Feb 042013

In the fourth part of the series The Menie Estate, Suzanne Kelly looks at the roles different people played in writing the Balmedie Coast’s future.  There were those who tried to uphold existing planning and environmental laws such as Martin Ford and Debra Storr.  They were vilified and even assaulted in the case of former Councillor Storr.

Public servants and politicians held meetings with the Trump organisation while planning matters were pending, contrary to protocol – if not to law.  At least one town planning professional seems to have colluded with Trump while the application was pending.  This is the first half of the story of the people involved – that of the heroes.

Part 1:  Heroes

In a perfect world, a world some of us thought was guaranteed by existing legislation, no one would be treated like the residents of the Menie Estate have been. The environment would have been likewise valued and protected, particularly as the land in question included a SSSI.

Local planning laws would have been respected, and councillors who sought to uphold existing laws would not have been mocked merely for upholding enshrined principles.

The national government would not have interfered in pending planning matters or discussed pending applications with interested parties.  Journalists would have been free to report on stories without being arrested.  Unfortunately, that world doesn’t exist.

In the face of powerful opposition, there were those who tried to do the right thing by law.  There were people who used film and fine art to illustrate the issues.  There were those who took a principled stand against the controversial development.  And then there were some whose daily lives were made needlessly stressful, while the threat of compulsory purchase powers overshadowed their lives.

When I met with Menie Estate residents on 12 January 2013, some of them were keen to express thanks to people who have helped, or tried to help.  This is a partial account of some of these remarkable people, who have made a difference.

Martin Ford

Vilified by the local press, Aberdeenshire Councillor Ford is mostly known to the public for his casting the vote which turned down the development when it was first voted on.

By rights, that should have been the end of the matter, but acting without precedent, the Scottish Government called the plans in.  Ford voted against Trump’s golf course for tangible, logical reasons.  These were many and complex, but included the fact the development would destroy (at least in part) the fragile SSSI site and compromise the ecology of the area.

The Trump plan to part finance the course and club was to build hundreds of holiday homes – something which meant a significant deviation from existing policy.  For upholding existing law he was branded a ‘traitor’, vilified and abused in local media.  His paper on the subject can be found at http://www.andywightman.com/docs/martin_ford_ch.pdf

Anthony Baxter & Richard Phinney

Baxter and Phinney are the men behind the documentary ‘You’ve Been Trumped’ – which beautifully illustrates the Menie situation environmentally, socially and procedurally.

They were arrested while filming, as is dramatically captured in the film.  The arrest was for ‘breach of the peace’ on the say-so of a Trump employee.

They had gone to the estate office to ask how when water would be returned to the residents – Trump’s construction workers had managed to dam the water supply and left people without running water for a week with no help, apology or explanation.

If anything, the film makers were treated rather poorly by the site personnel.  Later, while at Susan Munro’s house and despite being journalists, they were arrested and their equipment seized.  A National Union of Journalists spokesperson said:-

“I think this must be one of the first cases in this country of journalists being arrested for just carrying out interviews to establish the truth and hold people to account.”

Later the charges were dropped (Baxter learnt this from the Guardian newspaper – not the police).  While that might sound like a good outcome, it meant the police were never forced to account for the arrest, and Baxter and Phinney never got their day in court to give their side or clear their names properly.

Freedom of Information Requests by me and by others were answered with poor excuses, including the police claiming they were not able to give information on criminal charges brought against other people (the charges had been dropped when I wrote).

Baxter and Phinney largely financed the film themselves (Anthony Baxter mortgaged his home).  ‘You’ve Been Trumped!’  went on to win awards around the world, shocking audiences wherever it played.  The local press did not mention this film for a year, even when it premiered in Aberdeen, selling more quickly than the latest Harry Potter film had, or when it won awards world-wide.

Eventually David Ewen of the Evening Express wrote a piece on the film after its premier on national television; Ewen claimed ‘Baxter was unavailable for comment’ in his initial piece, even though the two men spoke within hours of Ewen’s first contact, according to Baxter.

Ewen, by the way, is author of a book entitled ‘Chasing Paradise – Donald Trump and the Battle for the World’s Greatest Golf Course,’ with a forward by Donald Trump.  It was available at the Press & Journal/Evening Express shop in Aberdeen until the shop closed.  The local press has supported the Trump faction from the outset.  More on this support will appear in the next in this series of articles.

More information about ‘You’ve Been Trumped!’ can be found here:  http://www.youvebeentrumped.com/youvebeentrumped.com/THE_MOVIE.html

Debra Storr

The former Aberdeenshire councillor has, like her colleague Ford, been vilified for her vote against the course.  Like Ford she has spent time talking with the residents.  She was assaulted on her own doorstep by a woman who supported Trump.

Correspondence between her and Dr Christine Gore (more on her later) can be found at http://www.debrastorr.org/2009/10/for-information-correspondence-between.html .
One thing this exchange shows is that the unelected were taking decisions which councillors felt they should be voting on.

Sam Coull

This former Aberdeenshire councillor also showed concern for the environment and compassion for the residents as Storr and Ford had.  He did not mince words when he declared:

 “I have seen and heard enough from your Trump to last me a lifetime – don’t send me  any more of his simpering platitudes.  No more – do you read me?”

Paul Johnston

Another Aberdeenshire councillor, he was disciplined for claiming Trump got a ‘sweetener’ from the shire (i.e. the taxpayer) in the form of land worth some £5 million.  This was apparently so Trump would build 98 affordable homes.  Whether or not these homes will emerge, and what will be deemed ‘affordable’ remains to be seen.

However, it appears the homes will not be anywhere near the aspirational course and clubhouse, as there are not enough local amenities.

These four councillors were the subject of a demand by the Trump Organisation to Aberdeenshire Council – Trump sought to have then excluded from any debates on the use of compulsory purchase orders (a means by which private land and homes can be bought if absolutely necessary – for municipal projects).  Trump apparently branded these four ‘scoundrels’.

Dr David Kennedy

Dr Kennedy, a respected academic, returned his degree to Robert Gordon University (chancellor – Sir Ian Wood) when the decision was made to grant Trump an honorary doctorate.  Kennedy’s views are summed up and captured eloquently in ‘You’ve Been Trumped!’

