Feb 292012
 

Shakhaf Barak wrote to a friend highlighting the history behind the current referendum that is dividing the city. He has kindly allowed Voice to use it, almost verbatim as the deadline approaches for voting.

Dear Friend,
Here in Aberdeen there is a bitter referendum taking place, and it could go either way. Over 70,000 people have voted thus far, in a city of barely 212,000 souls, and both sides have reported each other to the police. Central to this story is a 250-year old city centre park, Union Terrace Gardens, and the billionaire oil tycoon seeking to redevelop it.

Union Terrace Gardens are similar to Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens, lying in the natural amphitheatre of the Denburn valley, the Denburn being a stream which flows right through the city, underground where it borders the Gardens. Much of Aberdeen’s best architecture was clearly envisaged to overlook this area.

The Gardens are home to a cluster of 260-year old elms trees that once formed part of the Corbie Haugh, a historic wood which ran through the valley. This is among the largest concentration of healthy mature elm trees in Europe, and they are reputed to have escaped Dutch Elm Disease, not only due to their isolation, but also because the pollution of the city has afforded some sort of protection from it.

Both the park and its beautiful Victorian toilets are Grade A-listed, and all of the trees are under preservation orders. Up until as late as 2003, the Gardens formed the centrepiece of Aberdeen’s Britain In Bloom entry, and they were truly stunning, but since then expenditure has all but ceased, and the toilets have been closed for several years.

In 2008 a local arts organisation, Peacock Visual Arts (PVA) was granted planning permission for an award-winning and sympathetically-designed arts centre to be built into the hillside of the Gardens. This would have meant felling a small number of trees but none of the elms. The design was universally acclaimed and it was hoped that this scheme would help regenerate interest in the Gardens.

Enter Sir Ian Wood, one of Scotland’s richest men, and chief of Wood Group PSN. Sir Ian decided that he’d like to redevelop the Gardens by building a five-storey bunker in their place, whilst covering over the adjoining railway line and urban dual carriageway, with the entire roof of this construction forming a flat civic square at street level. It was not entirely clear what would be installed in the bunker, although speculation was rife to say the least.

He offered the council £50m towards the cost of this project, which was mooted to cost £140m. This was possibly an optimistic figure since Union Square, a similarly sized shopping mall with none of the technical difficulties or prior excavation work, cost £250m to build. The council felt this offer was too good to refuse, but the some members of the public were up in arms.

Sir Ian decided to put the proposal out to public consultation and promised to walk away should the public reject it.

The ‘consultation’ was commissioned by Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future (ACSEF), a publicly-funded unelected QUANGO, and conducted by The BiG Partnership, Scotland’s largest PR company.

It many ways it resembled a marketing exercise. The bulk of participation was via a website, which asked several questions with a somewhat loaded feel to them. For technical reasons, the question on whether or not to proceed with the plan defaulted to a YES vote.

If, during completion of the questionnaire, any previously-given responses were subsequently amended, this again defaulted back to a YES vote. When the results were released, it became apparent from the comments sections that may people who had intended voting NO had instead been recorded as YES voters.

Over 10,000 people participated in the consultation, and In spite of it’s technical oversights, the public voted against the Civic Square proposal by 54%-46%, a healthy and significant majority. However the PR machine kicked in and somehow spun that the 202,000 people who had not participated possibly represented a silent majority in favour of this scheme.

  Critics described it as a cross between Tellytubby Land and a skate park

Sir Ian decided not to walk away, and the project went to a council vote. The council voted in favour of taking the plan forward at the expense of PVA who by that time had 80% of their £20m funding in place. It has subsequently been alleged that some of the PVA funding was diverted into the new project.

The BiG Partnership now re-launched the plans under a new name, The City Garden Project (CGP). It was claimed that the outcome of the public consultation was that the public were broadly in favour of a garden as opposed to a civic square. Any implication that they were actually in favour of preserving the existing gardens was ignored.

The interested parties now felt that the best option was to redevelop the Gardens by building a five-storey bunker in their place whilst covering over the adjoining railway line and urban dual carriageway, with the entire roof of this construction forming a new garden at street level.

The whole thing had an air of déjà vu.

