Mar 092021

By Suzanne Kelly.

It appears Marischal Square is nothing like the money-spinner city taxpayers were promised.

Within that glass box building, one of the most repugnant carbuncles to disgrace Aberdeen in recent years, government, multinationals and food businesses are enjoying sweeteners in the form of rent holidays, discounts and more.

Figures obtained through Freedom Of Information requests reveal that, to date, these sweeteners amount to nearly £4.5m.

Other costs have been estimated by the ‘We Campaigned Against Marischal Square’ group, which like Aberdeen Voice, has been fighting for data from Aberdeen City Council under FOI law.

We Campaigned posted:

“By my reckoning, since opening, MS has COST US £18 million so far. It’s taken in around £3 million and we have paid Muse/Aviva rent > £15 million plus we’ve spent around £3 million in operational costs.

How do we stop this financial mismanagement? Can we hold anyone to account? (We also have £1.3 BILLION debt to pay back the bond – interest payments of £40 million per year).”

Should the council have decided to go into the commercial rental sector with a new build? Did it have the expertise in house?

At one point the city claimed it had no idea of the amount of rent each individual business was paying, and that only Muse knew this.

If true, it’s a shocking dereliction of fiscal responsibility. Effectively, it makes freedom of information requests hard to successfully lodge, as Aberdeen Voice and ‘Stop the Desecration of Marischal Square’ have found.

The following companies moved in. The list shows the value of their sweeteners. 

Tenant / Approximate sweetener total
Aberdeen Journals Ltd / £1,710,630
Tony Macaroni / £225,000
Chevron / (£285,270 min, £570,540 max) £427,905
Ernst & Young / £570,420
Mitchells & Butlers / £187,500
Tenaris / £116,215
KPMG / £266,535
Scottish Ministers / £582,905
Costa / £59,800
National Westminster Bank / (£193,847 min £ 243,306 max) £218,576
Prezzo / £46,200
Mackies / £38,200
TOTAL = £4,449,886.00

Aberdeen City Council was less than forthcoming with this information Only after the Information Commissioner’s office interceded did they release the information.

Anyone wanting to see the actual heads of terms agreements for the rents showing duration, other perks granted eg. carpeting allowances and free parking, size of space rented, etc, will find this hard-fought-for information here. 

As an aside, when finally handing this information over, the city tried to claim the documents were so large that they could only pass them over if Aberdeen Voice opened an account with ACC.  This nonsense was quickly countered. An account with ACC to access its FOI documentation or make requests is not required.

The ‘too large documents’ were under fifty pages in total.

The city is competing with the private sector in creating this building, just a time when Brexit impacts and the changes in the oil industry reverberate. Sir Ian Wood is busy trying to convince central government to build yet more offices and industrial space in the city. Doubtless he’ll get his way.

The businesses that moved out of existing spaces to Marischal such as KPMG leave behind empty office space and take income from the private sector.

In order to compete with the private sector in a market where office space is hardly in short supply, ACC uses the taxpayers’ largess to dole out the sweeteners.

Aberdeen Voice will try to determine whether the city is giving any further rent breaks or sweeteners to their Marischal Square tenants

The businesses forced to close, yet forced to pay for Aberdeen Inspired/business rates may look with some justified envy on the treatment given to national chains, multinationals and Aberdeen Journals Ltd.

Damian Bates, disgraced former Aberdeen Journals Ltd empresario, alluded to the fact the city was already subsidising its rent at Lang Stracht.

Why a genuine news corporation would be willingly indebted to a government with so many stories that should be robustly investigated is not a mystery – the city used to spend quite heavily on advertising in the rags.

However, the P&J and EE no longer refer to Marischal Square as ‘controversial’ and seem happy to sing its praises.

The city recently said it is £30,000,000 in debt.

Many consider this figure to be considerably lower than the reality. Where it will be in a year’s time is anyone’s guess – but if it is banking on Marischal Square, it’s doomed.

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Nov 132010

Voice’s Alex Mitchell tells of the scandalous dissipation of the bequest by Dr Patrick Dun in 1631. Dr Dun bequeathed the Lands of Ferryhill in favour of The Aberdeen Grammar School, the tenants of Ferryhill, and the pupils of poor homes which, if handled appropriately, would today be of immense value.

This is an account of how a bequest of great value was first diverted to wrongful uses, and then almost wholly dissipated, not by an outside body of meddlers, but by the very trustees themselves, in whose hands it ought to have been sacred.

