Oct 302018
 

Craig Chisholm reviews True North 2018. Photographs by Craig Chisholm.

Game Of Thrones’ Aiden Gillen pays tribute to the ‘Thin White Duke’  with David Bowie tribute, ‘Lady Stardust’.

True North returned once again to the heart of Aberdeen with another exciting bill that boasted an eclectic range of artists, a variety of venues, screenings of movies, informative talks and appreciative audiences over its four days.

The best new talents and hotly tipped newcomers shared stages with old pros and veteran performers – and even a ‘Game of Thrones’ star who was there to pay tribute to the late, great David Bowie.

Kicking off on the Thursday night, the Lemon Tree hosted an opening concert that boasted some of the best up and coming Scottish talent.

Opening the night, Glaswegian Zoe Graham provided a low key, intimate performance.

Aided only be an acoustic guitar and her voice this was a display of a mature and introspective talent that’s unusual and impressive for a such a young performer.

Eclecticism was the defining theme of the night as the next two acts explored different musical paths.
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Scottish rapper Solareye – backed on-stage tonight by DJ Harvey Kartel – is the frontman of the hip hop band Stanley Odd.

His socially conscious lyrical flow gave the crowd food for thought and displayed a unique and absorbing talent that deserves to be heard by a wider audience.
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Final act Man of Moon were a tour-de-force of guitar driven rock.

Their music recalls The Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3 and a host of krautrock bands. Their droning, feedback drenched wall of noise is absorbing and overpowering, drawing you into their ocean of sound and leaving you exhausted and shell-shocked by the time it’s over.

A fitting end to a wonderful night.

The following night starts with a much more laid back and intense but no means any less absorbing acts as the Tivoli theatre hosts Tracyanne & Danny along with opening act Charles Watson.

The combination of singer songwriters Tracyanne Campbell (Camera Obscura) and Danny Couglan (Crybaby) works well and their soul-warming, indie pop sound is appreciated by a reverential crowd.

Drawing from their highly acclaimed, self-titled debut album their set was both intimate and expansive, offering heart breaking and personal lyrics that had the crowd absorbed, rapt and appreciative.
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Opening for them was Charles Watson.

The London based singer / songwriter / producer is possibly best known as the lead singer of indie band Slow Club but he came into himself onstage and gave a great performance that would have won over new fans on the night.
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The Lemon Tree hosted the second of the nights performances.

Kicking off proceedings was Manchester based singer-songwriter Ren Harvieu.

Backed by tonight’s headliners, The Magic Numbers, she runs through an engaging support slot that displays influences of soul, rock, indie and jazzy torch songs.
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Headline act The Magic Numbers have a wealth of material to draw from.

Their late-night slot keeps the crowd on their toes and out of their beds as they pull out Top 40 hits such as ‘Forever Lost’, ‘Love’s a Game’ and their biggest hit ‘Love Me Like You’.

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If there was ever a case of opposites attracts then Saturday nights pairing of the stately, grandeur of His Majesty’s Theatre hosting the feedback heavy, post rock of Mogwai and the apocalyptic electronica of Blanck Mass was it.

Blanck Mass are not an easy listen.

It’s a punishing yet rewarding set that sole member Benjamin John Power performs whilst hidden in virtual darkness with only a screen displaying fractual, confusing and trippy images behind him.

But beneath the pulverising noises are rewarding harmonies and hints of melody – they’re not easy to find at times but are rewarding to the listener that does.

Mogwai also have beautiful and harmonic melodies but unlike Blanck Mass they’re not always as hidden. Their elegant,  engaging, compositions are counteracted by ferocious, feedback driven guitars in what must have been the loudest act to tread the boards of the HMT.

Effortlessly one of the greatest and original talents to emerge from Scotland in the last two decades their revelatory live performances deserve to be seen at least any music fan at least once.

Their ear-splitting volume is balanced beautifully with moments of solace and breath-taking beauty – it’s an amazing performance by the Glaswegian band.

After those pulverising and draining performances it might have been preferable for some to have headed home for a lie down in a dark room to recover, but the Lemon Tree still had something to offer for those with still functioning ear drums.

Singer Colin McIntyre has performed as Mull Historical Society since the turn of the 21st Century and his music is still as fresh and heart-warming now as it was then.

The multi-talented McIntyre – singer, songwriter, playwriter, author – gives a wonderful show that draws heavily from his latest album ‘Wakelines’ as well as early hits such as ‘The Final Arrears’, ‘Animal Cannabus’ and ‘I Tried’.

It’s a great performance and he’ll be back at The Lemon Tree next year with a band that will feature none other than former Suede guitarist in its ranks. Don’t miss him.

Opening for Mull Historical Society is up and coming artist Emme Woods. Her mix of blues, rock, grunge and good old fashioned strong song writing displays a depth of talent that is inspiring to see in someone aged only 23 years.

She may be one of few acts – if not the only – that has a family pet on stage. Nestled on a fur coat to Woods’ left is her dog, Bubbles, who is comfortable enough with the performance to enjoy a snooze during the set.

Hopefully no one else in the crowd had a sleep as they’d have missed a strong performance by someone who is sure to go on to bigger things.

The fourth and final night of the festival still has a couple of big shows to go.

The Lemon Tree provides the late-night setting for Glaswegian indie stars Glasvegas.

The band power through a set that revisits their classic debut album from start to finish that gives the crowd a nostalgic but entertaining finale to the weekend.
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The big, star-studded show of the weekend happens earlier in the evening, however, at His Majesty’s Theatre.

