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?
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.
By Stephen Davy-Osborne, with thanks to David Forbes.
Future Choices Aberdeen was set up following the closure of the Choices Day Centre, which left a number of members of the community with nowhere to socialise in a safe and friendly environment.
The charity offers disabled people and their carers in Aberdeen opportunities to get involved in the community through a number of voluntary projects within the city.
They now desperately require much needed funds so that they can buy a minibus to allow them to get out and about in the city.
City carer David Forbes, 29, said:
“The Cash for Cans Appeal doesn’t ask for your money, it simply asks for your empty undamaged aluminium cans, which then can be used in exchange for cash to go towards getting the charity its dream.”
So far, the appeal has reached over 100 cans already and also received the backing from Dame Anne Begg MP, Lewis Macdonald MSP and many other local high profile individuals. Even local schools are getting on board this appeal.
To support the Cans for Cash Appeal, please donate any aluminium cans to:
The Stewart Craft Centre,
Deemouth Business Centre
South Esplanade East,
Aberdeen, AB11 9PB,
or alternatively to Lewis Macdonald MSP Office, 80 Rosemount Place, Aberdeen. AB25 2XN or call Mr Forbes on 07821700046 to arrange a pick-up.
Contact Aberdeen Charity, cash for cans appeal on Facebook:
Voice’s Suzanne Kelly provides further detail regarding The Scottish Information Commission’s decision on Aberdeen City Council’s handling of FOI requests regarding sales to and contracts won by Stewart Milne related companies.
Milne bought land from Aberdeen City Council (property worth some £5 million was sold to him for c £375,000) with a clause stipulating Milne had to share any related profits with the seller, Aberdeen City Council.
After lengthy appeals, the Milne Group must pay £1.7 million pounds to Aberdeen City Council (legal costs are at present unknown).
Precisely how and why the cash-strapped City Council made this deal still remains unclear. Once acquired, the property was sold from one arm of the Milne group of companies to another, and on this basis, Milne’s position was that there were no profits to share. The Courts have disagreed.
This issue spurred a freedom of information request to the City Council.
What land had been sold to Milne-related companies? What contracts had been awarded to the Milne companies? Was a group of companies receiving preferential treatment by being sold public assets without the assets going on the open market to the highest bidder? Was a construction firm buying land at considerable discount with one hand, and at the same time under-bidding competition to win work?
It is a year (and a few days) since the initial FOI request was lodged with Aberdeen City Council. Late replies, denials that information was held, assertions that information was too difficult and costly to obtain were some of the obstacles in the way of obtaining information.
If not for the Information Commission, there would be no chance of this information – concerning public assets and the public purse – coming to light. As it is, the City has until 23 January to finally comply. At that time it must either disclose the information or lodge an appeal against the decision.
The decision will be disclosed to the public around 16th December. In the meantime, here are some of the important issues and facts to emerge from the Information Commissioner’s decision.
On 10 December 2010 a FOI request was sent to Aberdeen City. Such requests are to be answered within a specific time frame and are backed up by legislation.
The City failed to respond in time. Aberdeen’s representatives said the information was not easy to obtain, would cost over £600 pounds to collect, and that some of the data was immune from disclosure. When the request was largely turned down, an internal investigation by ACC into its handling of the affair was requested as the law permits. The City was sorry it was late in responding, but it was not going to release the information.
The Information Commissioner’s office was supplied with the entire (lengthy) chain of emails from the first request through the refusal and the internal investigation. The Commissioner will soon release its report into ‘Case 243/2011’ and these points are among the findings:-
- ACC FAILED to comply with Part 1 of the Information (Scotland) Regulations 2002 (FOISA)
- ACC FAILED to comply with the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004
- ACC FAILED in dealing with the request by wrongly claiming that section 12(1) of FOISA was applicable to the request
- ACC FAILED to provide reasonable advice and assistance under Section 15(1) of FOISA.
- ACC FAILED to meet statutory timescales for handling the request
The comprehensive decision from the Commission covers the history, legal issues and relevant points of my request. The Background section covers my initial questions to Aberdeen:
1. List of property (including but not limited to land, buildings, building services, material goods, etc.) Aberdeen City sold to the Stewart Milne Group, Stewart Milne Homes and/or any associated companies, and/or directly to Mr Stewart Milne. List to show property name/description, date of sale, sale price, minutes/reports of the City Council approving/recommending the sale, and if available the market value at time of sale.
2. List of property or services (including but not limited to land, buildings, building services, material goods, etc.), the Stewart Milne Group, Stewart Milne Homes and/or any associated companies, and/or directly to Mr Stewart Milne sold, managed or built for Aberdeen City Council. List to show property name/description, date of sale, price, reports/minutes of the City Council recommending the purchase, and if available the market value at time of sale.
If any aspect of this request is not clear, then please contact me directly for clarification.
I was asked to clarify what I meant by Stewart Milne associated companies, and on the same day as the request was emailed to me, I sent this list from Companies House:-
|STEWART-MILNE CATERING LIMITED||Dissolved|
|SC305012||STEWART MILNE CENTRAL LIMITED|
|SC152943||STEWART MILNE COMMERCIAL LIMITED|
|SC083265||STEWART MILNE CONSTRUCTION LIMITED|
|SC054259||STEWART MILNE DEVELOPMENTS LIMITED|
|SC191167||STEWART MILNE (GLASGOW) LIMITED|
|SC057709||STEWART MILNE GROUP LIMITED|
|SC132524||STEWART MILNE HOLDINGS LIMITED|
|SC137803||STEWART MILNE HOME OPTIONS LIMITED|
|SC065403||STEWART MILNE HOMES LIMITED|
|SC096898||STEWART MILNE HOMES (SOUTHERN) LIMITED|
|SC056620||STEWART MILNE INVESTMENTS LIMITED|
|SC063606||STEWART MILNE INVESTMENTS (SCOTLAND) LIMITED|
|STEWART MILNE KITCHENS AND BATHROOMS LIMITED||Dissolved|
|SC204848||STEWART MILNE PART EXCHANGE LIMITED|
|SC145941||STEWART MILNE PROPERTIES LIMITED|
|SC192726||STEWART MILNE (WEST) LIMITED|
|SC305009||STEWART MILNE WESTHILL LIMITED|
The City also wanted to know what time period the request covered. This was a bit of a surprise – was the list of property sold so extensive that a cut-off date was needed? Dates of 1980 to the present were chosen.