Alicia Bruce and David McCue – Artists

Whatever history eventually makes of this tale, two artists have captured the players for posterity.

Portrait artist David McCue features in ‘You’ve Been Trumped’; an exhibition of his portraits of Trump on site in the Forbes’ property were hung to great effect.

The portraits of Trump embody avarice and aggression; they contrast with the cooler colours and dignified portrait of Michael Forbes.

Alicia Bruce re-creates important paintings from all periods in art history as photographs of contemporary people and situations.  Her works include powerful, defiant images of the Forbes family posed with pitchfork outside their barn, echoing ‘American Gothic’, (this piece was recently on show in the Royal Academy, Edinburgh) and an endearing, sensitive portrait of Molly Forbes with a gaggle of geese.

On her visits to the estate to take photos, Bruce has been accosted and aggressively treated by security forces.  A recent such episode is documented here.  http://www.aliciabruce.co.uk/news/trump-security-duckrabbit-the-daily-mail/

Tripping  Up Trump

Tripping Up Trump is the pressure group which has stood against Trump and the destruction of the environment.  The website provides the latest developments, information on past news, and other resources.  The membership has swollen since the BBC screened ‘You’ve Been Trumped’ – which Trump tried unsuccessfully to prevent.  Their mission statement is below; the website is http://www.trippinguptrump.com/  They are also found on Facebook and Twitter

Tripping Up Trump (TUT) has established itself as the popular movement against the use of compulsory purchase for private profit. TUT’s campaign has stood alongside the people and protected environment threatened by Donald Trump’s development in Aberdeenshire.

The TUT campaign has been key to Donald Trump’s retreat from the use of compulsory purchase orders.

The threat of forced evictions was deliberately held over the heads of the Menie families for nearly two years. Donald Trump’s track record shows he cannot be trusted to behave reasonably towards his neighbours or act responsibly towards the environment. He has bullied and mislead from the start.

TUT is committed to supporting the rights of the families at Menie and will highlight and seek to stop any further bullying or other wrongs by the Trump Organisation in Scotland.

We need your support. Please spread the word and join this important campaign.

Finally, the real heroes are the men and women who are trying to live normal lives in their homes at the Menie Estate. 

Many have been there for decades; all of them love the land, the flora and fauna, and simply want to get on with their lives.  As documented by Baxter, they have been tested in the  extreme, quite unnecessarily and aggressively so.

Blocked water supplies, trespass, property damage, snapped power lines and aggressive security and greens-keeping personnel have all overstepped the mark in their treatment of these people.  And yet they have all managed to do something Trump can’t quite master:  they have kept their cool.

If anyone wishes to send them messages of support, letters, etc., please contact Aberdeen Voice; we will pass items to them for you.


There are many other heroes in the tale; but it was the villains who carried the day.  It is really their story currently being enacted at Menie; without their actions (and indeed their interactions), things might be quite different.  Who they are, how they are linked to each other, and some of their actions will be covered in Menie Heroes And Villains: Part 2 – Villains.

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Jan 182013

When Donald Trump bought the Menie Estate, it was the end of a peaceful life in the countryside for the existing residents. Anthony Baxter captured incidents in his award-winning documentary You’ve Been Trumped which caused outcry here and abroad. In Part 3 of a series on the Menie Estate, Suzanne Kelly finds out how life is now for Trump’s next-door neighbours.


There are certain absolute rights UK citizens are supposed to enjoy, including the right to privacy and a right to go about their lawful business without interference. In Scotland, access to the countryside – whoever owns it – is guaranteed by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.

This act and the related Scottish Outdoor Access Code give responsible countryside visitors (and residents) the right to access hills, woods, grass fields and field margins, beaches, lochs, rivers and canals.

There are special provisions for golf courses; walkers must not interfere with play, keep dogs on a lead and so on.

Here is a paragraph from a brochure entitled Enjoy Scotland’s Outdoors published by Scottish Natural Heritage:

“Respect the interests of others.

“Respect the needs of other people enjoying or working in the outdoors and follow any reasonable advice from land managers. Respect people’s privacy and peace of mind. Avoid causing alarm to people, especially at night, by keeping a reasonable distance from houses and gardens or by using paths or tracks.”

So much for the theory; here is the reality in Balmedie.


David Milne, Susan Munro and other residents shared their recent experiences with the AV team when we met. Artist and photo-journalist Alicia Bruce has also written of her recent experiences.

  • A local resident wanted to visit the Forbes family, who live on one side of the golf course.  While walking towards the Forbes property, a security guard stopped the walker from going any further, even denying there were any buildings where the Forbes have long lived.  The walker was forced to accompany the security guard to the ‘temporary’ clubhouse. In the walker’s own words:

“Eventually, after about 20 minutes, I was speaking to a chap named Eric over the phone. He eventually agreed I could walk along this track. I was wanting to go along and visit Mike and Sheila [Forbes].

“The security guard denied there were any houses. I said, ‘Yes, there are; you must drive past them several times a day’. Eric eventually agreed I could walk, but I would have to be followed by the security guard in his truck.”

  • Visitors to the estate can expect the third degree as well.

In one resident’s words:

“Friends were harassed by a greens keeper… walking down the track… one of the greens keeping staff saw them, approached them and apparently he was absolutely ballistic – they thought he was going to have a heart attack. ‘If you take one step off that path, you are breaking the law,’ he was saying.”

Another resident nods in agreement, telling me that they have heard variations of that story. Alicia Bruce has had a similarly aggressive run-in; details can be found at http://www.aliciabruce.co.uk/news/trump-security-duckrabbit-the-daily-mail/  . Alicia was threatened, and called the police.  In this instance, the police cautioned the Trump security people.

Susan Munro is watched by security with some frequency when driving, and even when she is on her property. She has been a Menie Estate resident for over 30 years and as such should be well-known to security, as should the cars her family owns.

