Apr 042014
 

With thanks to Dave Macdermid.

NEWSLINE MEDIA LIMITED

Left to right: BP employees Lindsay Smith, Bridget Phimister, Tim Smith, Linda Hodgson. Newsline Media limited.

Staff from energy giant BP have been hard at work in Aberdeen’s Duthie Park, planting hundreds of new Pony Park trees as part of their support for the Friends of Duthie Park.

BP is an enthusiastic supporter of Duthie Park and, in addition to purchasing trees on behalf of the ’Friends’, sponsored last year’s annual Christmas Concert, staged within the Winter Gardens.

Tim Smith, Vice President of Communications & External Affairs at BP, said:

“We are delighted to be able to support the great work both Aberdeen City Council and the Friends of Duthie Park are doing to restore the park to its former glory. In time, the trees we have sponsored and planted will make a real difference to visitors’ experience of this area of the park.”

Chairman of the Friends of Duthie Park Tony Dawson added:

“The support we receive from BP and others from within the private sector is really appreciated and makes a substantial difference within the park, which last year recorded record visitor numbers. Thanks to the efforts of BP and our other partners, I am confident visitor numbers will continue to increase going forward.”

The trees planted by BP staff included Oak, Scots Pine, Beech, Birch, Larch and Willow, all of which are native to Scotland.

Further information can be found at www.friendsofduthiepark.co.uk

Feb 282014
 

duthiebandstandThmWith thanks to Dave Macdermid.

This year’s Friends of Duthie Park Annual General Meeting will be held within the sunken area of the David Welch Winter Gardens on Tuesday evening (4th March) at 7 pm.

On the same day, the organisation will unveil its brand new website which has been donated by media and communications agency AVC Media.

The AGM is open to members and non-members and those present will be treated to a presentation updating activity within the Park over the past twelve months in addition to sponsorship opportunities available for local businesses.

FODP Chairman Tony Dawson is delighted to add AVC Media to the list of well known local organisations that are supporting one of the north east’s most loved attractions.

“All of the monies raised by the Friends are reinvested within the Park and the fantastic support we receive from business means we can undertake more projects to benefit visitors to what is such a lovely place.

“Spencer Buchan and the team at AVC Media have been a pleasure to work with and the website they have designed for us is fabulous. We want the Friends website to be the first port of call for anyone to find out what is happening within Duthie Park so it a hugely important communication tool for us.”

AVC Media managing director Spencer Buchan said the firm was only too delighted to help out. He said:

“Friends of Duthie Park is a great local organisation dedicated to helping look after one of Aberdeen’s best public parks and we were only too happy to design and build its website.

“Our talented team wanted to reflect the fantastic work carried out by FODP and let people know about it through a great website.”

The Duthie Park is one of the most popular parks in Scotland, with over half a million visitors every year. It was bequeathed to the city by Miss Elizabeth Crombie Duthie in remembrance of her brother and uncle and was opened in 1883 by Princess Beatrix. Its historical significance as one of the finest examples of a late Victorian public park has led to its inclusion in Historic Scotland’s Inventory of Designed Landscapes and Gardens.

The recent restoration and reconstruction of some of the lost features was inspired by old written and photographic sources and was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Aberdeen City Council. The official reopening of Duthie Park took place on 30th June last year.

Among the other companies to assist the Friends are BP, Ocean Installer, Craig Group, and Ben Reid.

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Nov 142013
 

By Bob Smith.

Union Bridge & Terrace 1900 flat

In een o Scotia’s bonniest cities
Live fowk fae fair git on yer titties
Wintin the toon tae chynge it’s wyes
Wi ugly biggins tae be the prize
.
Leuk at oor glorious granite face
Fou o character an fou o grace
Fin the sun shines on the steen
Ye ken yer bidin in Aiberdeen
.
Union Street biggins they jist micht
Be in great need o a gweed dicht
Tae reveal the silvery granite glint
Aat generations o fowk hiv kent
.
Bonnie parks an gairdens are aa aroon
There’s een in the cinter o the toon
Bit a local mannie fa his lots o cash
Wid Union Terrace Gairdens like tae trash
The toon it staans twixt Don an Dee
Twa rivers fa flow tae the sea
Throwe kwintraside they pass first
Syne feed the grey north sea’s thirst
.
A toon full o majestic spires
A city aat his some deniers
An wint the toon mair tae be
Like Houston or New York maybe
.
Bit Aiberdeen needs tae be Aiberdeen
Wi the couthiest fowk ye’ve ivver seen
Faa in their toonie tak great pride
An winna be takken fer a ride
.
So Widdie, Muse an Stewartie Milne
Tho’ fowk micht nae wish ye ill
Jist bugger aff an leave things be
In the bonnie toon twixt Don an Dee

© Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2013

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Oct 172013
 

The controversy over Union Terrace Gardens has flared up again and, as per form, the usual agendas, fact-free PR and emotional twaddle is to the fore. So what’s going on? Mike Shepherd writes.

utgrailpicLet’s start with the John Halliday plans that have been so much in the local papers recently. John Halliday is a local architect and is the Halliday as in Halliday – Fraser – Munro, the company that drew up the original technical feasibility study for the City Garden Project.
They also created the plans for the Triple Kirks office block and the proposed Muse development on the St Nicholas House site.

John Halliday provided the plans pro bono as an illustration of what could be done with the gardens. They were not commissioned by anyone, e.g. the Council or Sir Ian Wood.

His focus has been on moving the railway station buildings to an area under and around Union Bridge. This would allow direct escalator / lift access to the station from Union Street via the north side of the bridge (and is actually not a bad idea).

He also envisages decking over the road and existing railway. The lower level of Union Terrace Gardens would be raised to accommodate access to the station from the HM Theatre side and to also include a station car park and taxi rank.

The Halliday plans drew fulsome praise from both Aberdeen Journals; the Evening Express in particular using the plans as a centrepiece for a “Let’s mend Aberdeen’s Broken Heart” campaign lasting several weeks.

The plans also drew support from an assortment of councillors and Alex Salmond. The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens (FoUTG) had been asked to comment by the Evening Express, although we told them we would reserve judgement until we found out more about the plans and had discussed them at our AGM, held last Saturday.

The Halliday plans achieved an amazing first in the UTG controversy: both the FoUTG and Sir Ian Wood were in agreement: Neither of us liked them.The Friends group rejected them as they meant building in the park (and once you concede the principle, when would this stop?)

Sir Ian Wood told the Evening Express on Wednesday that a car park would be the wrong use of space created by decking over the gardens. The billionaire seems to be envisaging a modified version of the original City Square Project; this description is from part of a press release that was reposted on Facebook:

“He does believe it is possible to cover the road and railway and then raise the gardens to the level of the existing arches on the west side and to the level of the raised decking over the road and railway and Belmont Street on the east.

“This would make them accessible and permeable from the adjacent streets and ensure the whole area becomes an integral part of the new city centre heart, with walk on access virtually all the way round. Some sloping topography would be respected with the level difference between Union Terrace and the arches with easy step access from Union Terrace and Rosemount Viaduct.

“The main visual features of the Victorian gardens could be maintained but as a more useable, accessible part of the city centre, helping regenerate Union Street and connecting north-south and east-west.

“For a city centre regeneration project to secure Wood Family Trust funds it must be truly transformational as described above, supported by the public and led by the City Council. If the council were to explore a development on this basis, they would be prepared to provide appropriate funding support. Hopefully a Government tax incremental financing (TIF) scheme might also be available.”

According to the Press and Journal, Sir Ian Wood was offering an ‘olive branch’ to the council in that a little dimple sitting on top of a subterranean structure could be styled as a ‘Victorian garden’.  This was in no doubt in response to Barney Crockett’s statement that whatever happens, a Victorian garden must remain in Union Terrace Gardens.

UTG Rowan

A rowan tree in Union Terrace Gardens. The rowan is believed by some to offer protection against malevolent beings.

If all the noise and breast-beating in the Aberdeen Journals were to be taken literally, the John Halliday and Sir Ian Wood plans are ostensibly the only show in town.

Less stridently mentioned are FoUTG’s modest plans to restore the park and the fact that Aberdeen Council are also working on a plan for the city centre that includes Union Terrace Gardens.