On 9 February 2011 the City advised that the request would be too costly, and that it did not hold information relating to property it had sold to Stewart Milne companies. An internal inquiry into how the City handled my request was offered and accepted. This inquiry proved rather fruitless, and on 4 May 2011 the Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner was asked to look into the case. The investigation began.
The Information Commissioner’s office contacted Aberdeen City Council on a number of points. One of the issues was whether or not all or part of the FOI questions should have been dealt with as an Environmental Request (EIR). The City then told the Commissioner’s office it ‘no longer wished to withhold the information in the reports (about tenders) in their entirety. Some but not all the information on contracts Stewart Milne companies had won in September was released. This included information about new build work at Byron Park, Hayton Road and Rorie Hall. The documents were heavily redacted.
It was nine months since the FOI questions were first asked of ACC. At one stage during the Commissioner’s investigation there was an opportunity to re-state the case and explain why the information should be put in the public domain. I wrote about the state of Aberdeen’s finances, the fairly recent criticism of the City’s fiscal operations by Audit Scotland, the lack of transparency in the City’s dealings, and my concern for the disposal of public assets without clear attempt to get the best possible market price.
The decision notes my claim that ‘public assets should be bought and sold in a fully transparent manner, especially in such a cash-strapped city as Aberdeen.’ I wondered if my efforts would be enough. I waited.
Findings & Analysis:
One of the most important reasons for refusing the request was cost. If the costs were truly going to exceed £600 (the threshold over which public authorities do not have to respond – but can if they wish to), then someone at ACC’s Freedom of Information Office should have offered guidance as to how to reduce the cost of the search. This never happened.
Aberdeen’s initial cost estimates indicated that many people would have had to spend hours on the request, and some of these hours were going to be charged at over £15 per hour. As it turned out, the maximum hourly rate that a public entity can charge for searches is £15 per hour. Perhaps someone in the City’s Information area should have known this?
Over the course of the dozens of e-mails exchanged, I made clear I did not accept Aberdeen’s claim that supplying a list of the property would be to arduous and too expensive.
At one point the City said some of its records were only on paper format. I informed the Information Commission that the City holds an Excel spread sheet detailing the property that it owns and that I considered it likely that the Council would have a similar spread sheet for property it disposed of.
Aberdeen said such a record did exist, but that it didn’t show to whom property had been sold. (This seems like a very poor state of record-keeping if it is the case). The City said its list would be ‘meaningless’ to me. The City estimated that it sells some 10 pieces of property per year, and we would be talking about 140 sales from 1996. In summary, the City said it would cost £1,117.50 (a rather precise figure I thought) to get the details I was after.
Item No. 50 of the Commissioner’s decision reads:
“…the Commissioner is surprised that the Council is unable to establish the identity of the purchaser in relation to individual property disposals in a less labour intensive manner, he accepts that the Council does not have simple access to the information requested…”
Here are some other points from the report concerning the issues:-
51. “Having considered the Council’s submissions, the Commissioner accepts that it has identified a reasonable method of locating and retrieving the information Ms Kelly has requested. This involves two distinct stages: firstly identifying those property sales in which the purchaser was one of the parties of interest to Ms Kelly and then secondly locating and providing, for only those transactions involving relevant purchasers, the particular pieces of information requested by Ms Kelly about that transaction. The Commissioner is satisfied that the information requested could all be located within the file relating to the property sale.”
52. “Turning to the Council’s estimates of the staff time required to complete this process, the investigating officer reviewed the copy of a file provided by the Council. Although this contained over 780 pages of information, the investigating officer was able to identify the purchaser of the land or property within two minutes of opening the electronic file. Although, in this case, the purchaser was not one of interest to Ms Kelly, the investigating officer went on to locate the types of information about the sale she had requested. The investigating officer was able to identify and extract the relevant information from this file within a further 15 minutes.”
53. “Having considered the Council’s (somewhat limited) submissions and the investigating officer’s review of the sample file, the Commissioner is unable to accept the Council’s estimate that it would take 30 hours to establish which files involved sales to relevant parties. This suggests that this initial stage would take an average of just under 13 minutes per file….”
The Commissioner’s findings on the issue of retrieving the information are even more concerning than just this over-calculation on the City’s part. Looking back to an earlier point, it seems the Council are no longer keeping records of crucial information such as how public assets are disposed of:-
43. “The Council explained that there is no longer a comprehensive database which records all transactions…”
After a less-than-glowing recent report from Audit Scotland into Aberdeen’s property management – why is there ‘no longer a comprehensive database’ concerning important transactions?
The decision then goes to the matter of the ‘duty to provide advice and assistance’. The Information Commissioner found
“…the Council offered no advice and assistance to Ms Kelly on how she might reduce the scope of her request…” and “Given that the Council provided no advice or assistance to Ms Kelly in either narrowing the scope of her request, or accessing some of the information of interest to her, the Commissioner finds that the Council failed to comply with its duty…”
Part of my FOI request concerned contracts won by Milne companies. Were we selling land at very favourable rates to a bidder who might put in low bids? Would it be possible that a contractor won work by bidding lower than the competition, but that another company connected to the contractor bought land at profit-making prices – possibly even to the detriment of the public purse? This possibility crossed my mind.
