Nov 012013
 

By Duncan Harley

St Nicks in the building ofThe old Aberdeen Council office building formally known as St Nicholas House is being torn down piece by piece after less than fifty years.

At today’s prices, the £2m cost of the 1965 project may seem small fry to many Aberdeen residents, who are more used to municipal architectural bills on a far grander scale.

Granite-built projects such as Marischal College, which lies just across the road from the part-demolished 1960s concrete multi-storey office block, often last for hundreds of years at a far lower cost per century.

Of course, in its day, St Nicholas House was seen as the way ahead in terms of municipal architecture. Scottish Secretary Willie Ross officially opened it on the first of May 1970. The retiring city architect, George Keith, was present at the opening. Seemingly St Nicholas House was one of the “outstanding features of the considerable role Mr Keith played in the design of post war Aberdeen.”

Many city residents were looking forward to its demolition. The blowing up of the building was a favoured option, and camera enthusiasts are reported to have been enthusiastically checking out vantage points all around the city in expectation of the event. However the building’s tightly contained position within the city centre precluded destruction by an explosives team, and the current demolition carries on piecemeal.

Aberdonians are this week invited to comment on plans to re-develop the site. Gordon McIntosh, Director of Enterprise and Planning, has described the new proposals by Muse Developments, as “exciting.”

If you care about the future of your city, take a look at the consultation exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery. It runs until November 2nd and is free to view. Employees from Muse Developments Ltd and the Aberdeen City Council will be on hand to advise and listen to your comments.

Until 8th November, you can have your say online. Relating to Marischal Square, views are being sought on transport options for Broad Street. An online questionnaire will be open until 22nd november.

A more detailed scheme to re-develop the site is expected to be lodged with the City Planning Department in a few months.

Comments to the Marischal Square Working Group can be sent via Councillor Marie Boulton, Depute Leader of the Council at :  mboulton@aberdeencity.gov.uk

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May 092013
 

By Bob Smith.

Boxes, boxes, boxes
Is aa we nooadays see
The “darlins” o modern architects
Be it Aiberdeen or Torquay

Thingies like yon Rubik’s Cube
O a Uni Library biggin
Leukin like the pint his run
A think it’s bliddy mingin

Union Square, o michty me
It’s jist aa steel an gless
Oor toon’s in the hauns o Philistines
Creatin a maist affa mess

The city skyline is fair important
Says Aiberdeen mannie Eric Auld
Seen throwe his artistic ee
Marischal Square it leaves him cauld

Fowk noo are fair upset
At fit they see gyaan on
Aa in the guise o progress
In the toon twixt Dee an Don

“Progress is jist the exchange
O ae nuisance fer anither”
So wrote  yon Havelock Ellis
Writer, Doctor an life giver

Boxes are fer storin things
Bit nae the human race
Stop biggins fit are jist bland
Dinna chynge oor city’s face

Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2013
Image credit: Corporate Tree 2 © Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Apr 062012
 

Old Susannah comments on UK Government proposals to access emails between all citizens in the name of preventing Terrorism.

There will be dancing in the streets, celebrations at public squares (as long as they are vibrant, dynamic and have connectivity), and rejoicing all ‘round: the government has found the way to stop terrorism! Result! Yes, the government is getting rid of terrorism. And your basic right to privacy.

Why didn’t we think of it earlier, we are all wondering. Yes, the Government has decided it has the right to record each and every email you receive and send. And that is how terrorism will be stopped once and for all.

I’m happy to give up my private life forever in order for government snoops to be able to catch the bad guys. I’m thrilled to be treated like a new prison inmate every time I want to get on a plane. I’m sure you are as well.

So what if there are the occasional cases of disabled and/or elderly people being strip searched for having mobility aids. If the occasional frightened child is separated from its parents to be frisked, then so be it. It’s the price we pay for having the fantastic safe and secure lifestyles we have.

It was said by an American founding father, Benjamin Franklin that ‘They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’ How times have changed.

You could also wonder how secure your business secrets will be when they are intercepted by unknown government spooks. Do people ever mis-use information? Hardly ever. The slightly paranoid J Edgar Hoover kept files on American citizens, and would occasionally blackmail people into doing his bidding. Liberty and Justice for all, except if the FBI wanted you.

That would never happen here. Of course a senior police official was recently found guilty of accessing data on an ex-partner of his right here. I’m sure this was just a one-off, no need to trouble ourselves about it.

It’s also a very good thing that terrorists would never use the Royal Mail. Except for those charming people who sent bombs to Celtic’s manager, that is. No one would ever think of using the post for smuggling, planning terrorist attacks or anything else we should concern ourselves with. Phew!

It would be terrible if there were any civil disobedience over this great move. For instance nothing is stopping you from going to an internet cafe, and creating a free email account under the name of john smith. If enough people did this, and only sent or checked emails at internet cafes, then this little snooping plan of our kind government’s would be toast.

Old Susannah thinks this great scheme might run into a few wee problems anyway. For one thing, I keep getting all sorts of ‘spam’. Multiply all the emails selling you drugs or which try to get your personal details out of you by the country’s population, and you’ll need a bank of computer storage just to keep the spam.

Perhaps we should all go back to sending letters.

If anyone wanted to sign a petition against this great piece of legislation, although I can’t think why they would, the online petition is at http://www.avaaz.org/en/stop_the_big_brother_law_a/?tta

Celebrity Blog from Cattie the Millipede and Milly the Caterpillar

Greetings everyone from our safe house in Torry, where we were airlifted to after our beautiful meadow home on Tullos Hill was destroyed – for a LibDem election pledge. We are surviving the cold snap OK, because we have lots of dead leaves to hide under to keep warm. (gardeners should always leave some dead leaves or other mulch around to keep plants – and creatures like us – warm).