Dr Patrick Dun was the son of Andrew Dun, a burgess of Aberdeen.   He was probably educated at the Grammar School, and thereafter proceeded to Marischal College.

In 1607, he took his Doctorate in Medicine in Basle, Switzerland.   In 1610, shortly after his return to Aberdeen, Dr Dun was appointed Professor of Logic and a Regent at Marischal College.   He was appointed Rector of the College in 1619, then Principal in 1621.   He held this office, through very troublesome times, until his resignation in 1649, and died two or three years later.

Dr Dun had an outstanding reputation as a practising doctor.   He was a man of substance, and when Marischal College was burnt down in 1639 he contributed handsomely towards the cost of the new buildings.   His portrait, by George Jameson, dated 1631, is still to be seen in the Hall of Aberdeen Grammar School.

The Lands of Ferryhill consisted in those days of bogs and whins, fit only for rough grazing, and were described by Francis Douglas even as late as 1728 as amounting to ‘little conical hills over-run with heath and furze … the flat bottoms between them drenched with stagnant water’.   The Lands of Ferryhill had belonged to the Trinity Friars, who feued them out to the powerful Menzies dynasty.   After the Reformation of 1560, the Lands of Ferryhill became the property of the Crown.

Dr Dun purchased the Lands of Ferryhill in 1629 for, it would seem, no other purpose than to bequest them, and all property thereon, by his Will, dated 3rd August 1631, to the ‘Toune of Aberdeine’ for the maintenance of four masters at the Grammar School.   Dr Dun bequeathed the whole of this extensive property to the Provost, Baillies and Council of Aberdeen for this specific purpose.   He directed that the rents obtained from these lands should be invested until enough money accumulated to buy another piece of land sufficient to yield, along with the original gift, a yearly revenue of 1,200 merks, this sum being sufficient to pay the basic salaries of the stipulated staff of four masters, including the Rector.

Pupils from poor homes, all those who borne the name of Dun and all children of tenants on the Ferryhill estate were to be taught free of charge.   Dr Dun’s Will concludes with a solemn injunction that the mortification, or charitable bequest, shall “stand unalterable, inviolable and unchangeable in all tyme hereafter for ever”.

instead of letting the lands out to rent, the Council proceeded to feu them off by public roup or auction

Dr Dun’s Bequest put the Grammar School on a sound and permanent economic footing, and provided the blessing of free education for boys whose parents could not afford to pay fees.   So what happened?

In 1653, when the Town Council assumed control of Dr Dun’s Bequest, the stock or capital in the Trust amounted to just over £74.   Rents were added until 1666, by which time the capital amounted to just over £583.   The Council considered that this was sufficient to allow them to invest in land, as per the terms of the Will.

However: instead of buying land, as the Will stipulated, the Council lent the money out, without adequate security, to various people, including some of their own number; two Provosts, one Baillie and at least two Councillors, all of whom became insolvent, so that the Trust sustained a heavy loss.   Others abstracted interest-free loans.

In 1677 the Council purchased the lands of Gilcolmston, on behalf of the town, for just over £1,444; and charged one-third of this sum to the Dun Trust.   This was wholly illegal, given that the capital of the Trust belonged to the masters at the Grammar School.   By 1681 the capital had declined to just over £469, of which £287 was earning no interest; of this latter sum, £131 was wholly lost.   The Town itself was borrowing freely from the Trust.

schoolmasters were deprived of salaries, and the benefit of free education was denied to those actual or potential pupils specified by Dr Dun

In 1752, William Moir, the tacksman of the Lands of Ferryhill, was bought out by the Council, which now entered into full possession of the property.   The income from rents had risen to £102 yearly.   However, instead of letting the lands out to rent, the Council proceeded to feu them off by public roup or auction, to the great loss of the Trust.

In 1753, the masters at the Grammar School petitioned the Council for an increase in salaries.   A settlement was arrived at, or enforced, which cancelled the Town’s debt to the Trust of £427 and ordained that the balance should be applied to building a new school – the predecessor, on Schoolhill, of the present Aberdeen Grammar School, which dates from 1867 – and establishing an endowment fund for its maintenance.   All this was utterly illegal, and contributed to the further dissipation of the Trust, the capital of which had fallen to just £100 by 1770.

