

Aa  yer postins on twitter
Wis aneuch tae mak fowk greet
A wis remindit aboot a freen
Fa thinks only twits div “tweet”

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2012

 

 

 

 

Oct 182012
 

With thanks to Karen Barlow.

On Thursday 18 October 2012, 14-year-old Heather Davies, a young carer supported by VSA, the UK’s largest city social care charity, saw her selfless efforts recognised by a local councillor at an awards ceremony in VSA’s Chill Out Zone.

Chill Out Zone is a dedicated space at VSA’s Castle Street headquarters where young carers can be themselves and have fun with like-minded youngsters.

There are an estimated 2,240 young carers in Aberdeen who try to look after a sick or disabled relative without help.

Simply Thank You, sponsored by Aberdeen-based funeral directors Wm Gilchrist and directly supported by VSA’s Young Carer services, was launched earlier this year in a bid to encourage more young carers to seek help.

VSA, which looks after more than 2,500 of the most vulnerable people in the north-east, and Wm Gilchrist select an exemplary young carer each quarter.

Hard-working Heather was awarded a certificate and high street gift vouchers from Councillor John Reynolds, former Lord Provost, to mark her outstanding efforts in looking after her Mum.  Heather has been caring for her Mum for several years. Heather provides her mother with emotional support and looks after when she is unwell.

Heather is an only child and provides this care on her own. Heather balances this caring role with studying for her standard grades and the day to day struggles of growing up.

Bobby Gunn, Community Officer at Wm Gilchrist, said:

“We pioneered this scheme because we wanted to give something back to the community.  We’ve had links with VSA for a long time but only recently heard about young carers.  To say we were amazed at the responsibilities these young kids take on would be an understatement.  We wanted to show appreciation and remind young carers that, although it might feel normal to them, they are actually making a very special contribution to their local community and the lives of their loved ones.”

Mhairi Craigmyle, young carers education support worker said:

“VSA’s Chill Out Zone belongs to the group of young carers.  Here, they can do things that most children would probably take for granted: get help with homework, find a new hobby or just relax and chat to someone in a similar situation.  We fundraise to take them on trips too, giving them a little respite from life at home.  However, there are still lots of ‘hidden young carers’ out there.  We’re desperate to reach out to as many as possible.”

Earlier this year, Aberdeen Lord Provost George Adam, spoke on this topic at a lunch organised by Aberdeen City Council, VSA’s Carers’ Service and NHS Grampian:

“Carers are the unsung and unpaid heroes in our community.  It’s vitally important that we raise awareness of the work they do and highlight the support and representation that is out there for them.”

For more information about VSA’s Carers Services, visit our headquarters at 38 Castle Street, call 01224 212021 or visit our website at www.vsa.org.uk.

 

Sep 212012
 

With thanks to Kenneth Watt. 

 

A senior youth councillor in the city, has supported plans to reconsider the current set-up of libraries in Aberdeen, claiming that resources can be focused in order to meet demand and modern needs for citizens.

Drawing reference to the report going before the Education, Culture and Sport committee on Thursday, Mr Watt highlights that:

 “There are more community libraries in the city than are needed to adequately serve the population.  Not all libraries are in ideal locations to meet the needs of the local communities they serve.”

Kenneth believes that possible library closures should not be ruled out and that the reviews should coincide with the schools estate dialogue which is starting in September. He said:

“Libraries are an integral part of communities and serve all generations. We need to be realistic about usage, though.  In 2012, more and more people need to use the internet, especially with changes to the way that benefits and council services are delivered.

“At the moment, we have an estate with a surplus of facilities.  Almost a half of our libraries have a poor suitability rating.  Resources need to be better focused.

“Particular praise and notice needs to be directed at the success of Bucksburn 3Rs estate which has seen a fantastic new secondary join forces with the library and leisure centre.  I’d be supportive of similar projects.  The council are looking at new primaries being built to match demand and sustainable, modern-day, libraries could be paired with these.

“Library closures in the past have been controversial nationally.  We need to look at what the modern citizen needs and how those wants can be met.  Modernisation needs to be embraced and if done correctly will be for the better.”

