Jan 062012
 

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

Tally Ho and Happy New Year! Old Susannah’s had a bit of a holiday break in London and New York, but is back in the Deen and looking for news in all the wrong places.
All major world cities have their problems – New York, London – even Aberdeen.  It’s how these problems are dealt with that show the intelligence, logic, and well class of a city’s government.
New York at Christmas has subtle holiday lights, but all the stores (particularly 5th Avenue ones) do their best to have creative, exciting, individualistic window displays.

This just makes things look non-uniform and that’s a bad thing of course.  If only there were some giant red balls and uniform lights overhead to herald the presence of the New York Government.  Better still if such lights would fall down now and then  for a bit of drama as well.

There is a policeman on every corner of 5th and people are well behaved as a result.  Our streets are of course ‘livelier.’  How sad.  No one is allowed to use the streets for fighting/throwing up/robbing/ rolling around drunk in while the police stand idly by.  Here in Aberdeen there is more freedom to indulge in these traditional holiday past times.

Iconic landmarks such as Manhattan’s statue of Atlas, Ice-skating rink and the Christmas Tree just demonstrate how stuck in boring tradition NYC really is; hardly anyone comes to see these things.  I’d like to see a few buildings levelled (maybe the Chrysler and Empire) and a gigantic concrete public square created – that’s clearly what’s needed to revitalise NY’s dull city centre.

London’s  Soho was absolutely packed with people, music venues, and restaurants.  Believe it or not, the local shops don’t all close at 6pm; some even close when they feel like it.  Trash collections are regular, and I found myself missing my overflowing Torry communal wheelie bin with its broken lid and binbags torn open by hungry birds.   There weren’t even any sofas dumped on the streets to sit on.

In a not very vibrant or dynamic tradition, the Geoffrey Museum had  its annual  display showing how households used to look in times past for Christmas.  This tedious attraction could have done so much better if a monolith had been built on its historic front lawn.

You’ll never believe me, but in London’s massive Richmond Park (again just wasted space filled with lots of grass and trees) there is actually a deer park.

I suppose the biggest disappointment in New York and London as compared to Aberdeen  is the scale of waste.  New York has its (comparatively) massive Central Park and there are long stretches of coastal lands on nearby Long Island.  No one’s proposed any football stadiums, giant forests on the dunes, or turning the place into a giant golf course resort.

London has more parks than you could count that are filled with little more than grass – which so bothers Councillor Stewart.  These parks  do allow food kiosks and restaurants, something our City is far too cool to allow in Union Terrace Gardens (well, at least not until we build something over it first).

New York has great sports teams, but it’s not following our lead.  The Rangers continue to play in the outdated Madison Square Gardens rather than building something new outside of Manhattan.  Mr Milne could teach them a thing or two.  It’s almost as if people were fond of their historic sports venue and wanted to keep using it.  I think they’re in denial – the thing doesn’t even glow in the dark.

Finally an old building has been sensitively restored for re-use as a Native American heritage museum.  Doubt that made much money for any new-build businesses.  Shame.

You’ll never believe me, but in London’s massive Richmond Park (again just wasted space filled with lots of grass and trees) there is actually a deer park.

  No, the deer are not there for people to have their dogs chase.  The deer I have to admit are sometimes culled – when absolutely necessary – after living a lifespan where they can eat, roam free, and live.
Note: They are not culled for reasons other than animal welfare.

No one is proposing to shoot them in order to turn their turf into a lumber-producing forest.  Some eccentrics actually go out of their way to come and see the deer, or ‘vermin’ as Neil Fletcher and others would call them.

London and New York should really take a page from Aberdeen’s book and do much much more building in their empty green spaces.  The funny thing is that people actually choose to live near such places and pay more money for the privilege.

My one regret is that I missed the Christmas event in Union Terrace Gardens which by all accounts was a perfect afternoon.  The children loved seeing their artwork displayed; they loved the vermin – sorry – deer which had been brought in as a special treat.  The music was spectacular and everyone had a vibrant and dynamic time.  So my compliments to the organisers –  the Bothwell family and their friends, and to those who supplied prizes – Lush and The Artist’s Pad on Castlegate in particular.

I was happy to have been one of the judges for the art competition which was a real pleasure if not a nearly impossible task.  Watch Aberdeen Voice for an upcoming display of the childrens’ artwork and the entries for the Aberdeen Voice Union Terrace Gardens art competition – as soon as I can scan the 300+ items that were entered, that is.

But at this rate there won’t be room for definitions, so here we go.

Blindspot: (compound noun; English) An area which cannot be perceived whether due to physical limitations or psychological ones.

Old Susannah begins to wonder if any of our local press realise that by 23 January the City must relinquish details to me of what land was sold to Stewart Milne companies and for how much money? If they are aware, they certainly don’t find this revelation worthy of any space in their pages.

When I was travelling I kept up with local news via the internet – there were fascinating pieces on weather, a bit of vandalism, some bits of petty crime, another local store closed, and football games were won and lost.  But no word on Aberdeen Council being criticised by Scotland’s Information Commissioner or on the looming disclosure of what property ACC sold to Stew at what price. Guess this just isn’t as interesting as all the other stuff.

  seems northern Scotland can get windy in winter.  Who’d have guessed?

