Jun 182011

Members of the City Square Board are currently scratching their heads as to a possible use for the large concourse space which will be created if Union Terrace Gardens is decked over. One possibility under consideration is that it could be used for a new conference centre. However, this does put into question the continuing viability of Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC) at Bridge of Don and the major problems which will come about if the AECC is shut down as a result.

Mike Shepherd highlights the problems that the Council is having with the AECC and what could happen next.

The AECC was conceived as a joint venture between Grampian Regional Council and Spearhead Exhibitions Ltd. Aberdeen City Council became its sole owner on the demise of the regional council, and now holds all its shares.
It was opened in 1985 by the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. The centre includes a 4800 seat arena, conference facilities and a hotel.

In 2003, the AECC was refurbished at a cost of £18m, with the conference facilities being completely re-built. A large viewing tower was also constructed, one of the tallest structures in Aberdeen.
The AECC is host to Offshore Europe, an event which brings millions of pounds into the local economy. Indeed, I have taken part in conferences and exhibitions there and there is no doubt that the AECC is a major boost to the local economy.

Three major conferences are planned for 2012 – the European Optical Society Annual Symposium 2012, The World Heavy Oil Congress 2012, and The Society of Core Analysts Symposium 2012. As a concert venue it has seen the likes of Bob Dylan and Neil Young play there.

However, the finances of the AECC are a mess.

Although the turnover is about £5M annually, The Press & Journal reported in November 2010 that the Council had provided loans of £28m to the centre in the last five years, as well as £8.85m in subsidies since 1998.

Although the AECC has made losses, the Council justifies keeping it going on the basis that it brings a great deal of investment to the region.

Recent years have seen turmoil over audit reports, a restructuring of the Board and talk about receivership. One highly-controversial proposal was that the council should take over a project to build a four-star hotel on the site.

In February 2010 councillors approved plans to underwrite the construction of the hotel.

“AECC bosses have long believed the Centre cannot compete for important international conferences without such a hotel, and want one built in time for its flagship conference, Offshore Europe, next year. The hotel could then be sold for a net profit of between £14million and £20million, which would place the Centre on a firmer financial footing and help clear its debts.”

Later in the year, they had second thoughts. The Council website reported:

“The full Council meeting accepted that the intended financial package to deliver AECC’s proposed hotel development carried too much risk for the Council because of the current economic climate – and voted by 24 votes to nine that alternative financial structures to deliver the facility should now be sought.

“Aberdeen City Council Leader Councillor John Stewart said: ‘The Full Council today reaffirmed its support for the region’s major conference centre and its commitment to secure a four-star hotel at the venue. However, it has been necessary to re-work the hotel project to minimise risk to the council’.

“The decision follows four months of strenuous efforts to negotiate a deal to create a hotel, involving the City Council, AECC, financial institutions, a construction company, a hotel operator, and legal and technical advisers. The negotiations were carried out following an instruction to Council officers at the February full Council meeting to continue to work with AECC on its hotel proposal, subject to any agreement being acceptable to the Council.”

Many considered the idea of the City Council getting involved in supporting and building a luxury hotel to be somewhat bizarre, one councillor bemoaning,

“The people of Aberdeen will be horrified we are now not only a local authority, but a hotelier as well”.

However, the hotel proposal collapsed as a proposition.

In December 2010, The Press & Journal revealed the conclusions of a secret audit report on the performance of the AECC. Describing its lack of accountability to taxpayers and the City Council as a “critical” risk, the report discovered an unauthorised £1.3m overspend of public money on the failed hotel project.

“The auditors found:

Monitoring of the hotel project by the AECC Board was “weak” – the directors approved £1million but £2.3million was spent.

Only £184,000 of the total was subjected to market testing to ensure best value for money, and no contracts were in place with key parties.

Overall control of the AECC was “weak” and lack of accountability to the Council a “critical” risk.

The report also warned a “significant improvement” in profitability was needed for the AECC to repay £27.7m in loans to the Council in 2017 and 2021.”

Since then, attempts have been made to try to recoup some of the debt. Parking charges at the AECC are now £5 per car and £10 per coach.