‘Lady Stardust – Camille O’Sullivan and friends present the Music of David Bowie’ is a majestic and life affirming show that draws in a crowd of all ages and backgrounds, proving how timeless and all-encompassing the Thin White Duke’s music was.

Irish torch singer O’Sullivan is an inspired host for the evening.

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Her performance is chameleon-like and theatrical and she takes on the role with gusto, really getting into the spirit of the performance and taking on Bowie’s ability to get into a role and bring the audience with him.

Her choice of friends and peers to accompany her on this journey are eclectic and diverse.

From Paul Noonan, singer with Bell XI, performing ‘Ashes to Ashes’ to folk singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams performing ‘Kooks’ and with performances by ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Peaky Blinders’ star Aiden Gillen, pianist Duke Special and Cathal Coughlan from The Fatima Mansions, it’s an evening of sheer joy for Bowie fans old and young alike.

And special mention must go to comedian and writer Christopher Green.

The towering, flamboyant performer gives a show stopping performance that captures the spirit of Bowie.

His performance is revelatory – camp; serious, touching and funny in the space of a 3-minute pop song. A credit to himself and a credit to Bowie, whose spirit he truly captures.

The spirit of the evening truly reflects the nature of True North – an eclectic, interesting, diverse mix of music that crosses all boundaries and showcases a wide-ranging display of talent.

Jul 282018
 

The Granite City’s Urban Festival ‘True North’ Announces 2018 Bill. By Craig Chisholm.

Aberdeen’s very own festival in the heart of the city returns for its fourth year this September for a weekend of unmissable music.

The festival, running from the 20th to 23rd September, has announced an eclectic and exciting bill of talent for what promises to be another triumphant event.

His Majesty’s Theatre, The Lemon Tree and The Tivoli Theatre will provide performances from Mogwai, Tracyanne & Danny, The Magic Numbers. Mull Historical Society and Glasvegas, among others, whilst a further programme of artists and free events in unique locations across the city will be announced soon.

The events announced so far are:

  • Tracyanne & Danny – The Tivoli – Friday 21st Sept.
  • The Magic Numbers – The Lemon Tree – Friday 21st Sept.
  • Mogwai – His Majesty’s Theatre – Saturday 22nd Sept.
  • Mull Historical Society – The Lemon Tree – Saturday 22nd Sept.
  • David Bowie Tribute (Curated by Camille O’Sullivan) – His Majesty’s Theatre – Sunday 23rd Sept.
  • Mull Historical Society – The Lemon Tree – Sunday 23rd Sept.

The Lemon Tree will also host the opening concert on Thursday 20th September with a soon to be announced bill featuring some of the country’s leading new rock bands.

Tickets for each event can be purchased online at http://www.aberdeenperformingarts.com/, in person from The Lemon Tree or the Box Office, HMT or by phone on 01224 641122.

Read the Aberdeen Voice’s review of the 2017 event here.

View a gallery of photographs from 2017 here.

Mar 242012
 

With thanks to Dave Watt.

 

In 1975, as part of a programme to increase the Jewish population in the Galilee (the Judaization of the Gaililee), the Israeli government announced plans to expropriate 20,103 dunams (about 5000 acres) of Palestinian land to make way for twenty new Jewish settlements. In reaction to this, and years of such expropriations, the Palestinian community established a Committee for the Defence of Arab Land.

On March 30th 1976, they called a general strike and mass protest to demonstrate the government’s plans. The excessive force used by Israeli forces against the protests saw 6 Palestinians shot dead and hundreds injured.

Land Day has since come to symbolise Palestinian resistance to Israel’s racist policies and has been commemorated by Palestinians every year since, with thousands of activists taking part in actions around the world to show their solidarity (this year will see the Global March to Jerusalem take place on March 30th).

Aberdeen SPSC invite you to join us on Thursday, March 29th to find out more about Land Day and the land legislation and policies used by the Israeli government to force Palestinians within Israel from their land. A short presentation will be followed by a screening of the film Lemon Tree, which tells the story of a Palestinian woman whose livelihood (her lemon grove) is threatened when the Israeli Defence Minister moves into the house next door.

Lemon Tree Screening and Presentation – 
7.30-9.30pm,
March 29th,
Room 051 MacRobert Building,
Aberdeen University (all welcome)
Feb 242012
 

By Mike Shepherd.

The polling cards are out for the Union Terrace Gardens referendum and you have until March 1 to vote. The hype means you’ll have been bombarded with leaflets, pamphlets, news items and radio adverts.
If ‘connectivity’, a ‘21st century contemporary garden’, or ‘street-level access’ are key factors in deciding your vote, look no further; vote for the City Garden Project.

If you are undecided or swithering then read these very good reasons for voting to retain Union Terrace Gardens. 

1. Your vote will preserve the look and feel of the Granite City. Union Terrace Gardens are an integral part of the heritage of Aberdeen. Planned by the same architects who designed the Art Gallery and the frontage of Marischal College, they show an architectural harmony in the city centre which would be destroyed by a modernistic City Garden.

2. Your vote will not result in a ghastly modern structure replacing our park. Although described as the City Garden, it is in fact a mixture of buildings, flyovers, underpasses and parkland. The design has a passing resemblance to 1960s-style new town architecture. At one public meeting, someone said that the underpasses in particular were likely to end up as urban no-go areas. I have even heard a supporter of the scheme conceding that it will look dated after about five to ten years.