Still, by 23 January the City is meant to supply me with the info on Milne I requested a year and a month ago.

Let’s see who publishes the next development besides Aberdeen Voice.

I also read Private Eye when I was away (although I usually find it far too critical of our elected officials and millionaires), and a small item reminded me that the National Union of Journalists was ‘de-recognised’ by the Press and Journal and its sister, the Evening Express.

A cynical person might think the owners of these papers want to keep a tight rein on any reporter who goes ‘off message’ and writes anything too critical of their largest advertising revenue sources.  I just think the P&J management don’t want their staff to have to have the hassle of Union membership when they are so perfectly well remunerated.

Is there really any bias towards the powerful forces in the  City?  Just as  a matter of interest, a colour advertisement in the Evening Express supporting the ‘phase 2 tree for every citizen’ scheme cost the city c. £145.  A similar sized colour ad by those opposed to the tree planting and related deer cull cost over £700 (with 2 reprints in the Citizen).  Just thought you might like to know.

Festive Decorations: (noun) holiday-themed lights, banners, etc.

Well, the City’s outdone itself this year.   From 21st November 2011 to the 5th January 2011, Aberdeen City Centre was festooned with festive lighting and decoration.  Of course some of the lights came down almost as soon as they went up; seems northern Scotland can get windy in winter.  Who’d have guessed?  (Note – this historic pattern of high winds will of course be no object to planting trees on Tullos Hill, even if a Forestry report says wind is a problem there).

  I have my own theories about what the giant, over-sized, totally out-of-proportion red balls symbolised

According to the City’s website ‘Other communities around the City also take part with their own festive lighting on lamp-posts.  Aberdeen’s main thoroughfare (Union Street) is the centre piece with 11 cross street lighting all with a Christmas theme.’

I was surprised that Christmas was the theme for the beautiful lights on Union Street – I’d have thought the City was supposed to be non-denominational.  But I saw the light.  The decorations on Union Street show pictures of presents, toys and sweets – and buying stuff like that is the true meaning of Christmas after all.

I have my own theories about what the giant, over-sized, totally out-of-proportion red balls symbolised, but perhaps I’ll keep that to myself.  I look forward to watching them fall down again next year.

Jargon: (noun) vocabulary which is not recognised in the mainstream, is hard to decipher, and which may be deliberately exclusionary.

Next week I intend to look at upcoming budget/financial actions our fair city may be taking.  Believe it or not, I am not always convinced their financial skills are as good as you might think.  If anyone can help me decipher  the following paragraph which I found on the ACC website, then please get in touch:-

“There are also other projects currently active that will produce efficiencies for all Services, i.e. ICT infrastructure and connectivity, procurement revisions, etc. The ICT infrastructure and connectivity work is delivered solely by Service Design and Development and therefore is not included  in the above listing. The projects listed above all fall into the category of technology enabling making change happen.”

It sound absolutely wonderful, but I haven’t a clue what it means.  It’s from an older document covering finance and budget.

Is it  possible that a lack of straight-talking is confusing issues?  No, I thought not.  I guess I’m just not ‘falling into the category of technology enabling making change happen’ as naturally as everyone else must be doing.

Final thought:  Children in Need:
Spare a thought to those who don’t have the things they need this season.  Take the case of Stewart M.

Stewart, aged fifty-something years, will not have a happy holiday season (or any kind of happy season) without some help.  A mere 7.8 million pounds will give him the toy football stadium he wants.  Next year he may also buy some toy players to go in the toy stadium if it’s not all been thrown out of the pram.  Please give generously.

Another Final thought:  Electoral Roll:
Live in Aberdeen?  Want to vote on the future of Union Terrace Gardens?  Make sure you are registered to vote before 10 January.  IF you are not on the electoral role, follow this link and register:  http://www.grampian-vjb.gov.uk/clients/GVJB/flexviews/core/assets/pdf/er/voterregistrationform.pdf

 

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Nov 042011
 

An Editorial and suggestion for a better plan for Tullos Hill. By Suzanne Kelly.

For nearly a year many people have attempted to get Aberdeen City Council to see sense over its planned cull of the Tullos Hill roe deer.  The City insists the archaeology-rich, bio diverse meadows of Tullos must be turned into an 89,000 tree forest.  They will not budge.

It makes no difference that the area has a history of arson and that there are explosion hazard sites on the hill (there is a dangerous old waste tip and escaping gas areas, protected by warning signs and barbed wire fence).
Aileen Malone (Liberal Democrat Councillor), Valerie Watts (Chief Executive), Pete Leonard (Officer) and Ian Tallboys (ranger) have all been corresponding with me and others.  These emails often contradict other correspondence.

They also often quote an unnamed expert or two, and the writers refuse to so much as listen to any dissenting expert opinions, even if offered free of charge.  This puts to rest any feeble excuse that there is a robust scientific approach to the hill’s future.

For me, there are just too many contradictions, omissions and flawed logic for the plan and its supporters to retain any credibility on this matter.  It is time to examine some of the conflicting information these four people have been offering.  It is also time to examine whether or not everything they say is accurate, and to ask why we have spent council time, money and energy on this plan.