This time it was decided to hold an international design contest, paid for with public money. Six designs were shortlisted from hundreds of entrants. One, The Granite Web, bore a striking resemblance to Civic Square concept, albeit with less concrete and more greenery. Critics described it as a cross between Tellytubby Land and a skate park.

The local press heavily promoted the Granite Web design from the outset of the contest, leading with it on their front page and providing it with more photo coverage than the other designs. It was almost as though it had been ordained.

The public voted, and spoiled ballots aside, all indications were that The Winter Garden design proved the most popular. An independent poll confirmed this and put The Monolith in second place.

Tellingly both of these designs retained much of the topology of the existing Gardens. Word on the street was that The Granite Web was not a popular choice, but we’ll never know for sure, because a decision was taken not to release the results of the so-called public vote to the public.

It was then announced that the winner of the private-public vote would be put forward to the selection panel, along with another design. The self-appointed selection panel consisted of Sir Ian, some other influential people from the oil industry, an architectural consultant on the project payroll, and a councillor who backed the project.

The two designs discussed were the acknowledged public favourite, The Winter Garden, and you’ve guessed it, the joker in the pack, The Granite Web. When the panel announced the result, it should have come as no surprise to anyone that they had chosen The Granite Web, yet there was a shocked silence, and even those had come out in favour of the redevelopment initially appeared bemused if not downright confused.

The original Civic Square was mooted to cost £140m, with £50m coming from Sir Ian, £20m from the private sector, and the rest to be borrowed through a Tax Incremental Funding (TIF) scheme. Any over-run would be covered by the council (read local taxpayer) .

Only £5m of the private sector contribution has materialised thus far, but there has been an announcement that The Granite Web would be significantly less expensive to build than the previously-envisaged, but somewhat less complex, civic square. Sir Ian has offered to personally fund up to £35M of any cost over runs, should they occur.

The TIF proposal cheerfully bends all the guidelines of TIF funding. TIF is intended to be used to redevelop brownfield sites, with the loan being repaid over a 25 year period through increased rates recouped from any businesses setting up in the redeveloped area. The city council had already approved planning permission for two new industrial estates on the outskirts of town, under the business case for the TIF funding, these new estates become part of the TIF zone, so in The Granite Web’s case, sections of the TIF zone are located several miles away from the actual redeveloped area.

The predictions are for 6,500 jobs and £122m annual revenue to the local economy, all based on the new industrial estates, which have no obvious linkage to The Granite Web, operating at full capacity. Even if one were to accept that any new jobs could be somehow attributed to The Granite Web, the figure of 6,500 seems unlikely given that the London Olympics is only projected to create 3,500 jobs.

Either way, the setup feels a bit shaky; the truth is that these jobs and their associated revenue will accrue with or without The Granite Web.

By this time, councillors seemed to be getting edgy and unwilling to green-light the project, so they decided to hold a public referendum. Any group wishing to campaign was required to adhere to an £8,000 spending limit, and for this they were provided with 300 words of text in the voting pack.

The packs went out, but unfortunately some of the Retain lobby’s statements were mangled due to a ‘computer error’. The voting packs were closely followed by a big money public relations mail bombing campaign by The BiG Partnership promoting The Granite Web. Publicity materials went through every letter box, pro Granite Web articles dominated the press, and adverts were played around the clock on the local radio stations.

Apparently this expenditure was permitted by virtue of being funded by an ‘unregistered’, and as yet anonymous, campaign group – whatever that means! I guess it’s a bit like not having to pay tax because your parents never applied for a birth certificate, who knows? By this point, things were becoming surreal to say the least.

The referendum closes on 1 March and it’s a bitter fight that has divided the city. For example, an oil company boss has made a complaint to the police alleging mail hacking and cyber bullying. The police claim they are taking this allegation seriously. There have also been two arrests possibly related to claims of vote-rigging, but ultimately no one was charged.

The town has gone berserk and it’s civil war all over Facebook. It’s as if we’re all experiencing a really, really bad shared dream. I just dread to think what we’ll all be waking up to on Saturday morning.