3. Your vote will stop a multitude of new glass box office blocks being built in the city centre. Council documents show that consideration has been given to plans to build a central business district in the city centre and encourage office block construction. The building of the City Garden Project, “will encourage development in the city centre sooner, and on a bigger scale, than might otherwise be the case without public investment in enabling infrastructure.”

4. Your vote will improve our much-loved park. Jimmy Milne, oilman and MD of Balmoral Group, has said:

“I and many of my business contemporaries, are committed to establishing a fund which will help bring the gardens back to their former glory. Without destroying our heritage, and without putting Aberdeen City further into debt, it would not be difficult to breathe fresh life into the park. Improved access, new planting, cleaning and restoration, park wardens and live events could all be relatively easily and cost effectively achieved.”

5. Your vote will ensure that the mature trees in Union Terrace Gardens will be saved. All 77 trees will be kept, including the twelve elms, some of which are at least 200 years old.

6. Your vote will stop our Council borrowing £70m they can’t afford. Aberdeen City Council, £562m in debt, is being asked to borrow £70m through a risky tax scheme to help fund the City Garden Project. If there is insufficient money to pay back the loan, Council funds will be required to service it.

7. Your vote will avoid significant disruption and pollution in the city centre for the near three years it will take to build the scheme. The technical feasibility study for the project estimates that the equivalent of 3,947 dump trucks of earth and 4,605 dump trucks of granite will be excavated from the Gardens causing ‘large environmental impacts from noise, transport, dust and energy use.’

8. Your vote will avoid the major traffic problems caused by the movement of heavy lifting equipment, dumper trucks and lorries in and out of the city centre. It is estimated that the City Garden will take almost three years to build. It is likely that there will be major traffic problems in the city for much of this time. City centre business will be impacted by this and may never recover.

9. Your vote will avoid much, if not all, of the Council’s cultural activities being displaced to the underground building in the City Garden. The council funds institutions occupying cosy, intimate venues such as the Music Hall, Lemon Tree and Belmont Cinema. A review of council-funded cultural activities will be made with a view to possible relocation to the underground concourse.

10. Your vote will avoid any consideration that the future of the HM Theatre could be in doubt. Two major performance venues will be built in the City Garden only yards from HM Theatre. Councillors have asked if this will have an impact on the future of HM Theatre. No specific assurances have been given.

Aberdeen could change forever if the City Garden is built, and probably not for the better.

We have the chance to keep the leafy, green heart of the Granite City. 

VOTE: RETAIN UNION TERRACE GARDENS

Feb 172012
 

Old Susannah looks at the Granite Web, and the impressive effort it has taken to spin.

By Suzanne Kelly.

Tally Ho! Yet another vibrant and dynamic week in the Granite Web City.  Whilst Friends of Union Terrace Gardens, Aberdeen against Austerity, and Democracy Watch engaged in some inexpensive grassroots campaigning by flyer, the mysterious Vote for the CGP group pulled out all the stops and spent, spent, spent.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Northsound is playing City Garden Project commercials non-stop. The Art Gallery has a swish new display showing the Garden plan in its Alice-in-Wonderland perspective and garish colours, and issues of The Granite Web compete in the ugly stakes with the A3 VFTCGP colour flyer sent out before.

News reaches Old Susannah that visitors to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary are being cheered up no end by pro-City Garden Project posters on the walls. There is no escape at work either, as employees of Wood Group (no surprise really), Nautronix, and Taqa all seem to have received lovely e-mails from bosses hinting gently that they should vote for the CGP.

I do find it very touching that employers are looking after their employees so well and giving gentle guidance which puts no pressure on them at all.

Why do I call the VFTCGP members secret? Because I was told in so many words by the BIG Partnership, which does PR for this group and, coincidentally, the artwork for the CGP, that “if the members want to stay secret, it’s up to them.”

But before I return to my Myth-busting busting activities started last week – I only got through the first four of the ten Myths the CGP team say we’re suffering from – condolences to Rangers fans.

Was this one of the top Scottish clubs? Yes.

Will this leave a massive hole in Scottish football? Yes.

Will other sides face similar financial clubs? Looks like it.

I believe one tycoon is still paying some £60,000 of his own money each time his team plays. I do hope this mogul is not getting overly financially stretched. I’d again ask the question if Loirston Loch land – in a Special Area of Conservation – should really be turned into a 21,000 seat football ground with offices and museum in this climate.

  Donald’s granny was Scottish. This gives him good cause to call Alex Salmond ‘insane’

Well, I would ask, but the continuous concrete covering of anything green in Aberdeen seems unstoppable. Thankfully, we all have one tireless, gentle campaigner who is not giving up the fight for ‘Scotland’s heritage’. Step forward, Mr Donald Trump.

You might have seen one or two small news items saying that this gentle giant wants to build the galaxy’s greatest golf course on a no-doubt-underused stretch of coastline. He’s got rid of many of the view-blocking trees, but there are horrible plans to build windfarms offshore which could actually be seen by his guests, if you can believe that!

Now, windfarms don’t actually work very efficiently yet. The technology can, and should improve. But I guess we’re all agreed there are few things in life worse than being a rich golfer who might have to look at an offshore wind farm. For those people in favour of this kind of blot on the seascape, I would remind you that you’re forgetting something very important.

Donald’s granny was Scottish. This gives him good cause to call Alex Salmond ‘insane’ for supporting renewable energy. Please try to keep that in mind, thank you.