For what we were once told was a ‘cost-neutral.’ sound plan ready to implement turns out to be nothing more than a draft proposal to the Forestry Commission.   But more importantly it is time to secure Tullos Hill’s future and preserve what we already have:  a beautiful, changing meadowland and grassland habitat which supports animals including deer.

Who has said and done what?  To completely detail all of the misinformation and seemingly misleading statements would require a book.  Instead I prepared a chart which highlights some of the contradictions.  It can be accessed here, but is in no way exhaustive of the ever-changing information slowly leaking out concerning this scheme. Click Link

Past articles have highlighted that £43,800 was already wasted on a failed tree planting at Tullos.  Even though I formally asked the City to clarify this had happened, Valerie Watts at first effectively denied any such thing had occurred.  When presented with proof positive (in the form of a letter from the Forestry Commisison demanding the £43,800) Ms Watts said that ‘there was no relation’ between my request to clarify that money was owed – and that since I asked my question in May and the bill was paid in March, there was no need to clarify the position.  The public and I beg to differ.

New Revelations

The Evening Express (itself accused by Valerie Watts alongside the P&J of getting the story wrong over time) revealed that there is actually no budget in place.  All this time Aileen Malone and others have insisted the scheme is cost neutral and that we must shoot the deer as it would be the most cost effective way to grow trees.

Never mind that the scheme will destroy what is already on the hill or that this argument is wholly immoral – which led to the public outcry – there is no money in place.  This one revelation alone calls into question reports issued by the City which claim the scheme had funding.  It does not.

Asking the City to clarify the funding picture has so far been fruitless, but I have since learned that only a draft application for the tree scheme is in place.  All the press releases and sweeping statements about the trees are, just a little bit, premature.  Months ago I asked Ms Watts for the financials.  She eventually wrote back to ask what I meant – which in case you were wondering meant the financials for the tree plan (money in, money out, costs, expenses).

Rather than answering me, she has sent my question (months after first being asked) to her Freedom of Information department.   The Council recently complained that its FOI staff were inundated with work:  perhaps those who hold information should release it without the need to burden this department.

( Stop Press – Financial information. Click Link )

 Mystery of the Missing Postcards

With funds kindly raised largely by Lush (which had a cycle event – their team from Edinburgh gave up personal time and cycled to Aberdeen to highlight the deer’s plight), some dramatic, effective pre-printed postcards were produced.
They were so popular that a re-print was done, and 700 such postcards were made in all.

I have some photos of the backs of pre-printed postcards.  These were signed after a meeting of anti-cull people was held at the end of September.  A few nights later, I obtained more cards from other people, and handed a total of 63 cards protesting the cull to a security guard at the City’s Town House.  The guard told me:

“we got loads of these in this week, and even more came in the week before.”

In a recent letter to me, Ms Watts says that 35 postcards were received.

Ms Watts and the City somehow are not getting items sent through the regular post:  Torry Community Council’s letter protesting the cull never arrived, as Watts confirmed in the same letter which mentions the postcards.  I spoke to the Torry CC Secretary on 2 November, and she said ‘the letter was definitely sent, but the City didn’t receive it.’  This letter was the result of Torry’s CC voting unanimously to protest the cull and complain about how the whole affair was handled.

Perhaps I can understand the City not receiving post through the mail – something the City claimed to have posted to me never arrived, and an email they sent never showed up either (which conveniently for them put the cull protest off by weeks).  However, I most definitely dropped 63 signed postcards from different individuals at the Town House:  there is no logical excuse for the cards ‘disappearing’.

‘The Media is to blame’ (Really?)

The City’s position, according to its Chief Executive Ms Watts is as follows (from two different letters):-

“Aberdeen City Council has no control over how the media report Council meetings.  In this case the media did not accurately report on decisions of the Committee and have continued to publish inaccurate information about the project.  They have published their interpretation of the committee decisions.”

I do not personally believe that the reports I read in print or saw on television misconstrued the Committee’s decisions at the time it decided to press ahead with the cull, having read the committee reports and minutes.

In an even stronger attack on the media, last week Valerie Watts wrote to me the following, which I believe must have been based in part on the Evening Express front page article of 30 September by you, Mr Ewen:

“In terms of media coverage, Aberdeen City Council’s Media Team has on several occasions sought to correct the media’s assumption that our deer management programme would necessarily begin on or around the first day of the season for controlling the numbers of roe deer hinds.

“Both the Evening Express and the Press & Journal have reported that the roe hind seasons begins on 01 October – the season in fact commences on 21 October – and that deer management would begin on or near that date. Both newspapers were informed as to the correct date of the start of the season and were reminded that no date had in fact been set by the Council for the start of our management programme. 

“The newspapers were also informed that their stories had raised false expectations that the start of deer management was imminent.  They have been told that details will only be finalised once funding is in place and when the trees are about to be planted.”

I spoke to an Evening Express reporter on the 2nd of November about this issue; they replied

“I am in contact very often with the City’s media team, and it’s never come up.”