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

Jan 062012
 

Over three years ago, Sir Ian Wood announced the City Square Project with the intention of replacing Union Terrace Gardens with “a cross between the Grand Italian Piazza and a mini Central Park.” It has since been renamed the City Garden Project. The cost of building the project is nominally £140 million, of which it has been proposed that £70M of this would be borrowed by Aberdeen City Council involving a tax scheme.  Mike Shepherd offers some analysis of current local government trends, the recession, and what it may mean for Aberdeen.

So what is the justification being put forward for this expensive project, a project that has caused so much controversy since it was announced?

The project’s supporters allege the City Garden Project is needed to ensure that Aberdeen is attractive enough to retain energy professionals long term and to ensure Aberdeen’s economy is based on tourism post-oil.

For instance, an advert by ACSEF in the Press and Journal (January 2010) stated that:-

“Creating a new heart for Aberdeen presents a unique opportunity to put the city on the ‘must visit’ list.”

 Aberdeen City Council is £562 million in debt (2010 figure).
See:
http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/02/21143624/4

Last November, Perth and Kinross Council approved demolishing the listed Perth Town Hall to build a Civic Square in its place, a move that has raised much controversy.  The BBC reported:

“The council said many local businesses supported the civic square proposal. And council officers have argued that full demolition and reuse of the site as a public space would provide the most additional value to the local economy.  The cost of scheme is estimated at £4.4m, but the report said an additional 15,000 people per year would extend their stay in the city, with an extra 60,000 coming for events. “This would result in a combined additional spend per person per visit of £23 generating a total gross expenditure of £1.65m per annum,” it added.
See:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-15742937

Perth and Kinross Council is £222 Million in debt (2010 figure).

A similar controversy has been raging in Cork, Ireland, where the struggling Cork Council has been involved in a plan to install the Sky Garden Project. Celebrity TV gardener Diarmuid Gavin’s Irish Sky Garden won the gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show (It looks like a giant hanging flower basket).

  There is a pattern here. Local governments the world over are in serious debt

The Council agreed to put the garden on permanent display in the city’s Fitzgerald Park at a cost of at least €300,000, with more than €1.7 million given to the project by Fáilte Ireland, the Irish tourism body.

In tones, redolent of the Aberdeen controversy, the Irish Independent wrote:

“THE taxpayer could be hit with a further bill of over €100,000 in costs connected to Diarmuid Gavin’s award-winning garden.

“Workers’ Party councillor Ted Tynan said the council needed to clarify precisely how much the garden cost, and what the council would pay in transport, insurance and operating costs. He also expressed disbelief that the garden — including its 30-metre high floating ‘pod’ and crane — may only open for three months each year.

“I love gardens and flowers and parks, but this is absolutely ridiculous. You’d put a hell of a lot of flower beds around the city for this kind of money. We should keep our feet on the ground not in the clouds with a sky garden’,” Mr Tynan said

“There are 500 boarded-up council houses in Cork and 120 people with various disabilities waiting on home adaptations. But the funding to go to all this has been cut by central government,” he added.

“Last night, the council said support for the “iconic garden” was in line with the policy that led to the creation of successful visitor attractions in the city.”

“This is part of a long-term policy to create a necklace of top tourist attractions that will bring people to Cork, get them to stay longer here and spend more money here,” a council spokesman said.

“Fáilte Ireland insisted that the garden would generate significant tourism earnings.”

See: http://www.independent.ie/national-news/diarmuid-gavinrsquos-euro2m-lsquosky-gardenrsquo-growing-in-cost-2661548.html

There is a pattern here. Local governments the world over are in serious debt. Services and amenities are being cut, yet it doesn’t stop them from spending money on expensive big-ticket items that might bring visitors in.  There is a feedback loop between local government, chambers of commerce and national government that serves to create the syndrome, “if we build it, they will come”.

  While a worthy cause, this has caused controversy as the annual budget will be part-funded by the city’s Common Good Fund

Where local economies have failed as in Cork for example, tourism may be the last throw of the dice to engender outside income.  There will be much competition for the dwindling number of international tourists as the recession bites. Recent reports suggest that countries such as Greece and Spain will focus relentlessly on promoting tourism as the last glimmer of light in their busted economies.

