Sep 132011

The Friends of Duthie Park will continue their monthly gardening activities in the park on Sunday 18th September from noon until 2.00 pm. On the third Sunday of every month, during the summer season, the Friends of Duthie Park meet up to undertake gardening tasks to complement the staff in the park. With thanks to Dave Macdermid.

On Sunday, the Friends will complete the planting of a new Sensory Bed at the west side of the park.
A class from local primary school, Ferryhill, designed the bed as part of a competition and the Friends secured sponsorship for the plants from local garden centre Ben Reid & Co. In addition, herbaceous plants will be planted in other areas of the park.

Current and new members are invited join members of the committee meeting at the entrance to the David Welch Winter Gardens.

The Friends of Duthie Park, the group responsible for the resurrection of ‘Spike’ the talking cactus in time for last month’s successful inaugural Open Day, is also on the lookout to bolster its committee numbers, with certain specific skills being sought, as Chairman Tony Dawson explains.

“As a group, I believe we’ve achieved a great deal in a short space of time but if we are to continue to progress as we would like, we do need to supplement our committee numbers. While we are keen to hear from anyone who is interested in assisting, there are areas where we do require specific assistance, namely the development of our website, marketing & sponsorship, research & history and education & learning.

“In addition, the return of Spike was more of a success than we could ever have hoped for, resulting in a huge demand for regular appearances from him. Consequently, we would like to hear from anyone who would be interested in becoming one of the pool of people that we will require to call on to be the voice of Spike.

“With the forthcoming restoration work at Duthie Park, this is a hugely exciting time for the Friends and it would be fantastic to get some more people on board.”

Anybody interested in finding out more about any aspect of the Friends, including joining the committee, should, in the first instance, e-mail with their contact details and the area they would like to get involved in.

Sep 082011

Recent visitors to the Winter Gardens in Duthie Park have been left badly disappointed after vandalism caused the closure of some important sections including the Arid Room where Spike the Talking Cactus is on show. The new ‘Voice of Spike’ Andy Gibson reports on a worrying turn of events at the park.

I recently succeeded in my campaign to reinstate our favourite talking plant known as Spike The Cactus at the David Welch Winter Gardens in Duthie Park.
I was also given the honour and privilege of providing a voice for the prickly fellow for the first time in approximately 13 years. Duthie Park recently gained a grant from the Lottery Heritage Fund to restore the grounds to their original glory.

This included getting Spike repaired with help from a really nice man called Richard Irvin and his friends.

There have been previous attempts by vandals to smash the windows of the Arid Room and this time, sadly, the vandals succeeded.

Inside, the Arid Room itself is covered in broken glass which has forced the Friends of Duthie Park, in the interest of public safety, to close that area and other damaged sections throughout the Winter Gardens.

This has of course been of great inconvenience to the Staff at the Winter Gardens  including myself, and more importantly the public.

I created and uploaded a video to hosting site YouTube regarding this issue. In the comments box I have read that someone’s father in law, a keen gardener, came here to visit from Derby in England. This gentleman could not see the true David Welch Winter Gardens in all its glory.

This is a shame because there is not much else in Aberdeen that provides such an extensive view on various gardening styles. Seeing the full Winter Gardens as we know and love it would have been a great experience for a visitor who has an interest at what Duthie Park can offer.

As I documented above,  Duthie Park was given a large sum of money from the Heritage Lottery to refurbish the grounds including the restoration of the ponds in the hope of attracting wild ducks to return to the spot. Some of this will now need to be set aside to cover the cost of repairs.

I am very keen and raring to go as far as operating Spike is concerned; I loved entertaining the public last month during the Open Day, and I was looking forward to returning soon.

However, now everything has been put on hold until the mess has been cleared away, the repair work completed, and the Health and Safety aspects addressed.

I have spoken with the manager of the Winter Gardens and he has informed me that there have been no further attacks. Whether this represents and end to such idiotic behaviour, we’ll find out over the forthcoming weeks. I do hope he/she/they are caught before they cause any more destruction elsewhere.

If you have any suspicions regarding who may be responsible for this damage, then please contact Grampian Police on 08456005700 or if you want to remain anonymous you can communicate with Crimestoppers completely free on 0800555111.

Further Info – Click on the links.
Friends Of Duthie Park
The David Welch Winter Gardens
Spike The Cactus’ Facebook page

Andy Gibson’s YouTube Video
The kind man and his pals who operated on Spike to give him a new lease of life

Aug 102011

With thanks to Friends Of Duthie Park and University of Aberdeen Natural History Centre.