We are even more worried now about our old friends on Tullos Hill. The deer have nowhere near as much gorse to shelter in and it’s cold. The birds lost lots of their shelter too when the gorse was ripped out. We are fine – but we wish our friends were, too.

Election Notes

The Labour Party have announced they would – end the Granite Web in its tracks if elected! Rather than borrowing £140,000,000 to put concrete ramps over our garden, chop down 250 year-old trees to turn into wood chip, they seem to want to spend time and energy on helping people.

Gerry Brough, city employee who has generously volunteered to work on the project is said to be incandescent with rage. So no change there then.

Apr 062012
 

If you are of the opinion that the City Garden Project controversy was all about what flavour of city centre park Aberdeen should have – think again. There seems to have been a much bigger picture involved here, and the politics are murky.  Mike Shepherd writes.

The power of the print media in shaping opinion

The public referendum has been held, and the City Garden Project won by the smallest of margins: 52-48%. Feelings are still poisonous in the city, as it is clear that a marginal result was swung by dubious means.

On the City Garden Project side, unregistered groups spent a disproportionately large sum of money on campaign material, whereas the officially registered groups were restricted to spending about £8,000 only.

Some of the claims made by supporters of the City Garden Project were outrageous and substantially misleading. One newspaper advert is now being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Even Aberdeen Council were responsible for punting a justification for the City Garden Project with the questionable claim that a new park could create 6,500 new jobs in the city.

The local papers showed a bias in favour of Sir Ian Wood’s project and framed their reports to show one side in a much better light than the other (“Yes, vote for change” or “No, don’t vote for change”). Ludicrous claims were accepted uncritically – such as oil companies leaving Aberdeen if the scheme did not go ahead.

I had been advised by an expert that:

 “Newspapers are very powerful at shaping public opinion”

and:

 “You will need the support of a PR company during the campaign.”

It was very good advice, but in practice not something that a campaign group of limited influence and funds could realistically put in place. Yet, it was clear from canvassing in the street that the combined effort of relentless advertising, the glossy brochures and the press bias was having an effect.
Whereas many would stop and give me a considered analysis of how they would vote, a large minority were reflecting City Garden propaganda back at me, phrases recognizable from glossy brochures or Evening Express headlines.

Our society today is witnessing a battle between democracy and political lobbyists / PR companies. Out of this, democracy is not doing that well. It’s a shock to see this writ large in Aberdeen, but at least the Gardens Referendum result has made this crystal clear to any thinking person in the city.

Local politics

After two years of campaigning to keep the Gardens, I have been able to observe how local politics works. It is clear that the current council administration is very business friendly and they will tend to make decisions that primarily favour business interests. At just about every council meeting you will hear the phrase “Aberdeen is open for business.”

Local democracy commonly involves a conflict between what business wants and what is in the interests of the general public. For example, if Aberdeen Airport is allowed to land flights at night, Dyce residents will get woken up by the noise. The conflict between business and public interests came to the fore after the consultation on Sir Ian Wood’s scheme two years ago. Over 50 local businessmen wrote to the council asking for the result to be ignored:

‘due to misunderstanding of the project among the public’

and an ‘inability’ to appreciate its impact. The council – to their shame – did this. The current Council administration (an SNP / Lib Dem coalition) appears to favour business almost every time.

There are a number of reasons why business gets its own way with the council. Many councillors are instinctively business friendly and will tend to support projects that are favoured by local commercial interests. This is certainly true of the Conservatives on the council and of many councillors from the other parties too.

There is also a powerful business lobby. Businessmen make up two thirds of the Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Forum (ACSEF), a “public-private partnership that drives economic development in the region”. Funded by both Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils, ACSEF is a non-elected body that have been given a significant degree of control over local economic policy. There is no doubt that ACSEF exerts power and influence over the activities of both councils.

  advanced societies work by a system of checks and balances between moneyed interests and the public regard

ACSEF were involved with the City Garden Project in the early days and described it as one of their flagship projects. Two of the board members, including the Chairman Tom Smith, are directors of the Aberdeen City Garden Trust, the group that organised the architectural competition and who hope to take the project forward to completion.

Extensive networking appears to go on amongst the “great and the good”. Politicians, local businessmen, council officials and senior figures in local organisations turn up and meet at parties, functions, charity events and business meetings. One Freedom of Information request gives an indication of how much hospitality is provided to council officials for instance:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/76531/response/199821

To the worldly wise, this will not come as a surprise. However, advanced societies work by a system of checks and balances between moneyed interests and the public regard. This does not appear to be working too well in Aberdeen.

The SNP and the City Garden Project

The SNP have been intimately involved with the City Garden Project since its inception. Alex Salmond was present at the project launch  in 2008.
http://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/Article.aspx/933616

But only recently have both Alex Salmond and Callum McCaig, the SNP leader in the council, explicitly endorsed the City Garden Project.

Yet, the majority of SNP councillors have supported it throughout (the notable exception being Clr. Muriel Jaffray). This is clear from the voting records every time the project has come up for debate in the Council. The SNP support has been instrumental for the progress of the City Garden Project through successive council votes.

  Major businessmen such as David Murray, Brian Souter, Jim McColl and Martin Gilbert have now endorsed the SNP.