Perhaps the media is misleading me, as Ms Watts would have me believe, or perhaps the media team has not contacted reporters who write about the cull.  In fact, now that I have published a number of articles on the cull, I can confirm the city has never once been in touch to suggest I have any facts wrong.

Moving on:  to a Meadow

This week the Housing & Environment Committee met (2 November); Neil Cooney called the whole dubious scheme into question.  Not only did he bring up the absolute lack of funding, but he also mentioned the soil report.

To say that Tullos is not ideal for tree planting is accurate.  But the City never did publicise this additional fact:  they have been asked to spray weed killer on Tullos for two to three years until the trees are established.  There is no detail on the cost, damage potential for plants and animals, and even potential health risks for people.

Neil Cooney, many concerned residents and I are now working to get the hill preserved (or perhaps even enhanced) as a meadow.   If you have ever seen the Dame’s Violets in bloom you would wonder why anyone would disturb their balance.  The gorse (being unceremoniously ripped out on occasion – and burnt) is essential for many forms of wildlife year round, providing food and shelter.

It is this gorse Ian Tallboys says is of limited value and which he wants ripped out.  At present there are beautiful forms of delicate (probably rather rare) fungi growing – any change in soil PH balance could kill them, not to mention the damage planting would do to the underground network from which these mushrooms grow.

You probably know there are three Bronze Age Cairns on the hill; they are set off in a striking fashion.

A forest will forever obscure them and the amazing views of the city and sea.  You might not know that over a dozen other smaller sites, many bronze age, are in the planting area.  It is unclear whether the appropriate government agencies have been contacted about this aspect of the tree plan.

If you want more information on why a meadow is such a better idea for Tullos, then please read the article on meadows in this issue of Aberdeen Voice. ( Click link )

Also – remember that we are about to build hundreds of homes and a football stadium where we currently have meadows.  This will spell the end for the wildlife that depended on these fields – to also change Tullos is an environmental disaster as far as I am concerned.  Perhaps now that the City’s ranger service is expected to turn a profit (yes, they are told to generate income streams with the very odd finance system at work in our city), they hope to have timber income from the trees – which according to the aforementioned soil report, will never achieve maturity.

How much quicker, efficient and simpler it would be to conduct nature tours of what is an amazing hill.  Environmental tourism is a growing area, and we with our resources should be getting on it.

This article and the accompanying table contain my personal opinions as well as quotations from the City’s documents.  I invite you to draw your own conclusions, to ask the City and Aileen Malone (once so keen to be quoted in press releases) why a meadow is not the best future for this hill.

If you would like to help lobby for a meadow, please get in touch via the Aberdeen Voice for further information.  We can avert an environmental tragedy if we act now.  This plan is still in a very early stage – but we will come up with a plan that will support the existing flora, fauna – and especially the deer.

Oct 212011
 

By Bob Smith.

A’ve bin haen an e-mail natter
Wi a mannie fae the P&J
Aboot their lack o recogneetion
Fer the film aboot the Menie affray

Nae meention o it’s Scottish premiere
Fit wye?  A thocht a wid speir
“You’ve Been Trumped” is a success
The P&J winna mak iss clear

Na Na,  the chiel wisna haen iss
The paper hid scriven some spiel
On mony occasions said the mannie
He must think a’m bliddy feel !!

I syne askit plain an ti the pint
Dates please faan iss wis printed
The chiel widna say nae mair
So a didna git fit a wintit

Noo the craitur wis maist pit oot
Fer hintin they war Trumpie’s freen
Maybe if the mannie hid ‘s wye
A’d be run oot o Aiberdeen

A’ve aywis thocht a newspaper
Wis supposed ti report the news
Tho aboot  “You’ve Been Trumped”
We’ll nivver read the P&J’s views

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2011
Image Credit: © Guy Shapira | Dreamstime.com

Oct 012011
 

Three Cheers for Aberdeen City Council!  The Cull is on Hold!  Or so you might think if you glanced at a headline in tonight’s Evening Express. Voice’s Suzanne Kelly writes.

Several people on the anti-cull e-mailing lists have seen these headlines and written to say how happy they are the deer are safe.
‘Thank goodness, we can all forget about the cull and get back to business as usual’.

But what is the truth behind this and other media stories, and what is the truth? Conflicting information is  leaking out of Marischal College like a particularly leaky sieve.

There has been Council and anti-cull advertising.  There have been stories in the Press & Journal and the Evening Express, quoting experts and animal organisations.

The City has unnamed officers making statements, and city rangers apparently say that community councils are now OK with the cull.  It is time to look behind the headlines, read between the lines of the propaganda, and challenge what the city and rangers are saying.

First, let’s look at the last few weeks’ worth of media advertising.

In terms of advertising, you may have seen the anti-cull ads which were paid for by Animal Concern; these ran in the Evening Express and the Aberdeen Citizen. These quarter-page colour ads spelled out the logical reasons for opposing the cull.

Aberdeen City meanwhile took out a four-page, full colour supplement in the Aberdeen Citizen on 7 September. This for the average person would have cost at least a thousand pounds; it would be of interest to find out what the City spends on this and similar advertising in these service-cutting, low budget days.  This pull-out was to tell you how green and ecologically-minded the City is.