The effect of this was that the schoolmasters were deprived of salaries, and the benefit of free education was denied to those actual or potential pupils specified by Dr Dun in his bequest of 1631.   Walter Thom, in his History of Aberdeen, published in1811, drew attention to the Town Council’s misappropriation of the Dun Bequest.   He wrote: “The injury sustained by the citizens of Aberdeen by the mismanagement of Dr Dun’s bequest is sufficiently apparent, and the turpitude of the crime cannot be palliated by any plea of ignorance … the disgrace attachable to those who abused this valuable institution … (etc)”.

The Education (Scotland) Act of 1872 transferred the control of the Grammar School and the other schools in Aberdeen from the Town Council to a new body, the School Board, which had to look into the whole tangled question of Dr Dun’s Bequest.   The capital at this time amounted to just over £3,623.   There followed difficult negotiations between the School Board and the Town Council, the upshot of which was that the Council agreed to pay the School Board the sum of £164 annually, being the amount agreed on as the income from Dr Dun’s Bequest, i.e., the feu duties of Ferryhill.

In 1929, the Grammar School, as with the other schools in Aberdeen, was brought once again under the control of the Town Council as a result of the Local Government (Scotland) Act of that year.   In 1934, provision was made for a payment of not less than £150 per year to be applied so as to benefit boys attending Aberdeen Grammar School.   This was all that remained of Dr Dun’s Bequest.

In 1634, when Dr Dun reported to the Town Council his intention to hand over the lands of Ferryhill on behalf of the Grammar School, the total population of the Royal Burgh of Aberdeen was only about 5,000.   The town consisted of sixteen streets, centred on the Broadgate and the Castlegate.   The lands of Ferryhill – so-named after the ferry across the Dee at Craiglug – were hillocky and marshy, of use for little else but rough grazing by animals.   Land of this kind was abundant and of little value.

By the first census in 1801, the population of Aberdeen was about 27,000; it increased almost six-fold over the 19th century to about 150,000 by 1901, and to about 213,000 by 2001.   The Lands of Ferryhill, which were wholly built over by 1901, would even then – never mind today – have been an immensely valuable property.

The Trust would have required adjustment following the advent of State-provided and State-financed education but, had it been retained intact and honestly administered by the Town Council, it is easy to imagine what a favourable position the Grammar School – or indeed the whole Burgh – could have enjoyed through the 20th century and today.   That this fair prospect has receded into the limbo of frustrated things, of “what might have been”, is due solely to the dishonesty and carelessness of successive Aberdeen Town Councils through the 17th and 18th centuries.

N.B.   This article is adapted from an original titled The Tercentenary of Dr Patrick Dun’s Bequest to the School, by W. Douglas Simpson, published in the Aberdeen Grammar School Magazine of 1934.

Nov 122010

A Fairy Story Or Horror Story? ….. By Bob Smith.

Warner Bros. brocht us “Looney Tunes”xx.i sx.xi.x Congestion chargin’ in the centre o toon
Cooncil offices produce some goony loonsxs .x.xi.x Noo  wid iss be seen as a boon?
Aa  iss blether aboot cuts an savinsxxxxxxxxxsxix Will it get fowk oot their cars?
Is the product o some madhoose ravinsxxxxxxxxx Mair chunce o aliens bein on Mars

They micht hae ti close oor parksxxxxxssxxxsxxxx Postponin  buildin’ o the toon’s bypass
Nae mair gairdeners in sweaty sarksxxxxsxxxxixxx Iss micht be seen as a touch o class
The Winter Gairdens will be nae mairxxxxxxxfxixxx Bit spare a thocht for staff at Foresterhill
It’s aneuch ti mak ye pull yer hairxxxxxxfxxxsxxxx Iss idea wid mak a lot o fowk ill

Johnston Gairdens, a maist peacefu’ havenxxxisfxx Mergin’ the offices o City an Shire
Jist ti be seen by dyeuks an odd ravenxxxxxxiixfxx Wid raise some cooncil billies ire
Maybe aa the parks  wid  be infilledxxxxxxxxxixfxxsIt wid o coorse save rinnin’ costs
Will Stewartie Milne then start ti build?xxxixxxxfxxxBit a pucklie fowk wid lose their posts

Aul’ bodies will be  in a tizzyxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxiixx Ae benefit o merger we micht  see
In fact they’ll aa be bliddy dizzyxxxxxxxxxiiixxiixxx Fae some looney cooncillors we wid be free
At the thocht o gettin’ less carexxxxxxxxxxxxxixx Bit if jist daft ideas is aa wi’ve got
Faa  ivver thocht iss wid be fairxxxx xxxxxxixxxxx Then the haill damn’t lot hiv lost the plot

Marischal College  nae doot protectedxxxxxxxxxxx ©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2010
A bit o “sellie first” is  bein’ detectedxxxxxxx
Aa aat money for new office gearxxxxxxx
Jist wait till I hae a wee bit sweirxxxxxxx

Nov 052010

By Alex Mitchell.