The SNP have a reputation for populist politics and it may seem surprising that they have embraced such a controversial project for the city. I believe that there is a much bigger picture here, and one that takes precedent over local politics. The SNP are essentially a single-issue party; they want independence for Scotland. The realpolitik of the SNP is that much of what they do is focussed towards this end.

A key aim for the SNP has been to secure the support of major business figures in Scotland. This is partly financial; the party has no natural source of funds apart from membership fees, but they are also trying to secure influence leading up to and beyond any independence date. Major businessmen such as David Murray, Brian Souter, Jim McColl and Martin Gilbert have now endorsed the SNP.

Sir Brian Souter, founder of the bus company Stagecoach, caused controversy when he donated £500,000 to the SNP in 2007. Shortly afterwards, the SNP dropped an election commitment to bus re-regulation, although they denied that there was any connection to Sir Brian Souter’s donation.

Sir Ian Wood has not given open support to the SNP, yet the SNP continue to court the billionaire’s favour. Not only has Alex Salmond given his own backing to the City Garden Project, the machinery of Government has also been used to bankroll the scheme.

Scottish Enterprise funded the public consultation two years ago and also allowed grant money to be used for the technical feasibility study. Although the public rejected Sir Ian Wood’s project in the consultation, it didn’t stop Scottish Enterprise from giving Aberdeen City Garden Trust £375,000 of public money from its available funds for major infrastructure projects.

Another niggly problem has been the concerns of Audit Scotland

The Scottish Government are keen to provide investment money for the project through TIF funding. Yet it has been established that the initial proposal did not rank very highly by comparison to other investment and infrastructure projects elsewhere in Scotland.

The Scottish Futures Trust, who carried out the ranking, has refused to make their calculations public in spite of Freedom of Information requests to do so. Another niggly problem has been the concerns of Audit Scotland, who have questioned the long term capability of the indebted Aberdeen Council to pay back a risky loan for the project.

The proposed use of valuable investment and infrastructure funds for something as trivial as building a new park is shocking. The business case is dubious and the council can’t afford the risk. Political considerations seem to have taken precedence to a strict business evaluation on the Aberdeen TIF case.

Sir Ian Wood discussed independence recently and gave an indication of what he wants from the Scottish Government:

“The Wood Group will not endorse a Yes or No vote on independence. But Sir Ian added: “What’s key is the extent to which our clients, and to some extent ourselves, anticipate that a Scottish Government would continue with a similar oil and gas policy to the UK.

“The suggestion right now, from the discussions I’ve heard, is that there’s a lot of overlap between the present Scottish Government’s thinking on the development of the oil and gas industry and the UK government’s thinking.”

He went on:

 “What’s important – and I think the First Minister realises this – is that they must provide as much clarity as possible over the next two years towards the vote in 2014, so that we minimise the uncertainty.”
http://www.scotsman.com/captains-of-industry-and-finance-join-clamour-for-clarity

I have no doubt that this will happen.

The SNP are hoping to secure a majority at the council elections on May 3rd. This is possible, but as a one-issue party they tend to do better in national elections than local elections. They are also heavily identified with the Union Terrace Gardens issue and this appeared to have cost them votes in the Scottish elections last year.
https://aberdeenvoice.com/2011/05/the-election-the-utg-effect/

If they do not get a majority, this raises the intriguing possibility of an administration run by a Labour-SNP coalition. The Lib-Dems are likely to see their vote collapse outside the West End of the city. The Labour group are vehemently opposed to the City Garden Project and it could be that a condition for agreeing to form a coalition is that the scheme is dropped.

The “Union” in Union Terrace Gardens refers to the union of the United Kingdom and Ireland in 1800. Perhaps it is ironic that the park has ostensibly become a pawn in the big game of Scottish independence. It would be immensely sad if this was the case. Aberdeen’s heritage could end up sacrificed for the sake of political wheeling and dealing.

This would not bode well for a future Scotland. As Paul Scofield, playing Thomas More, said in A Man For All Seasons:

“I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”

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
 

Peter Veritas makes the case for voting “Retain”.

1.  There is a very real danger that the City Garden Project will bankrupt Aberdeen.

The City Garden Project (CGP) is planned for a greenfield site which would require substantial excavation. It is a five acre, five storey, underground construction that would span both a main road and a railway track

It’s roof would be required to hold approximately ninety thousand tons of topsoil, the same weight as the worlds largest aircraft carrier.  It is projected to cost £140M.

Union Square, which is of a similar size, was built on a flat brownfield site with good access. The final cost was £250m.

Marischal College is a much smaller existing building that was recently renovated.  No major construction was performed.  The final cost came to £65M.

Given that context, how can we be expected the believe the estimate for The City Garden Project is realistic? Should the City Garden Project experience a similar scale of overspend to the Scottish Parliament Building or the Edinburgh trams, then the shortfall could conceivably be of the order of £360M.  The city, which is already £560M in debt, would be liable for this overspend.

It could not be rolled up into the existing loan, and would require immediate payment.  Failure to cover the overspend would result in us being left with a dirty hole in our city centre.  The only options open to the council would be to auction off it’s remaining assets, such as the other parks, to property developers, and to increase council tax  massively.  Public services which have already suffered severe cuts would be totally decimated.

2.  Aberdeen has suffered badly from previous developments.

St Nicholas House, the New Market, The Denburn dual carriageway, the Denburn Health Centre, The St Nicholas Centre, and Virginia Street are all universally acknowledged as failures that now blight our urban landscape.  Aberdeen lost many beautiful buildings to clear the way for those developments.