The agenda for a Council committee in January this year also mentioned a report which recommended transferring all property and land assets currently owned or leased by the AECC to the City Council.

This would allow the Council to assume full responsibility for the future development of these assets and investigate the potential for developing the land and property assets through the creation of a joint venture development company charged with developing the assets.

The future of the AECC is moot. The big problem is the £28m debt owed to the Council. If the AECC is shut down, this debt will need to be transferred directly to the Council and I’m told it would be allocated to the revenue budget. Given the severe strain currently on that budget, this would cause major financial problems for the Council.

It seems odd, therefore, that the City Square Board is considering building a convention centre under the City Square (John Stewart, Footdee Community Council meeting, 30/3/11). This could easily bring about the demise of the AECC with the debt problems that would ensue.

Jun 102011

By Bob Smith.

A young chiel is bein touted
As leader o oor cooncil mob
A lot o fowk are speirin
Is the loon up ti the job?

A suppose the billie he dis ken
Fit a task he’d be takin on
The cooncil’s fair cash strappit
In iss toon twixt Dee an Don

A truly hope he his mair sense
Than cooncillors Malone an Dean
Faa some fowk hiv noo branded
Amang the worst they’ve ivver seen

Wull he hae the gumption
Ti staun up ti ACSEF’s ploys?
Or wull he turn oot ti be
Jist anither o ACSEF’s toys?

A hope the laddie disna think
Iss jobbie wull be a jolly
Or his tenure micht be kent
As Aiberdeen’s “McCaig’s Folly”

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2011

May 202011

By Bob Smith.

The MS Europa wis ower big
Ti berth in oor hairbour watters
We ACSEF chiels are already  thinkin
The toon’s reputation’s in tatters 

We canna lose future tourist fowk
So eence mair we’ll use a trick
We’ll get aa oor PR billies
Ti lay it on richt thick

Us ACSEF chiels are the lads
Ti organise things in the city
We’ll jist hae a bunch o CPOs
Gien ti the fowk faa bide in Fittie

We’ll knock doon aa their hoosies
Syne mak the hairbour fine an big
An great muckle cruise liners can sail
Past the golf course ower at Nigg

Ach we ken the fowk in Fittie
Wull be tearin oot their hair
It’s for the gweed o the toon
So we dinna bliddy care 

Noo there’ll be a lot o protest
So we’ll hae ti be richt fly
An git oor freens in the cooncil
Ti agree plans on the sly

Michty me we’re richt clivver
Eence mair we’ve worked a con
Noo fit aboot some ither plans
Fer a marina on the Don?

The Poetry Mannie’s used poetic licence
Fin writin iss poem’s verses
Bit shud iss fiction come ti pass
We’ll kick ACSEF fowk up their erses

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2011

Lament For Aiberdeen

 Aberdeen City, Articles, Creative Writing, Opinion  Comments Off on Lament For Aiberdeen
Mar 032011

By Bob Smith.

Greet fer oor eence great city
Fer Aiberdonians hae great pity
A toon run by a bunch o eeseless feels
A cooncil in the pooch o business chiels

Greet fer oor eence bonnie toon
Faar we’ve bin brocht roon
Ti a city run bi them aat’s rich
Faar protest they wid like ti ditch

Greet fer democracy twixt Don an Dee
A toon faar the cooncillors boo the knee
Kowtowin ti aa thon Acsef bunch
Fit for? Maybe the odd free lunch?

Greet fer the greenbelt an hae a groan
A briggie ti be biggit near Tillydrone
A fitba stadium fit glowes reid
The Loch o Loirston’ll seen bi deid

Greet fer the green lungs o the toon
Faar UTG’s trees wull be cut doon
Ti be replaced by a rich chiel’s vision
Time we aa treated iss wi derision

Fit’s happenin noo we shud lament
An banish oor cooncillors ti Tashkent
Bit lit us nae get ower doon in the moo
We micht yet dunce ti a jig fae Iron Broo

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie”2010


Sep 032010

A few weeks back, we carried a short piece on the proposed and controversial Third Don Crossing.