The Council felt harm would be done if details of contracts awarded were publicised. I commented that there was a need for confidentiality during negotiations of a contract, but not once a deal is concluded where public money is being spent.
The Commissioner noted that my requests were about one year after the contracts were awarded. The tenders had been evaluated; the contracts were issued. As it turned out, the unsuccessful bidders had been advised of the details after the award – but by some kind of oversight or another on the part of Aberdeen City Council, this information was never made available to the public despite EU law making such disclosure mandatory.
This is what the Commissioner’s investigation found:-
“The Commissioner is unable to accept that a competing company would be able to gain significant insights into the relevant company’s capabilities, pricing or bidding strategies from the disclosure of this information [information re. Bids]… the commercial sensitivity of that information will have diminished with the passage of time, and in particular with the award of the contracts in the subsequent phase in the Council’s home building programme. The Council has provided no evidence to support its submission regarding the continued risk or harm following from the disclosures of that information.”
More to come:
The decision has been released to me and the City. They have until 23 January 2012 to lodge an appeal or comply. The Commissioner’s intervention and in-depth analysis is greatly appreciated and clearly was much needed.
This report will be available to the public via the internet c. 16 December. It will prove a valuable read to other researchers and anyone interested in how Aberdeen City Council handles information and requests for information. However, one year on from asking the initial questions, there are still crucial questions unanswered:-
- Who suggested selling land to Milne companies? What was their position in ACC?
- Exactly what public assets have been sold to Milne related companies?
- Who in the City was involved in progressing and approving the sales?
- Were any bids won by placing bids with very low likely profit margins?
- What internal audit procedures, if any, flagged up any issues with the sales or contract awards?
- Does anyone within this chain of decision making have any links to any of the Milne-related companies?
Further information on this subject will be forthcoming. Aberdeen Voice will be reporting on the City’s next move.
Aberdeen Voice has learned that the Scottish Information Commissioner has upheld Voice reporter Suzanne Kelly’s Freedom of Information request with regard to land and property sold by Aberdeen City Council to Stewart Milne and associated companies.
The Supreme Court had been asked to review the details of a land purchase Milne Group made from Aberdeen City Council. The Supreme Court found that Milne must pay the City £1.7 million over the land deal.
The cost of the legal action is at this point unknown.
Kelly had followed the case, and had heard from several sources that there may have been other deals regarding the property developer and the City.
In a Freedom of Information Request made to the City, Kelly asked for a list of property sold to Milne and/or associated companies and the selling price, as well as a list of contracts the Milne companies had won from Aberdeen (there are several companies connected to Stewart Milne). Kelly wanted to analyse the contracts won and land purchased. The City initially refused her request.
An appeal was lodged, and the Information Commissioner was asked to look at the history of the freedom of information request and the grounds for refusal. The Commissioner issued its findings on 9 December 2011. The Commission decided that Aberdeen City Council and its Freedom of Information officers failed to act properly on a number of issues.
Key points include:-
- The City did not always respond to correspondence and requests in a timely manner.
- The City said it did not have a comprehensive record keeping system and finding the information would be very difficult. Kelly proved to the Information Commissioner that the City keeps much of its property portfolio details on spreadsheets.
- The City said it would cost over a thousand pounds to find this information.
- Kelly received some of the requested information during the course of the investigation including details of c. £10 million worth of construction contracts won by Milne and associated companies. No information has as yet been released by Aberdeen to show what property it sold to Milne.
The property dealings of Aberdeen City council had come to the attention of Audit Scotland some time ago. In its findings Audit Scotland found:-
- evidence of procedural and administrative deficiencies and poor record keeping,
- cases where accurate and relevant information was not reported to elected members,
- a lack of evidence to support the valuation at which properties were sold, and
- cases where the Council may have achieved a better price. Overall, it appears that there is a potential loss of capital receipts which may be more than £5 million.
The City is considering a number of budget and service cuts, and this spurred Kelly on. Kelly states.
“If the city is awarding contracts based even in part on low bids, then I question the wisdom and prudence of selling land at a fraction of its potential market value to a successful bidder. The City has a massive property portfolio, and if must keep detailed and accurate records of its transactions. In light of the Supreme Court decision last week, the decision from the Information Commissioner is extremely timely and most welcome. I look forward to receiving the information I have sought for so many months.”
Milne is also a director of Aberdeen Football Club. It is slated to sell its existing Pittodrie Stadium ( the UK’s first all-seater stadium ) and use the proceeds to build a stadium in greenbelt land near Loirston Loch. Planning permission was hotly contested, with local community councils objecting to the plans. The area is home to a variety of wildlife. The club’s income is thought to be in steady decline, as attendances have fallen and the team struggle to climb the league.
“I shall contact Aberdeen Council if I have not heard from them shortly, and as soon as the information is made available to me, I will report back. The Commissioner agrees that the public have a right to have the information I have fought long and hard to obtain.”
Old Susannah pays her respects, but is unable to maintain her silence as she takes a look around what has been happening in our vibrant and dynamic city and beyond.
Things continue to be vibrant and dynamic this week in the Granite City. On Friday 11 November some 4o-plus people gathered for a minute’s silence to mark those who fell in war. Robert Martin who works nearby in Golden Square told me he first started coming to Union Terrace Gardens for the traditional minute of silence a few years back.
“What better, more peaceful place is there in the heart of the City to have the minute of silence,” he commented.
A gardener tried to tell the group they should be at the war memorial instead – he could not understand that we were all happier in the Denburn Valley.