Nevertheless, she is often stopped by security, interrogated and identification demanded of her. This can be to the extent that when she returns from work late at night, men on foot will jump in front of her car from out of nowhere, and then demand ID. As she succinctly put it:

“I finished work last night and was stopped by security. It’s horrible when they jump out at you in the pitch black. They alarmed me. I am sick fed up with security hassling me.”

Susan has to use the Trump road at present as her own access road is, at the time of writing, completely out of use (see article 2 in this series – The Road’s A Ruin).

It must sit badly to have your own road in a state, and be accosted when using the only road available, one which is completely smooth and perfectly finished. However, that is not the end of Susan’s woes. They will be addressed shortly.

There are more such anecdotes, old and new. It is worth mentioning that some residents report run-ins with friendly security. While the ‘friendly’ security guards may not be unpleasant, what they are doing questioning the people who live on this estate is a mystery.

No one who has seen You’ve Been Trumped can forget the scene in which Baxter and Phinney are arrested for an alleged breach of the peace. They had filmed themselves visiting the estate manager’s office to ask when residents could expect their water supply to be restored.

They are unceremoniously dismissed (the estate personnel even makes an odd comment about the value of their equipment, which can be seen as a veiled threat). The film documents the arrest of two well-behaved journalists on the hearsay evidence of a billionaire’s employee.

We condemn such abuses of power in the third world, but it’s happened here in Scotland with absolutely no proper subsequent independent investigation. (More details can be found at https://aberdeenvoice.com/2012/10/bully-for-you-trump-threatens-suit-against-filmmaker/

Guns ‘n Woes

On top of years of intimidation and questionable tactics, at least one security firm previously employed (there have been at least two) used guards armed with pellet/air guns.

These guards would engage in target practice. One witness also saw a guard and a man with a rifle.

So we have residents constantly being stopped, harassed, and ‘jumped out at’ by ill-tempered and aggressive guards – some of whom used to have air guns.

It is almost as if the Trump organisation and its security firms use the SNH outdoor access policy as a laundry list of ways to bully.

The residents and I believe Trump’s security guards have acted in the above situations well beyond their legal authority. We also believe that security operatives are meant to display badges prominently. The residents confirm they have hardly ever seen any such badges; and none of us recall seeing any in the film You’ve Been Trumped either.

The security firm currently operating is Izon. A sign bearing their name appears at a locked gate which prevents cars from entering, which seems in contravention of free access laws. Anyone on foot, on bicycle or even on horseback should be able to access this (or any other) road.

Izon has been asked to comment on these issues and whether its operatives carry air/pellet/other types of guns. The company’s response will be reported in due course.

Visiting these people, living as they do with all sorts of imposed and unnecessary hardships, hits me hardest when we go to Susan Munro’s house. Walking down the damaged road (see Menie Series Pt 2) was bad enough.

But as we walk down towards the Munro house, a bund – an artificial, steep, and very high earthwork rises alongside the road, blocking out any views of the sea and landscape the Munros previously enjoyed.

The Trump Organisation has also used a similar tactic at the Milne property. Trump’s landscapers have attempted to put a row of conifers along the property boundary. If they were to grow, then Milne’s view of the sea would be gone. As it is, the trees are unable to grow in sand.

“Your first clue that they won’t grow is that there aren’t already any here,” is how David Milne puts it.

It is as if ‘The Donald’ thought he could stop the tides as well as make trees grow in sand.

Life goes on for the residents. At the time of writing it is understood the damaged roads are to be repaired. Aberdeen Voice will report when the ‘temporary’ bunds come down and when security stops accosting residents and visitors. I am just not sure when that will be.


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Jan 162013

Things are seriously amiss at the Trump International Golf Course and Menie Estate, as Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly and photographer Rob discovered. Inspired by Anthony Baxter and Richard Phinney’s You’ve Been Trumped film, Kelly has followed developments at ‘the world’s greatest golf course’ with interest. On a recent visit, residents showed our team around the site and shared stories. In the second instalment of a series of articles, Kelly looks at the demise of the road infrastructure.

There are signs of flooding all over the Balmedie area. Damage to the course is dramatically illustrated in the article:

Menie Estate Series: Crazy Golf

But the course damage is only one aspect of how the estate is faring this winter; the residents have more practical and urgent problems.

Susan Munro has lived on the estate for decades. Alongside her house runs a road which had until recently been a smooth path.

It slopes gently down to Susan’s house on the north side, and now the golf course on the south.

“I’ve lived here for 30 years and this is the worst it’s been,” Susan says.

She is shaking her head, standing in the doorway of her home. At her feet are signs of flooding; a wet, sandy, muddy substance covers concrete slabs and seems sure to cause her drains to overflow. She is, however, mainly talking about the only access road to her home.

The road is virtually unusable.

When Trump came it was with ambitious plans and an assortment of construction vehicles. The access road had quite a lot to cope with. While it may sit on Trump-owned land, historically it served the residents as an access road.

It has, in the writer’s opinion (and that of several residents), been damaged badly as a result of construction vehicles and the run-off pipe or pipes.

Then the plastic pipes appeared, carrying run-off from the golf course area. One such pipe is clearly visible near the road on the opposite end from the Munro residence. This pipe seems to be carrying run-off from the course directly into the side of the road.

There is no drainage for this road. Already badly rutted from course construction traffic, it is being further eroded.

Not helping the matter is the construction of giant bunds – tall, steeply rising mounds of earth built along the length of this road and on the east side of the property border between Trump and Munro. (More on these bunds in a future article; they deserve a great deal of description).
Water runs down this now badly rutted dirt road, and as the road ends in the newly-constructed parking lot, a short gradient channels yet more water off the new parking lot tarmac onto the dirt road.

Finally, the Trump organisation has dug two gravel pits in a field between the Munro house and David Milne’s home; the field slopes down towards the road.

The idea seems to be that the first pit, filled with gravel and then covered would catch water, with the overflow going to the second pit.
The only place from there for water to go would certainly seem to be the damaged little access road.

It is unclear that any of these additions – run-off pipes, bunds, drainage pits, and slope from parking to the dirt road – had been given specific, clear planning permission.