Ahead of the forthcoming major restoration work that will see the return of much of the original Victorian elements to the north east’s most popular visitor attractions, the ‘Friends of Duthie Park’ group is hosting an open day later this summer.
Sunday 14th August will see festivities running between 12 noon and 4 pm and there will be something for all of the family.

Friends Chairman Tony Dawson explains,

“This will be an opportunity to celebrate the park as it is now prior to the refurbishment. I think it’s fair to say that many people know there is major work to be undertaken without necessarily being aware of all that is involved.

“Consequently, we will have a powerpoint display of the planned work, running on a loop, while at 1 pm and 3 pm, there will be guided tours around the park explaining the details of the restoration which is substantial and includes the return of the ‘Duthie fountain’ and the re-establishment of the original promenade.

“In addition, we’ll have plenty of entertainment including horse and cart rides, music from the Bon Accord Silver Band, zumba and fitness demonstrations, gardening workshops and many other stalls and attractions.

“We are hoping to welcome back ‘Spike’ the talking cactus after an absence of more than a decade. However his electrics are in need of some attention and if there is anyone out there who feels they could repair him, then we’d be delighted to hear from them as he would bring back lots of memories for those of a certain generation.”

A full timetable for the day will be available on from the beginning of August.

  • Duthie Park Open Day
    Sunday 14th August
    12 til 4pm
    Come along and join in the fun

The “Friends of Duthie Park” was set up in 2006 as a charitable organisation established to promote Aberdeen’s world famous park, one of the most popular tourist attractions within the Granite City.

The Friends work closely with the Park’s owners, Aberdeen City Council to provide a positive mouth piece for the Park’s users.

Currently the Friends organisation is closely involved with the bid by Aberdeen City Council for Heritage Lottery Funding to restore areas of the Park to their former glory.

They actively encourage membership of the organisation, which currently is free, as they are always interested in facts, knowledge or ideas for the Park.

Mar 302011

By Mike Shepherd.

The controversy over Union Terrace Gardens shows no sign of abating. The proposed scheme to replace the Victorian city-centre park with a three-storey building and a modern roof garden is still causing outrage in Aberdeen. The plans have reached the stage where an architectural competition is to be launched at some time in the next two months.

The city square bosses are currently working on the design brief for the competition, a document which they hope to get out by mid May.

I understand that a key issue is to try and find a use for the three-storey building that could potentially fill in the site of Union Terrace Gardens. Given that the Gardens extend over 2 ½ acres, the floor space provided over three levels will be significant. According to the technical feasibility study this is estimated to be about 56,000 square metres.

By comparison Union Square, according to Wikipedia, has a total retail space of 65,000 square metres. Although I’m told there will be some commercial activity in the building, this will not apparently be on the scale envisaged in the technical feasibility study for the project. For instance, although it is possible that there will be a car park, this may not be the two-storey 490-bay car park as detailed in the study.  I’ve been told that the main use of the building is to provide a civic and cultural centre including potentially a public meeting place, a heritage museum, art space, a concert hall, along with entertainment and sports facilities.

Although superficially this may sound attractive, one can already anticipate  some major problems. One big headache for the city square bosses is that the design brief will have to give a reasonably detailed idea of what the building is to be used for. And that’s a lot of space to fill given the civic and cultural remit.

Councillors opposed to the City Square have forced an emergency debate on the gardens controversy

The problem is that Aberdeen already has many of the facilities that the City Garden Centre is supposed to house. It is difficult to see the City Square getting  a major conference or concert facility as this would compete with the Exhibition Centre, a building that the Council would be most reluctant to close as this would land £28M of debt onto the massively-strained revenue budget.

Providing an art space is not without problems either. The Aberdeen Art Gallery is almost next door and there are already plans to build an extension to the gallery to provide extra room.   Peacock Visual Arts have so far refused to be part of the city square project and it is difficult to think of who else could get involved at this stage. His Majesty’s Theatre is immediately adjacent and an additional major drama venue also looks to be superfluous at this location.

Would the Council encourage the rehousing of institutions such as the Music Hall, the Lemon Tree, the Aberdeen Arts Centre and the Belmont Cinema just in order to find something suitable to fill the large space available? Then another question is as to whether the Council would be prepared to fund any new cultural activity in the City Garden Centre?  Given the current calamitous state of the revenue budget, it is difficult to see this happening in the short to medium term.

Yet another problem is anticipated for the City square bosses later in the year. Once the designs come back from the competition, one of them will have to be picked. Councillors have been told what is likely to happen. Initial submissions will be shortlisted to around 25 entries. A jury comprising technical experts and community representatives will pick five of the designs.

These will then go on public display and the public feedback will be considered by the jury when ordering the preference for each of the five designs. The recommendations of the jury will then go to the City Square bosses who will in turn recommend a preferred option to the Council.