The people who campaigned against those architectural and planning atrocities are also campaigning against The City Garden Project.  They’ve been proven right time and time again. Perhaps it’s time we listened to them?

3.  We already voted against this Project under a different name.

There is something sinister about the City Garden Project.  It was originally conceived as the City Square Project (CSP), and envisioned as a five acre flat concrete piazza.  That proposal only emerged after Peacock Visual Arts were given planning permission to embed an unobtrusive arts centre into the hillside of Union Terrace Gardens.  Sir Ian Wood pledged £50M to build The City Square, but promised to scrap the Project if the public rejected it.

That was then put out to a flawed public consultation, in which the public voted against by a substantial majority, despite the online survey mysteriously defaulting to a “yes” vote.  Sir Ian then reneged on his promise and continued to push the concept, the council ran roughshod over the electorate, and by the casting vote of the Lord Provost, consigned the Peacock plan to the dustbin.

Sir Ian has consistently stated that he will only contribute his £50M to this particular proposal and nothing else, and that if we reject his proposal then he will divert the money to Africa.  His behaviour is baffling.

4.  There has been an air of deception around The City Garden Project.

The City Square Project was rebranded as The City Garden Project.  During the Project’s second coming the public were presented with six designs and invited to vote on them. None Of The Above was not a option.

Aesthetically, the public appeared to favour the Winter Garden design.  From a conceptual perspective The Monolith design was arguably the most cohesive.
The appointed panel then refused to release the outcome of this public vote and instead selected The Granite Web, a design for which very few people acknowledge having voted, and which many people considered to have been among the weakest.

CGP propaganda has continually claimed that Union Terrace Gardens are a dangerous place, but Grampian Police crime figures reveal that they are actually among the safest places in the city centre. Neighbouring Belmont Street, which the plans propose to connect to the Granite Web, is statistically the worst area for street crime.

Under the rules of the referendum, registered campaign groups are limited to £8k spending to maintain a level playing field.  However a mysterious group of anonymous business people has allegedly ploughed £50K into sending pro-CGP propaganda to every home in Aberdeen City.  This is not within the spirit of the referendum and is arguably a breach of the rules.

It has been claimed numerous times that the 250 year old elm trees in Union Terrace Gardens are diseased, but a recent report by a tree surgeon has given them a completely clean bill of heath.  These elms are among the last surviving in Europe, and they flourish both due to their isolation from other elms, and because the pollution of the city prevents Dutch Elm disease from spreading to them.  These trees are all covered by a preservation order.

5.  Those arguing in favour of the City Garden Project are mostly connected to it in some way.

Scotland’s top public relations firm were engaged to promote the Project, which may be why the majority of stories that have appeared in the local press have been fawningly in favour of the CGP.

Those who have argued the merits of the Project, both in the press and on-line, are interconnected people with an as-yet unknown agenda.

In addition to the numerous PR professionals being paid thousands of pounds each day to present the case, there are several property developers, the owners of assorted the premises on Union Street, and various oil company executives.

No fewer than three city councillors, who backed the Project, recently announced that they intend to stand down, and have also revealed that they are planning to leave the city.  Virtually all of those involved are members of Acsef, Scottish Enterprise, the Institute of Directors, and The Chamber of Commerce.  The same dozen people feature time and time again in the groups which have come out publicly in favour of the Project.  The same people wearing different hats.

6.  The economics have no basis in fact.

Tax Incremental Funding (TIF) is intended to fund the redevelopment of brownfield sites.  Businesses which later setup in and around those sites pay increased business rates which repay the cost of the development in a similar manner to a mortgage.  The business case for this Project bends the rules since the increased rates will not be gathered for the site itself, but from two new industrial estates, located several miles away and for which planning permission has already been granted.

The 6,500 jobs and £122M of projected annual revenue are a product of these new industrial estates working at full capacity. This is almost  guaranteed to occur anyway without The Granite Web.

Furthermore, the paid author of the reports is PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), which has recently been fined £1.4m for audit failure.  PWC rates the TIF case at Risk Level 3, where 4 is the highest risk.

7.  To save the architecture of the Denburn Valley

None of the Granite Web mockups, artists impressions, or video, have addressed the issue of the rear elevation of Belmont Street.

This is home to some of Aberdeen’s most spectacular architecture, descending right down to the level of Denburn Road.  Architecture which will be obliterated when the CGP connects to it, some five storeys further up.

Most of these buildings are either local businesses or publicly owned concerns, and several of them have picturesque balconies below the finished level of The Granite Web.

8.  To retain our sheltered park.

Union Terrace Gardens lie in the Denburn Valley which offers shelter from the wind and urban pollution.  Raising the area up to street level would turn it into a wind trap.

The wind would howl round the concrete walkways and other architectural features of the granite web, plants would struggle to survive, and people would avoid the area, preferring instead to travel along the relatively sheltered confines of nearby streets. It’s a fallacy to claim that this development would enhance connectivity.

9.  Union Terrace Gardens have been cynically starved of funding – in order to ‘pave the way’ for this redevelopment.

Union Terrace Gardens was the centre piece of Aberdeen’s famous successes in the Britain in Bloom contest.  Over the course of the past eight years the council has cut funding, with the result that the Gardens are no longer maintained at previous award-winning levels

The beautiful Grade A listed public toilets were closed, the famous giant draught boards were ripped out, the winter skating rink was no longer installed and concerts and other public events were discontinued

A modest investment would both regenerate the Gardens, and improve access to them.  There is no need to risk bankrupting the city for what amounts to no additional benefit

10.  The curse of Corbie Haugh.

Back in the seventeenth century, the area where the Gardens now stand was a wood called Corbie Haugh. The ancient Scots word for crow is corbie and the wood was named after the crows which gathered in the grassy valley and within the bank of elm trees. The elm trees in the Gardens date back over 250 years to that eighteenth century wood.