In fact, I was promised the bunds were temporary when I wrote to Aberdeenshire Council in 2011. Temporary is a long time in this part of the world, it seems.

It would also seem no one from Aberdeenshire Council is making regular visits. It would seem obvious the council should ensure residents can access their historic road.

Considering that most of us living in the North East would have to apply for permission before changing the type of windows we have in our homes, why are such damaging, major modifications to the landscape being allowed with virtually no sign of proper approval process or assessments?

There is no suggestion on any part that these modifications are done to deliberately make life difficult for the residents. The fact remains though: this is just what they are doing.

The road is now so bad that Susan Munro cannot use it any longer.
In fact, if you had a 4×4 you would still face difficulties trying to drive down this road, not least because of the seriously dangerous gap which has opened up near its lower end.

This has had a few token objects such as a bag of building material (unopened) unceremoniously dumped into it, as if that were a remotely adequate or safe remedy to this dangerous situation.

Walkers would find nothing to warn them of the dangers of walking this road, either.

Fixing the road should not be too difficult; it should, in my opinion, be done quickly, by the council, and paid for almost exclusively by the Trump Organisation.

Trump is quick to condemn area residents who keep their property in a state he doesn’t like, yet this road is now a massive eyesore and can’t be used.

Perhaps if it were visible to his golfers it would be a different story, but that ‘temporary’ bund shields players’ eyes from this unpleasant reality.

At the end of this series of articles, a summary report of findings will be sent to relevant organisations including Trump International, Aberdeenshire Council Clerk of Works, councillors, and not least – the Health & Safety Executive.

In the meantime, Susan has to use the Trump parking lot and new road (with a perfectly smooth tarmac surface) to get off the estate.

How has that been working out for her?

How is she coping with the bunds? What are things like for her?

The answer is probably worse than you might imagine.

Residents’ experiences will be covered in the next article in this series on Friday morning.

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 Estate residents have just been advised Leyton Farm Road will be closed 17 and 18 January.  They believe this is for road repair work.  Aberdeen Voice will report on the repair work once completed.
* * ** ** **** ****** ***** **** ** ** * *
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Jan 142013

Things are seriously amiss at the Trump International Golf Course and Menie Estate, as Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly and AV photographer Rob discovered. On a recent visit they spoke to several residents and spent hours walking the area. Aberdeen Voice shares their findings in a series of articles.

King Canute demonstrated that although he was a wealthy king, he could not hold back the tides by standing on the shore as the tide came in. Trump did not get this memo.

There are signs of flooding all over the Menie Estate; this is not surprising as the North East is experiencing some of its wettest weather historically speaking.

But are things worse than if Trump hadn’t been there?

An arcane system of visible plastic pipes installed by the Trump organisation is not exactly helping things – well, not for common access roads and the residents, anyway.

Unlike some conservationists who objected to the golf course, the Trump people didn’t foresee what could happen when the weather got wild. How would the course hold up with the recent storms the North East experienced?

Aberdeen Voice and some locals took a walk to find out. We set out through the ‘temporary’ parking lot (which seems to lack specific planning permission) and headed to the course to investigate.

The path in question has the (formerly moveable) sand dunes and the North Sea on the east, and the course on the west.

In places, the course is very close to the sea indeed.

On our walk we found a large section of dune had crumbled.  A World War II pillbox was newly covered by the falling sand and marram grass, planted to stabilise the dunes.

I guess Mother Nature hadn’t got that memo.

In some cases, children planted marram grass as part of a PR exercise.

The damage was striking.

While continuing our walk towards the fourth hole, we discovered a set of traffic cones ahead of us on the path.

It is just as well the light hadn’t yet faded – or we might have fallen several feet into a newly-opened chasm.

Approximately four feet of the golf course path has simply fallen into the sea at Blairton Burn. It is as if Mother Nature took a bite out of the course.

A large pipe leads out into the sea at this point.

Presumably if this pipe is being used for water runoff, it has been approved in advance by Aberdeenshire’s environmental and planning experts?
The pipe had no foundation, just sand around it.

The cross section of ground clearly visible from the course collapse shows that there is a thin layer of turf directly over the sand.

How safe and secure this can be right on the edge of the North Sea is a concern.

Photographs illustrate this dramatic gap eloquently.

While there are cones warning of the huge gap, there is no protective fencing.

Even more worrying is that other sections of this portion of the 4th hole might likewise be ready to fall into the sea.

In the news this past week a couple bid £80,000 to come and play here, including transportation, meals, etc.

We wonder in what state they will find ‘The World’s Greatest Golf Course’ when they arrive.

As the dunes shift, and the course crumbles (in one place anyway), how are the residents faring?  Not very well, as a subsequent article will demonstrate.

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Mar 202012

With thanks to John F. Robins, Secretary, Animal Concern Advice Line (ACAL).


Three Community Councils representing neighbourhoods close to Tullos Hill have issued a last minute appeal asking Aberdeen City Council to call off the deer cull planned for Tullos Hill.
In a strongly worded open letter the Community Councils, which represent over 25,000 Aberdonians, accuse the City Council of using underhand tactics to get backing to plant trees on Tullos Hill as part of their Tree for Every Citizen initiative.

They claim that,

“the public consultation was seriously flawed and made no mention of a deer cull. Community Councils and the general public were given incomplete information, allowing ACC’s intention to cull to remain unchallenged”. 

When the intention to kill the resident roe deer eventually became public knowledge there was an outcry with many Aberdonians telling the City Council that if the Tree for Every Citizen project meant killing the deer they did not want any trees planted for them. The Community Councils say the City Council dismissed local public opinion and have pleaded with the Council to change their mind at the eleventh hour and to,

“Listen to the voices of the people who elected you, cancel the cull and let the Tullos Hill deer live”.

For over a year Animal Concern Advice Line (ACAL) has been supporting local campaigners in the battle to save the Tullos Hill roe deer. John Robins of ACAL welcomed the intervention of the Community Councils. He states;

“This is a severe embarrassment to Aberdeen City Council.