There is widespread concern about the dingy and run-down state of Aberdeen’s principal thoroughfare of Union Street which runs all the way from Holburn Junction to the Castlegate and the town end of King Street. This is manifest in the number of empty shops and in the distinctly low-rent character of many of such shops as there are.

It seems the more odd that this situation has developed during some thirty years of oil-boom prosperity, low unemployment and substantially-increased population.

If one thinks back to the Union Street of the nineteen fifties and sixties, the following comes to mind: Union Street was jam-packed with shoppers along its entire length every Saturday, as was also St Nicholas Street/George Street. People dressed up to go ‘doon the toon’, and you met everyone you knew in Union Street. In that sense, Aberdeen really was a village. The open-air markets in the Green and Castlegate were very much going concerns. Buses went all the way from Hazlehead to the Sea Beach and back again, via Queen’s Cross, Union Street and the Castlegate, which served as the city’s main bus interchange, where you nipped off one bus and on to another.

As a result, far more people had reason to go to the Castlegate than nowadays. Union Street and St Nicholas Street/George Street were full of interesting, up-market shops: grocer Andrew Collie & Co. Ltd. at the corner of Union Street and Bon Accord Street; Watt & Grant’s department store; McMillan’s toy shop, under the Trinity Hall; Woolworth’s, backing on to the Green; Falconer’s, Isaac Benzie’s, the Equitable, the handsome and elegant old Northern Co-op building in Loch Street; the Rubber Shop.

So what happened? Much of the population moved out of down-town tenements and into the new housing estates and suburban residential developments, ever-further from the city centre. Car ownership became the norm, and car-borne customers prefer shops they can park next to. Supermarkets became superstores and greatly extended their range of merchandise, destroying one specialist retailer after another. Butchers, bakers, fishmongers, hardware and electrical stores, shoe-shops and, most recently, pharmacists, bookshops and record shops have all been subsumed into superstores.

The obvious way for the city-centre to fight back was to build down-town malls like the St Nicholas and Bon Accord shopping centres

Superstores and their car-parks require huge expanses of land and prefer edge-of-town locations where large sites are available and cheap and accessible for both customers and delivery lorries. DIY sheds like B&Q, furniture and carpet stores and ‘big box’ retailers like Curry’s similarly prefer edge-of-town retail parks.

Edge-of-town retail complexes, such as that at Garthdee, may be banal, unhistorical and characterless, but they are also convenient as to access, offer easy and free parking, and are generally clean, safe and relatively easy to secure against break-ins and vandalism. The obvious way for the city-centre to fight back was to build down-town malls like the St Nicholas and Bon Accord shopping centres. These offer the kind of accommodation retailers want, and are relatively secure overnight, but they may tend to abstract business and custom from the High Street. The case is unproven. Without the down-town malls, the major retailers might have moved out of the city centre altogether.   Or they might not.

If, however, the supply of retail premises outruns the demand, it follows that the less attractive premises and locations will become hard-to-let, the rent obtainable falls, lower-status tenants have to be accepted; ultimately, premises may become unlettable on any terms. This is what seems to have happened in the west end of Union Street, and not only there.

We are assured that Aberdeen is not oversupplied with shops, but there have been significant increases in the down-town stock of retail premises in recent years, e.g., the Academy in Belmont Street and the Galleria in Bon Accord Street, neither of which were quick to fill up with tenants. The proposed Bon Accord Quarter will substantially increase the capacity of the present St Nicholas and Bon Accord malls and the Union Square development at Guild Street comprises some sixty new retail premises.

What else happened? Down-town, the general decline in church attendance after the First World War, combined with the exodus of population from the city centre, rendered many churches redundant. Similarly, whatever else we may say about the banks, they did put up some very handsome and impressive buildings. But, by the 1990s, the Bank of Scotland had abandoned its splendid and purpose-built 1801 premises at the corner of Castle Street and Marischal Street, as did the Clydesdale Bank its 1842 Archibald Simpson premises at the corner of Castle Street and King Street.