We don’t know much about these plans. They will be made public at the end of the month.

 

Suffice to say from what Barney Crockett mentioned at the Friends AGM, Robert Gordon’s University seem to have been involved in some shape of form.

Barney also repeated his statement that a Victorian garden will be present but was careful not to reveal too much detail and hinted that there could be some changes in the gardens.

It also sounds as if the idea of creating access to the railway station down from the north side of Union Bridge is in favour. It looks as if the council intends to try and build a consensus on their scheme with extensive consultation with interested parties. This is planned to include both FoUTG and Sir Ian Wood.

It remains to be seen what will happen in the current, somewhat heated, situation. The pressure is building up on the council administration.

Sir Ian Wood is making a last ditch attempt to save a version of his city square project. He is being aided in this by the one-sided support of the Aberdeen Journals, the P&J in particular being largely vociferous in his favour.

The Conservative councillors, who share the city administration with Labour and the independents, want to see what they refer to as the “transformation” of the gardens and not just round the edges either.

UTG train - Credit: Mike ShepherdOn the other hand, the Labour Group have the good will of many in the city over the act of ditching the business plan for the City Garden Project last year. They will not want to lose this.

Another factor is that council budgets are under severe pressure, not the least because the council have to find £75 million to fund the bypass. More cuts are likely in the medium to long term and it’s obvious to the dispassionate observer that an expensive city centre construction project should not be anywhere near the council’s top priority for expenditure.

A rational solution is to spend some money on improving the gardens but not a great deal. They don’t really need many millions spent on them to bring about a city centre heart that everybody can be proud of.

Unfortunately logic and reason on most things UTG flew out the window years ago. Here’s hoping common sense returns before long.

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Oct 112013
 

UTG FlowersThe Friends of Union Terrace Gardens (FOUTG) AGM will be held in the Belmont Cinema on Saturday 12 October. The session starts at 10.30am, although you are well advised to be there from 10am. Mike Shepherd writes.

Apart from the usual formalities, we will have two special sessions.
First of all, we will discuss in open forum the John Halliday proposal for the Denburn and will be canvassing opinion on this. At first glance, this looks like the Millennium Scheme, which would have decked over the road and railway, leaving the Gardens relatively intact.

It has been getting favourable responses from the usual commentators such as Aberdeen Journals.

FOUTG however, has unearthed more details which we will share. The feedback on this will be made public.

Secondly, we will be joined by Barney Crockett, leader of the Aberdeen City Council administration, offering the chance for members to ask Barney questions on the administration’s stance on the Gardens. Barney has gone on public record as saying that whatever happens to the city centre, the park will remain as Victorian gardens.

This AGM marks a transition in the focus of the Friends group. We do hope that our campaigning days are over and we now move forward as a stakeholder in the Gardens’ future, aiming to attract funds for the park and helping to encourage its full use.

Various initiatives in this regard will be announced by chairperson Robin McIntosh at the AGM.

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Aug 152013
 

With thanks to Dave Macdermid.

The third Open Day organised by the Friends of Duthie Park, and the first since completion of the park’s major restoration work, takes place on Sunday 18 August, from noon until 4 pm.

It will be an afternoon of chock-full of family-friendly entertainment, explains chairman Tony Dawson.

“The Bon Accord Silver Band will be performing at the Bandstand between noon and 2 pm, whilst there will be various acts on the temporary stage in front of the Winter Garden including Uniform, Spindrift and The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society.

“In the sunken area, we’ll have bokwa, zumba and power-hoops demonstrations and there will magicians and face-painters as well.

“At our own stall, we’ll be encouraging people to join the Friends and purchase our 2014 calendar, produced in association with the Craig Group. And, of course Spike and McPuddick will both be there too.

“Last year more than 3000 attended and with the interest in the park following the completion of the restoration, we will be disappointed if we don’t top that number this weekend.”

Other attractions will include children’s rides, paddle boats, vintage vehicles and demonstrations of woodturning and military fitness. The Dons Community Department will be there and Wrestlezone Scotland will be performing at 2 pm.

Tours to show off the park’s restoration work will run at 1 pm and 3 pm.

The full timetable for the day is at www.friendsofduthiepark.co.uk

 

 

Feb 212013
 

With thanks to Dave Macdermid.