“They can no longer claim that opposition to the deer cull is coming from outwith Aberdeen. Three Community Councils representing over 25,000 Aberdonians have made it perfectly clear that they want this cull stopped. On Sunday of this week the CEO of the National Trust for Scotland admitted on national television that they had made a mistake by undertaking a mass cull of deer on the Mar Lodge Estate. 

“The very same advisors who were behind that cull are the people advising Aberdeen City Council to kill the deer on Tullos Hill. There is still time for Aberdeen City Council to avoid making that same mistake. All they have to do is respect the wishes of the people who elected them and call off the cull.”

  •  The Open Letter signed by Nigg, Torry and, Kincorth & Leggart Community Councils can be viewed here.
Feb 242012

Peter Veritas makes the case for voting “Retain”.

1.  There is a very real danger that the City Garden Project will bankrupt Aberdeen.

The City Garden Project (CGP) is planned for a greenfield site which would require substantial excavation. It is a five acre, five storey, underground construction that would span both a main road and a railway track

It’s roof would be required to hold approximately ninety thousand tons of topsoil, the same weight as the worlds largest aircraft carrier.  It is projected to cost £140M.

Union Square, which is of a similar size, was built on a flat brownfield site with good access. The final cost was £250m.

Marischal College is a much smaller existing building that was recently renovated.  No major construction was performed.  The final cost came to £65M.

Given that context, how can we be expected the believe the estimate for The City Garden Project is realistic? Should the City Garden Project experience a similar scale of overspend to the Scottish Parliament Building or the Edinburgh trams, then the shortfall could conceivably be of the order of £360M.  The city, which is already £560M in debt, would be liable for this overspend.

It could not be rolled up into the existing loan, and would require immediate payment.  Failure to cover the overspend would result in us being left with a dirty hole in our city centre.  The only options open to the council would be to auction off it’s remaining assets, such as the other parks, to property developers, and to increase council tax  massively.  Public services which have already suffered severe cuts would be totally decimated.

2.  Aberdeen has suffered badly from previous developments.

St Nicholas House, the New Market, The Denburn dual carriageway, the Denburn Health Centre, The St Nicholas Centre, and Virginia Street are all universally acknowledged as failures that now blight our urban landscape.  Aberdeen lost many beautiful buildings to clear the way for those developments.

The people who campaigned against those architectural and planning atrocities are also campaigning against The City Garden Project.  They’ve been proven right time and time again. Perhaps it’s time we listened to them?

3.  We already voted against this Project under a different name.

There is something sinister about the City Garden Project.  It was originally conceived as the City Square Project (CSP), and envisioned as a five acre flat concrete piazza.  That proposal only emerged after Peacock Visual Arts were given planning permission to embed an unobtrusive arts centre into the hillside of Union Terrace Gardens.  Sir Ian Wood pledged £50M to build The City Square, but promised to scrap the Project if the public rejected it.

That was then put out to a flawed public consultation, in which the public voted against by a substantial majority, despite the online survey mysteriously defaulting to a “yes” vote.  Sir Ian then reneged on his promise and continued to push the concept, the council ran roughshod over the electorate, and by the casting vote of the Lord Provost, consigned the Peacock plan to the dustbin.

Sir Ian has consistently stated that he will only contribute his £50M to this particular proposal and nothing else, and that if we reject his proposal then he will divert the money to Africa.  His behaviour is baffling.

4.  There has been an air of deception around The City Garden Project.

The City Square Project was rebranded as The City Garden Project.  During the Project’s second coming the public were presented with six designs and invited to vote on them. None Of The Above was not a option.

Aesthetically, the public appeared to favour the Winter Garden design.  From a conceptual perspective The Monolith design was arguably the most cohesive.
The appointed panel then refused to release the outcome of this public vote and instead selected The Granite Web, a design for which very few people acknowledge having voted, and which many people considered to have been among the weakest.

CGP propaganda has continually claimed that Union Terrace Gardens are a dangerous place, but Grampian Police crime figures reveal that they are actually among the safest places in the city centre. Neighbouring Belmont Street, which the plans propose to connect to the Granite Web, is statistically the worst area for street crime.

Under the rules of the referendum, registered campaign groups are limited to £8k spending to maintain a level playing field.  However a mysterious group of anonymous business people has allegedly ploughed £50K into sending pro-CGP propaganda to every home in Aberdeen City.  This is not within the spirit of the referendum and is arguably a breach of the rules.

It has been claimed numerous times that the 250 year old elm trees in Union Terrace Gardens are diseased, but a recent report by a tree surgeon has given them a completely clean bill of heath.  These elms are among the last surviving in Europe, and they flourish both due to their isolation from other elms, and because the pollution of the city prevents Dutch Elm disease from spreading to them.  These trees are all covered by a preservation order.

5.  Those arguing in favour of the City Garden Project are mostly connected to it in some way.

Scotland’s top public relations firm were engaged to promote the Project, which may be why the majority of stories that have appeared in the local press have been fawningly in favour of the CGP.

Those who have argued the merits of the Project, both in the press and on-line, are interconnected people with an as-yet unknown agenda.

In addition to the numerous PR professionals being paid thousands of pounds each day to present the case, there are several property developers, the owners of assorted the premises on Union Street, and various oil company executives.

No fewer than three city councillors, who backed the Project, recently announced that they intend to stand down, and have also revealed that they are planning to leave the city.  Virtually all of those involved are members of Acsef, Scottish Enterprise, the Institute of Directors, and The Chamber of Commerce.  The same dozen people feature time and time again in the groups which have come out publicly in favour of the Project.  The same people wearing different hats.

6.  The economics have no basis in fact.

Tax Incremental Funding (TIF) is intended to fund the redevelopment of brownfield sites.  Businesses which later setup in and around those sites pay increased business rates which repay the cost of the development in a similar manner to a mortgage.  The business case for this Project bends the rules since the increased rates will not be gathered for the site itself, but from two new industrial estates, located several miles away and for which planning permission has already been granted.

The 6,500 jobs and £122M of projected annual revenue are a product of these new industrial estates working at full capacity. This is almost  guaranteed to occur anyway without The Granite Web.