What was once the centre of business activity in Aberdeen was so no longer.   Aberdeen Journals moved from Broad Street out to Lang Stracht. Aberdeen University withdrew from Marischal College and the Student Union (and Bisset’s Academic Bookshop) closed down. The Robert Gordon University moved out to Garthdee.

There never was a time when things stood still. Old trades and occupations become obsolete, redundant or move elsewhere, often when displaced by newer, more profitable activities in the Darwinian contest for the use of economic resources, land, labour, capital etc. There are no fishing boats in Aberdeen harbour now because they have been replaced by oil-industry vessels. Planning applications for change-of-use are the normal and desirable state of affairs. But neighbourhoods and communities go into a decline when long-established firms and industries fade out and fail to be replaced by new enterprises and activities, or are replaced by activities which are in some way damaging or undesirable.

bars, nightclubs, etc., are a youth-orientated business, and the relevant age-group is shrinking as families move out of the city

The increased number of vacant retail premises in Union Street results from the fact that fewer tenants are moving in than are moving out; there is a net exodus of retailers.   The sad truth is that Union Street is not nowadays that good an environment in which to try to run a shop.

Old buildings and ground-floor premises are difficult to make secure against break-ins and vandalism. Delivery access for lorries is difficult. Shop staff and customers are harassed by drunks, beggars and drug abusers. Shop doorways, windows and their surroundings are often in a filthy state at the start of each day’s business. It is difficult to find and retain staff who will put up with this. It is not surprising if retailers follow their customers and withdraw to the relatively clean, safe and secure environment of the down-town malls and edge-of-town retail parks.

Aberdeen has generally been a better-run city than most. But the situation described arises from the non-delivery, or inadequate performance, of very specific council and governmental responsibilities, e.g., to maintain law and order, to enforce the law, e.g., against drinking in public places, to deal with anti-social and criminal behaviour, to collect the rubbish and clean the streets and pavements. Putting down the odd tub of begonias is not enough.

As banks, churches and big stores have withdrawn from Union St, so mega-pubs and bars, nightclubs and fast-food providers have moved in. To an extent, the new arrivals have been welcome, occupying old buildings which would otherwise have remained empty and neglected. In addition, some of this may be regarded as legitimate change-of-use, in response to changing tastes and lifestyles.

Similarly, there is a place for pubs, bars and nightclubs; but perhaps for fewer of them, and of a different character. The bars, nightclubs, etc., are a youth-orientated business, and the relevant age-group is shrinking as families move out of the city in search of better-value housing and more stable and higher-achieving schools.

In the meantime, the issue is one of whether the alcohol industry can peacefully co-exist with other economic sectors, retailers etc., and with the resident population of the city centre. All the evidence is that a neighbourhood which loses its settled, long-term resident population is doomed, finished, over. So if the interests of the local resident population and the alcohol industry are in conflict, then the former must take precedence.   It may be that the drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc. sectors will be cut down to size only as and when people get bored with and/or turn against this kind of activity, much as they mostly have in relation to tobacco.

Similarly, a locality and micro-economy which has long been in decline, such as the Castlegate, can be revived only by rebuilding its resident population and base of custom and trade from the ground up. The buildings at the west end of Union Street (originally Union Place), used to be private houses; people did their shopping in the street markets or in Archibald Simpson’s New Market of 1842, Aberdeen’s first enclosed shopping mall.

One of the more positive developments in recent years is the conversion of the upper floors of these old buildings, often long out-of-use, into modern residential accommodation.

It is a pity that the long-proposed Bon Accord Quarter was put on hold, possibly whilst the proprietors of the two down-town malls assessed the impact of the Union Square development, south of Guild Street.

This writer was broadly in support of the outline scheme for the Bon-Accord Quarter, because it would have secured the desirable objectives of removing St Nicholas House and bringing Marischal College back into an appropriate usage; also because it confirmed and consolidated the traditional retail heart of Aberdeen as the premier shopping destination in the North-East, the natural and obvious location for up-market and quality retailers like Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, Debenham’s, Next etc., which serve to pull shoppers and visitors into the city centre to the benefit of all the other retailers and service-providers.

Contributed by Alex Mitchell.

Oct 222010

Old Susannah gets to grips with more tricky terms.

Old Susannah has been having a great time at the newly-opened Brewdog pub, across from Marischal College.  Great selection of beers from this creative Aberdeenshire brewery and from other parts of the globe, as well as great food  await you. They also happened to have my favourite ever cheese  last time I was there.