This year’s Friends of Duthie Park AGM will be held within the sunken area of the Winter Gardens on Tuesday 5th March at 7 pm.

Included in the event will be an update on the restoration work being undertaken in the park which is scheduled for completion shortly.

Members and non members are welcome to attend.

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Jan 242013
 

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

Another busy week in Aberdeen passed in a flurry of activity, culminating in the excellent BrewDog party celebrating the new factory opening. Live band Little Kicks were great, and so were the BrewDog crew.
A team assigned to the outdoor barbeque were positively heroic; hundreds were fed delicious food irrespective of the raging snow. A good time was had by all.

In the news this week are several stories involving common sense. Firstly, the elegant, ladylike, cerebral polymath Helen Flanagan, celebrated Coronation Street actress and model, told the press she is unhappy at being thought of as being a brainless, big-breasted airhead.

She has illustrated her intelligence and sensitivity with acts such as posing with a gun to her head days after a US gun spree left dozens dead. 

Also supporting the view of her as an intellectual, the article in which she claims to be a misunderstood genius is accompanied by a photo of her half-dressed. Brains, and talent, too.

Like most of us, I’ve been watching the ACSEF website with great anticipation for the the latest meeting minutes just as eagerly as I wait for the next episode of Coronation Street. I’m sure that when I last looked about a fortnight ago, there were only the June 2012 minutes out. But to my great joy and excitement, I see that the September AND October Minutes are out! Result!

These minutes, recently added to the hallowed ACSEF website, serve as a reminder to our elected officials to not step out of line. It is important they understand power structures and their place in the system.

ACSEF is, quite rightly, calling Barney Crocket to in effect ‘explain to the class’ how it will be possible to renew our city centre if we don’t turn our only green space into a concrete – sorry granite-clad concrete – web. He and Gordon McIntosh must do so at the December ACSEF board meeting.

Just to clarify, Barney is the leader of the duly-elected majority in local government, and ACSEF are quango hangers-on, some from self-promoting business backgrounds and others from yet more quangos, paid for by city and shire taxpayers.   I guess Barney better learn his place. This is what the minutes said (but no doubt you’ll rush off to read them, too):

“Councillor Crockett… confirmed Aberdeen City Council’s alignment with the ACSEF Action Plan and vision [what is that?], but highlighted the need for the ACSEF Board to take account of the City Garden Project decision.

“The Board questioned how the desired outcome of regenerating and improving the attractiveness of the city centre, which the City Garden Project had sought to deliver, might be achieved without this and other key linked projects.

“The critical importance of anchoring the oil and gas supply chain in the area for the long term and role city centre regeneration could play to support this was stressed.   It was suggested and agreed that a presentation and paper be provided to the December Board meeting outlining how the City Council planned to address the aim of city centre regeneration.”

I am very pleased our elected representative has to explain to ACSEF, including Stewart Milne, why Milne won’t be getting the web he relies on to make his beautiful glass box Triple Kirks offices a huge success (with parking). I might not be clever enough to be able to see how a granite web will anchor the oil business here (where it needs to be logistically anyway) – perhaps I should ask Helen Flanagan to explain?

Elsewhere the minutes show that ACSEF plans to dictate policy to the city and shire councils whether on housing or education. We can all sleep easily.

By the way, I’d actually love to stop writing about the web, or The Thing That Wouldn’t Die as it is more affectionately known.

Trouble is, the Press and Journal, and the other ugly sister, the Evening Express, won’t let me. They are going to try to print an article every other day forever on why the web will fix the problem of the changing face of retail. And all it will cost us is our Common Good land, fresh air, environment and our only city centre free recreation ground.

Yes, people around the world will stop going to visit Niagara Falls, the Taj Mahal and the Louvre and come instead to Aberdeen’s web, where they can shop in brand new, multinational shops. It is always a joy to see those acid-pastel coloured fantasy web sketches showing floating giant children over flowerbeds in a landscape free from any litter, graffiti or crime.

Makes my day. Keep running those beautiful photos and comments from leading businessmen, and I’ll keep praising them as they deserve. Today, it’s Mr Koot’s turn to be singled out for my admiration).