Furthermore, the paid author of the reports is PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), which has recently been fined £1.4m for audit failure.  PWC rates the TIF case at Risk Level 3, where 4 is the highest risk.

7.  To save the architecture of the Denburn Valley

None of the Granite Web mockups, artists impressions, or video, have addressed the issue of the rear elevation of Belmont Street.

This is home to some of Aberdeen’s most spectacular architecture, descending right down to the level of Denburn Road.  Architecture which will be obliterated when the CGP connects to it, some five storeys further up.

Most of these buildings are either local businesses or publicly owned concerns, and several of them have picturesque balconies below the finished level of The Granite Web.

8.  To retain our sheltered park.

Union Terrace Gardens lie in the Denburn Valley which offers shelter from the wind and urban pollution.  Raising the area up to street level would turn it into a wind trap.

The wind would howl round the concrete walkways and other architectural features of the granite web, plants would struggle to survive, and people would avoid the area, preferring instead to travel along the relatively sheltered confines of nearby streets. It’s a fallacy to claim that this development would enhance connectivity.

9.  Union Terrace Gardens have been cynically starved of funding – in order to ‘pave the way’ for this redevelopment.

Union Terrace Gardens was the centre piece of Aberdeen’s famous successes in the Britain in Bloom contest.  Over the course of the past eight years the council has cut funding, with the result that the Gardens are no longer maintained at previous award-winning levels

The beautiful Grade A listed public toilets were closed, the famous giant draught boards were ripped out, the winter skating rink was no longer installed and concerts and other public events were discontinued

A modest investment would both regenerate the Gardens, and improve access to them.  There is no need to risk bankrupting the city for what amounts to no additional benefit

10.  The curse of Corbie Haugh.

Back in the seventeenth century, the area where the Gardens now stand was a wood called Corbie Haugh. The ancient Scots word for crow is corbie and the wood was named after the crows which gathered in the grassy valley and within the bank of elm trees. The elm trees in the Gardens date back over 250 years to that eighteenth century wood.

An ancient legend, The Curse of Corbie Haugh, holds that when the crows depart, the city will be ruined. If the elms are chopped down, the crows will indeed depart, and if they city ends up burdened by an additional £360m of debt, then it shall indeed be ruined!



Feb 102012

The uncertain fate of the ancient elms in Union Terrace Gardens is highlighted by Mike Shepherd.

There are 77 mature trees in Union Terrace Gardens and a few more along the adjacent railway line. It is not clear how many of these will be felled during the construction of the proposed City Garden; however most will probably go. An Evening Express article suggested that they will all be removed, whilst it was mentioned at the January council meeting that some of the trees in the north-west corner may be kept.

Rather bizarrely, the same Evening Express article mentions that the wood from the Union Terrace Gardens trees could be recycled for the construction of the City Garden, that is for paths and the wooden roof of the outdoor stage, “keeping them in the garden”.

It is proposed that the new trees in the City Garden will comprise a “mini-forest” of 186 trees, mostly Scots Pines.

The fate of the twelve elms in the park is a highly controversial issue. A handful of these trees are considered by the council to be at least 200 years old. They may be even older. A report gives mention to the planting by the Town Council in 1764 of a thick woodland on the hillside to the west of the Denburn.

The trees in the park are disease-free. Occasional comments made by certain ill-informed councillors that Dutch Elm Disease is present in the Gardens are not true. The trees are inspected from time to time. The symptoms of the disease show up in the summer when leaves turn yellow and fall off early. This has not been seen in any of the Union Terrace Gardens elms.

 As far as mature trees in the city are concerned, the council can do what it wants.

The disease, a fungus carried by bark beetles, has devastated elm trees throughout most of the UK. It is estimated that more than 25 million elms have been killed by the disease with very few mature trees left.

The disease spread to the north of Scotland only in the last twenty years and pockets of relatively disease-free elms have survived here. Aberdeen city is one such pocket. The disease has been recorded in only a few trees in the west end of the city, but it is generally absent.

Elsewhere in the north-east, Dutch Elm Disease has recently been killing large swathes of elms. Most, if not all, of the elm trees on Drum Castle Estate have succumbed, for example. It is to be hoped that the city stays relatively clear of the disease for as long as possible.

Aberdeen is said to have “possibly the largest remaining population of elms in Northern Europe that has not yet succumbed to the deadly Dutch Elm Disease.”

The mature trees in Union Terrace Gardens have been assigned Tree Preservation Orders by the Council. A document is available online which explains the policy towards protected trees in Aberdeen. The following are quotes from the document:

“A tree preservation order (TPO) is an order made by us, giving legal protection to trees or woodland. A TPO prevents cutting down, uprooting, topping, lopping, wilful damage or destruction of trees (including cutting roots) without the council’s permission.

“The purpose of a TPO is to protect trees that contribute to amenity and the character and attractiveness of a locality. Other factors such as heritage and wildlife value can be taken into account. A TPO gives the council an opportunity to assess the impact of work to trees or proposals which may affect them.” However, it goes on:

“The existence of a TPO can not in itself prevent the development of land taking place, but the council, as planning authority, has a duty to have regard to the preservation and planting of trees and the likely effect of development proposals on trees is a material consideration.”

In other words, as far as mature trees in the city are concerned, the council can do what it wants. A tree preservation order on the Union Terrace Gardens elms does not necessarily protect them.

The result of the referendum on the Gardens in March will also decide the fate of the elms. For some in the city, it is a major issue. They see the removal of the trees in Union Terrace Gardens as a crime against nature. These are amongst the last surviving mature elms in the country, Europe even.

For many it would be a sad day if and when they are chopped down. There is an online petition to save the 200-year old elms:

Jan 192012

We continue our serialisation of David Innes’ interview with author Maggie Craig. Her two books on the Jacobite Rebellion, the evocatively-titled ‘Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ‘45’, and ‘Bare-Arsed Banditti: The Men of the ‘45’ are critically-lauded. She explains why she looks at that fractious period of our heritage from a different angle to that usually taken by historians.

You’ve written two books on the Jacobites – where did that inspiration come from?

That came from a novel called The Flight of the Heron by DK Broster which an uncle gave to me. I loved it, and it’s my Fahrenheit 451 book, the one I’d save from the flames.