For the record, this was not a celebration of nationalism, or glorification of war; it was a gesture of respect for those who lost their lives in war. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just stop killing each other, and sort out economic and social problems another way? Maybe that day will still come.
Then there was the enjoyable opening night at Peacock for its winter exhibition. The 400 or so works are on show until 23 December and are all for sale. Alicia Bruce is offering small prints of her iconic photo portraits from the Menie Estate which had such a good reception when she exhibited at Peacock. There are abstracts, portraits, beautiful drawings, and even one or two offerings of mine.
A quick word about litter.
During the week I asked an older man who’d dropped litter to please pick it up. He explained (with some interesting vocabulary words which I must look up) that ‘he didn’t know me’, ‘he didn’t have to’ and ‘I could not make him.’ It was a very impressive display indeed.
Days later I was at Sainsbury’s Berryden, and groups of students (probably just over 20 people in total) had stopped by the store to get their lunch. They had wrappers, bags, papers, serviettes, bottles and so on. And as I waited for a bus, I saw each and every student put their trash in the trashcan near the bus stop.
I am pretty sure they were from St Machar. My appreciation to them and the other people who do the right thing. It’s not difficult, it’s not brain surgery. It does however make a huge difference.
But whatever you were doing this week, everyone’s thoughts were with one brave man who is fighting a valiant struggle of his own. Yes, Stewart Milne’s case went to the Supreme Court on Thursday.
The Press & Journal had no room for this story on the day, due to the breaking news that geothermal energy exists. This astonishing front page special even had a picture of a volcano to illustrate it. I had personally expected a story about a cow with a ladder on its neck, but the geothermal story did the trick, and between it and the massive ads for Milne Homes, no room remained for the little matter of our City being called to the Supreme Court.
Then, Friday, the P&J did run with a story on Milne, which leads neatly to a little definition or two.
Negotiate: (verb, Eng) to settle a conflict or disagreement by compromise.
Those of us who read the Press & Journal story will have felt sorry for Stewart Milne. He claimed the matter could have been settled had Aberdeen City council accepted his offer of negotiation.
According to the P&J, Stewart Milne Group claimed:
“We have offered to go to independent arbitration on several occasions over a long period of time,”
Usually negotiations happen when both sides have a valid argument or case to make. To refresh everyone’s memory, the City sold land at Westhill to Mr M for far less than it was worth – the City’s clever business plan was not to sell the land on the open market, but sell directly to Milne (I am sure there was a great reason).
He got a great price on the understanding the City would eventually get any sale profit. In a really clever and not at all dodgy-looking business manoeuvre, the land moved from one arm of the vast Milne empire to the next, at a cost around £500k –apparently more than what the 11 acres cost in the first place. This was perfectly normal, and could have happened to anyone. Quite truthfully, Milne then indicated that there was no profit to share.
This giant poster in no way looks like a desperate advertising ploy, but it does paper over some cracks nicely.
The City and subsequent courts have disagreed with Mr Milne’s logic (shocking!), and rather than enter ‘negotiation’ over the £1.7 million under dispute, the City decided to see the case all the way through. Milne could have accepted the last court’s verdict, but he appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. If you’ve only got £60 million, then you’ve got to hold onto every penny these days.
The trial was televised, and although Old Susannah is no legal expert, it didn’t look all that great for Stew.
Now we just have to wait for the outcome – at which point no doubt everyone’s favourite football club owner will immediately give Aberdeen the £1.7 million it is owed, plus court costs. I think an apology is also due, and hope the City are drafting one to Mr Milne for taking things this far.
This expensive litigation obviously in no way impacts on the role Mr Milne plays in ACSEF, the City and Shire’s invention which is helping us out of economic chaos. Aside from the bang-up job ACSEF has done so far for our city’s shops, it’s created a brilliant logo for itself, and now has a great big vibrant, dynamic mural at McCombie Court. This giant poster in no way looks like a desperate advertising ploy, but it does paper over some cracks nicely.
In light of Stewart’s logic concerning negotiation, the next time you get mugged or have your wallet snatched, don’t go to the law. Just find out who’s got your money and negotiate to get some of it back. Sorted.
Reading this story about how Stew wanted to negotiate, I wonder if I’m not having déjà vu. This sense comes from the P&J article some time back, when Milne and everyone’s favourite forum, ACSEF, were taking over Peacock Visual Art’s project and turning it into the great City Garden Scheme.
Just before the final, decisive and divisive voting on the project took place, ACSEF / Milne said that Peacock had been offered some kind of 11th hour alternative, but were unwilling to strike a deal. Of course if you read the full story, you would have eventually discovered Peacock said ‘we were never contacted about any deal.’
I hope in future any Peacock person, Aberdeen City legal rep, etc. will just ‘negotiate’ when Stewart wants something – it will save the taxpayer lots of money to just go along with him from the start.
In fact, when I think of Loirston Loch, the Triple Kirks glass box scheme, Pittodrie and so on, I wonder if we haven’t just started to say yes to him already.
Geography: (noun) study of terrain, locations, types of environments and areas.
If you are out there, Pete Leonard, Director of Housing, perhaps you might consider a geography lesson or two. Pete insists Tullos Hill is ‘urban’. The hill is next to all the lovely industrial estates which have helped make Aberdeen the profitable centre of the universe it is, but the hill just isn’t all that ‘urban’. It’s covered with plants, grasses, wildlife, pre-historic cairns and so on.
Here in Aberdeen, there is a complete separation of contractors and councillors
On the word of Mr Leonard, I went to Tullos Hill the other day assuming it had been urbanised. I looked for fast food, a coffee or a monorail ride, but there was nothing of the kind to be found.