Voice’s David Innes has been in contact with Tillydrone Community Council’s chairman Ross Grant to gauge opinion on the city side of the river.

It’s been well-reported that Tillydrone Community Council is opposed to a development that many see as being of benefit to commuters on the north side of the city. Community Council Chairman Ross Grant explains:

“We’re vehemently opposed to the Third Don Crossing proposal not just because of the massive detrimental impact it would have on our own community, but because we’re convinced it won’t alleviate traffic congestion, only encourage traffic further into the city causing even greater jams and increased air and noise pollution. It does nothing to increase use of alternative modes of transport.

“These aren’t just our views – they’re shared by the community councils of Old Aberdeen, Rosemount and Mile End, Froghall and George Street. Parent councils, the Aberdeen University Student Council, the Grandholm Village Residents’ Association and an increasing number of Danestone and Bridge of Don residents feel the same way.”

To the accusation that Tillydrone’s opposition is mere NIMBYism, Ross bristles visibly:

“I hate reference to cases like this as NIMBYism. Nobody denies that this proposal would ravage Tillydrone most, but it would have a significant detrimental impact on communities further afield, including Bridge of Don and Danestone.

The City Council hasn’t displayed best judgement on a growing number of issues, so why should we trust their judgement on this proposal?

“Our argument has always remained consistent – dual Persley Bridge, the Parkway and Mugiemoss Road. Most importantly, first address the Haudagain roundabout situation by constructing a flyover. These measures would allow a far smoother traffic flow to, from and through Bridge of Don and from the A96 and A947. Furthermore, if the City Council committed itself more to alternative modes of transport, including reliable, affordable and user-friendly bus services, car-sharing, cycling, rail and walking, these would reduce traffic levels. That’s the right way to address the problem and few people would argue against it. It’s not NIMBY; it’s a sensible and practical response which the City Council seems unable to understand. Put simply, Councillors – address the current problems, don’t add to them by building a Third Don Crossing.”

This is all very well-argued, Voice agrees, but how does Tillydrone Community Council and other supporters spread awareness of this well-founded viewpoint to those who are unsure about the proposal or who have already swallowed the pro-Crossing propaganda?

“Don Crossing Communities Alliance members have never hidden away from engaging in the debate. We recognise that there’s a problem with traffic congestion, and sympathise with the residents north of the Don, but this proposal isn’t the answer, no matter what some people think. We’ve worked hard over the past year to raise awareness of our campaign and have an increasing number of sympathisers. The City Council hasn’t displayed best judgement on a growing number of issues, so why should we trust their judgement on this proposal?

“We’re always happy to hear from people, and welcome correspondence with anyone interested. Our website is www.donsidecommunities.com and we often organise public events to involve people.

“On the bright side, I do think that publicity for our case in Voice has come at a relevant time considering that the Council has called a special public hearing into the proposal and it’s a hot topic of debate as a result”

Sep 032010

The Don Crossing Communities Alliance, whose members are opposed to the proposal to build a third bridge over the Don between the Parkway, Danestone and Tillydrone, is holding a Riverside Picnic on Saturday September 4 at Tillydrone Community Centre, Gordon’s Mills Road.


The number 19 bus service passes close by.

Ross Grant, Tillydrone Community Council Chairman has urged all sympathetic citizens, or those who would like to visit an area not often included among the city’s beauty spots, to “feel free to come along and see Tillydrone’s best kept secret in the beautiful Don Valley”. Bring your own food and refreshments and visit anytime between 10am and 2pm. Local experts will be on hand to answer questions and to show picnickers around the area, currently under threat due to the Council’s controversial proposal.

More info re. 3rd Don Crossing – Click here.

Jul 232010

By Dave Innes.

It has been an intention, since Voice first elbowed its way out of cyberspace, to run a feature on the Third Don Crossing planned to span the river between Danestone and Tillydrone. This long-mooted construction seems to have been almost forgotten as the higher profile planning issues of Union Terrace Gardens, Menie and the Western Peripheral Route have taken centre stage in recent times. As a Bridge of Don resident, I’m arguably in the minority in being unconvinced of the virtues of this proposal.

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