Aberdeen has caught up on the trend of pushing long-term tourism. The local chamber of commerce have been promoting a new destination marketing organisation for the city called ‘Visit Aberdeen’.

While a worthy cause, this has caused controversy as the annual budget will be part-funded by the city’s Common Good Fund; £107,000 for 2011 / 2012 and potentially for the next six years also. Arguably this is more ‘commerce good’ than ‘common good’.

The draft business plan recognises the future of the City Garden Project / Union Terrace Gardens as a primary issue. It is to be hoped that an organisation part-funded by Common Good money will not be promoting the controversial development of a public park that lies on Common Good land.
See: http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=15678

Are the citizens of Aberdeen willing to support the allocation of scarce resources to “a build it and they might come” vision for the city, allowing a public park to be developed for the sake of possible future tourists? Or is this all pie in the sky stuff that will use up money desperately needed elsewhere and will result in the appearance of the Granite City changing forever?

You have the chance to decide yourself.  The referendum on the fate of Union Terrace Gardens will be held in February.

 

 

 

 

 

Dec 292011
 

By Mike Shepherd.

The jury for the City Garden Project will announce the final scheme for the proposed development of Union Terrace Gardens sometime in January.  The choice will be between two designs, one with a web-based motif and the other with a big glass building in the middle which looks like a giant worm.

It is clear from both designs that most of the existing trees will be removed to build the new ‘garden’, whichever is built. 

New trees could of course be planted, but it would be decades before these grew to a comparable size, and this may not even be possible in those areas with a shallow concrete substrate. There will be claims that some of the smaller trees could be replanted, although the practicalities of this are obvious.

The big trees are particularly important as they absorb carbon and filter more pollution from the air compared to smaller trees. One study concluded that for this purpose:

“Big trees, the ones the Victorians planted for us, are what we need to maintain, but they are few and far between.”
See: http://www.theecologist.org

This week saw the shocking news that people living in Scottish cities are being exposed to dangerously high levels of pollutants. A WWF Scotland report identified three pollution hotspots in Aberdeen; Union Street, Market Street, and Wellington Road. These show  levels that are in breach of EU targets intended to protect human health. The main problem is the high levels of nitrogen dioxide caused by traffic fumes.
See: http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk

Aberdeen has a highly-polluted city centre. The solution to the problem would be to reduce the level of traffic in the city centre; pedestrianising Union Street has been suggested as an option.

It is also clear that we need to maintain the tree population of the city centre to help absorb the pollution. The key areas are Bon Accord Gardens, St. Nicholas churchyard and Union Terrace Gardens itself. Otherwise, Aberdeen city centre can hardly be described as awash with trees.

Yet, the proposed City Garden Project will remove a population of mature trees from the city centre. The problem is acknowledged in the Technical Feasibility Study for the project.

“Removal of mature trees and existing ecological habitat; 78 mature trees would be lost including 17 number mature Elm trees. The ecological value of these trees would take decades to replace as many of the trees are up to 200 years old.”

The City Garden Project will itself be a major source of pollution while it is being built (for the duration of almost two and a half years according to the same study).

“Excavation of rock/earth; It is anticipated that 30,000m3 of earth and 35,000m3 of granite will need to be removed from site. This which will cause large environmental impacts from noise, dust, transport and energy use. The removal of this volume of material is equivalent to approximately 3,947 dump trucks of earth and 4,605 dump trucks or more of granite to be removed from site or re-used where possible on site. This would have large environmental and social impacts on the local area and community surrounding the gardens.”
See:  
http://www.acsef.co.uk

It is clear from this, that the ecological downside of building the City Garden Project is substantial. The construction phase will see a protracted period of dirt and pollution in the city centre. By contrast, it is no exaggeration to describe Union Terrace Gardens as the green, living heart of the Granite City; its big trees acting as a natural washing machine, helping to keep us healthy by removing noxious pollution.

Those living in Aberdeen City will receive a postal ballot in mid February allowing them to decide between retaining Union Terrace Gardens or sanctioning the construction of the City Garden Project.

I will vote to retain Union Terrace Gardens.

Dec 092011
 

By Bob Smith.