It struck me that Ms Malone (who has lately been very, very quiet) might want to look for a new initiative to push. Perhaps if she abandoned the ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme and maybe had ‘a monolith for every citizen’ and/or ‘monorail for every citizen’ scheme, it might increase her popularity. As I hear it, an improvement in her popularity stakes is currently the only possible direction.
Aside from Tullos, other urban areas in our city are easy to recognise by the well-maintained roads and footpaths, the general cleanliness, the complete lack of any crime, and all the many open local shops.
Corruption: (noun, English) a state of dishonesty, lack of integrity, self-interested behaviour of a person or body in a position of trust.
Edinburgh has faced accusations of council corruption. (“At least it couldn’t happen in Aberdeen!” I can practically hear you say.)
For openers, according to the BBC, the hospitality records are incomplete. ( This contrasts with our city’s up-to-date, perfectly set out, fully inclusive records which seem to indicate some councillors went to absolutely no events whatsoever in 2009 and or 2010). But that’s the least of Edinburgh’s problems.
Edinburgh’s councillors are in the firing line for ‘possible fraud and serious wrongdoing’ with regard to building works and property.
Audit Scotland could not decide if the city was just a wee bit disorganised, or if there was a whiff of corruption
It also looks like a city councillor had a holiday paid for by a contractor. Here in Aberdeen, there is a complete separation of contractors and councillors. In those rare occasions when a councillor is somehow connected to a contractor, then they stay well out of any possible conflict situations.
Some years ago we had our own little trouble with Audit Scotland, you may remember.
They had a few uncertainties after a detailed investigation of our city’s property selling activities. There were questions as to why so many properties were being sold below value. Audit Scotland did tell the city to stop selling property at knock-down prices, and otherwise pay attention to details – like who is actually buying your property and what it should sell for. In the end, Audit Scotland could not decide if the city was just a wee bit disorganised, or if there was a whiff of corruption. In the end, they invited our local police to look into the issues.
After a completely thorough, detailed investigation, the police found nothing untoward. Old Susannah is not sure when the investigation was conducted. Then again, I’m not sure when exactly Stewart Milne Group started advertising on police cars, either.
Next week: hopefully a Milne court and FOI case update; a fond look back at the careers of John Stewart and Neil Fletcher, who are not going to run for re-election in May.
Stop press: Christmas Gift Solution: Tired of the usual old boring gifts – the handbag-sized bottle of vodka, the city council carriage clock or branded pen? Look no further for your gift requirements: The City is selling photo prints of its greatest moments. Rather than taking a picture of St Nicholas House or the ACSEF logo yourself to make a welcome gift for a loved one, just go to the City’s website.
What is the most popular subject on sale? Why the Lord Provost of course! There are only about 750 photos of him in action this year but fret not: there are two other years of Lord Provost photos as well. Make a lovely print on canvas, or can be sent to an artist to create a portrait in oils. I just might buy a photo of the Lord Provost handing over a gift and turn it into a mug, a mug for some reasons being the first thing that springs to mind.
Stop press 2: there will be a further extension for getting your entries in for the Union Terrace Gardens art competition – more news soon!
Old Susannah looks back at the week that was. By Suzanne Kelly.
Old Susannah is enjoying a glass of ‘Hello… my name is Ingrid’ (a beautiful brew made with cloudberry) at Brewdog, and is reflecting on another busy week in the Deen.
There was the Periurban conference for one thing. This was announced last minute on the City’s website.
It was an international conference on how cities deal with land on the fringes of the urban areas. I guess people from around the world came to see how wonderfully Aberdeen treats Union Terrace Gardens, Tullos Hill, green space at Westhill and Cove, and Loirston Loch.
The two-day conference was opened by the pioneering champion of all things green: Kate Dean.
I sent in an application, and then found myself invited to the second day’s events. For some reason it seemed they didn’t want me on the first day. I heard lots of important speakers, most of whom said urban sprawl is a problem, and we must all use less resources and re-use what we can. Someone even said ‘planting trees is not a solution’ – Cllr HoMalone please take note.
We heard about city centres emptying out if there is too much urban sprawl, with shops closing and crime and social deprivation becoming a problem. I was just surprised no one from Aberdeen explained how our ‘improving’ Union Terrace Gardens into a car park, ‘cosmopolitan cafe’, the hoped-for monorail and building in the greenbelt were going to save the day. I would have loved to have heard it.
One City Council official kept turning around in their seat to look at me; for some reason they almost looked worried I was there. Could it have been the ‘Save the Tullos Deer’ t-shirt I wore under my suit jacket?
Someone was there from a local green charity, and somehow I brought up the deer cull situation (my t-shirt might have helped). The person had no idea why the Scottish SPCA was against the cull and what the other issues were. I happily explained.
Elsewhere in the Deen, someone has decided to leave a cat in a wheelie bin. Perhaps they want as much media attention as the woman from Coventry got? You may remember Mary Bale who cruelly left a cat in a bin for hours on end and was caught out. Let’s see if we can’t find the Aberdeen copycat cat botherer and do for them what the press did for Bale.
It would likewise be a shame if shamed Banff Brothers David and Colin Reid of 22 Boyndie Street West, Banff, got any bad press for their dogfighting activity conviction and jail sentences.
This is the Scottish SPCA’s first major dogfighting conviction in Aberdeenshire (where officials denied there was a problem, you may recall), and it is cause for celebration. The Reids must know something about other dog fighters – let’s hope they roll over. Thankfully, some of the dogs they were abusing have been rescued.
But anyway, here I am in Brewdog wondering what to write about this week.
I am looking at a recent Press & Journal headline which screams in giant letters: ‘IS THIS THE MOST HATED MAN IN SCOTLAND?‘ As I am always happy to follow where the P&J leads, so let’s skip definitions this week and take a look at the most hated man in Scotland instead.