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Aug 312012
 

Voice’s Old Susannah looks at events over the the last week … and once again, what a week it’s been in the ‘Deen. By Suzanne Kelly.

Vibrant and dynamic adjectives are being used to describe the Labour, Lib Dems and Independents who voted against the beloved web.

Conspiracy theorists say that these ungrateful refusenicks have brought civilisation to an end, even that they secretly scheme to bring the monolith design for the gardens back.

Such villainy!  It is hard to believe that some LibDems were not swayed by the powerful, intellectual charismatic persuasion powers of Aileen Malone.  But they weren’t.

Old Susannah failed to make it to the 28 August Housing & Environment Committee; alas I missed the debate on the deer.

Pete Leonard’s reports on the tree for every citizen and deer cull say the whole thing is ( a) finished, and ( b) a success.  Result!  Funny how something can look like a ‘cost-neutral’, complete success to someone, and yet seem like a shambolic, environmentally unsound, unwanted, exorbitant, barbaric disaster to the rest of us.

As I wasn’t there, I missed the chance to see former Convener Aileen Malone show up to defend her scheme and those who implemented it for her; I’m sure her speech to the new H&E Committee was as moving as her speech during the Union Terrace Gardens debate.

On that occasion she said how important it was for councillors to listen to the people.

During the deer cull she embodied this tenet by ‘accidentally’ deleting emails protesting the cull, ignoring 3 community councils which implored her to stop the cull, and taking delivery of a 2,500 signature petition against the cull.

Oh, HoMalone listened all right. She just chose not to pay any attention to what she heard.  I say that I missed her defence of the scheme at the H&E Committee – but even though I was not there, she – being a person of honour and principle must have put in an appearance rather than leaving Leonard hung out to dry.

Any shirking would have been cowardly and an admission of ineptitude.

We will be toasting Neil Cooney with several brewdogs; he has said there will be no further culls simply to plant trees.  Perhaps he will be able to resurrect the scheme of keeping Tullos Hill meadow as, er, a meadow, even if Pete Leonard says that is more expensive than trees, tree guards, deer fencing, mechanical diggers, gorse stripping, and pesticide spraying for a few years.

I guess Pete and I went to different accounting lessons.

we have to deal with an awful lot of garbage here in Aberdeen

The dust is not settling very well on the granite web, which has been toppled.  What a shame.  Rather than us having shiny walkways in the sky to enjoy rain, snow or shine, to walk up and down on, to fall off, it looked for a moment as if all that lovely £50 million was going to be wasted helping people in Africa.

To put things in perspective, we have to deal with an awful lot of garbage here in Aberdeen:  vacant and decaying properties acting as beacons for arsonists; closed shops, litter that never gets cleared, social problems and services slashed by the previous administration.

The relatively simpler problems which pose minor irritations in Africa include famine, infant mortality from disease and hunger; kidnapped children beaten into soldiers, civil wars, a plague of AIDS, illiteracy and so on.

When I learnt the web was not going to be built, I remembered Sir Ian’s words as told to the Press & Journal:

“Sir Ian Wood said last night that projects in Africa would benefit from the £50million he has offered toAberdeen– should the City Garden Project be rejected” – Press & Journal, 11/02/2012

How wonderful!  I wondered if there was going to be an African granite web, perhaps with some fir tree bosque and underground parking – that would cheer the starving multitude a little.  But like the web, this promise seemed almost too good to be true.

But then something unforeseen happened – something which has never happened before:  Sir Ian changed his mind.

No – Sir Ian is going to leave the money on the table for a year in Aberdeen.  Fine.  It’s his money (if he actually has all this in liquid assets he is a lucky man indeed).  Perhaps it’s time to turn to the dictionary for some assistance with the relevant issues.

Life Expectancy: (compound noun; English) – Statistical figure showing the mean for a group of people or living things to determine the typical time span from birth until death.

Old Susannah wondered which group of people needed £50,000,000 more – Aberdonians to turn their only city centre (common good land) garden into a giant web with an outdoor theatre next to a theatre?  Or Africans for food, shelter, education and healthcare.