An ancient legend, The Curse of Corbie Haugh, holds that when the crows depart, the city will be ruined. If the elms are chopped down, the crows will indeed depart, and if they city ends up burdened by an additional £360m of debt, then it shall indeed be ruined!

SAVE OUR CITY FROM DISASTER BY VOTING TO RETAIN UNION TERRACE GARDENS.

 

Feb 232012
 

Next Friday (March 2nd) we will know the fate of Union Terrace Gardens. The results of the public referendum will be announced then. Will there be wild celebrations in the park itself or will the champagne corks be popping in the boardrooms? writes Mike Shepherd.

The Importance of Union Terrace Gardens 

I agree with the comment that in your mental map of Aberdeen, Union Terrace Gardens is at the centre of it. This observation gets right to the core of the controversy.
I’ve heard Sir Ian Wood dismiss the idea of building a civic square on the St Nicholas site. As far as he is concerned the Denburn is the heart of Aberdeen, and that’s where the civic square / garden should go.

The fate of our park will be highly symbolic for the future of Aberdeen city centre. If you agree to retain the Gardens, it’s a statement that heritage matters in the city centre and there is a will to maintain the historical nature of down-town Aberdeen.

On the other hand by agreeing to build a modern park and structure, this would probably give the green light to extensive development of the city centre. As the TIF business report for the City Garden Project states, the scheme could stimulate the establishment of a central business district and the accelerated construction of city centre office blocks.

The alternative is so much more attractive. With Jimmy Milne’s business fund we could sympathetically restore Union Terrace Gardens at a fraction of the cost. It would be a marker for preserving our city centre heritage.

The Erosion of the Character of the Granite City

My background is geology and I grew up near Rubislaw Quarry.  The geology of Scotland varies so much, it means that each town and city has its own distinctive building stone. This creates a strong sense of place and belonging unique to each part of Scotland.

I was born in Aberdeen and I love the granite buildings with a passion. It breaks my heart when one is pulled down and a concrete and glass box of no redeeming character is put in its place. I would agree with the sentiment expressed in the old Aberdeen City Plan (very tellingly omitted from the new plan that has just been approved):

“The standard of design in new development has been raised as a widespread cause for concern during the preparation of this Local Plan. This is one reason why new development can raise so much hostility amongst the public and this situation must change. The City has such a rich and relatively intact heritage of older buildings that shortcomings of newer ones are all the more obvious. It is necessary to encourage better design.”

The loss of Union Terrace Gardens could be the start of Aberdeen losing its special character as the Granite City. More and more old buildings may be lost, until the city starts to look like everywhere else. This would sadden me immensely.

A Test for Local Democracy

I also see the Union Terrace Gardens as a test case for local democracy. Despite the public referendum, local democracy has failed miserably on the issue. The development of Union Terrace Gardens was imposed on the public from the start with no serious attempt to build consensus. A so-called public consultation was run essentially as a marketing exercise, and when it failed to convince the Aberdeen public, it was conveniently ignored.

The recently held ‘public consultation’ on the design is remarkable in that the results were not even made public. Even the referendum has been lop-sided, with a massive public relations exercise on one side combined with a local press willing to publish anything it gets. There have been some new lows in recent days (see Richard Pelling’s article on the subject).

Will the public assert themselves against the machine? I hope and trust they will. If not, expect much more of the same.

A Waste of Public Money

Recently I received an email from the managing director of an oil service company in Aberdeen. He described the idea of using Central Government funds for the City Garden Project as a terrible waste of investment and infrastructure money. His opinion is that the city centre development will not affect the decision by oil companies and personnel to move to Aberdeen or otherwise.

“Companies invest in Aberdeen because of the fantastic talent pool, the high standard of living, the stable fiscal regime (assuming Osborne doesn’t have any more surprises), the access to West Africa and other merging oil & gas regions which are increasingly supported from Aberdeen.”

I agree. What is calamitous is that if Aberdeen Council was going to apply for TIF funding, they could have found much better projects than Sir Ian Wood’s city garden. How about these:

a. Revamping the Beach area

b. De-bottlenecking Aberdeen’s congested roads

c. Building the AREG renewable energy centre

 – And just about any other project you could think of.

If the City Garden Project goes ahead, we will have replaced a park with a park. Is this what we should be doing with public investment money in Aberdeen? Most certainly not.

If you agree with any of this and you haven’t voted yet; vote Retain Union Terrace Gardens (the option that does not destroy our Granite City).

Feb 032012
 

January and February always seem to represent a low time in the year. Christmas and New Year have been and gone and there seems little to look forward to. The days remain short and the nights long. It’s usually raw cold. Unwelcoming. The opening months of the year always cause something of a gloom to hang over Mick Miller’s household. Bung in a global recession for good measure and things seem pretty bleak. Then it got worse. What’s up, Mick?

The post arrived on Monday and out of the two-for-one pizza offer junk mail fell a gaudy catalogue.
Only it wasn’t a catalogue – it had “VOTE” written on it. Promotional blurb for the City Gardens Development.