Finally, it might have been Valentine’s Day this week, but it looks like the May to December romance between Callum McCaig and Aileen ‘Ho’Malone is over. One of them is an over-blown, over-hyped, over-rated, naïve, headline-seeking soul, blissfully unaware that they are dangerously out of their depth. The other is Callum McCaig.

No more will they share a coalition; there will be no more romps on Tullos Hill; there will be no more late-night negotiations. Maybe yet the SNP will change its tune over the ridiculous cull of deer to plant trees that cannot possibly grow on Tullos Hill. Watch this space.

  the taxpayers’ side of this great granite garden bargain is to borrow £92m and pay the loan, and its interest, back over decades.

There is certainly a current in that direction, not least fuelled by public anger and the wasting of some £43,800 to date. Still, a break-up is hard to take. Final confirmation of this great bust-up comes in newspaper stories announcing that the coalition is still absolutely fine. I am thinking of offering my condolences to Mrs Robinson, sorry, I mean Aileen.

I’m still thinking on it. PS. Message to Irene – feel better soon!

And now back to debunking the debunking of the Myths. The City Garden Project seems to be the only entity that’s been presented with these Myths, and I commented on the first four last week. Here are a few choice words on the remaining five Myths. Thank you CGP for printing these not-at-all-wild and not-at-all-made-up Myths – we’re all really onside now. Their comments are in bold. Old Susannah’s are in regular type

5. It will cost the taxpayer millions of pounds – FALSE.

Sure. All this happens for free, and you’ve not paid a penny, and you won’t pay a penny. I wonder if the CGP forgot about the £422,000, or probably more, of taxpayers’ money Scottish Enterprise has already spent on this project? And, no doubt, our CGP friends don’t think it matters that some of your city councillors voted to set aside up to £300,000 of your money for legal costs.

Old Susannah is still mulling that one over. A billionaire is ‘giving’ Aberdeen £50m, but there isn’t enough money on his side of the fence to pay the legal costs the city will incur? So, rather than getting granny a new wheelchair, or providing 24/7 care at homes which have just announced cuts etc etc, Wood wants your £300,000. But this £722,000, nearly quarter of a million pounds, is small change.  we’re going to chop down existing, healthy trees, thus getting rid of wildlife that’s called the trees home for decades, if not centuries

Multiply that figure by ten and you get close to the amount of interest on the loan Aberdeen City Council has to sign for this project to go ahead, according to one of last night’s radio show speakers. Thanks to Original FM (on 105FM) for hosting last night’s debate. Anyway, the taxpayers’ side of this great granite garden bargain is to borrow £92m and pay the loan, and its interest, back over decades.

If the 6500 new jobs don’t come in and we don’t make £122m each year (I can’t wait to see how this happens), if we go over budget, if anything goes wrong – then it will cost us an unknown additional amount of money in repayments. The trams fiasco has reached a cost of nearly one billion pounds.

But this won’t cost you a cent. Honest, guv.

6. Fake, plastic trees – FALSE.

It’s a great Radiohead song but a lousy Myth. It has been suggested that fake plastic trees will be planted in the City Gardens to act as vents for the giant car park underneath. If any fake trees are seen they will be beside the flying pigs. 186 new trees will be planted, some of them mature and many will be Scots Pines.

Old Susannah doesn’t know where to start with this alleged Myth. She does find it reassuring to find that a job in public relations entails so much creative writing talent. I know of no-one who’s heard of plastic trees being part of the plan. However, if we’re building underground, then we’ll need plants with very tiny root systems. Goodbye 250-year old elm trees, one of only a few surviving clusters of elms free from disease, and home to wildlife. In comes progress. Who needs fresh air, wildlife, shade and beauty when you can have ramps?

   we’re going to chop down existing, healthy trees, thus getting rid of wildlife that’s called the trees home for decades, if not centuries

My favourite bit is the announcement that the trees stay in the Gardens forever, as wood chip and seating. Well, you can’t say that’s not sensitive to nature. Still, the BIG Partnership’s student placement has managed to make a meal of a non-existent plastic tree myth. Perhaps someone will explain how mature trees are going to be magically planted in the new Gardens?

Where will their roots go, as there is meant to be underground parking? How do we get to have a thriving pine forest in the city centre – something that doesn’t seem possible according to experts including local architects?

If Old Susannah has this right, we’re going to chop down existing, healthy trees, thus getting rid of wildlife that’s called the trees home for decades, if not centuries, plant some new trees, and have the world’s only pine forest in a city centre.

The pines must grow faster than genetically-modified Leylandii hedges if the drawings I’ve seen are correct, and of course, no-one can fault the accuracy of these precision drawings. I like the giant transparent child romping over the flowerbeds best. So, replacing grass and trees with grass, concrete and trees can be done for only £92m. RESULT!

7. It will cost people their jobs – FALSE.

As a result of the project a projected 6500 new jobs are to be created, not taking into account the hundreds of jobs that will come as a result of the construction. In addition, a transformed city centre will breathe new life across the city, helping us become a World Energy City long after oil and gas has run dry in the North Sea. Existing businesses will be retained meaning existing jobs will be safe-guarded.

These 6500 jobs are going to be wonderful! What will they be? Well, for openers we’ve seen how well Union Square has protected high street businesses. Our small high street shops are struggling whilst multinationals got a cheap rent deal in Union Square. But clearly what we need is….more shops. Surely there is nothing we’d rather do than shop, and you can’t have enough shops can you? It’s not as if a glut of shops will ever result in shop closures, price wars and endless sales, especially ‘Going out of business’ sales.