But like an awful lot of Scots, what I knew about the Jacobites is from that novel, a high romance about friendship and so on.

And although the folk songs are great, they sometimes get things a bit mixed up. Then, when it was the 250th anniversary of Culloden in 1995, I’d started to write a novel set in that period and I needed a baddie, so I went looking for a Campbell. I found a Macdonald saying, “We’ll surrender, but only to a Campbell”.

That was a light bulb moment when you think, “History’s not as simple as you’re taught it is”. Why were they prepared to surrender to a Campbell? They must have respected that guy or thought that he’d give them a better deal, so I started researching it and I got interested in the women because, well, Flora bloody Macdonald is all you’re presented with. I didn’t try to debunk her but she’s such an unacceptable kind of female, standing there while the Prince kisses her hand and I think, “Nah, there must have been women doing different things from that” so I went looking for the women first of all.

They’re attached to their men, of course, so you get a lot of stories about the men too, including the Jacobites of Aberdeenshire and Banffshire. There was a huge amount of Jacobite support in this area. They called them the Lowland regiments, but there were a lot of Episcopalians in Aberdeenshire who would tend to fight for the Jacobites because they were persecuted for supporting the Stuart cause. They couldn’t meet for a proper service, only in twos or threes.

There was a lot going on around Banff and Duff House. The Duffs, of course, were on whichever side was winning as they’ve tended to be. You can’t blame those who hedged their bets. If you had a farm or an estate and you had tenants, and there would have been people who cared about their tenants, you had to be cagey because you didn’t know which way it was going to go – and the consequences of failure were horrendous.

About eighty people were hanged. A lot of Aberdeenshire was laid waste. I’ve quoted that, “the people of Strathbogie were back in their fields but they’re as inclined to rebellion as ever”. I thought “Wow”. You don’t get that impression nowadays, where people keep their heads down and don’t say much about getting involved in politics.

Although when I went to speak to kids in Ellon about ‘When The Clyde Ran Red’,  I said, “It’s harder to be a radical on a farm, isn’t it?”. When you’re working for a farmer and you don’t have your comrades about you then it’s harder to stand up and say, “I don’t think this is right”.

I think there’s a kind of hidden history of Aberdeenshire. The anniversary of the Battle of Harlaw was a huge missed opportunity to help tell it.

So you feel that Jacobitism and the Rebellion needs to be re-evaluated as a radical movement.

It’s said that history is written by the winners, but to a large extent that history has been written by the losers and the greatest losers, you could say, have been the West Highlands. That’s fair enough – the devastation, the burnings, the rapes, the murders, shooting the boys and shooting the old men and all that stuff, but I think that has skewed our vision of it. It’s dangerous, because you always see it through your own perspective.

I’m a Scottish nationalist (with a small n) and having read a lot about the Rebellion, I think a huge amount of it was about wanting to reverse the Act of Union. There was no democracy in those days and the only focus for discontent was Charlie, so he funnelled in a lot of different people.

There was a lot of criticism of him because he could be very high-handed, but he was the only way they were going to get regime change, so my take on it is that it was a kind of Rainbow Coalition. It brought in a lot of people and it was kind of before its time. We’ve got the Enlightenment in Glasgow and Edinburgh and probably Aberdeen – I don’t know and it’s something people need to research – but this was still pre-Industrial Revolution where the weavers and the like became radicalised. I think if it had happened fifty years later, things could have turned out differently.

When you read about the eighteenth century, you always hear about the power of the mob which would gather together in whatever town. I think that’s radicalism, but they’re always presented as a bunch of drunken yobs. If you look at the 1730s Porteous Riot about the Malt Tax, people are asking, “Why is London taxing us and why are they taxing us so severely?” After the ’45 they didn’t try any of the leaders in Scotland because they didn’t think a Scottish jury would convict. I think because the whole North British project took off after that.

 people say that it’s sentimentality. It’s not. It’s love. It’s death and feeling.

There couldn’t be a rocking of the boat in North Britain and some Scots became very successful. I see someone like Andrew Marr as being very like an eighteenth century Scot – he’s gone to London and sort of sold out, hasn’t he? I like his programmes, but he’s sold out his Scottishness.

We can get caught both ways. If you say that the Scots have always had a great sense of justice you’re told that you’re just being sentimental, or that you’re looking at the world through rose-coloured spectacles, but then there’s the ‘Jock Tamson’s bairns’ thing which does unite us. I think there’s almost a natural democracy, a collective “That’s no fair, you’ve got to do something about it” attitude that unites us, and it’s not a bad battle cry!

My daughter and I came back from Switzerland via Paris a couple of weeks ago and there were eight London lawyers, all about 40, on the Eurostar. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a wee refreshment but they got more and more offensive about the working classes who “couldn’t get up off their arses and do anything” and they said, “Let’s get some fizz” and bought three bottles of champagne and they got worse and worse. Of course the rest of us just sat and did nothing, but they were such a stereotype of that ‘I’m alright Jack’ attitude. One said, “Why should we care about healthcare for poor people?”

We Scots can be our own worst enemies, though. We’ve got someone like Robert Burns, who’s world class and who unites the North East and Ayrshire, but people say that it’s sentimentality. It’s not. It’s love. It’s death and feeling.

A local Rotary Club thought it was being radical when I was the first woman to propose the Immortal Memory at their Burns Supper. I said that Burns slept around and that if I’d been married to him I’d have slapped him into the middle of next week. Even saying that raised a few eyebrows. I wasn’t saying anything that isn’t known and I still admire him for his humanity. We need to reclaim him for the radical he was.

I looked briefly at Thomas Muir of Huntershill, a radical. We don’t look back to the friends of the people. In the 1790s these men and girls were totally admirable and put their lives on the line to say that workers ought to have rights. There’s so much of our history that we aren’t taught.

I was delighted to see that Red Clydeside is now in the Higher curriculum but in history classes the ’45 is viewed as a crowd of misguided romantic people. That’s a very narrow point of view and it’s time we opened it up. Sometimes the way they treat Red Clydeside is as dry as dust. The history’s got to be about the people and those people were fallible, they made mistakes – and sometimes you point out that someone regarded as a hero was rotten to his wife.