A portion of this supplement (approximately a third of a page in size) concerned the deer cull. Or as the City prefers to call it, the ‘City Woodlands.’ The ad says nothing about a deer cull, but calls on schools and small businesses to help plant the trees. The reader is directed to contact Ian Tallboys for further information. Businesses are told that the scheme can help:

“as part of their overall carbon management work. This will reduce the impact of their greenhouse gas emissions.”

The ad also says:

“The tree planting work will start in early 2012, ground and weather conditions permitting.”

And apparently:

 “planning of the second phase of tree for every citizen planting is almost complete, with funding applications in place.”

This is being tied to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and the woodland sites are selected:

 “to provide a living, breathing legacy and tribute to her Majesty the Queen”

There is a very good reason I have bored my readers with these details. Firstly – we already have a ‘living, breathing legacy’ on Tullos Hill. We have a diverse ecosystem supporting a vast variety of flora and fauna. We are going to kill our existing living, breathing legacy because some politicians (Cllr Malone for one) decided to do so.

If you read this ad, you would know nothing about the proposed deer cull. You might also conclude that some substantial carbon offsetting benefits had been expected in order that the City felt comfortable telling businesses the scheme would benefit them in this regard. The calculations I have previously reported, the information from animal charities, and common sense tell us that the benefits are negligible.

For one thing, we are apparently having a 21,000 seat, glow-in-the-dark football stadium built fairly close to the south of Tullos Hill with houses, offices and 1400 parking spaces. I challenge anyone to tell me that the Tullos tree scheme will offset this stadium to any meaningful degree.

It seems straightforward:  planting will go ahead, as funding applications are in place and the City’s own advertising says that planting starts in early 2012.  However, up crops some issues with what I must loosely call ‘journalism’ appearing in the Press & Journal and Evening Express.

Going back to the earlier part of his week, P&J articles advised that protestors were going to stand in front of guns.  You will have seen quotes apparently from the British Deer Society and Chris Packham saying deer culls are necessary.  These experts and their support of culls appear alongside direct quotes from my asking that:

“the city must come up with a better plan and halt this senseless cull.”

If you read these articles quickly or casually, you could easily come to the conclusion that Chris Packham and the British Deer Society support this specific Tullos cull.  At the time of writing, I have made initial contact with Packham’s agent and the Deer Society:  neither were able to confirm they had been contacted on the specific Tullos case.

In fact, both parties were interested to hear what I had to say about the history of this whole scheme.  When they get back to me, I will update everyone.

I had also given the P&J a detailed press release spelling out the major flaws in the public consultation, the opinion of the Scottish SPCA, and so on.  Not a word of this side of the story appears in print.

So – when is the cull?

The police are not saying.  The City is however saying something different to everyone who asks.  Today, 1 October, the Press & Journal have asserted the cull may be delayed by two weeks for financial reasons.,  In the 29 September Press & Journal article:

“a [City Council] spokeswoman said that Saturday was the earliest date in the hunting season that deer management can take place.  However, any such activity would be subject to weather conditions and the availability of staff, she added.”

By the way, the City have said they don’t need to give anyone any notice and can put gunmen on the hill at will.  People who understand arms, guns and hunting tell me bullets can travel very considerable distances (this is not to mention the damage and sheer agony they cause to anything that is shot).  So, we will either be suddenly excluded from the hill for the gunman/men to get killing, or they will shoot with us present.

Neighbouring residents in homes and trailer parks were appalled  and worried when I spoke to them earlier this week.  Two men told me they feed the deer in winter, and the deer are veritably tame.  Another man told me a similar story over the phone; he is distraught that the deer he has watched and fed for decades are to be shot for non-existent trees.  No one I contacted has been warned of shooters coming to the hill at the time of writing.

But I digress.  Now we come to the glaring Evening Express headline of Friday 30 September:

DEER CULL OFF… FOR NOW”

The story on Page 5 has a headline fragment ‘move to protect trees’  which makes it seem as if this is the only way to protect trees.  We all by now know this is not the case.

Unfortunately, whoever the City’s ‘spokeswoman’ was on Thursday has been contradicted by a ‘city council spokesman’.  I guess it is true:  ’24 hours IS a long time in politics.’  The spokesman said:

“It takes time for money to filter through.  The long-term plan for tree-planting and the deer population haven’t changed.’  According to the Reporter, D Ewen, the spokesman added ‘..it could be months before the cull started.”

You might think an accurate headline would  have been ‘Deer Cull could be months away’ – not ‘Deer Cull Off – For Now’

If you are not yet sufficiently confused as to if/when a cull will take place and whether or not the tree scheme has the funding and business community support, someone else at the City has further muddied the waters.

A councillor has been told by yet another anonymous person that no cull will start until after the trees are planted, and that won’t happen for months.  Of all the oddball anonymous City leaks, this one takes some beating.  This calls for a brief diversion as to what we are actually looking at in terms of deer per tree sapling.

First, the Forestry Commission letter – sent by me to both the Press & Journal months ago, says the previous planting which cost the taxpayer £43,800 failed due to deer browing and weeds.  Yes, and weeds.  Somehow, the city and the P&J only mention the deer as being the cause of failure.  Weeding 89,000 trees sounds like quite a job to me – I do hope they have it all planned out.