Imagine one man using the legal system to the maximum for his own self-interested ends. Imagine him standing alone, unwilling to listen to the thousands of people who want him to abandon the battle.
Imagine for a minute how much taxpayer money and court time he is willing to use up.
Yes, Mr Milne may well be the most hated man in Scotland. For openers there is the legal battle which he’s taking all the way to the highest court in the UK. For those who don’t know, Milne bought land from the City Council – 11 acres in Westhill – for some £335,000. (By the way, who do the rest of us have to know to get deals like that? Jane – can you help?). The land is worth millions.
Apparently Milne agreed with the City to pay a portion of any sale/rental profit to the City. In a really sharp, not at all transparent move, the land was sold from one arm of the vast Milne empire to another Milne company. As you’d expect, such a deal cost over £500,000 to do. Or so Milne claims when his companies say there was no profit left after the sale. Seems pretty clear to me.
Yes, Milne is appealing (but not to most of us).
You’d have thought that our very generous Council wouldn’t go bothering Stew for a mere 1.7 million pounds (goodness knows the City can waste that much with ease), but it seems the City will be trying to claw back the money.
The courts found in the City’s favour – but Milne would rather drag us on through the legal system and cost the taxpayer more money than shell out.
Yes, Milne is appealing (but not to most of us). Of course if you weigh this against all the associated costs, then there probably won’t be much financial gain. Here’s a clever idea: let’s stop selling our assets at less money than they are worth. Who knows? We might wind up less than the £50 million in debt we currently are. But back to Milne.
We come to the subject of the once-beautiful game. Someone’s decided it’s much better to do land deals than try and win matches.
Milne will develop Pittodrie (which could have been rennovated – this has been done elsewhere in the UK) and build in the greenbelt well out of town. Loirston Loch will be greatly improved by the new stadium. What the remaining wildlife will make of the lack of land, the cars, the additional pollution and inevitable trash is another matter.
I wonder what it’s like to be less popular than the Donald? Will the Dons become the Donalds?
The bottom line is the stadium will glow in the dark (!) and we can have Elton John and Rod Stewart concerts!. (Who cares that two BBC stories this week prove another link between ill health and car exhaust fumes, and Scotland’s wildlife continues to diminish?)
You would have thought that AFC fans would be jumping for joy at the chance to drive/bus/walk to Loirston. Instead, many of them want Milne to jump ship. Things are so desperate that some fans are actively inviting Donald Trump to invest in the club. Ouch.
I wonder what it’s like to be less popular than the Donald? Will the Dons become the Donalds? Mr Milne might want to stay away from Facebook or AFC fan sites for a wee while, where there is just a hint of dissatisfaction. Such ingratitude – and after all he’s done to us. Sorry – I mean ‘for us’.
Stew’s not very popular in the city centre either. In his proposal for Triple Kirks, he’s promised us more office buildings. Result!
So who’d have thought that putting two glass box buildings next to the Triple Kirk spire (and probably chasing those pesky peregrine falcons away in the process) could make you unpopular? There will be office space – and who wants anything more than more office space?
I’m afraid to say Mr Milne is now as popular with golfers as fox-batterer Forbes would be at an animal rights meeting.
The only problem is parking (not that that is hindering him developing Pittodrie or in creating the stadium – neither has adequate parking in their plans). Where on earth will Stew find any parking solutions close to Triple Kirks? If only there was some empty, under-used space nearby – maybe something that ‘only has grass’ in it. He could have car parking, the offices would go ahead without a hitch, he’d rake in some money.
People would be amazingly grateful: we would get parking, shopping and ‘cosmopolitan cafes’ – where we can sit and drink coffee year round and be, er, cosmopolitan. If only Stew or his pal Ian could think of some solution to the problem, it would mean more money for Milne. There are some people who think the consultation should have been handled by the city with a lengthy consultation, and that the listed status of Triple Kirks carried a bit of weight. These people were of course wrong.
And let’s face it: Milne could be low on cash. Am I alone in thinking he’s short? He’s chasing a mere 1.7 million through the courts (when he’s supposedly worth about 60 million). He’s about to lay off workers up and down Scotland – he says he can’t afford them.
Perhaps he expanded a bit too quickly? Perhaps he thought new building would continue for ever? Well – with our City Council it just might.
It seems a little ironic that the City is giving Milne contracts (some recent ones total over ten million) while he is both dragging the city through the courts and firing Aberdonians in the building trade. But the people who are in charge know best.
For reasons of space, I’ll limit this to just one more aspect of the man’s popularity. I’m afraid to say Mr Milne is now as popular with golfers as fox-batterer Forbes would be at an animal rights meeting. It seems that the Portlethen community council and those who use Portlethen Golf Club are up in arms over Milne’s plans to build 153 houses so close to the course that there may be a few problems. Safe to say, people are teed off.
There you have it. The Press & Journal had their own front-page suggestion for ‘the most hated man in Scotland.’ Some of us have a different candidate for that title.
Last word: City Council employees: stop criticising your wonderful employers and managers on the Intranet. First: they don’t like it and are drafting all kinds of means to stop your free speech. Second: that’s my job. I understand they may participate in a 24-hour ‘tweeting’ session to say what excellent services they’ve got going. You are cordially uninvited to tweet back.
By Mike Shepherd.
Earlier this year, the then Council leader John Stewart, extended the remit of TIF to include city centre projects other than the city square. These are:
The City Circle Project: A walkway connecting Union Square and the railway station in a circuit from Guild Street, along Market Street through the St Nicholas Centre, down Schoolhill through the City Garden down Bridge Street and rejoining Guild Street to complete the circuit. Basically, it’s a walkway whereby shoppers in Union Square will be heavily prompted to visit the rest of the city by signs and possibly colour coding.