Multi-tasking: (modern English gerund) ability to competently do several things simultaneously.

You really have to hand it to Mr Koot, Taqa company’s supremo in Aberdeen. He’s found the time to tell the P&J this week how embarrassed he is by our city centre, and how the granite web is the answer to all our prayers. He told us this a few times now, but somehow it’s still newsworthy.

I conclude he must be a socio-economic whizz able to predict future marketing trends, concluding that internet retail is not the way to go, and shop-building is where it will be at. I am grateful, as we all are, for his relevant input into the web debate (even if some of us wish it would finally just go away).

He even generously wrote to his employees at the time of the referendum, telling them in a nice paternal way to vote for the web. Some people might equate getting an email telling them how to vote as taking serious liberties, coercion, intimidation, and using employment as a platform for propaganda.

I’m certain, however, he had nothing but the employee’s democratic rights and best interests at heart. This is what he wrote to staff in February before the vote:

“From a business point of view, this project is very important to economic and employment prospects in Aberdeen. It will help attract new energy industries and new companies to the City, and will provide a new city heart with significant garden, recreation and cultural amenities, with no additional cost to the Council Tax payer.”

Wow – you get something worth £140 million for free!  Why didn’t we do that again? Not only does he have the time to analyse what’s wrong with Aberdeen and tell people who depend on him for their livelihoods how to vote, he successfully runs Taqa, the Abu Dhabi oil firm.

Why do promotional web articles keep appearing with giant photos in my Press and Journal?

I guess anyone can drop the ball. As you might have noted in the news, Taqa had a wee problem this week when hydrocarbons escaping from one of its platforms in the North Sea caused an evacuation and a shut-down of the North Sea Brent pipelines. This was rather large in the news from 13-15 January.

Still, this talented master of multi-tasking found time to run the oil firm and campaign strenuously for the granite web since at least 2010. In fact, less than one week after the financially disastrous Taqa North Sea incident, Koot still found time to get into the P&J to say how embarrassed he was by our city centre, and the web was the answer. I guess you have to decide where your priorities lie – a huge North Sea oil problem and its aftermath, or the web.

Taqa is sending Koot to Iraq.

Just one more thing: you could ask yourself: “Why do promotional web articles keep appearing with giant photos in my P&J?” Is there perhaps a public relations agency, toiling away with no thought of monetary reward but interested in getting a web built?

Is there a PR agency writing these releases getting paid from somewhere, perhaps the unelected group Vote for the City Gardens Project (aka Stewart Milne and mates)?

I personally hope we find out that ACSEF is paying for all this, using our taxpayer money where it will do the most good. Perhaps we should ask our elected officials to look into this? We could ask ACSEF, of course. I’m sure they’ll be happy to clarify.

Gross misconduct: (Eng. compound noun, legal) severe negligence in the course of one’s given duties.

We have seen in our area nurses struck off for drug offences, abusing patients, stealing, even having inappropriate relationships with psychiatric patients. Two stories of nurses were in this week’s local papers.  One was a nurse who found a child wandering around, presumably after being left alone in a car.

Details are unclear; she should have called the police and stayed with the child it seems. She did, however, ensure the child’s safety.

Elsewhere, a convicted wife killer, suspected of also killing his first wife is fighting for his nursing license (should he ever get out of jail). Proven to be a mercenary, cold-blooded killer and pathological liar, he thinks he should be allowed to continue in the caring profession.

One of these has been struck off permanently; one will have some form of hearing from the Royal College of Nursing.

The Nursing body wants to remind everyone how seriously it takes striking a nurse off like it has done in this case, and told the press such action is never taken lightly. Can you guess which nurse’s career is over?  That’s right, the murderer may remain, for now, a nurse; the other person has been struck off. Great system we’re running here.

Time for me to get back to the ACSEF website! More next week, perhaps a look at the serious mistake Glasgow’s made by rejecting designs for George Square. Have they ever considered the benefits of a granite web, I wonder?

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Aug 212012
 

‘What lies beneath?’ is a question which should be asked about Union Terrace Gardens, not least by those who wish to build underground structures there.  Aside from the roots of 250-year-old trees and rich soil which helps prevent city centre flooding, we have the now underground Den Burn.  Jake Williams shares his thoughts.