How profoundly depressing. The front ‘cover’ illustration is of some futuristic landscape from another place.
Only on closer inspection it isn’t. It’s Aberdeen, or, more accurately, a version of Aberdeen which can only have be conceived in cloud cuckoo land.

Real people, in a REAL garden.       

It’s lurid, horribly-coloured, glib and vacuous. It is pervaded by a complete sense of the unreal. Semi-transparent people wander aimlessly inside a cartoon-flowered version of reality. Children trample unrestrained, yet the flowers survive.

Out-of-scale human forms laze in some sort of airborne meadow whilst below them, in a throwback connection to the real world, trade waste bins lurk ominously. A woman of Amazonian proportions accesses a laptop whilst sitting on surprisingly unbending grass stems. The remnant spire of the Triple Kirks emerges from a scrubland of low growth stock image shrubbery.

It all looks vaguely ill-tended, neglected, as if within this futuristic vision lie the discards of the past. Or perhaps its a tacit admission that should, god forbid, this monstrosity go ahead, there is just no way that the upkeep will be affordable. Delving deeper, the background is found to comprise of a realigned His Majesty’s Theatre and a hugely-inflated and decapitated William Wallace. A victim of the guillotine perhaps?

But the history, like the whole of this charade, is just plain wrong. Landscape dressed up as farce. A cityscape for Anywhereville. Inaccurate. Disjointed. A cut-and-paste pastiche.

Opening up, things don’t improve. A drab labyrinth of pathways which look like bridges over a motorway, criss-cross manicured lawns and monoculture grasslands. In one image the sun sets….or does it rise? Either way, it’s in the wrong place. What on earth, if we are still on earth, is going on? This is lazy work, a Standard Grade project gone catastrophically wrong. Everything is confusing.

The front page image shows a gaudy flower bed appearing to lie on a lower level of the structure. Moving inside the pamphlet the same floral, er…..’bombshell’, is miraculously elevated. Or is it that those bloody bins are just absolutely HUGE? I’m confused, disturbed even.

   I’m going to have a lie down, maybe I’ll feel better and ‘it’ will all have been a bad dream. Only it won’t. It isn’t.

In the sunset image, an oddly-inclined piece of lawn totters precariously into the largely obliterated Denburn valley. In Woody Allen’s Manhatten, a character in a TV show is observed to have a toupee so badly-placed on his scalp that it looks like it has been dropped on to his head from a great height in an uncontrolled way.

This elevated savanna has the same feeling about it. There will be a need for avalanche warnings in the snowy depths of winter.

In another image, a pipe band plays beneath a Formica-lined dome with random cut-outs that give the feeling that the design is based on half a panelled football booted around Pittodrie of a Saturday afternoon. Below this, a winter scene shows people so cold they have started to vapourise as, it would appear, has the Formica football, associated terraces and denuded trees, miraculously large for such a recent planting.

A lone child in a blue jacket has something so contagious that the populace in the foreground seek to distance themselves as quickly as possible. Is he the cause of the vapourisations? Oh I get it – we’re on the set of War of the Worlds and soon tattered clothing will rain down upon us from the sky. I know that was the only good bit. It all has an apocalyptic feel. I’m going to have a lie down, maybe I’ll feel better and ‘it’ will all have been a bad dream. Only it won’t. It isn’t.

Aberdeen is a beautiful city, notwithstanding some recent disastrous architectural additions. It doesn’t need or deserve such ill-thought out attentions as this abomination.

Union Terrace Gardens are an integral part of what allows Aberdeen to maintain its architectural, cultural and civic dignity. The Gardens need some tender loving care, but they don’t need annihalation by the ‘solution’ that this tacky pamphlet proposes.

A heartfelt plea. Please, people, don’t let this thing go ahead. Make sure you vote to retain Union Terrace Gardens.

Jan 122012
 

Controversy has raged over the fate of Union Terrace Gardens for the last three years. A major subtext to this has been the role of culture in Aberdeen life, particularly in view of the way the proposed Peacock Visual Arts centre for contemporary arts was gazumped by Sir Ian Wood’s Civic Square proposal in 2008, writes Mike Shepherd.

The £13.5m building was to contain a gallery, TV studio, print studio, restaurant and offices for Peacock Staff and provide a base for Aberdeen City Council’s Arts Development and Arts Education teams as well as extra space for the City Moves dance agency.

It was to be called the Northern Lights Contemporary Arts Centre.

When the Civic Square was first mooted, the emphasis was on the Square itself. Sir Ian Wood had described it as:

 “a cross between the Grand Italian Piazza and a mini Central Park”.
http://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/Article.aspx/935798?UserKey

An underground concourse was also proposed and at this stage, the main uses were identified in a Press & Journal report:

“The new square could have three underground levels, the first of them offering the potential for Peacock Visual Arts’ planned new centre, as well as restaurants, a heritage museum and visitor attractions linked to north-east attributes such as granite, paper, fishing, whisky and golf.”
http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/1259519

However, Peacock Visual Arts were understandably reluctant to be included within the Civic Square plans. In any case, an underground concourse would not be a suitable venue for an arts centre. A building receiving natural light would have been much more appropriate.

Sir Ian, perhaps frustrated at the reluctance of Peacock to get involved, told the Herald Scotland

“There is quite rightly a strong feeling about the arts in Aberdeen,” he says. “It is not for everyone but some people do feel intensely about it. I understand the emotional concern.