St Nicholas House Redevelopment: A recent council document stated this:
“In the current property market, however, the Council is concerned that developers will be unwilling to take the risk of demolishing redundant parts of the site, delaying any sale and redevelopment and resulting in a vacant city centre eyesore for a number of years. The council therefore wishes to pre-clear the site, to prepare it for sale, and bring forward development.
“The aspiration is that the tower, if not demolished, would be stripped back to its’ skeleton ready for redevelopment, and recladding and put to new uses either as a hotel, apartments or offices, and a new public square would be created to improve the setting of Marischal College and establish a focal point for a new ‘civic quarter’.”
Of interest in this statement is that the possibility of building a public square next to St. Nicholas House has been resurrected. This otherwise hasn’t been mentioned recently in council papers.
The document mentioned is the Aberdeen City Centre Redevelopment Economic Impact Assessment Information, August 2011. This provides information for a questionnaire to be answered by some 500 organisations and individuals which would provide feedback to assess the economic impact of TIF.
Denburn Valley Health Centre Development: From the same document:
“The health centre on the roof is reaching the end of its design life and NHS Grampian is looking to vacate the building. Planning guidance issued by Aberdeen City Council has called for “imaginative” development of the site using the “highest standard of design and materials to complement the surrounding urban form, listed buildings and conservation area”. Redevelopment must continue to provide for substantial public car parking on the site and is expected to comprise largely commercial space for small and medium businesses and some residential development.”
Aberdeen Art Gallery:
“Infrastructure and development required to link the Art Gallery and Cultural Quarter to the City Gardens including partial redevelopment of the gallery and creation of additional gallery space.”
The Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) are seeking six ‘pathfinder’ projects to help establish the feasibility of TIF in Scotland. Three projects have been approved (Edinburgh Waterfront Development, Ravenscraig, and the Buchanan Quarter in Glasgow) and three more are being sought.
There is strong interest as Barry White, Chief Executive of the SFT told me in an email last week:
“I can confirm that we have received a submission from Aberdeen City Council and will be considering it along with the submissions received from many other local authorities over the coming days.”
The Case for TIF in Aberdeen.
It works best where a brownfield site is used to develop a large scale business operation, the revenue from which is to some extent predictable. In this instance, the risk on a council borrowing a large sum of money is mitigated by a sound business model.
The Aberdeen TIF case is largely predicated on the City Square rejuvenating business in the city centre. There would only be a small amount of revenue generated on site and this would be insufficient in itself to provide business rates to pay back a large loan. Instead, it would be hoped to capture business rates from the surrounding city centre both from rates generated by extra business and new developments.
Trying to predict how much extra business will result from a new city square will be to a major extent speculative with a large uncertainty involved. In other words, if Aberdeen Council borrowed £80M through TIF this would be based on hope rather than certainty that the money could be paid back.
Aberdeen Council is £562M in debt according to an Evening Express report earlier this year. The interest on the debt is paid from the revenue budget and soaks up cash that could otherwise be used for service and amenities. The Council cannot afford to take a risk on being left with more debt to service, the budget is under severe strain as it is. On the other hand, I have been told that the city is so short of capital for spending that it is unlikely that there would be any investment in the city centre without TIF.
The £70M loan for a city square would be a loan too far; particularly given how unpopular the project is in the city. There is tacit recognition in the questionnaire document that the City Square Project may never happen.
“This option considers the outcome where the City Garden Project is not realisable, but the other projects are. In this scenario, economic benefit and new business rates would be generated primarily by the North Denburn Valley and St Nicholas House developments. Although likely to be less than would be the case if the City Gardens were to be realised, these two projects would nevertheless likely provide the basis for a smaller TIF.”
In this instance, Aberdeen would get a public square at St Nicholas, which is where most people wanted it in the first place.
A year and a half ago, Steve Bothwell wrote to express some, shall we say, ‘reservations’ about ACSEF’s master plan and where Aberdeen is heading. It looks as if he had a point or two.
The former glory of George St, with high quality retail and high quality architecture/replaced with the now John Lewis building (formerly the Co-Op) – St Nicholas Centre and The Bon Accord Centre, whilst severing the bloodline to the rest of George St, which resembles a down market version of the down-trodden Argyle St in Glasgow.
The old Co-op Building in Loch St/Gallowgate, which with little imagination could have been a gem of high quality boutique-scale retail, instead of Architecturally impotent office/residential blocks. St Nicholas house dwarfs Provost Skene’s house, one of the oldest and most architecturally significant buildings in the area.
Union Terrace Gardens is not to blame
The Trinity Centre/Trinity Hall, which subsequently moved to an equally, but on a smaller scale, architectural abortion.
The Old Market building (Market Street and the Green) replaced with the New Market building, sporadically raising pointing questions from the public (locals and visitors alike). Amadeus nightclub on the beach front which offers nothing but bemused and disturbed confusion.
And last but not least, Union Square, which is a glorified retail park with parking. This Architectural abomination will need replaced sooner than we think.
Union Street comes up in conversation with great frequency. For the past 30 years planning and control has become so lax that we are adorned with gratingly luminous patchwork of irregular symmetry. Absentee landlords are never held to task, nor are the lease holders.
Union Terrace Gardens is not to blame.
Most City Councils have made errors, and some cities have corrected them.
Aberdeen City Council still strive forth to allow the most banal picture painting of a living hell, by destroying everything in its path.
Either they are missing the clues which sit firmly on their own created door step or are suffering a serious bout of doldrumitis. The Civic Square planning and design details do not excite but only represent the pointlessness of it.