Fowk hiv the God gien richt
Ti exist an ti be fair free
Ti bide ony place they wint
In the hills or near the sea

The richt ti bide in a placie
Enjoyin life an fit it brings
Nae bullied by rich buggers
Faa wint ti pull the strings

Nae ti be telt yer in the wye
An maun dance ti the tunes
O a chiel faa’s only thocht
Is biggin on shiftin dunes

Nae ti be telt move yer erse
So’s a ribbon o tar is built
Nae ti be telt yer a nimby
Nor ti feel the haun o guilt

The richt ti think democracy
Is alive an still his breath
The richt ti hae a bittie say
Aboot fit’s happenin on iss earth

The richt ti nae dee the biddin
O Trumpie,Widdie an thon bankers
The richt ti stick twa fingers up
Ti aa gadgies ye think are w-nkers

© Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2011

Sep 232011
 

By Bob Smith. 

Ye maun stan up an be coontit
Abeen the parapet stik yer heid
Mak sure ye’re heard lood an clear
Or democracy micht seen be deid

Noo fin ye stan an protest
Ye’ll be ca’ed a sorts o names
By fowk faa’ve ither  motives
An play devious sorts o games

In Aiberdeen yer a nimby
Fer haen a pint o view
Aboot the route o the AWPR
Tho’ some lifestyles it’ll screw

Dinna think bad o The Donald
Ye’ll be ca’ed a progress stopper
E’en tho a richt gweed SSSI
His o coorse  noo cum a cropper

Raisin the gairdens at Union Terrace
Cwid  lan oor  cooncil in penury
Ach nivver myn we’ll be consoled
Being brocht inti iss new century

The third brig ower the River Don
Noo iss cwid cause some grief
Ti the gweed fowk aroon Tillydrone
Seems they shudna be alloo’d ti “beef”

Folkies dinna wint a deer cull
Ower the wye o Tullos Hill
 The cooncil  says usin tree sleeves
We’ll aa hae ti fit the bill

We’re aye bein telt ower an ower
Protests div oor economy strangle
Nae concrete figures ti back iss up
As mair plans they try ti wangle

Showin  Aiberdeen’s open fer business
Am fair tired o hearin iss spik
As tho we’re a bliddy wee shoppie
Fit’s in danger o closin next wikk

Noo a wird ti aa the gadgies
Faa dinna like fowk ti protest
Awa an bide “ooner the thoom”
O eens faa wid line their nest

Mair names a’ll nae doot be ca’ed
An some flak a micht hae ti tak
Fer askin aa maist ordinary fowk
Ti stan up an jist fecht back 

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2011

 

Sep 092011
 

By Bob Smith.

Noo the AWPR,  
Jist a ribbon o tar
Is bein built so fowk can gyang faister
Fae Stoney ti Dyce,
27 minutes they’ll slice
Aff the time on the clock fit’s oor maister

We maun get there quick,
Some spoot oot real slick
Time is money ye surely can see
Some steerin wheel huggers,
Are aa silly buggers
Fleein aroon fae the Don ti the Dee

We’ve aa heard the notion,
Aboot time an motion
Far fowk staun an peer at watch face
Ti see fit wye’s quicker,
Ti damage yer ticker
As fowk jine the bliddy rat race

The warld his geen mad,
Iss is affa sad
In a car some growe horns an a tail
Wi great bulgin een,
Rude signs ti be gien
Feenished aff wi a rant an a rail

Time ti slow doon,
Dee awa wi the froon
Live life at a less frantic pace
If ye maun drive yer car,
Ower iss ribbon o tar
Hae an attitude fit’s less “in yer face”

Een o life’s sins ,
Nae hae use fer yer pins
Can ye think o onything sadder
So git on yer bike,
Or gyang fer a hike
Or ye micht slither aboot like an adder

Some tak things ower far,
An worship the car
Car showrooms are noo the new kirks
Div the salesmen aa kneel,
At the eyn o each deal
Syne waak aboot wi satisfied smirks

A micht tak the piss,
Bit jist think o iss
A car’s only a box on fower wheels
We’re layin doon a tar bed,
Ti tak a  muckle tyre tread
Costin millions o poonds-we’re aa feels

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

Sep 012011
 

By Bob Smith.