I got to try a small glass of the Sink The Bismarck extra extra strong beer – which had been vilified in the press on the basis that people would be downing bottles of it just because it was so strong.

Some people wanted it banned and said it was nearly as bad for the world as  Buckfast.

I tried it, I liked it, and I can say that no sensible person is any more likely to down massive quantities of it than they would be to drink 10 bottles of a strong liqueur:  it is for gentle sipping only in small doses.  Only drawback to this pub whatsoever is its location – expect a few unsavoury characters going in once the City Council mandarins move into Marischal College.

What did Aberdeen City Council expect six years ago when it sold Stewart Milne Group 11 acres of land in Westhills for £365,000 (wouldn’t you like a deal like that?)?  They had expected to get a share of future profits if Milne sold or leased the land.  They call this Profit-Sharing.  Selling the land at market value to the highest bidder might have seemed like a good idea as would renting it, but the experts knew better; I am surprised those responsible aren’t coming forward to claim the praise they deserve.  Someone in the Council cooked up this great deal, and we parted with land worth considerably more than the selling price, as the Court found this week, and awaited a share of future sale profits.

If you are still with me, Stewart Milne Group then sold the land – to another Milne company.

The City Council asked for its profit share, but alas, despite the great acumen of Milne, the land was sold at a lowish value and the sale from one branch of the Milne empire to another cost about £500K  to arrange.  Poor them!  Therefore there were no profits to share at all, and fair enough.  Perhaps the Council should have given Milne money to cover his losses on the deal.

You would think The Council would show a bit more understanding of the Milne shareholders’ needs, but they have actually taken the issue to Court to try and get a measly £1.7 million.  You’d almost think we need the money  the way ACC are pursuing this humble public servant, who thinks nothing of selflessly giving his time to sit on the board of ASCEF with no thought of personal gain or reward.  It is a wonder Mr Milne can continue to do his best for Aberdeen’s citizens by trying to fill in their garden and build a shiny new stadium on greenbelt when he’s being so cruelly pursued.  But the Council went ahead (spending taxpayers money all the while) to get the courts to agree Milne owes ACC the money.

After the judgment, the City Council had no comment.  Doubtless they are busy preparing a statement saying why this was a good deal, how the price was determined, what other people were allowed to bid for the land, and what other land we’ve sold SMG.  I can’t wait to read it.

Milne spokespeople however did comment to say not that they are sorry and will immediately give us £1.7 million pounds, but that they will be looking at their options.  If however the Council has to make a further appeal, then taxpayers money will probably be used.  How much money it will cost to get £1.7 million when we could have sold the land for more money isn’t important.  This might be a good time to remind readers that ASCEF is meant to;

“… ensure a collaborative approach to growing the economy and enhancing quality of life”.

Cynics (if any out there) might wonder whether this is appropriate action for a member of ASCEF to be taking.  But do console yourselves – there is now a new office complex on the Westhill land where sources tell me the architecture is beautiful, the HVAC works perfectly, and there are absolutely no leaks in the building’s fabric.  We can only hope that more land will be made available for construction soon, and that ACC will leave this generous-spirited public servant alone.


If your product is losing popularity or if people are not on your side, then it’s time for some rebranding.  Get yourself a  consultant, spend some money, and you will be back on track before you know it.  And that is what ASCEF have done with our tax money:  It gives me great pleasure to announce that per the ASCEF website, “The project to elevate Union Terrace Gardens has been renamed the City Garden Project.   Now that they put it that way, it seems like a much better idea.  Not that we will ever know how much this exercise cost, but clearly you will agree it was worth every penny.

Last word (I hope) on animal cruelty
The beautiful Arabian mare featured in the news last week, with a massive chunk bitten out of its muzzle,  has had to be destroyed following the attack by an out-of-control dog.  Some person or persons have hung five kittens in Westhill outside of shops. Then we have the seagull shooter and the fox clubber.  What is going on here?

I never intended this little column to become an animal cruelty feature, but the current crop of horror stories in Aberdeenshire can’t go without comment.

First, if you must own a dog which has been bred to be a powerful, unstoppable fighter, then definitely keep it on a leash and use a muzzle if you need to.  The UK is filled with stories – eg the little girl in Dundee knocked off of her bicycle and mauled by two dogs – and the owners always say the same thing:

‘”It was always a nice dog, never any trouble, until it suddenly snapped for no reason”.

They usually are saying this to a child that’s been scarred for life (or to a coffin).