I wonder if there is any reason that a cafe culture has never really taken off in Aberdeen? Could it be that it’s often too cold, too windy or too rainy? Could it be because the City Council consistently refused to allow anyone to run a snack bar or coffee kiosk in the shelter of Union Terrace Gardens? Clearly not. One wave of the granite wand, and just like those convincing concept drawings, we’ll all be sitting outdoors in short-sleeved shirts, drinking decaf mocha lattes while Toto play on the brand new stage, in front of the existing indoor theatre.

Right. The taxpayer is propping up the AECC with extra money since it can’t make enough by holding events. Same for the Lemon Tree. But the new theatre won’t have any problems making a massive profit and creating loads of jobs.

 So, ‘how many theatres should a taxpayer prop up?’ is one question.

I for one can’t wait to sit through an outdoor electronic folk music competition in February. But, by winter, this theatre will be an ice rink, thereby competing with the ice rink the city tried to kill off before.

But no, there won’t be any harm to jobs. We’ll need people to cut down the trees and get rid of the wildlife. Then there will be jobs cleaning the graffiti off the Web. Yes, the Web will create more permanent jobs in small Aberdeen than the 2012 Olympics will create in Greater London. Rest as assured as I am on that point.

8. It will be entirely made from concrete – FALSE.

Obviously concrete will be used – would you like to relax, visit an exhibition or attend a concert on top of a cardboard box? The project has been carefully designed so there will be 95% more open, green space with a series of pathways providing access for people through, across and in and out of the gardens. These paths will be made of granite, crushed granite and wood.

By now, Old Susannah is finding the content of the dispelled Myths by BIG just a little bit patronising and smarmy. They thought they had to talk us out of believing in plastic trees. Now they explain that we need to sit on something more robust than a cardboard box. Thanks for that! Appreciated.

So, ‘how many theatres should a taxpayer prop up?’ is one question. ‘How many competing businesses should Scottish Enterprise suggest?’ is quite another. They used to have rules on displacement and suchlike, but these seem to have gone, probably about the same time as your employer started to tell you how to vote.

This project has been carefully designed. Of course it has. More green space, but somehow it manages to have a giant concrete, sorry, granite theatre which takes up some 15% minimum of the existing Gardens. They count the giant granite potato-crisp shaped thingy over the stage as green space.

 what if the architects were to give us some drawings showing how these ramps will work safely now rather than later?

Of course it won’t sustain any wildlife, and at best will be a thin wedge of sod over concrete, but if they want to call it green space, fine.

I guess these people call anything green space if they can colour it green with Crayolas on their paper plan.

Looking at the slope of the ramps both up and downwards, I’m wondering how the aged, infirm or wheelchair-bound are going to find this system easier than the current access. The current access could use an additional ramp and you could probably do this for less than £92m as well. For the truly baffled, there is ground level access on the north side, not far from the theatre. This is where vehicles somehow manage to get in.

Clearly there is no other way to ‘relax and visit an exhibition or attend a concert in this town.’ Let’s borrow £92 million and build this beauty.

9. There will be no railings in the Granite Web, people will fall from the paths – FALSE.

Safety will be paramount. The concept design shows the various walkways at different levels but the final design will show how these work safely. And, seriously, do you think any development in a country obsessed with health and safety would get off the ground without proper safety measures?

Our PR work placement is patronising us again. I might be old, but here’s a crazy idea – what if the architects were to give us some drawings showing how these ramps will work safely now rather than later? Are they going to be enclosed, and of course, not at all potential rat traps? Are they going to have fencing that somehow won’t look like Stalag 17? How will wheelchair users go up and down these steep ramps? Details, details.

Well, Old Susannah has run out of space for one week. We will return to normal definitions next week, and take a closer look at who is behind ‘Vote for the City Garden Project’. You will, of course, want to know what businesses are in this group, to make sure you can reward them with your custom. Or not.

Finally, many thanks to those brave business people who have stuck out their necks in favour of saving our city’s only unique, free, green garden.

That’s you, J Milne. It is appreciated.

Feb 102012
 

Old Susannah wades in with her chainsaw rattling in the direction of Union Terrace Gardens, but the elms need not fear, she is only out to cut through the misinformation presented as ‘myth busting’ by the City Garden Project.

By Suzanne Kelly.

Old Susannah has been busy with Union Terrace Gardens this past week, like so many of us.  Another few short weeks, and the people will have voted one way or the other as to whether or not our environment, heritage and common good land are better served up with concrete ramps or not.

Then I can get back to the important work of singing the praises of our elected officials, unelected quangos and council officers, and local millionaires.

Before I get down to the Gardens situation, I thought I’d look back at all the wonderful artwork that the City’s children sent in for the Christmas time art competition and event in the gardens, organised and funded in large part by the Bothwell family.

Hundreds of children sent in their artwork, and at this chilly time of the year with Christmas past, they make a cheerful reminder of a great day, and what it’s like to be a child again.  And each and every one of the childrens’ artwork exceeds by miles the A3 takaway flyer sent by a group of anonymous business people telling you we must vote for the granite web.

Do have a look – you will be glad that you did.
http://oldsusannahsjournalchildrenschristmasartwork.yolasite.com/

On with some definitions then.

Propaganda:  (noun) Material, slogans, misinformation designed to advance a particular point of view often by discrediting or ignoring opposition.