Fin walkin doon the fairway
T’wis jist a fyow days syne
A gowfin freen he did declare
Decorum’s noo in decline

Decency an gweed mainners
Are less aften ti be seen
Be it in oor aingranite city
Or awa doon in Gretna Green

Nae decorum in oor dress sense
Some fowk they look like tramps
Faa hiv bin draggit backwyse
Throwe the funns ower in the Gramps

Young chiels in torn troosers
Some quines dressed like tarts
Ample bosoms are on show
Even eens  o some auld farts

A lot o skyrie heids ye see
In orange, mauve or pink
Some fowk  try their best ti be
A maist orra bliddy tink

TV soaps they dinna help
Fowk aye bawlin an yellin
Faa’s shackin up wi faa
Ye’ve  gey difficulty in tellin

Young bairns ye aften hear
Lit oot an oath or twa
Div they learn iss in the nursery
Or fae their ma or da

Car drivers hiv nae mainners
As they drive aroon oor roads
Wi road rage aa aboot ye
O twa fingers ye see load

At  maist fitba matches nooadays
Fae the stands they hurl abuse
Fin a player he maks a bad pass
Fans dinna tolerate ony excuse

Am nae sayin things war perfect
Fin ma freens an I war loons
Bit we didna ging aroon actin
Like a bunch o bliddy goons

So let’s hae some mair decorum
As we gyang aboot oor chores
Even jist sayin a thank ye
Fin a bodie huds open doors

Listen ti anithers pint o view
Withoot aye snarlin “yer wrang”
Decorum ye see costs nithing
We need decency afore ower lang

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

Aug 182011
 

By Bob Smith.

The AWPR can ging aheed
Maist fowk hiv gien a cheer
They micht aa yet be greetin
If it turns oot ower damn’t dear

Awa back a fyow eer ago
Fower hunner million wis the cost
Aa doot iss wull be far awa
Fae the final figure we’re tossed

A’ve nithing agin the roddie
Apairt fae far it gings
Ower bliddy near the toon
Destroyin ony benefit it brings

Dinna believe me?  please yersel
Jist dee a wee bit speirin
Ye’ll  fin aa ither by-passes
Hiv biggins near them appearin

Doon the line aboot ten eer on
Mair hooses and big sheddies aboot
Cars an larries gyaan ti an fro
Cumin on an aff iss route

Ti tak the HGV’s past the toon
Iss thocht we aa maun broach
AWPR shud be biggit farrer wast
So developers they canna encroach

Biggin the roddie far they wint
Is a folly fair complete
A fear ma freens we’ll fin oot
The AWPR micht become obsolete

© Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2011
Image credit: © Axel Drosta | Dreamstime.com

 

Aug 182011
 

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

The leak’s leaked.  Those nice people at Shell seem to have been economical with the truth about their North Sea oil spill; they say they have been completely open and honest.  However, some half a dozen environmental/animal groups do not think so.

I know whom I am tempted to believe.  I hope Shell can do for us what it has done for Nigeria, farmers in Northern Ireland, etc. etc.  If nothing else, it is good to know Shell has gone into public relations overdrive and is pouring oil on troubled waters.

Back on dry land, it is hard to know where to start doing a round-up of this past week’s events in the ‘Deen and the wider world.  The Road Sense AWPR appeal has failed.  Helpfully, Kate Dean posted on a Facebook discussion thread (you see – she is down with the kids for definite) stating:

“I’m amazed that this topical community hasn’t seen fit to discuss today’s Court of Session ruling on the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route.”

I told our Katie:

“To Ms Dean – nice to see you weighing in. I think you will find this ‘topical community’ and the Aberdeen Voice have historically dealt with both sides of the AWPR story. As the Voice is a weekly publication, no doubt some contributors will send in relevant items for next week’s issue. You would be welcome to write a piece as well”.

Alas!  Kate relied:

“I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to contribute to a publication which habitually refers to me in such a derogatory and insulting fashion”

I tried to explain that my writings are ‘satire’ (well, for the most part). Of course there is not much tradition of important politicians being satirised in Great Britain – well, only since the time of King John, and more recently Hogarth, Spitting Image and Private Eye.   (I would have also replied: “XXXX XXX XXX XXX XXX XXXXX”, but I could not figure out how to do redacted text on FB).  Perhaps I just do not know the meaning of the word ‘appropriate’ – time to see what can be learnt from Kate’s examples (see definitions).