There is a message in these stories – but there are some dog owners out there who aren’t getting it.  It was a beautiful, gentle horse that suffered horribly this time. I can’t imagine how the owner feels – but they were lucky they themselves weren’t seriously hurt.  If things keep up, it won’t be long before it’s a child.

Secondly as to the small element of people who want to train their dogs to fight and to attack other animals, or people who deliberately inflict cruelty on helpless, innocent animals – someone please make that anonymous call to stop them.   If you can stop a tragedy in the future, then you won’t be able to live with yourself if you do nothing now.

Finally, whoever killed the kittens needs to be identified.  It is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ their actions are going to escalate.  Clearly they have been abused themselves, and if they’re not stopped more will suffer.  Know something?  Suspect something?  Tell someone.

Oct 082010

Old Susannah gets to grips with more tricky terms.

Two bits of good news this week – it seems a possible New Best Friend has been identified for fox batterer Derek Forbe.  Enter Mervyn New, 45, operations director for Marine Subsea UK, reported to prosecutors for shooting baby seagull chicks (too young to fly) from his Aberdeen office window. One was killed, the other suffered in a wounded state until put down.  Perhaps like Forbes it was a case self-defence for New.

It would have come as something of a surprise to find seabirds nesting near the Aberdeen coast, and hopefully Mr New won’t find the media attention too distressing.  After all, office workers are historically known to surf the web, hang around the water cooler and kill things.  No doubt New and Forbes can go ‘clubbing’ together sometime.  My other cheery news is that Donald Trump is considering running for presidency of the United States.  Break out the champagne (but drink responsibly – see below)


We wouldn’t have have our poor, hardworking executives falling foul (or is that ‘fowl’?) of silly wildlife laws if it weren’t for organisations like the SSPCA and the RSPB.  The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) is an organisation that exists to stop people like Forbes and New having any fun.   It seems the RSPB has just issued a report saying that the situation is serious for wild birds in Scotland.  Apparently things called ‘loss of habitation’ (like when parks are turned into car parks) and fragmentation of habitation (like when parks are turned into football stadia) are bad for birds and other wildlife.  So there you have it – the less green space, the less wildlife.  Yes, that sounds like a very farfetched conclusion.  But if we keep going the way we are, then the world will be a safer place for Forbes and New.   Birds apparently pollinate wild plants and food crops, and feed off of insects, so they won’t be missed much.

Dine in for Two for £10
Loss of green space and loss of wildlife are as nothing compared to some social ills.  Sometimes a problem is so dreadful the temptation is to sweep it under the carpet.  Therefore we should give thanks to the SNP for its bravery and sense of priorities:  Is it going to tackle pollution?  Crime?  The economic crisis?  Decaying schools and hospitals?  Better:  it is going to stop supermarket offers such as ‘Dine in for Two for £10’ once and for all.  Old Susannah understands they have their best people on this full time (doing field research).  Their backbench MSP, Dr Ian McKee, is going to cure Scotland of its alcohol problems in one go by stopping these meal deals.  Once the deal is gone, we’ll all go teetotal.  There are some people who can handle alcohol, and some who cannot.  If we stop everyone from having a glass of wine with their shrimp cocktail, chicken casserole and profiteroles, we’ll have a better society.

You see them —  couples, pensioners, working people –  racing to grocery stores when these specials are on, behaving like wild animals, grabbing main courses, side dishes, desserts – and a bottle of wine (although non-alcoholic drinks are clearly offered as well).  Don’t be fooled into thinking these people are going to eat any of the food.  It’s the wine they want.  After ‘scoring’, they go home and ‘prepare’ – this ritual might involve plates, cutlery and glasses.  Delirious on the wine, they then go to the town centre, fight, commit crime, get sick in the streets, and so on.  Apparently a kidney charity says that such deals make taking alcohol seem socially acceptable.  You could be forgiven for thinking that 8,000 years’ worth of human civilisation had something to do with the concept that having wine was mainstream, but the SNP says otherwise.  Encouraging people to have a glass of wine alongside a three course meal is just wrong.