My email inbox is bursting this week with details of employers who are sending their employees all of the leaflets, letters and testimonials which support the garden project.  Most of these are written in the names of associations or groups which have – but crucially do not declare in the literature in question – a member or members who are directly involved with promoting the scheme.  This is very clever indeed.

An employee wants to be told by their boss how they should think and want and vote.  It would therefore be most unfortunate if the employees were given some way to read the many arguments against going ahead with an undefined project with an undefined budget using an as-yet untested in the UK financial borrowing mechanism with a debt-ridden city council borrowing money.

Let us hope therefore that suitable precautions are taken to prevent employees reading the literature from different groups available at the following:-
http://oldsusannahsjournal.yolasite.com/

Myth:  (noun) work of fiction, often including gods, goddesses and challenges and tasks.

Not since the rainbow bridge of Asgard joined heaven and earth, not since the legend of Hercules and his impossible labours has there been a tale as far-fetched as that of the granite web that launched 6,500 jobs and paved the streets annually with £122,000,000.  Sure, it may look more like one of the circles of Hades or the Minotaur’s maze, but the web is already passing into myth.

Those clever people who bring us this gift from the gods are worried we mortals can’t undertand the benefits, and are misunderstanding (or mythunderstanding) their benevolent intentions.  They’ve written a handy guide (something called a ‘blog’) The City Garden Project – The Myths, dispelled’ which can be found at:-
http://www.voteforcitygarden.co.uk/blog/17-the-city-garden-project-the-myths-dispelled

And to its words in bold italics, are my little responses.

The City Garden Project – The Myths, dispelled.

  • We want you to make your decision based on truth, not incorrect claims, speculation and downright nonsense!

Fine – we are all in agreement.

  • Myths have been at the heart of the campaign against the City Garden Project and if some of them were true then the opposition could be justified.

Which myths and what are they?  Where did you get them from?  I remember the initial consultation:  we were shown a beautiful, expensive colour brochure (which the taxpayer had funded) – the cover of which had a flat concrete giant square with some plants in planters.  Later on we were told the project was not going to look like the picture.  Maybe we could have saved some taxpayer money and time by waiting for a consultation and poll until such time we knew what the proponents had up their collective sleeve.  But it is not for us to question the gods.

  • But, whether by mischief-making or simply misinterpretation, the rumours have been rife.

So here we have an implication of mischief-making.  Was it the god Loki at work?  Or of the opposition being too thick to be able to ‘interpret’ what is proposed.  I have not personally heard ANY RUMOURS.  I have read serious questions about the project’s economic, ecological, sociological and regeneration benefits.

I have read people asking where the ventilation will be for underground car parking.  That is one example of the sort of criticisms and questions that I’ve experienced.  ‘Dante’s Inferno’ has a version of heaven, hell and earth without any ventilation, so I guess these miracles can happen here as well.  

  • So, let’s dispel some of these myths! 

Fantastic!  Let’s go!

1. The “green lung” of our city will be lost – FALSE. 

The City Garden will double the amount of green space in our city centre. The new “green lung” will be more usable, more accessible and brought into the sun-light. New garden areas will be created, including a colourful, blossoming area, a forest, a Learning Garden, a quiet tree-lined Bosque area with street furniture and open green space for relaxing in or having a picnic.

Patches of grass do not clean the pollutants and particulates out of a city – established, large, leafy trees do.  As the goal posts keep moving on what trees are to be lost by the City Garden Project engineers, it is hard to imagine which trees are going.

I am still very disappointed we will not have a MONOLITH at which we can make sacrifices to the gods.  I guess we’ll just have to sacrifice the trees, animals, birds, and money to these new gods instead.  But are you going to be reassured that the existing mature trees are somehow going to be replaced overnight by trees with equal pollution / C02 management capabilities by people – sorry gods – who think they can plunk a pine forest in the midst of a city centre?

Most people question where the trees’ roots will be – nearly all trees have extremely large, spreading root systems which require soil.  By the way these roots and soil are what prevents flooding.  I have read points made by experts who say it is not viable to grow a pine forest in the middle of a city centre for a number of reasons.  I don’t know the science – but I look forward to the City Garden Project team showing me examples of such cities.

  I do enjoy looking at the photos of people sitting on the concrete wedge over the ‘stage’ area which is covered with a bit of sod.

There are examples of cities with great open plazas which flood as there is insufficient soil / tree roots to absorb  heavy rains.  At least rain isn’t much of a problem here in North East Scotland.  As to bringing everything into the sunshine, err, the sun shines in the valley as it is – with the added advantage of the valley providing a very valuable wind break.

At Tullos Hill the soil matrix is very poor – which in the words of the soil report prepared by the Forestry Commission leaves any trees planted subject to ‘wind throw’.  If the roots don’t have a good firm earthy soil to hold onto, then a strong wind – like the kind that will inevitably blow across any area brought to street level – may well bring trees toppling on top of the granite web – or people.

Just by elevating a hunk of potato-chip shaped concrete and putting a few inches of sod over it, you are not creating a natural green lung/habitat/area,  even if it is the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen.  As far as doubling the space of the gardens, I do enjoy looking at the photos of people sitting on the concrete wedge over the ‘stage’ area which is covered with a bit of sod.

There is a woman sitting in a chair – a very neat trick indeed for such a steep slope.  Maybe she has a specially-constructed chair with short legs at the back and longer ones in the front?  Perhaps she is a goddess and is floating?  But as many observers point out, the ‘concept’ drawings are inconsistent in this and other ways, such as changing scale.