“What I find hard is that, frankly, this is about jobs and economic prosperity, for the wider interests of people in Aberdeen who don’t care about the arts. Eighty per cent of the people who spend time in the square will have no interest in the arts. You have to develop things for the good of everyone.”
http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/art-student-versus-millionaire-in-a-battle-for-a-city-s-heart-1.929558

Peacock’s arts centre was effectively killed off by the Aberdeen Council vote in May 2010 to progress instead Sir Ian Wood’s Civic Square proposal. This was later rebranded the City Garden Project.

Following the demise of Peacock, ACSEF started to develop an increasing interest in local culture. ACSEF are the non-elected body charged by both Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Councils with promoting the economic development of the region. They have been involved in promoting the City Square, describing it as one of their flagship projects.

The ACSEF minutes for the 4th October 2011 noted comments by Professor Paul Harris, the recently appointed head of Robert Gordon University‘s Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen :

“Paul Harris advised that he is a member of the Scottish Enterprise Tayside Regional Advisory Board.   At a national level he had been closely involved in taking forward the V&A project which illustrates how a collective vision could be translated into strategy and raise a city’s profile in an international context.

“Creative industries have an important role not only in their own right but also in terms of being key drivers of an area’s wider economic success in part through creating vibrant and attractive communities in which to live, work and visit and in fostering innovation, a key driver of economic success.

“Professor Harris concluded that the vibrant and valuable creative industries sector in Aberdeen City and Shire requires greater cohesion and visibility and suggested that a creative industries strategy be devised to address this and realise the sector’s potential for future growth.  In addition projects such as the City Garden offer opportunities for the city to achieve an international cultural venue. He suggested that a collective approach amongst partners could be achieved at no cost while a strategic voice supports funding bids.”

Some in the city might feel alarmed about the business–dominated board of ACSEF defining a top-down strategy for the “creative industries” in the Aberdeen area.

The link to the City Garden Project is of note. Paul Harris is mentioned in the news section for the City Garden Website – “City Garden Project Can Make Aberdeen Cool, Contemporary and Cultural”.

“Professor Harris is leading a City Garden Project sub-group representing culture, the arts and the creative sector to consider the potential content for the scheme which has a new centre for culture and the arts at its heart.

He added: “The V&A in Dundee is a perfect example of culture being a catalyst for wider regeneration. There we had an idea and had to develop the infrastructure. In Aberdeen we have the potential infrastructure and a unique opportunity to fill it creatively.

The sub-group is proposing a new model to enhance the performance and reputation of the region’s arts and culture locally, nationally and internationally based around the new infrastructure the City Garden Project can deliver above and below ground.

The vision is to create an internationally known facility that is a focal point for exchanging and showcasing excellence in cultural activities between countries, regions and cities located around the North Sea.

The so-called “Northern Arc” would form partnerships with key cultural organisations to present displays and exhibitions, diverse performances and events covering, history, science & technology, visual arts, design, film, music, dance and literature.

“The Northern Arc” will include a number of flexible spaces, centred in the City Garden, with on-going programmes of events and activities with a variety of local, regional and international organisations”
http://thecitygardenproject.com/news_full.asp?id=95&curpage&search=clear&section=news

The use of the name “Northern Arc” is unfortunate given that the City Garden Project had killed off the Peacock Visual Arts plan to build the “Northern Light” contemporary arts centre. The sub-group mentioned is believed to include most of the city’s existing arts organisations, which are largely publicly funded.  If the underground concourse is built, could it be that existing facilities such as the Belmont Cinema and the Lemon Tree will be relocated to the building?

The Press and Journal reported last October that Aberdeen Council is interested in making a bid for Aberdeen to become the UK City of Culture in 2017.

Council bosses are applying for a £92 million loan from the Scottish Government to fund five regeneration schemes, including the controversial City Garden Project. Approval of the ambitious plans could trigger a campaign for the prestigious title, officials confirmed yesterday.
http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/2488524

The bid to become city of culture could prove a hard sell to the people of Aberdeen. It was actively discussed with much scepticism on the Aberdeen Facebook page. Here are some of the comments:

–          Aberdeen has plenty of culture. What it doesn’t have is a council that knows what culture looks like. Culture is one of the indicators of true prosperity but you can’t make money off it directly. The council’s thinking process seems to be: Step 1 – culture, Step 2 – ???, Step 3 – Money!

–          I will say that there are signs of some joined up thinking re culture. A sign though… It’s not for the council to lead and make it happen though. It should come from the ground up to the point where the council starts listening to those that are doing and asking what is needed rather shoving another box ticking lecturing strategy in our faces. Far more people working across the arts know what is needed than there are people sitting at desks re writing old words. The city would need to give a decent amount of funding to Arts organisation and to arts within education instead of cutting funding almost to the point of extinction.

–          So much negativity in this thread, Aberdeen should be ambitious & go for this city of culture in 2017, Aberdeen despite is geography has lots of people doing innovative things in the arts. It did Liverpool no harm & only positives came out of it…

A group called AB+ is organising a cultural conference in the Arts Centre on 26 January.  Two of the speakers are Professor Paul Harris and Valerie Watts, Chief Executive of Aberdeen City Council.

Valerie will be describing her experiences in Northern Ireland with Londonderry’s bid to become European Capital of Culture and the impact this had on the arts there, whilst Paul will talk about bringing the V&A to Dundee.”
http://positiveaberdeen.wordpress.com/2011/12/21/conference-speakers-announced/

The conference is an opportunity to discuss cultural activities in Aberdeen and as such is to be welcomed. It is likely that some of the issues raised here will be touched upon by the speakers in the Arts Centre.