The Evening Express do write:

“And the council had to hand over £43,831 paid out by Forestry commission Scotland after it failed to protect the trees in Tullos”

But other news reports seem to pin the entire failure of the previous planting on the deer alone.

The press inaccuracies go on and on.  For instance, ‘hundreds’ signed petitions according to the Evening Express.  The figure I supplied and can document is 2,400+, (not counting community councils which represent thousands more).

Speaking of community councils, one of our city rangers has put it about that the community councils are favouring the planting and the cull.  He surely must know this is inaccurate.  I will be seeking an immediate explanation and if necessary a retraction from him and an explanation – that’s if some of the community councils don’t beat me to it.  I have read many of the community council letters of protest to the city:  the community councils are not happy.

The press make little mention of how the deer cull was planned in November but left out of the phase 2 consultation (which in its mention of rabbit management made everyone I’ve spoken with assume rabbits were the only obstacle.  Why on earth mention rabbit fencing when you are planning to shoot deer – if not to get your consultation to sail past the public?).

If the City and the mainstream press wonder why people do not trust them to deliver facts about the cull now, they need look no further than this first initial manipulation.

The new maths

I pointed out the absurdity of the City’s need to cull the deer many times, including the initial plan for 40,000 trees.  This would have had the 29 deer all chomping some 1,379 tree saplings.  But the tree figure suddenly grew (no pun intended) to Ms Watt’s claim of some 89,000 trees.

This makes our tiny deer (which live 6-7 years on average) eating 3,068 trees each.  But the Council plan to kill some 9 deer this season (unless they have changed their collective mind again) – and continue killing for years to come.  Look at the figures again:  20 deer eating 40,000 trees is 2,000 trees per deer.  Those must be hungry deer, but they are as nothing compared to 20 deer eating 89,000 trees:  this calculates to a stag-gering (pun intended) 4,450 trees per deer on Tullos Hill.  Now this is food for thought.

But the press / city leaks don’t’ stop coming.

For some reason, most of the people telling us not to worry about any cull at present are anonymous. When the tree scheme was first announced, politicians and council officials were all very keen to get their names in the news – Aileen Malone said how great everything would be for one example.

If no funding is in place, then the council wasted some serious money on its full colour advertising in the Aberdeen Citizen earlier this month. It was saying how great the tree scheme was. The ad encouraged local schools to help plant trees, and told local businesses to help, implying that the C02 offsetting benefits could help with their C02 targets.

Why would they place this ad and ask for help and sponsorship if they didn’t have funding?

The hunting – or legal hunting – season is not a very long one; this further makes me question assertions that nothing will happen for months.  The initial SNH letter of November 2010 recommends careful ‘handling’ of the public’.  Do you have the feeling we’re being handled – and possibly mis-handled?

Who is telling the truth – the city spokeswoman who said the earliest the killing can start is Saturday 1 October, the City spokesman who indicated there is no funding in place and a cull won’t start soon, the claim that the cull is delayed by two weeks because of lack of funding, or the third anonymous city person who said the killing won’t start until the trees are planted?

I would dearly love to tell you the truth about the financials (have we hired a hunter?  What is the cost of the scheme from start to finish?  Why do some documents say there will be income from trees but other officials deny the same assertion?).  The fact is I asked for this information months ago – only for Valerie Watts to write back asking me to explain what I meant by ‘financials’. (in an email that mysteriously never got to me until I chased it about a month later).  I have looked for the truth and feel as if I have been deliberately misled.

When she finally answers me, I will update the position.

In any event, I would recommend everyone who cares about this issue to start spending as much time walking Tullos Hill as they can – wearing bright clothing obviously.  If you see a hunter, be safe and get away – but please then get in touch with the Aberdeen Voice straight away.

Please read news stories and listen to rumour with care. And please if you have time ask your community council and elected officials exactly what is going on.  I for one would absolutely love to know.

Sep 232011
 

Old Susannah looks back at the week that was. By Suzanne Kelly.

Old Susannah is enjoying a glass of ‘Hello… my name is Ingrid’ (a beautiful brew made with cloudberry) at Brewdog, and is reflecting on another busy week in the Deen.
There was the Periurban conference for one thing. This was announced last minute on the City’s website.
It was an international conference on how cities deal with land on the fringes of the urban areas. I guess people from around the world came to see how wonderfully Aberdeen treats Union Terrace Gardens, Tullos Hill, green space at Westhill and Cove, and Loirston Loch.

The two-day conference was opened by the pioneering champion of all things green: Kate Dean.

I sent in an application, and then found myself invited to the second day’s events. For some reason it seemed they didn’t want me on the first day. I heard lots of important speakers, most of whom said urban sprawl is a problem, and we must all use less resources and re-use what we can. Someone even said ‘planting trees is not a solution’ – Cllr HoMalone please take note.