No, if you are losing the mature, healthy trees that are there – which are home to animals such as EU protected bats and rooks – you are indeed losing a major part of what makes the park valuable to our health.  There is no doubt of this in my mind, so I’m glad we have such a great team of pro-garden project personnel ready willing and able to explain all.  They’ve just not got round to it yet.

2. The city can’t afford the City Garden Project – FALSE.  ( Seriously? )

We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a £182m investment in our city at NO cost to the City Council or the citizens of Aberdeen.

One way or the other, the citizen is going to pay.  IF the scheme somehow goes perfectly to plan and we have a bunch of new shops (without hurting further the existing ones) the business rates will be used to repay a loan – a loan at an unknown rate of interest on an as-yet to be determined sum.

And if it doesn’t go well, and Aberdeen gets its very own Trams project fiasco to match Edinburgh’s – the City has to find a way to pay for the TIF.  As far as the donations from private sources are concerned, at last report Sir Ian had promised to put the £50 million he pledged into his will.  Well, if I were one of his children, I’d contest the will if it ever came to that:  an ageing parent throwing £50 million on concrete webs should convince any court that something is wrong upstairs, and a will might get thrown out.

  Some say taking a loan is borrowing money.  But seems we would just be ‘unlocking’ funds – so no problem there.

But who is our mystery £5 million pound donor?  If this is a public project (debatable – the Aberdeen City  Gardens Trust is a private limited company with two people in it), then the public should know where all of the money is coming from.  If someone pledges money, what guarantee is there it will come in?  Some of our current millionaires are feeling the economic pinch, sad but true.

And if are they using this £5 million promise as a lever to tip the balance of public opinion towards the scheme  – then if they stand to gain personally, then we should be told.

I hear varying reports that other private people are pledging something like £20 million.  Now that’s a myth I’d like more info on.

Once in a lifetime?  How on earth is that conclusion reached?  That claims sounds  very much like the scaremongering the pro garden project have been accusing others of.  There are six trial TIF schemes at present.  There may well be more.  But if this were a once in a lifetime chance, then all the more reason to take our time and make a cohesive, desirable bid, perhaps even one based on something less nebulous than a scheme that has a forest one week, an ice rink the next – and so other many unknowns to it.

TIF is only in the pilot stage in Scotland – so let’s get in there first!  Test case Aberdeen!  Some say taking a loan is borrowing money.  But seems we would just be ‘unlocking’ funds – so no problem there.

A minor detail, as we’ll all be rolling in dosh in no time, but do we know the interest rates on the £182 -192 million pounds Aberdeen City Council is going to borrow?  I’ve not been told.  Over to you, City Garden Project.

Again I will say that mere mortals choose to live in an area that is clean, safe and has excellent schools and hospitals.  I must have missed the part when someone proposed to the City Council that it should cut services and schools, and replace green space and our environmental heritage for concrete.

I don’t remember agreeing to continuously expand the City’s footprint into its green space while there are so many empty buildings in the city centre.  I guess I wasn’t paying attention that day – probably got distracted by reading about a cute baby competition in the news or something.

  • 40% of the cost of the City Garden has already been secured. The Scottish Government have pledged that, if the development is supported by the public, a TIF will be used to fund the rest of the costs for the City Garden Project. 

Fine.  Let’s see the legal papers showing exactly how much has been pledged and how ironclad or otherwise these pledges are.  Forty percent?  What is the figure?  We still do not have any genuine, concrete, specific project (no timescale, no costings done, and no precise scope – these are what you learn in ‘Projects 101’ are the building blocks).  You cannot  possibly say you have 40% of the money you need for something which you don’t even have defined or costed.  Not without godlike wisdom anyway.

  • TIF is a bit like a mortgage. The cost of the “property” is £182m. The “property” is the City Centre Regeneration Scheme (Aberdeen Art Gallery, St Nicholas and North Denburn redevelopments, the new public realm and the City Garden Project). The £55m of philanthropic donations already secured for the City Garden, along with the £15m to follow from the private sector, is the deposit.   

First, please define ‘the new public realm’ for me – just so that we are all talking about one specific defined term, thanks.  I’ll bet TIF is a bit like a mortgage:  if you don’t pay up, you lose your property.  Again Aberdeen City Council are going to borrow the money via TIF.  Not Ian Wood.  Nor the private limited ‘Aberdeen City Gardens Trust Company’.

Just as well we’re told it will bring in over a hundred million a year – we’ll be needing it.

Back to the mathematics.  OK – let’s assume the £55 million is £50m of Ian Wood’s, plus the mystery philanthropist.

We should also be told who the £15 million is coming from, but leaving that aside, that’s apparently £70 million pounds.

Some people would question what kind of tax breaks if any will be given to the donors, and whether or not the tax that does not get into the treasury (because it’s being put in a hole in the ground) would be of benefit to our ever-dwindling services instead.

Right – 70 million is forty percent of 175 million.  We have just been told that the ‘cost of the property is 182 million’.  Sorry – I would have thought that the 182 million is the value of the assets, but there it is.  Just for the record: forty percent of 182 million is 72.8 million.  And just so you know, Scottish Enterprise had by May of this year spent over £420,000 on this project on consultations and PR and the like, and the City Council have just agreed to spend up to £300,000 of our money on the legal costs.