The City Garden Project will be launching its referendum campaign and will also soon be announcing the final chosen design. It is almost certain that the campaign for the City Garden Project will tie together local cultural activity, economics and Aberdeen City Council’s bid to become UK City of Culture for 2017.

It’s an explosive mix.

Dec 092011
 

The Council will be voting on Wednesday on proceeding with either a referendum or an opinion poll in an attempt to resolve the controversy over the fate of Union Terrace Gardens. Mike Shepherd reports that the outcome of the issue on a referendum question has already turned into a total mess.

One of the issues that has been recognised is the need to ensure that the wording of any question asked is fair and acceptable to both sides.

On this basis, both the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens and the Aberdeen City Garden Trust were asked to concur on a suitable question for councillors to agree on at the full Council meeting on the 14th of December.

In practice, this would involve a council officials acting as a mediator.

In good faith, I submitted a group suggestion for the question to the Council as follows:

You are being to ask to choose between either retaining Union Terrace Gardens or replacing them with the proposed City Garden Project design

Which option do you support?

A) Retaining Union Terrace Gardens
B) Building the City Garden Project

Very simple, clear and nothing controversial, you would have thought.

The Council Officer replied with this:

“For your information, based on the responses I have received, the proposed question that I will now be recommending to Council on 14 December (subject to final, last minute consultation with other Council Officers), is as follows:

You are being to ask to choose between either retaining Union Terrace Gardens or replacing them with the proposed City Garden Project design (please read the voter information pack to make sure you understand what is meant by “retaining Union Terrace Gardens ” and “the proposed City Garden Project”).

Which option do you support? (please place a cross in the appropriate box)

A) Retaining Union Terrace Gardens
B) Building the City Garden Project

“I feel that this is a reasonable compromise and trust the FOUTG agree that this represents a fair and balanced position. Kind regards, Gerry Brough.”

I agreed to this. So what happens next?

The Aberdeen City Garden Trust left it to the last possible moment to object to this, allowing no time to be made for any compromise. This was at about 5pm on Monday night this week, when the final wording was needed for the Council report first thing Tuesday.

“Dear Mike,

“Further to my earlier note, I can confirm that ACGT have replied this afternoon asking for some changes to be made to the proposed question, so that it reads as follows:

You are being asked to choose between either retaining Union Terrace Gardens or replacing them with the proposed City Garden Project design which includes Union Terrace Gardens and the covering of the adjacent dual carriageway and railway line.
[please read the voter information pack to make sure you understand what is meant by retaining Union Terrace Gardens and the proposed City Garden Project]

Which option do you support ? (please place a cross in the appropriate box)

A) The proposed City Garden Project
B) Retaining Union Terrace Gardens

“ACGT feel that the previous suggested compromise question makes it appear that the City Garden Project is restricted to Union Terrace gardens, when in fact UTG is only part of the City Garden Project development area.

“They also feel that since retention of the gardens is placed at the beginning of the introductory paragraph, it is only fair that the option for supporting the proposed City Garden project should be the first option on the ballot paper.

“Can you please indicate whether these changes are acceptable to FOUTG.

“Regards, Gerry Brough”

I replied that the proposed wording was highly ambiguous, confusing and gives far more wordage to one side than the other. The Council official then decided that as the two sides could not agree on the referendum question, the councillors should decide at the full Council meeting next Wednesday instead.

“Since it was not possible to obtain complete agreement prior to the submission of this Council paper, Council are therefore asked to take a view as to whether they would prefer to endorse the question in 5.3 d), 5.3 e) or 5.3 f) or, indeed, whether they wish to propose a further compromise between these three positions.”
http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=17676

I complained bitterly about this as what had happened here was highly irregular.

“Gerry.

“We participated in good faith last week. The ACGT only replied last night, too late. This has stalled the process of mediation as recommended by councillors. This is unacceptable.

“We are not at fault and should not be penalised for this. We insist that our question should stand. This does not bode well for a fairly conducted referendum and we may have to reconsider our options. – Mike”

I received this reply from Mr Brough (this is the last bit of the email):

“Nobody is being penalised.

“As you can see from the attached 5.3 that I sent to you, the process for determining the question is set out clearly up to the final submission received before the paper needed to be submitted. Council members are then being asked to either choose between these latest proposals, or come up with an alternative of their own that they consider to be fair and balanced for both parties.

“I understand your desire to undermine process, as a means of campaigning against any development of UTG. However, in this case, I believe that you are stretching a point to suggest that you have been in any way treated unfairly

“Also, although you “insist” that the FOUTG question should stand, FOUTG need to accept the fact that any referendum will be run by the City Council and that it is ultimately for the Counting Officer to decide, after consultation with Campaign Groups, on a suggested question.

“At a statutory referendum, the question is set by parliament, through consultation and, although there are no rules for the Council to follow, best practice suggests this should be done by the Counting Officer. This is the view expressed by the Electoral Commission.

“The Council are therefore putting in place a process to test various proposed options in advance of the Council Meeting, so that both Council and the Counting Officer can have some comfort concerning the appropriateness of the question.

“Regards, Gerry”

I now have a series of meetings with Councillors and the Council Executive to discuss what has happened. I will make it clear that the ongoing participation in a referendum depends on both sides being treated fairly. However, this is not a good start.

STOP PRESS – Council seeks views of the public re referendum question.
Consultation closes Monday 12th December.

http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/CouncilNews/ci_cns/pr_referendumoptions_081211.asp