Just for the record, the UK’s average life expectancy is about 80.5 years.  If, however,  you are in parts of Africa, this can be slightly lower – say about  56.5 years if you’re born in Niger,  50.6 years in Chad, 46.2 in Rwanda and give or take a few days you get 43.5 years to live if you’re born in Zimbabwe. Figures are not available yet on the life-extending benefits of granite webs.

We live longer in the West; that’s why we need more places to shop and more theatres to entertain us.

A town of Aberdeen’s size and stature can hardly be expected to get by with a Music Hall, an AECC, a HMT, a Lemon Tree and a dozen private music venues (plus concerts now and then at Pittodrie) – no, we need to build an outdoor theatre in front of HMT while we subsidise the operation of the other publicly-owned theatres.  Simples.

On the other hand, if you are likely to be killed in some form of tribal gun battle, die in childbirth, or die as either a starving infant or a child soldier, you don’t really need as many different diversions for your leisure time.

So, in a year Sir Ian may send his £50 million to Africa, if Aberdeen hasn’t begged him to put up the web, repenting of last week’s decision to just fix what we have for less than the £140 million web. Africa will just have to wait and see.  And if a few million people have an extra year of hardships, then so be it.

Petition: (Eng.verb) to entreat, often formally with writing and backing of others, for a desired outcome.

I can’t help but notice how many different petitions have been started since the City cruelly turned down the chance to borrow £92,000,000 to build a bosque and a sensory hippy trail thingy (no, I don’t get it either – ask Paul at Gray’s  School of Art).

There are petitions demanding Labour resign, petitions denouncing Barney Crockett and others, petitions saying the granite web was the marvel of the age.  Even Kevin Stewart, last seen explaining why our vulnerable and disabled had to suffer services cuts, has come out of the woodwork and made a very clever motion in the Scottish Parliament.

I was involved in petitions to save the Tullos deer and save Union Terrace Gardens.  This confused some people who called me a tree-hugger, and were baffled that  I didn’t want 89,000 trees on Tullos Hill if it meant destroying what was already there.

But now I have a new petition.  Do have a look, and if you agree, please feel free to sign and to share.
petitions/sir-ian-wood-send-your-£50-million-to-africa

Dummies:

Dummies are being used to guard parking spaces in Old Meldrum; evidence suggests this scheme probably originated in the higher levels of ACC management.

The dummies are thought to be on secondment at the highest levels of the Housing Directorate.  I am asked to point out that any resemblance between the dummies in Oldmeldrum and any former city councillors is purely coincidental.  And obvious.

Next week:  more definitions.

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Jun 272012
 

34 Deer – possibly 35 – were killed from March to early May 2012.  This newly emerged fact contrasts with the City’s earlier claims that 22 – then 23 animals were destroyed for the controversial ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme. Suzanne Kelly updates Voice readers.

The public’s frustration over the unwanted deer cull is past the tipping point, as contradictory information and propaganda mount up.  A full impartial investigation is a necessity to ensure that no further culls happen and that those responsible for a catalogue of failures are brought to book.

What are the recent developments?  What are some of the issues the cull’s proponents need to be held accountable for?

1.  Thirty Four or Thirty Five Deer Were Shot

Last week the Press & Journal ran a story advising 23 deer had been killed.  The revelation had been made earlier in Aberdeen Voice that 22 deer were shot according to the City weeks ago.   The figure was increased by one due to a blunder.  But the real truth is shocking.

Further to a Freedom of Information request, Aberdeen Voice learnt late last week that either 34 or 35 animals were shot between mid-March and 9 May.  The city produced a notebook (the first page of which was 2/3 redacted) showing scrawled, incomplete notes for the destruction of 35 animals.

However, a typed list also supplied with this Freedom of Information request lists 34 deer killed.

From the weights of some of the does, it may be they were pregnant.  The approximate age of the animals was not covered in these notes (only the sex), yet the City had claimed on one instance that the weights indicated the animals may have been malnourished.

Some of the notebook entries indicate that some deer were ‘clean kills’. Other entries make no such claim, yet the City’s FOI officers represented that all the kills were clean.