We heard about city centres emptying out if there is too much urban sprawl, with shops closing and crime and social deprivation becoming a problem. I was just surprised no one from Aberdeen explained how our ‘improving’ Union Terrace Gardens into a car park, ‘cosmopolitan cafe’, the hoped-for monorail and building in the greenbelt were going to save the day. I would have loved to have heard it. 

One City Council official kept turning around in their seat to look at me; for some reason they almost looked worried I was there. Could it have been the ‘Save the Tullos Deer’ t-shirt I wore under my suit jacket?

Someone was there from a local green charity, and somehow I brought up the deer cull situation (my t-shirt might have helped). The person had no idea why the Scottish SPCA was against the cull and what the other issues were. I happily explained.

Elsewhere in the Deen, someone has decided to leave a cat in a wheelie bin. Perhaps they want as much media attention as the woman from Coventry got? You may remember Mary Bale who cruelly left a cat in a bin for hours on end and was caught out. Let’s see if we can’t find the Aberdeen copycat cat botherer and do for them what the press did for Bale.

It would likewise be a shame if shamed Banff Brothers David and Colin Reid of 22 Boyndie Street West, Banff, got any bad press for their dogfighting activity conviction and jail sentences.

This is the Scottish SPCA’s first major dogfighting conviction in Aberdeenshire (where officials denied there was a problem, you may recall), and it is cause for celebration.  The Reids must know something about other dog fighters – let’s hope they roll over.  Thankfully, some of the dogs they were abusing have been rescued.

But anyway, here I am in Brewdog wondering what to write about this week.

I am looking at a recent Press & Journal headline which screams in giant letters: ‘IS THIS THE MOST HATED MAN IN SCOTLAND?‘ As I am always happy to follow where the P&J leads, so let’s skip definitions this week and take a look at the most hated man in Scotland instead. 

Imagine one man using the legal system to the maximum for his own self-interested ends. Imagine him standing alone, unwilling to listen to the thousands of people who want him to abandon the battle.

Imagine for a minute how much taxpayer money and court time he is willing to use up.

Yes, Mr Milne may well be the most hated man in Scotland. For openers there is the legal battle which he’s taking all the way to the highest court in the UK. For those who don’t know, Milne bought land from the City Council – 11 acres in Westhill – for some £335,000. (By the way, who do the rest of us have to know to get deals like that? Jane – can you help?). The land is worth millions.

Apparently Milne agreed with the City to pay a portion of any sale/rental profit to the City. In a really sharp, not at all transparent move, the land was sold from one arm of the vast Milne empire to another Milne company. As you’d expect, such a deal cost over £500,000 to do. Or so Milne claims when his companies say there was no profit left after the sale.  Seems pretty clear to me.

Yes, Milne is appealing (but not to most of us).

You’d have thought that our very generous Council wouldn’t go bothering Stew for a mere 1.7 million pounds (goodness knows the City can waste that much with ease), but it seems the City will be trying to claw back the money.

The courts found in the City’s favour – but Milne would rather drag us on through the legal system and cost the taxpayer more money than shell out.

Yes, Milne is appealing (but not to most of us). Of course if you weigh this against all the associated costs, then there probably won’t be much financial gain. Here’s a clever idea: let’s stop selling our assets at less money than they are worth. Who knows?  We might wind up less than the £50 million in debt we currently are.  But back to Milne.

We come to the subject of the once-beautiful game. Someone’s decided it’s much better to do land deals than try and win matches.

Milne will develop Pittodrie (which could have been rennovated – this has been done elsewhere in the UK) and build in the greenbelt well out of town.  Loirston Loch will be greatly improved by the new stadium. What the remaining wildlife will make of the lack of land, the cars, the additional pollution and inevitable trash is another matter.

I wonder what it’s like to be less popular than the Donald? Will the Dons become the Donalds?

The bottom line is the stadium will glow in the dark (!) and we can have Elton John and Rod Stewart concerts!. (Who cares that two BBC stories this week prove another link between ill health and car exhaust fumes, and Scotland’s wildlife continues to diminish?)

You would have thought that AFC fans would be jumping for joy at the chance to drive/bus/walk to Loirston. Instead, many of them want Milne to jump ship. Things are so desperate that some fans are actively inviting Donald Trump to invest in the club.  Ouch.

I wonder what it’s like to be less popular than the Donald? Will the Dons become the Donalds? Mr Milne might want to stay away from Facebook or AFC fan sites for a wee while, where there is just a hint of dissatisfaction. Such ingratitude – and after all he’s done to us. Sorry – I mean ‘for us’.

Stew’s not very popular in the city centre either. In his proposal for Triple Kirks, he’s promised us more office buildings. Result!

So who’d have thought that putting two glass box buildings next to the Triple Kirk spire (and probably chasing those pesky peregrine falcons away in the process) could make you unpopular? There will be office space – and who wants anything more than more office space?

I’m afraid to say Mr Milne is now as popular with golfers as fox-batterer Forbes would be at an animal rights meeting.

The only problem is parking (not that that is hindering him developing Pittodrie or in creating the stadium – neither has adequate parking in their plans). Where on earth will Stew find any parking solutions close to Triple Kirks? If only there was some empty, under-used space nearby – maybe something that ‘only has grass’ in it. He could have car parking, the offices would go ahead without a hitch, he’d rake in some money.