Just as well we’re told it will bring in over a hundred million a year – we’ll be needing it.  Hands up anyone who suspects this project will have many little extras here and there.  Do you think at the end of the day the estimates we are getting now (nebulous as they are) will:  a.  stay exactly the same, b.  decrease and cost less than we think, or c.  cost more?

  • The City Council takes out a loan to pay for the remainder. This loan is paid back over 25 years using the income from the new business rates raised. The City is therefore being given both the deposit and the income to pay back the loan – clever eh? That’s why TIFs are so widely used in the States and promoted in Scotland by the Government. But remember a TIF can only be used for this – not for anything else and if we don’t use our TIF, other cities will!

Well, it is indeed time for some myth- busting, because depending on who you listen to, this either is or is not a commercial venture.  TIF is supposed to be for commercial ventures – and it is unclear how anything but a commercial venture can make the millions in loan repayments we would need to make.

In fact, I seem to recall seeing a video of one of the ‘philanthropists’  saying this is ‘Not a commercial venture’.  ‘Clever eh?’  – I am not exactly convinced.  I do think risky, untested, potentially fiscally disastrous.

And overall, unnecessary to my way of thinking.  Nothing is wrong with the gardens.  We could regenerate the city’s shops by lowering our extremely high business rates.  Making more shopping spaces, eating places and entertainment venues creates more competition for the venues we have.

Did you know we as taxpayers are subsidising the AECC and the Lemon Tree – and now they want us to borrow money to build competition for these venues we’re already paying for?  It would be to my way of thinking like betting on several horses in a race.  You might win on one of them, but you will lose money.

3. The City Garden is a commercial development – FALSE

This is about creating a new civic space and gardens that will be brought back into daily use… 

(note – see definition above of ‘propaganda’)

…and become part of the daily life of the people of Aberdeen. The space will include exciting new venues for everyone to use and enjoy including a cultural and arts centre, a 500-seat black box theatre and 5,000 seat amphitheatre and stage.  

See my quotes above about these theatre/stage options.  We don’t need them.  We’re already paying for such venues.  The writer of this paper has first set out to ‘bust myths’.  However, they are lapsing into emotive, subjective prose when they say how wonderful this will all be.  We don’t know that – we don’t know anything of the kind.

But now we get to the ‘venues for everyone to use and enjoy’.  Right.  At present, we can come and go as we please when the gardens are open.  No one can prevent us from enjoying the space as we see fit – no one can charge us any fee to use the gardens.  Why?  Because they belong to each and every one of us as Common Good Land.  Are these ‘non-commercial’ theatres going  to be free of any admission charge?  If yes, then fine – they are not commercial.  If no – then they can’t make money and pay off the TIF loan.

And if they charge you money to be on your common good land, then whoever holds the deeds to the land, it is no longer common good land in reality.  Are we going to borrow millions to make a theatre that is free to go to?  If so, why don’t we just close the AECC and Lemon Tree and be done with them?

Who is responsible for joining up all these fuzzy, competing concepts – and why aren’t they actually doing it?

  • The land and all the facilities will remain in the ownership of the City of Aberdeen and its citizens.  

Oh yes, we’ll still own it – but better, wiser, richer people will control it.  You might own it – but try going to a concert for free or getting one of the 25-30 car parking spaces free.  There is every possibility that one private entity or another (why does the two-person Aberdeen City Gardens Trust spring to my mind?) will get a very long lease at a very low rate.  In terms of ownership, ‘possession is 9/10 of the law’.

4. Union Terrace Gardens will be turned into a giant car park – FALSE.

I don’t know where our friends picked up this ‘myth’  – I’ve not heard it.  But there you go.

Parking is at a premium in the city and while many people would indeed wish to see more car-parking in the centre, it will not be in the City Garden. There will be between 25 and 30 underground parking spaces to service the new development.  Old Susannah is no mathematical genius like the ones who work out our city’s budgets; but if we are putting in a 5,000 seat venue and a smaller venue in a city centre already pressured for car parking spaces, then I predict some car parking and car congestion problems.  Wild conclusion I know.

However, if there are 30 underground spaces, they will still need ventilation.  Nothing like that is shown on the plans I’ve seen yet.  But back to the maths.  If we have 5,000 people going to see a Robbie Williams tribute act in the brand new space and 30 parking spaces available at the venue, there just might be a little bit of an issue.

That nice Mr Milne (owner of Triple Kirks – soon to be developed, Chair of ACSEF, one of the anonymity-seeking businesspeople behind the beautiful Vote for the City Gardens Project…) seems to need some car parking space for his beautiful glass box offices which will be adjacent to this great ‘non-commercial’ granite web.  I guess the 30 spaces will take care of that nicely.  Either that, or there will be more than 30 spaces.  A lot more.

As I posted on Facebook this week, it comes down to these points (leaving out the environmental carnage and the Common Good Status, that is):

  • 1. Is TIF a tried and tested financial model in the UK? Not yet.
  • 2. Do we know exactly what this project will cost? No – because the scope is unknown and ever-changing. That is one of the main flaws with Edinburgh’s trams scheme – it kept changing – and now we are looking at nearly one billion cost for it.
  • 3. Is the design fully fleshed out enough for anyone who supports it to fully explain the engineering (vents, how will trees – esp. pines grow, how will ramps be made safe, etc)? No.
  • 4. As the taxpayer is already propping up entertainment venues with tax money, venues that cannot survive without financial aid, does it make any financial sense to create venues to compete with them? No.

So – if you’re not sure about any of these points  – and who is? – then maybe we should not rush into anything.