Perhaps Kate thinks that is the end of the AWPR matter, and the necessary, environmentally-friendly, economical road will go ahead.  Well, we will see.  PS – my Facebook Home page tells me to suggest friends for Kate.  Any ideas?

And we have another nursing scandal; this time at Woolmanhill.

A nurse has allegedly been over-drugging patients, and gave a person a salt-cellar instead of their inhaler.  We are getting close to a medical scandal a week.  I wonder if all the cutbacks to frontline services might be related to frontline services going down the pan.

Old Susannah’s had a senior moment; I remembered writing about the brilliant designs shortlisted for the gardens, and thought I had done so in a column.  Turns out I had only done so on Facebook.  While trying to find what I did write, I googled my way upon this quotation:

“The gardens have the potential to be transformed in to a popular, attractive and vibrant green space in the heart of the city. The gardens have come under increasing pressure in recent years, with various schemes put forward to raise their level and develop them as a leisure facility. Care must be taken not to over-develop the space and potentially risk losing its essential drama and historical landform”.

– 2007, AberdeenCityCouncil Report

The above was the conclusion the City came to in (yet another expensive) report in 2007.  Since then a few things have changed, and commonsense has prevailed:  the only thing wrong with Aberdeen is that UTG is not vibrant and dynamic.  This is why we are all going broke, crime is shooting up, the independent shops are closing, and the streets are filthy:  it is the gardens – they are not used enough and are in a valley!

We may or may not get a vote on the Gardens’ future – but we have lined up five designers who have form when it comes to doubling and trebling their budgets.  I guess if you want something as beautiful, as functional and elegant as the Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park, it’s going to cost.  Then again, an inflatable Jacuzzi (on sale via ‘Groupon’) would have been as pretty and functional – and costs a few million less.

I’m sure it’s because I didn’t study architecture in great depth, but at first glance I thought the shortlist was the most predictable collection of expensive hacks to ever build boring and unsuitable creations, obviously my mistake.

Still, the Diana Memorial Fountain designer is one of our fine finalists!  I hope you are as excited as I am.  Since I did not go into detail about the talented designers Malcolm Reading has lined up to fix our city’s problems and how much it is likely to cost and since I cannot find my writings on the matter to begin with, (but I did mention some of the references rxpell uses), here is a good article from rxpell that sums things up nicely:
http://rxpell.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/a-look-at-the-city-square-short-leet/

This article will help you decide which of our five finalists to vote for.  If you get a vote.  We do not know for sure, even though HoMalone’s promised us a vote, which would include leaving the gardens as they are.  But this is Aberdeen, and the government’s position changes more often than the weather.

(I would love to say I have been out at nice dinners and working my way through the ever-changing Brewdog menu, but for the time being my doctors have me on lockdown, and am forced to live off rice, tofu and yoghurt drinks.  Somehow this does not really suit me.  Still, I will be back doing the rounds as soon as I can).  But now for some definitions.

Appropriate:

1.  (adjective) fitting, proper, suitable, in accord with acceptable norms.
Am I ever embarrassed by Kate’s telling me that it ‘is not appropriate’ for her to write in the Voice, as we are derogatory about her.  Shame-faced, I asked myself what can I learn from her example of what is appropriate behaviour?  I came up with a few examples.

What is appropriate:

  • To be a supporter of the Cove Rangers, to be the president of its fan club,  have a husband who is a Scottish Football Association referee, and to be administrator of the family plumbing business (Brian J Dean) which sponsors the club – and to endorse plans to build it a new stadium without any qualms or conflict
  • To make comments to the media about how wonderful a new stadium for the Cove Rangers team would be, yet to sit as convener of the Loirston Loch hearing (despite opposition from community councillors) which is tied to Cove Rangers’ future
  • To comment to the Loirston Loch hearing that you attended a meeting where virtually all present voted against the stadium going ahead, but that you were sure a man there wanted to vote in favour of the stadium – but was afraid to (mind-reading is a skill every councillor should have)
  • When implementing swingeing budget cuts (and having thousands of people march against them calling for your resignation) to reply ‘I was elected to do a job and I am going to do it’
  • To accept dozens of tickets to concerts and events at the AECC in a single year, despite guidelines suggesting this might not be ‘appropriate’

Thank you Ms Dean – I will indeed learn much from you, and will continue my studies.