Freedom of Information Act
A law came into being some years ago giving the public the freedom to ask for information; this law was cleverly called the Freedom of Information Act.  Since then, many government agencies have worked tirelessly to evade complying with it.  Some suspicious people have the nerve not to trust their local governments, and write to request information.  Unfortunately this creates work for the Information Officers (who were put in place to deal with requests).  Kevin Stewart of Aberdeen City Council has said that many of these requests are ‘absurd’.  If anyone knows about absurdity, it may well be Mr Stewart.  Such crazy requests might include questions on what happening to the Common Good Fund, why old buildings are occasionally sold for less than market value, how much money is spent on outside consultants, why the previous promise to leave Loirston Park alone is being ignored and so on.  One question was asked about the Council taking over Marischal College and spending £80 million in the process.  What were the alternatives?  Who suggested this?  Were proper costing’s done and analysed?  After a bit more than the maximum time allowed, the Council replied that the financial data used to select Marischal College as the best way forward was Copyrighted by the consultants who did the study – and could not be released.  The word absurd springs to mind again.

A copyright is a form of protection which can be used to secure a creator’s rights over their creation.  The Harry Potter books and films are copyrighted; ‘Led Zepplin IV’ is copyrighted; ‘Gone with the Wind’ is copyrighted.  This stops unauthorised people passing the work off as their own, stealing parts of the work, or making unauthorised use of these creations, particularly for profit.  Old Susannah cannot find any form of copyright that would stop Aberdeen City Council from showing its figures for Marischal College expenditure and alternatives – unless the Council is planning a book or a film that is.  If anyone out there wants to ask the Council for the figures – or an explanation as to how such figures could possibly be copyrighted – please do send the Council a Freedom of Information Request.

Oct 082010

By Fred Wilkinson.

A local group of people with a shared enthusiasm for earth moving equipment has forwarded a proposal to Aberdeen City Council that the city coat of arms be replaced with a version more reflective of the bright future ahead for Aberdeen City and Shire.

Ground Up was formed in early 2010 by individuals from all over the Northeast who recognised the rise in profile, almost to iconic status, of all vehicles associated with the construction industry.

Chairman Doug Hall told Aberdeen Voice:

“It’s richt braw tae see sae mony on the go again. Oor group have organised hurlies as far apairt as Marischal College an’ Menie Estate tae watch the diggers daein’ thir jobby. It’s aye a sair fecht tae tak wersels awa hame, an’ abody’s aye left greetin’ fer mair.

“There’s nithin’ lik’ a great muckle construction site though. Tae see a’ the JCBs, the dozers, dumpers, larries an’ crans shiftin’ san’ an’ stanes in sic a co-ordinatit an’ efficient wye is jist smashin’. It aften tak’s the hicht o’ believin’ they’ve a mannie inside makkin them gin aboot. Jist magic, min”

When questioned on the controversy over the social and environmental impact of particular construction projects, Mr Hall was quick to point out that Ground Up has no interest in the politics of planning.

As founder member Phil Garden states,

“Och, at’s for ither fowk tae grouse aboot. We dinna get inveigult wi’ nane o’ thon. We dinna fash aboot fits ‘ere noo an’ fit’ll be ‘ere efter, an’ fit gins up fan efter at’s knockit doon. We’re jist gled that ae wye or anither we hiv a puckly fine days oot tae look forrit tae. Whither it’s Union Terrace, Balmiddie, Cove, Wellin’tin Road, Nigg, Westburn Perk or Pittodrie, we canna wait tae gin alang wi’ wer flasks an wir sammitches, an’ stan’ an’ watch the beasts shift grun.”

Ah think ther affa bonny like. Foo an’ivver, we div aye listen tae the fowk o’ the toon, and we hiv tae gie them a say

A spokesman for Aberdeen City Council confirmed that the proposed new coat of arms, featuring a manned bulldozer on either side of the familiar shield, was currently under consideration, but adoption of the design would be subject to lengthy public consultation. Cllr. Billy Auld commented:

“In order tae manage progress we hiv tae face facts, an’ the fact is, naebody fae Aiberdeen his ivver seen a unicorn, at least nae fer a gey lang fyle. But ony feel kens fit a bulldozer diz, an’ Ah canna think o’ a better depictification o’ the guardian angels o’ Aiberdeen. Ah think ther affa bonny like. Foo an’ivver, we div aye listen tae the fowk o’ the toon, and we hiv tae gie them a say on whither the bulldozers shid be yalla, or mibby grey. We’ll jist hiv tae wait an’ see”

A prominent manager of an undisclosed contruction company and chairman of an undisclosed Scottish Premier League football club was reported to be unwilling to comment on his alleged membership of Ground Up and rumours that he has accepted £400,000 from Aberdeen City Council for two JCBs to flank the entrance of their new HQ at Marischal College