That’s where we leave this part of the interview, but of course this led to discussion of the current political situation, which we’ll carry in the next issue.

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.




Dec 152011

By Bob Smith.

Listen ti the havers fae Trumpie MK 2
Oot o his mou iss wirdies did spew
Treated richt badly  an wi contempt says he
Disrespect an dishonour? Seems aat ti

Noo the windfairm folkies widna be cowed
Fin Trump an his cohorts shouted oot loud
So young Donnie he fair squeals an bawls
Seems nae aabody wints ti be their pals

Contempt, dishonour, he shud ken aboot iss
A think the young chiel is takin the piss
The fowk ower in Menie’ll be haen a cheer
Nae sympathy vote fae them ye’ll hear

Contempt an dishonour they’ve hid fae his faither
As ti oor local press the big mannie dis blether
Disrespect ti the faimilies auld Trumpie his shown
Fin he disna like the wye thingies are goin

Potty an kettle, iss wirds spring ti myn
As Donald Mk2 his teeth he dis grind
Ye haun it oot so man ye canna complain
If it cums back ti haunt ye noo an again

So greet in yer porritch Donnie ma loon
An jist dinna bither ti kick up a soon’
Fin contempt an sic like cums in bye
Jist myn o the fowk ye’ve treated iss wye

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2011
© Mark Rasmussen | Dreamstime.com …. 3 windmills

Nov 172011

 By Mike Shepherd.

On Tuesday a Council committee voted to defer a decision on a referendum for the City Garden Project to the full Council meeting on the 14th December.

Although an amendment was introduced to propose an opinion poll as an alternative, a vote for a referendum looks more likely.

If such a referendum was to happen it would be held either two months before or two months after the local council elections on May 3rd.

This is one of many setbacks to have affected the City Garden Project (CGP). Here is a summary of the problems facing the scheme:

The City Garden Project is way behind schedule:  It is almost exactly three years since Sir Ian Wood announced his Civic Square proposal at His Majesty’s Theatre on the 11th November 2008. Although we are close to seeing a final design, the project is nowhere near planning submission and funding is very uncertain.

The vote on Tuesday looks to introduce further delays. It also probably shunts the planning decision well into the next Council, when at least one of the proponents of the scheme, John Stewart, will not be on the Council any more, having announced that he will stand down.

The City Garden Project is unpopular: This statement gets vigorously challenged by supporters of the CGP, yet it is clearly the case. The consultation held two years ago saw a ‘no’ vote for the CGP, and various online polls have shown a consistent numerical advantage to those wanting to keep the existing Gardens. The probability is that a referendum would reject the CGP.

The Design Exhibition failed to create any buzz in the city: The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens canvassed opinion outside the exhibition while it lasted. About half of those we talked to were unhappy about the designs. Many spoiled their votes.( by attempting to vote for the non-existent ‘option 7’.) Of those that voted, a common vote was for a design that appeared to preserve the Gardens (it doesn’t), although they reported they did this without much enthusiasm.

The land issue is a headache for the Council lawyers: Union Terrace Gardens lies on Common Good land and any land transaction, i.e. assigning a long term lease to a limited company or trust, would probably require an application to a court of session to apply for a change in status of the property.

The Council lawyers are well aware of the legal pitfalls that could ensue over the details of a property transaction (as witness the pending court case between Aberdeen Council and the Stewart Milne Group).

it involves the allocation of scarce public money using non-economic criteria

Currently,Union Terrace Gardens has negligible value as it is zoned as public open green space in the local plan.  However, should this status change at a later date and the property is re-zoned as commercial space, the land value will be in the tens of millions as prime down-town real estate.

The lawyers will have to be especially careful on this issue, particularly where a long term free-hold lease could potentially be assigned to a limited company.

Funding the City Garden Project is a big problem:  To date only £55M of private money has been pledged for a project nominally costing £140M. The CGP are pushing the Council to underwrite a loan of £70M through Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) to help part fund the scheme.

Aberdeen Council’s business case was so feeble it didn’t even rank in the top six schemes assessed for recommendation by the Scottish Futures Trust. Even so, the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, Alex Neil, has told Aberdeen Council that their TIF application may still be considered. However, the TIF would be awarded on a ‘geographical’ basis rather than an ostensibly ‘economic’ basis.

This can be criticised as very poor Government practice; it involves the allocation of scarce public money using non-economic criteria. It also begs the question that if the business case doesn’t stack up, why is the debt-ridden Aberdeen Council under consideration to be allowed to borrow money for it?

Questions are being asked in Holyrood about Aberdeen’s TIF funding. This is from an article by Steven Vass in last weekend’s Sunday Herald:

“First Minister Alex Salmond’s decision to permit Aberdeen’s £70M borrowing plan for redesigning the city centre will come under renewed fire when he is forced to answer questions in the Scottish Parliament this week.

“Lewis MacDonald, the Aberdeen MSP and long-time opponent of the scheme, said there was a “scandal lurking under the surface” around the permission. He has tabled a series of parliamentary questions demanding answers to speculation the Government’s approval overruled the economic advice of specialists at the Scottish Futures Trust, who were supposed to decide which projects would go ahead.”

Another potential show-stopper is that last year the Council decreed that borrowing money through a TIF scheme must present ‘zero risk’ to the Councils finances.  The only realistic way this could happen is if an organisation or individual was prepared to underwrite the Council loan.

This would be a major commitment to say the least, as it would involve underwriting £70M for a 25 to 30 year period. Perhaps Sir Ian Wood is willing to do this, but even for him or his family trust, it would involve a significant allocation of capital resources over a long term period.

Add to this the question of cost over-run. One architect told me this week that with the massive rock excavation operation involved and the difficulties of building over the railway line, there was no way of this project coming in on budget. Yet, very little has been said about what would happen if the costs do over-run massively.

The problems are stacking up for the City Garden Project and even three years later they are not much closer to being resolved. The patient is looking sickly and the prognosis is not good.