The Council will then vote on ratifying the final design at a meeting in December. If by this stage the public consider that their views on how the centre of Aberdeen will look are not being taken very seriously, they would be right. And not for the first time either.

Meanwhile, Councillors opposed to the City Square have forced an emergency debate on the gardens controversy.

They want the problems over the Peacock grant to be investigated. They are also asking for the City Square to be rejected on the grounds that it damages the city’s heritage and that it would have serious financial implications and risk for the Council in the years to come. No date has been fixed for the debate as of writing but it should be held by the 8th April.

A pro City Square campaign has just been formed called ‘Just Imagine’. The leader of the group is Michail Tzouvelekis, co-convenor of the Grampian PR Group an organisation for public relations practitioners, professional communicators and PR and communication students in the Aberdeen area.

According to the group:

A number of concerned locals from all backgrounds and ages have spoken out against objectors to the City Garden Project ‘who continue to promote inaccurate messages’, as they believe they are over-shadowing the huge but largely silent support for it.”


Giving Away Union Terrace Gardens – Part 2

 Aberdeen City, Articles, Community, Environment, Featured, Information, Opinion  Comments Off on Giving Away Union Terrace Gardens – Part 2
Mar 252011

Last week, Mike Shepherd wrote an article on the next steps for the scheme to develop Union Terrace Gardens. Mike gives an update on this week’s events.

A timetable was published containing an item for the council meeting on 27th April when Councillors would vote on approving transfer of a lease for the park to a third party organisation, most likely a limited company or trust. This organisation was designated as a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle’ (SPV).

If approval for leasing the park were to be given, then this would have been about a year in advance of any planning permission being sought for the City Square Project.

This week, I was forwarded an email from the Council Executive stating that Councillors will not now be discussing the lease transfer next month. The following are direct quotes from the email:

“… On a more general point, the basis on which UTG could be available for development still requires to be carefully considered and shall, doubtless, be the subject of considerable legal scrutiny and Elected Member decision before any disposition is finally known.

“From having read your constituent’s comments … it may be the case that your constituent is referring to the “City Gardens Project Plan timetable for key decisions” report approved by Council on 6th October 2010 which highlighted the forthcoming Council meeting of 27th April 2011 as the date when a report would be presented to Council seeking approval, amongst other issues, for lease of land (UTG) to the project’s Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) company.

“As detailed in an Information Bulletin Report to Council of 23rd Feb 2011, a request to Members to approve any lease will first be subject to the approval of a Business Plan by the SPV company prior to Elected Members being asked to take any decision regarding the terms upon which appropriate development rights may be granted to the Special Purpose Vehicle.  In other words, as work on the Business Plan etc is currently ongoing following the recent incorporation of the SPV company, Elected Members will not be asked at Council on 27th April to approve any lease or grant of development rights to the SPV.”

The timetable for progress on the City Square Project will now have to be revised and it is not known if or when the issue of transferring the lease will come up in future.

Last week also saw the appointment of the company to manage the design competition for the city square.

It is expected that the competition will be launched next month and short-listed designs will be made public by the end of September.

The Press and Journal reported on Saturday that the City Garden Project managers were proposing to bid for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Given that the scheme involves the destruction of the Victorian Union Terrace Gardens, replacing it with a three storey building and a modern roof garden, this did cause a bit of a stir in the city.

One website has suggested how the City Square could ‘display and showcase our history and heritage’.

“Imagine walking under the new space with natural light filtering into an airy space that is bursting with historical documents and artefacts, currently held in the city’s archives, passing by studios and rehearsal rooms where dancers, actors and musicians practise, coming up onto street-level to be faced with displays showcasing physical pieces of our history and telling the story of our rich heritage.”

The vision of replacing heritage with a heritage museum angered a good number of Aberdonians, and emails were sent to the Heritage Lottery Fund in protest.  The head of the fund replied to the effect that they hadn’t received any application as yet, and as such they couldn’t comment. However, they did note the following:

“We expect all applicants for funding to consult with relevant stakeholders, including the local community, in the development of their projects and we consider this as part of our assessment alongside a wide range of factors.”

Much has happened in a week and more is to come next week. The Union Terrace Gardens situation is fast moving, complex and to some extent shrouded in secrecy. It is not easy to follow, or even understand everything that is happening. However, be assured that some Councillors are also starting to lose track of the situation and are making their concerns known.

The Gardens should not be given away to a limited company without time for due diligence on behalf of the elected members and it should most certainly not be railroaded through in the manner that published timetables suggested would be the case. Union Terrace Gardens has a real estate value worth tens of millions of pounds to the city.

To the citizens of Aberdeen they are of course, priceless.