The stairs of Rosemount Library in Aberdeen used to be lined with framed pictures, either photos or line drawings, of Aberdeen from bygone times.
The one that I remember was from sometime in the 1800s, showing Union Terrace Gardens before Union Terrace Gardens was there. It was a view looking north from the Union Street bridge, but there was no park, no theatre and no railway line.

Three decades later, the accuracy of my recollection isn’t guaranteed, but I remember looking at a row of cottages on the right where Belmont Street is now, and another row on the left where Union Terrace is now.

The houses all had long thin gardens with drying greens right down to the Den Burn, which flowed straight down the middle of the picture, and there was a hump-backed bridge and a few wee wooden bridges over the burn. Union Bridge was opened in 1805, and the railway was built about 1867, so the picture must have been drawn between these dates. The gardens were laid out about 1879 [I got the dates from Wikipedia].

The name of the Den Burn is perpetuated by the street and the health centre named after it, but the existence of the burn itself is nearly forgotten, having been underground for most of its length for the last 150 years.

It starts somewhere near Westhill, passes Woodend Hospital, and I believe it still runs through the back gardens of the big houses in Rubislaw Den. Near Queen’s Cross it is in a deep stone-lined channel, visible from some of the streets and lanes around Osborne Place.

One summer about 1980, during a dry spell when there wasn’t much water in the burn, my pal Chris and I went an adventure. We scrambled down into the wee canyon where the burn ran along the side of the Grampian TV studio at  Queen’s Cross and walked downstream in our wellies.

Soon the burn went  underground and we carried on with torches. It was like the films where the heroes are journeying through a city’s Victorian sewers: a tunnel of red bricks arching over our heads, with enough headroom to walk upright.

they must have built the brick tunnel right up to the side of the bridge

Here and there were ladders going up to a heavy steel manhole cover, and we could keek through the keyhole and try to work out where we were, from a limited view of the upper part of some building. We weren’t tempted to try and push up the cover, as we were probably in the middle of the road.

We must have crossed under Rosemount Viaduct and under Spa street and down round the back of the theatre, because we looked out from the keyhole of a manhole and saw trees: we were in between Union Terrace Gardens and the railway.

A little further on there was a bit where the roof of the tunnel was different.  Instead of red bricks, it was old stone masonry. It was the hump-back bridge that was in the picture on the library stairs. When they covered over the burn, they must have built the brick tunnel right up to the side of the bridge, left the bridge as it was, and carried on the tunnel from the other side of the bridge.

We didn’t go much further. The  water was getting deeper and moving faster and we didn’t fancy getting swept off our feet and into a cold wet grave somewhere near the harbour.

I went into the library recently to ask about the old pictures of the Denburn valley. They have a few pictures but not quite like I remember.  One is looking from the north towards Union Street, and it does show a wee stone bridge over the burn, but it looks more graceful than the bridge in  the tunnel, more of a sweeping curve than a hump-back.

Maybe there were two stone bridges? The library’s internet archive www.sivercityvault.org.uk has a few pictures, too.

The proposal to fill-in the gardens for another shopping centre may never come true if they can’t raise the necessary millions, or if there’s a  change of political power in the council. My proposal for improving the gardens is to exhume the Den Burn from its tunnel, and let the old stone  bridge see daylight again.

Reference:

http://www.silvercityvault.org.uk/index.phpa
also photos 691 , 747, 748, 891 from www.silvercityvault.org.uk

Aug 092012
 

Hall Harper looks at what ‘listing’ a building really means.  Photographs Sarah Lynn.

In 1990, the Civic Trust of Scotland first inaugurated an Open Doors Day in Glasgow and Ayr as part of that year’s European City of Culture celebrations. Since then, the number of participating towns and cities has increased until now almost every area in Scotland has an Open Doors Day during which free access is allowed to various public buildings.

To decide which buildings will be included each year, the CTS invites the general public to nominate those buildings that they would be interested in seeing, with each local programme being created and managed by the Area Co-ordinator.