Is this definitely the case – the notes do not support this conclusion.  It is also not clear how many rounds were used for the cull; it is also stated in the newly-released documents that 33 rounds were used to kill either 34 or 35 animals – which would have been quite a  miraculous feat.

Times of shooting have also been contradicted – the city first claimed that some were shot in early morning hours.  After Animal Concern Advice Line’s John Robins issued a press release saying such times would have been outwith the law, the City has tried to backtrack.

Who exactly authorised such a massive cull?  Why are the notes so very sloppy and in places contradictory?  Were shots taken outwith the legal time slots as the city first said?  Should the deer have legally been shot at all (the Scottish SPCA has doubts, as will be shown later)?

The original cull plan, per a report written by ‘CJ Piper & Co’ jointly with Aberdeen City Council (presented to back the tree scheme to the Forestry Commission) said they would kill 22 deer in the first year of the tree scheme alone.

A single night-time count indicated 29 deer were on the hill at the time, and the City decided with Piper that 75% of the population would be exterminated that year to protect the non-existent trees.

What is this report?  Who actually wrote it, and who on the Council rubber-stamped it as truth?

2.  Report Riddled with Error and Bias Sealed Deer’s Fate

The report, co-written by ‘CJ Piper & Co.’ and Aberdeen City Council is misleading before the reader even opens it.  This document, called ‘The Granite City Forest ‘Tree for Every Citizen’ Programme Tullos Hill Community Woodland’ dated December 2011, is a highly-biased document which ignores important issues (soil matrix, causes and cost of the previous failure).

Even its cover is of dubious veracity – it shows an unrecognisable Tullos Hill – one that is inexplicably beige and barren looking.  Anyone assuming that was what the hill looked like could have been forgiven for thinking the tree scheme had some merit.  When was this photo taken?  Was it photo-shopped?

This 70 page report will be the subject of a separate article shortly.  However, the three community councils and thousands of protestors against the cull, and the Scottish SPCA, Animal Concern Advice Line, and other recognised animal welfare organisations opposed to the cull will be interested to know that they constitute a ‘vociferous  minority’ , and that objections have basically died out.

There was indeed a lull in protests – as no one knew there was a cull in progress, and we had been told the report to the Forestry Commission was in a draft stage.  Unaware that action was urgently needed to counter the scheme, none was taken.  However, those who wrote and who received this report could not have easily ignored the considerable media coverage.

One thing this report does do is acknowledge that the deer move around, and visit St Fitticks.  This migration from Tullos, coupled with the migration to/from Kincorth, indicate that the deer were able to move around and graze at different locations over a very large area – thus the claim they could not be supported in their numbers on Tullos Hill – which they had been for decades – certainly looks like more propaganda.

The City’s claims that the law forced them to shoot deer because of the size of the acreage are discredited. If the SNH ever issued an enforcement order on Aberdeen City to shoot the deer, it has never been produced.

 The trees are thought by some experts to be highly unlikely to grow in this area

Readers will be less than pleased to know ‘deer control measures’ are planned for St Fitticks.  Aberdeen Voice writers and the public have photographs of the tree tubes at St Fitticks.  They are virtually all intact  – except where clearly vandalised by people (unless deer have taken to drinking cans of lager and smoking).

Most of the tubes on this often flooded plain adjacent to the North Sea and subject to its strong winds and salt sprays are choked with weeds.  None of these trees has flourished.  Photographs also show some tubes, wholly undamaged, to be completely empty.  The trees are thought by some experts to be highly unlikely to grow in this area, possibly even less so than on Tullos.

How someone within the City co-wrote such an inaccurate report and submitted it to support the tree scheme without it being approved by elected officials (many of whom clearly would have objected to much of the contents) is a mystery in need of investigation.

However, how CJ Piper & Co., already paid at least £44,000 for furthering the tree scheme and  which will make money from the scheme is allowed to create such a biased piece in his financial favour is potentially a matter for Audit Scotland.  So much for robust internal reporting.

What have we seen in the mainstream press lately about the cull and the tree scheme?  Two cases in point come to mind which will shortly be considered.