People would be amazingly grateful: we would get parking, shopping and ‘cosmopolitan cafes’ – where we can sit and drink coffee year round and be, er, cosmopolitan. If only Stew or his pal Ian could think of some solution to the problem, it would mean more money for Milne. There are some people who think the consultation should have been handled by the city with a lengthy consultation, and that the listed status of Triple Kirks carried a bit of weight.  These people were of course wrong.

And let’s face it: Milne could be low on cash.  Am I alone in thinking he’s short?  He’s chasing a mere 1.7 million through the courts (when he’s supposedly worth about 60 million). He’s about to lay off workers up and down Scotland – he says he can’t afford them.

Perhaps he expanded a bit too quickly? Perhaps he thought new building would continue for ever? Well – with our City Council it just might.

It seems a little ironic that the City is giving Milne contracts (some recent ones total over ten million) while he is both dragging the city through the courts and firing Aberdonians in the building trade. But the people who are in charge know best. 

For reasons of space, I’ll limit this to just one more aspect of the man’s popularity. I’m afraid to say Mr Milne is now as popular with golfers as fox-batterer Forbes would be at an animal rights meeting. It seems that the Portlethen community council and those who use Portlethen Golf Club are up in arms over Milne’s plans to build 153 houses so close to the course that there may be a few problems. Safe to say, people are teed off.

There you have it. The Press & Journal had their own front-page suggestion for ‘the most hated man in Scotland.’ Some of us have a different candidate for that title.

Last word: City Council employees: stop criticising your wonderful employers and managers on the Intranet. First: they don’t like it and are drafting all kinds of means to stop your free speech. Second: that’s my job. I understand they may participate in a 24-hour ‘tweeting’ session to say what excellent services they’ve got going. You are cordially uninvited to tweet back.

Sep 222011
 

It’s the debate we weren’t supposed to hear, it seems, and there is suspicion that the full facts were held back from publication to Aberdeen residents. Public opposition to a controversial scheme seems to be growing. With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

Local campaigners, opposed to Aberdeen City Council’s cull of the Tullos Hill roe deer, have placed advertisements in the local press and launched a postcard campaign.

The first advert appeared in Aberdeen’s Evening Express on 7 September, and it appears again in the 21 September issue of Aberdeen Citizen.

Campaigners will also be out in force in Aberdeen city centre this Saturday (24 September).

“The City Council may think they can go ahead with the cull of the roe deer unnoticed,” campaigner Suzanne Kelly said, “but the truth is the opposition is growing daily. People are watching the hill and reporting anything that might indicate a cull.”

A postcard campaign with a strong graphic encourages people to write to Aberdeen City Council Chief Executive, Valerie Watts.

The advertising campaign spells out some of the many reasons why opponents are so fierce in condemning the Council’s plans. These reasons include:

  • The cull was already being planned (as per correspondence in November 2010 between Aberdeen City Council and Scottish Natural Heritage) but was kept out of the Phase 2 public consultation. This consultation mentioned rabbits and therefore gave the impression that these were the only species affected by the massive tree plantation. Current public objections would have been made during the consultation had the public been properly informed that a cull was planned. Many people therefore feel misled by the Council and the scheme’s main proponent, Councillor Aileen Malone.
  • The Scottish SPCA calls the cull ‘abhorrent and absurd’ – to kill animals to protect trees that aren’t even planted and which could go elsewhere, is wrong. They will support culling only for animal welfare reasons
  • The City Council recently had to return £43,800 to the Forestry Commission for a failed planting on Tullos Hill. It certainly seems the Council tried to keep that information under wraps. Taxpayers could spend over £100,000 if further planting goes wrong, according to the Forestry Commission
  • Since the cull was made public, several community councils, representing tens of thousands of local residents, condemned it and complained about the lack of proper consultation. Over 2,400 people locally signed petitions, and hundreds of letters of protest were sent to the Council. Still the Council refuses to back down
  • The Council has turned down or ignored offers from experts including Animal Concern to provide other non-lethal solutions, of which there are many
  • There is already an eco-system on Tullos Hill which includes flora and fauna; changing it makes no sense

A hunter in camouflage gear with a gun on Tullos Hill was reported to police by a dog-walker on 5 September, but the police are neither confirming the report nor supplying any further information at present.

Earlier this month, the City Council mentioned the tree planting scheme, but not the deer cull, in a full colour, four page Aberdeen Citizen supplement touting its environmental credentials.  Campaigners against the cull have not yet been able to find out the cost to the public of this supplement.

Anyone opposed to this cull or who wants further information can contact: www.tullosdeer@yahoo.co.uk

“The response the advertisement received when first launched was overwhelming; the email inbox is overflowing with people – 100% of whom oppose the Council’s plans and the handling of the whole affair. I do hope that commonsense will prevail and this scheme will be altered to spare the deer. With a previous planting on the hill already costing the taxpayer £43,800 – the City must come up with a better plan and halt this senseless cull,” said Kelly.

The cull could begin in October this year; it is likely that the killing would continue for several years.

Aug 042011
 

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

Tartan Day.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Association of Community Councils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Streamline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Direct Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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