This year a number of people suggested that the Open Doors Day in September should include the Aberdeen City Council (ACC) owned, Category B listed, Victorian toilets in Union Terrace Gardens; a site that, according to CTS’s Project Co-ordinator, Abigail Daly, was one in which there was a lot of interest.  Despite this, however, she last week contacted those who had proposed the toilets to tell them that they are not being included in this year’s programme.

In her email she advised that CTS had asked the local co-ordinator, who is an employee of ACC, to make enquiries regarding the condition of the building and whether access would be possible, but that:

“Unfortunately we didn’t hear back in time for the inclusion of the site into this year’s programme, although we know there is a lot of enthusiasm and interest from members of the public.” 

Following this, Sarah Lynn, a concerned member of the public, found last weekend that it was possible to simply walk into the ladies toilets in Union Terrace Gardens as they had been left open, apparently to allow traders from the International Market to access water.  What she saw there was, she said, disgusting “… and made me want to cry, to be honest.”

She was also able to take some photographs in order that others can be made aware of the distressing state of this listed building.

Hearing this and seeing the pictures that Sarah had taken, got me thinking about what ‘listing’ a building actually means, so I had a look at Historic Scotland’s Guide to the Protection of Scotland’s Listed Buildings.

This publication covers a number of areas including listed building consent, planning permission, repairs and the Buildings at Risk Register.

Reading through the document, however, it appears that ‘listing’ is more about owners having to get permission before making changes to a listed building rather than placing any obligation on them to maintain and repair it.

Owners must, therefore:

“check with the planning authority whether listed building consent is required before [they] carry out any internal or external alterations to a listed building.”

And subsequently:

“If the proposed work is considered to have an adverse affect on the character of the building, the change may be discouraged and listed building consent may be refused by the planning authority.”

They will also be required to seek both planning permission and listed buildings consent if they, “wish to alter or extend a listed building in any way which would affect its character and [the] proposed alteration is included in development for which planning permission is required.”

When it comes to maintenance and repair, however, owners of listed buildings are only, “ encouraged to repair and maintain their property, just like the owners of any other buildings.”

The document goes on to record that:

“The legislation makes no express requirement for an owner to repair or maintain their property.  However, if an owner fails to keep a listed building in a reasonable state of repair, the planning authority may serve a Repairs Notice.  If an owner fails to comply with this notice, the planning authority, with the consent of Scottish Ministers, may be entitled to buy it by compulsory purchase.”

But in the case of the UTG toilets, the owner who has failed to keep the listed building in a reasonable state of repair also happens to be the planning authority – so I suspect there is little chance of any action being taken under this provision.

Turning to the section on the Buildings at Risk Register it notes that the Register:

“… has been in operation in Scotland since 1990 in response to a concern at the growing number of listed buildings and buildings in Conservation Areas, that were vacant and had fallen into a state of disrepair.”

A promising start.  But further reading of this section quickly dispels any hope that there might be some action possible as the register is really only a means to record buildings which are at risk, not one that will actually provide a level of authority that could require the owner to do something to reverse the situation.

As the document itself says:

“The Register acts as a valuable resource for initiatives aimed at helping to reduce the number of listed and historic buildings at risk and is one way to market a property to potential retailers at a price reflecting its condition.”

In other words, being on the register might result in a building’s purchase price being reduced to a level where a benefactor might be encouraged to buy and save it – but on the other hand …

Like most things these days, the Register is available online, and it is consequently extremely easy to check out which buildings in your area are ‘at risk’.  I had a look to see what was recorded for Aberdeen and noted that there are a total of 26 ‘at risk’ buildings registered in the city, 16 of which are parts of the category A listed Broadford Works in Maberley Street.

There are 26 ‘at risk’ buildings registered in the city

Yes, that’s right, the same Broadford Works in respect of which ACC recently served the owner with a Dangerous Buildings Notice that requires him carry out repair work and, if he doesn’t, the Council can carry out the work on his behalf and send him the bill.

Another case of don’t do as I do, do as I say?

So to sum up, it appears that we have a number of official organisations in place to keep records of old and valuable buildings, but no legislation in place that obliges their owners to preserve them.  Perhaps, given this situation, we can be forgiven for asking whether our heritage is safe in the hands of the bureaucrats, or whether the time has come for us to demand more of our public servants.