One concerns a press release from Animal Concern Advice Line, advising 23 deer were shot dead, and pointing out that the officially reported shooting times, supplied by the council, indicated that shooting took place during hours when using rifles on the hill would have been illegal.

The Press & Journal however reported that 23 deer had been shot, and the cull was necessary because of new legislation (this is still quite debatable, however often the City repeats this line).  This story also dismissed one important issue in a single line, claiming there was ‘no legal requirement’ for the council to put up warning signs over the shooting going on during the evenings on Tullos Hill.  Does that seem right to anyone?

3.  The Shooting:  Aberdeen  Ignored its own Risk Register despite Lethal Risks

City officials (perhaps Pete Leonard, perhaps Ranger Ian Tallboys included) created a risk register for the cull and tree planting.  Three separate issues admitted, quite obviously, that to have people shooting on the hill created a lethal risk to ‘non-target species’ (ie you and I) as well as a variety of animals.  This register said warning signs were to be placed at each and every entrance to the hill to let people know there was a lethal risk.

In the end, what was the text of the signs – signs which virtually no one claims to have seen at the entrance points? A Freedom of Information Request reply insists there were warning signs on all the entrance points which read:  “Warning – Forestry Operations in Progress.” 

 would you take your family on a hill where a person or persons were shooting powerful rifles at animals?

All the legal and animal experts are in agreement that such signs have nothing whatsoever to do with telling the public there is risk of getting shot.  Regular hill visitors  are compiling lists of times and dates they were on the hill – for many protestors were specifically looking for the warning signs which normally would be up in such a situation.  There is photographic evidence indicating no such signs were up at entrances.

However, the point is the text used warning signs  (wherever they may have been posted) were wholly inadequate, and it is only by luck some young motor-biker, pet, or other person wasn’t injured.

You might happily take your spouse and children on a hill if a man was working a digger or if people were digging holes and planting trees:  but would you take your family on a hill where a person or persons were shooting powerful rifles at animals?  This disregard for public safety and non-compliance with a risk register  calls for an independent investigation.

How such a blatant lack of proper procedures was allowed must be examined – and all the evidence points to the cull backers wanting the public to be kept in ignorance for political reasons – even with a life-threatening risk.  One missed shot, one startled hunter, one sudden movement of a startled deer and we could have had a shot off target – with a bullet travelling a quarter of a mile a distinct possibility.  Someone must be brought to book, and legal action considered.

So the mainstream press went with the line that ‘warning signs were not a legal requirement’.  The smallest bit of common sense dictated that they were.  But this was not the only instance of the press favouring the Council’s position.  In an earlier, less serious situation, Aileen Malone was quoted in the Press & Journal as claiming ‘only about one’ person in Aberdeen wrote to her objecting to the cull.

Aberdeen Voice soon documented a minimum of half a dozen people contacting her by email and including their Aberdeen postal addresses as well.  Malone apologised for ‘accidentally deleting’ one such email.  However, when supplied evidence contradicting their earlier story, the P&J declined to print a correction.

Here is more on a recent story its sister paper, the Evening Express, printed.

4.  How and Why did a letter from the Scottish SPCA about 2 dead deer in 2010 become a 2012 story?

An Evening Express headline of  16 April 2012 read,

“Deer found dead ahead of Aberdeen’s controversial cull Animals ‘starved to death’ on tree-planting site.” 

The electronic story summary online led people to believe that deer were starving at the present date, and therefore it was OK to kill the deer.   And when exactly did these two deer die?  2010.  Indeed, that is ‘ahead’ of the cull.

How did the letter quoted in the article between the City and the Scottish SPCA come to be released during a time it transpired the cull was covertly taking place?  Who contacted the Evening Express?  Why was such an old story turned into a new story, and how did the original electronic version happen to omit any reference to this story being old?

For that matter, the reason for the deer’s deaths was not actually investigated at the time according to sources.

This attempt to manipulate the press and therefore manipulate public opinion should never have happened

The City is now meant to supply the letters between themselves and the Scottish SPCA under a new FOI request.

The City is also asked to identify which person contacted the press with this letter, for it certainly was not supplied to the news by the Scottish SPCA.