And to whom but Aberdeen’s first citizen should I next turn towards to learn about appropriate behaviour:  Mr Milne has it nailed.  Out of the goodness of his heart, he allowed people to actually comment on his stylish plan for Triple Kirks (the Press & Journal obligingly called the area an ‘eyesore’ in an article.  There goes that bothersome blurring of ‘editorial’ and ‘article’ again, which of course is not appropriate).

Those who did comment on the Triple Kirks plans marvelled at the giant glass boxes (never mind the peregrines).  At least Milne said as much, claiming the majority loved his ground-breaking design.

(Hmm, if only there were some nearby, empty space that could be converted to parking, the scheme would be even easier to approve – if they could come up with some kind of a plan…).  Anyway, those few who objected and left email addresses got a very appropriate follow-up email from a Milne company, which reads along the lines of:

“From: “sales@stewartmilne.com”

“Many thanks for your enquiry. We will forward details and information to you shortly. We’re here to ensure that buying your new home is easy and enjoyable, so if we can help any further, just let us know.   Sell Your Home in 5 Days”

Now if I were a sceptical, cynical person, I would ask myself:  is writing to people who opposed your plans and offering to get them a new home in an ‘easy and enjoyable’ manner something that could be construed as a bribe?  Well, the City says everything is fine, so I guess it is all appropriate.  I have dismissed the idea that offering sales help to people who were against you is at all wrong.

I hope this has cleared up what is appropriate and what is not.

Appropriate:

2. (verb) – to take by deceit or force that which belongs to another.
See: Union Terrace Gardens, City Garden Project, ACSEF, Donald Trump, Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Tradition:

(noun) custom or activity rooted in the past.
People are funny about their traditions.  We are being told by the City Council that painting the Lord  Provost’s portrait – and celebrating the glorious event with an expensive party is OK – as it is tradition.

Foxhunting (no, not with golf clubs and tame foxes, Mr Forbes) was a United Kingdom tradition going back hundreds of years; it was deemed cruel and barbaric, and therefore has been made illegal.  The Catalonia area of Spain has recently given bullfighting the coup de grace –  it is hard to imagine anything more barbaric than bullfighting masquerading as a ‘sport’.

I came under criticism (on Facebook again – I really must stay away from that thing) for saying Spain should consider doing away with bullfighting.  (PS – if you really think the bull has a chance, and there is no prolonged torture or pain, and it is a brave matador that fights a bull with only a cape to protect himself, then think again – PETA will put you right).

Someone said I was showing ignorance of Spanish culture and tradition.  Their point was that tradition was more important than the animal issues. I say “bull”.

The city could not afford to replace broken windows in schools only a few years ago, but wants to shell out on canapés for its elected officials and the usual suspects to celebrate the fact that its Provost is an oil painting.  Too right.  Without these traditions, we would start moving forward.  And the future is uncertain.  It is best to cling to what previous generations did – it is safe (well, maybe).

If we always paid for a portrait, then we had better keep paying for a portrait.  We might have to cut a few services, but let us stick to whatever was the more traditional course of action.  It is important to bear in mind that all traditions are equal in value and all are good.  Perhaps we could bring back ducking witches in the loch?  Yes, to question traditions is to question culture and nationalism – and where would be without nationalism?

In my world, it is the 21st Century.  The whole world is under different pressures than it was when these wonderful traditions came about.  There should be more enlightenment and compassion than brutality and superstition; we have run out of excuses.  But then I turn on the news, and realise that I have got it wrong again.

Old Susannah is now out to catch something for dinner, and possibly bash a few enemies over the head with my wooden club.  Now where did I leave my bow and arrows?

Next week:  hopefully some FOI news, more definitions, and a back-to-school special look at education.