The City Council’s information officers are saying there is such a volume of  correspondence concerning Tullos Hill and the Deer cull with the Scottish SPCA that they cannot possibly dig out all the letters for me.  The Scottish SPCA’s spokesperson has assured Aberdeen Voice this claim of a large volume of correspondence on the subject is without foundation.

This attempt to manipulate the press and therefore manipulate public opinion should never have happened.  If it was done with the knowledge or involvement of a paid City employee or an elected City Councillor, then appropriate disciplinary procedures should be invoked.

Whoever at the City or with access to the City’s correspondence with the Scottish SPCA should be identified, an investigation held, and the person or persons dealt with appropriately for this ham-fisted propaganda.

5.  The Scottish SPCA Told Pete Leonard Why The Cull Was Wrong (and possibly illegal)

One Scottish SPCA letter, this time not from two years ago like the letter leaked to the Evening Express, sums up some of the key points against the cull quite nicely.

A letter of 28 March 2012 (when sadly about  one dozen deer were already killed) informs the city that Scotland’s Animal welfare charity, the Scottish SPCA, is still very much against the cull ‘unless there are genuine animal welfare or public safety concerns which justify such action.  We do not believe that such concerns exist in this case.’  The letter also said:-

“We are sure you are aware that the licence to shoot deer out of season can only be granted under the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996… to prevent serious damage to unenclosed woodland.  As no woodland currently exists, we would not expect the  Council to be in a position to legally conduct such a cull at present.” 

At the alarmed animal welfare groups’ advice, this blatant blackmail was rejected

The city says again and again it is obliged to shoot the deer for population reasons due to new legislation – even though it is fully understood by both sides the deer are moving across at least three areas – therefore making the city’s claim that Tullos  Hill isn’t big enough to support the deer a nonsense.

The fact the deer have lived on the hill – sorry HAD lived on the hill for some 70 years without massive population explosion issues.  The bottom line is this Scottish SPCA letter says

“…we are not aware of any existing welfare concerns for the current herd of approximately thirty roe deer that inhabit Tullos Hill and have done so for many years.”

Those who have followed this sorry saga for the past year will recall the city’s blackmail bid to get the public to come up with £225,000 in order to save the deer.  At the alarmed animal welfare groups’ advice, this blatant blackmail was rejected.  (What kind of precedent would have been set?)

The city again changed tack, and said even if the public did pay, they would still shoot deer for the nonexistent trees (which as per earlier reports will somehow grow in poor soil on one of the windiest spots in the city – where they have failed to grow before).

Why was the public meant to come up with the arbitrary sum of £225,000 in less than two months?  It was to be used for fencing  and other deer-proofing measures. However, the use of tree guards was discounted by an ACC person named ‘Richard’ and the SNH – because tree guards have ‘visual impact’.

We were supposed to surrender a quarter of a million pounds to save our deer so the  scheme to plant ‘a tree for every citizen’ could remain the ‘cost neutral’ scheme that Councillor Aileen Malone and others maintained it was.  The main selling feature of the tree scheme was that it would not cost us a penny.  In fact, a FOI request asking about why the scheme had to be adhered to earned the reply:

“Creating these woodlands close to urban areas will deliver on all these points, with the additional benefit of being created at no cost to the City Council due to the levels of external funding being obtained to deliver the project.  This demonstrates that the Tree for Every Citizen is not taking resources from other services within the City.”

The fact of the matter is this scheme has cost you and I a great deal so far…

6.  £167,000 Cost of Killing Deer and Planting Trees – Minimum Cost to Date

The FOI assurance that the scheme will not cost any money and that corporate sponsors will fund it in part has not exactly proved to be accurate.  Firstly, and for obvious reasons, few businesses could be found to pay for the killing of a beloved herd of nearly tame deer.

Magically, the fences which the public were initially asked to pay for to save the deer  have been erected, both permanent and temporary ones (indeed, the only ‘forestry operations’ sign the author ever saw was on a temporary enclosure deep within the hill – which would have been of little warning to anyone getting that deep into the land).  Also, the tree guards suddenly lost their ‘visual impact’ and can be seen on the few trees planted to date.

Much of the gorse which homed and fed a variety of creatures has been cleared, and the hill today now resembles the barren photograph taken months earlier.  Leaving aside the pollution, waste and soil matrix of this cleared area, we the taxpayer have paid £480 per week to clear this land.

 As the bookkeepers managed to ignore the £43,800 – what else has been omitted?

The city won’t tell you who or which company did this work – even though the contractor was paid with public funds.  The city says they should not be identified.

The information Commissioner may well have different ideas.

Subtracting the £43,800 which the city had to return for the phase one planting failure, then we have spent a minimum of £167,000 to date.   However, it is not clear that all the cost are recorded on the sheet.  As the bookkeepers managed to ignore the £43,800 – what else has been omitted?

One glaring omission is one of the few items showing funds coming in:  many of the dead deer carcasses were sold to a ‘licensed game dealer’.  The city will be asked to disclose how much revenue it received for destroying these 34 or 35 deer.

Readers might like to know that ‘CJ Piper & Co’ is not a company listed with Companies House.  There is however well-known forestry agent Chris Piper.  The city claim not to have any details for CJ  Piper & Co – despite naming this entity as a payee for c. £44,000 on the spreadsheet of expenses and income for the scheme, and despite writing a paper jointly with it.

Finally, we do not yet know what type of herbicides the scheme’s supporters plan to spray over the hill for the next few years or what the cost will be.  There seems to be no budget provision for this, and it is unclear that local residents, school authorities and industry have been asked for their consent.

7.  Enough is Enough:  Recommendations

This catalogue of bad decisions, fiscal irresponsibility, constantly changing stories, withheld information, expense, and not least destruction of a deer herd while risking peoples’ lives has gone far enough.  There must be no cull again.  The tree scheme should be investigated from inception to current day by wholly independent soil and tree experts (we know the soil is extremely poor for a variety of reasons).  The finances and the empty promise of a ‘cost neutral’ scheme likewise need to be gone over by independent experts.

It is very easy to identify the drivers of this scheme; they are Aileen Malone (former convener of the Housing & Environment Committee), Pete Leonard, Director of Housing, and Ranger Ian Tallboys.  In order to further this scheme, the public has been misled over finances, fed propaganda on deer welfare, blackmailed for funds, and had their safety compromised over several months while shooting was in progress.

The Information  Commissioner will be asked to look into some of the FOI discrepancies

Audit Scotland should be asked to examine the finances, the manner in which consultants and contractors were selected, and whether CJ Piper should or should not have been involved in co-authoring a report when there was a clear financial interest for them in the report’s contents.

The Information  Commissioner will be asked to look into some of the FOI discrepancies.  This the author will see to shortly.  To those in positions of power – and to citizens who can contact their elected representatives I would suggest calling for the following:-

The relevant internal and external audit/risk bodies should launch investigations.   Audit Scotland should look at the finances, and ACC’s Risk / Audit Committee should have an enquiry.

We are talking about an unnecessary risk to public safety, and those responsible should now resign their posts and apologise to the public without further delay.

The Standards Commission and the City’s Audit & Risk Committee should likewise examine the scheme from start to the current date to evaluate the conduct of those who were involved in supporting the scheme.

All further culls should be called off.  Plans to spray herbicides for years need to be halted or at the least scrutinised and presented to the public who live and work in the area.

If there is a case to be made for prosecutions over these issues (not least the risk register being ignored), then the legal authorities should be made to investigate.

If the trees can grow without further culls, fine. If trees cannot (and remember the main culprits were weeds and soil for the previous failure – there is far more evidence of these factors than for deer browsing), then it is time for Councillor  Cooney’s proposal for Tullos to be a meadowland (gently enhanced rather than having its ecosystem further eradicated) should be resurrected. It mysteriously was shot down in part due to Pete Leonard’s  position on the meadowland scheme.

Crucially,  we must allow this herd to grow again – if it can.

Finally, lessons must be learnt. the Scottish SPCA and other animal welfare entities, Community Councils and the public must never receive such shoddy treatment ever again.

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