The City Council, along with ACSEF and Central Government wholeheartedly supported the Peacock scheme, providing local planning guidance was adhered to. This was to make it blend into the historic park. Peacock’s did that.
We now have a scheme, which in its vagueness, is impossible to get to grips with. From that I mean, it is quite obvious that this charade is nothing to do with enhancing our city for future energy companies to get comfy with, because as we know, energy companies care about nothing but energy riches and not about Urban realm Strategies, and especially about retail connectivity.
ACSEF’s approach to retail connectivity is fed through a brainwashing exercise in which the retail ‘Pillars’ unease at motions of failure result in the bandwagon bursting at the seams with the ‘I’m on board brigade’ ensuring their retail offerings, bland as they be, will not suffer the ever-changing movement or trends of public spending.
Union Terrace Gardens is not to blame.
It is poignant that public money has been frittered away on asking Joe Blogs about ‘an idea’, an idea which still reveals no real detail of the final outcome, whereas Peacocks had it sorted and without the need for car parking. Their enhancing project upset no one, and has not created the furore that the Civic square has.
Union Terrace Gardens are not frequented often. Perhaps the reason for that is, the general public are more interested in other things. Society has gone through radical changes and people have become armchair deficits. They rage vengeance on slopes and stairs, grass and beauty, nature and health.
Union Terrace Gardens is not to blame.
However, Courtesy of Grampian Police, the facts are this: – There is negligible crime in Union Terrace Gardens. The Freedom of Information Act has provided much-needed defence, where Union Terrace Gardens is the safest area in the City Centre.
It’s plain to see that ACSEF have not used Europe as an example of quality city centres but used America and Australia as examples. America and Australia are fairly recent countries but wholeheartedly celebrate their Green Spaces.
Aberdeen City Council’s budget is tight and perhaps tight-lipped. And the Scottish Government should be representing Scotland and its history, which it’s not.
Union Terrace Gardens is not to blame.
Continuing on from Part Two of Blood Feud, Voice’s Alex Mitchell offers the final tranche of his account of Scotland’s troubled and violent history. Last week Alex looked at how the fortunes of Clan Gordon changed in the turbulent times of Mary, Queen of Scots. In the concluding part religious and political tensions erupt, James succeeds Mary, and the ancient clan feuds continue.
Lord James Stewart, Earl of Moray, became the first of four Reformation Regents. He later became known as the “Good Regent Moray”, not least in contrast with his successors. He was much better equipped for the responsibilities of kingship than was Mary Stuart, but, being of illegitimate birth, was ruled out of the succession.
He could attain kingly power only by becoming Regent for the infant James VI, which meant that Mary had to be removed, one way or another; and Mary, now widely denounced as an adulteress, a French/Papist whore and a husband-killer, had already self-destructed.
But Moray himself was assassinated in Linlithgow in January 1570, aged 39, having been Regent for less than three years.
Normal hostilities were resumed. An attempt had been made to end the ancient feud between the Gordons and the Forbeses by means of a marriage between the Master of Forbes and Lady Margaret Gordon, sister to the 5th Earl Huntly. But the union was a failure, ending in divorce, and relations were more embittered than ever. Following a running fight at Tillyangus near Alford in 1571, the Master of Forbes went south to look for allies.
Whilst he was away, the troops of Sir Adam Gordon, the victor of Tillyangus, attacked Corgarff Castle with the intention of claiming it for the deposed Queen of Scots. Meeting with firm resistance, Gordon set the castle ablaze, and Margaret Forbes, being the wife of Forbes of Towie, and her children and servants, amounting to 24 persons, all perished in the flames. This was a conspicuously dreadful deed, even by the standards of those times.
Infuriated to the point of madness by the cruelty of this act, the Master of Forbes lost no time in pursuit of his enemy. He now had the support of the new Regent, the Earl of Mar.
Forbes advanced northwards to Aberdeen.
The Burgh was occupied by the Gordons, who received intelligence of Forbes’ approach and positioned themselves near what is now the top of the Hardgate, where it crosses Bon-Accord Terrace, whilst a party of musketeers were hidden in the hollow a little further west, now called Union Glen. These last were instructed to wait until battle commenced, then to attack the Forbeses from the rear.
The conflict, since known as the Battle of the Crabstane, on 20 November 1571, lasted about an hour. Finding themselves under attack from both front and rear, the Forbeses were thrown into confusion and were forced to withdraw, defeated, leaving some 60 persons dead and the Master of Forbes a prisoner of the Gordons of Huntly.
For the next 18 months,Aberdeenwas the base of Sir Adam Gordon’s operations in support of the captive Mary Stuart, held prisoner by her cousin Elizabeth Tudor for some twenty years until her (Mary’s) execution in 1587.
the last of the four Reformation Regents, the Earl of Morton, took a hostile attitude to the citizens of Aberdeen
Sir Adam Gordon subsequently fled toFrance, but only narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by the Forbeses whilst in Paris. Gordon had been given 600 merks to leave Aberdeen, which was by now shifting away from its traditional reliance on the (Catholic) Earls of Huntly in favour of the (Protestant) Earls Marischal, to whose stronghold at Dunnottar Castle the Burgh’s title-deeds were sent for safe keeping in 1572.
But the last of the four Reformation Regents, the Earl of Morton, took a hostile attitude to the citizens of Aberdeen, whom he regarded as “art and part” of both the Gordon Rising and the Battle of the Crabstane. In 1574, he imposed a fine of 4,000 merks on the Burgh and demanded assurances that, henceforward, the Burgh would be ruled by sincere adherents of the Reformed faith, which, in principle, would have ruled out both the Gordons and their long-standing associates, the Menzies family of Pitfodels.
The Battle of the Crabstane was so-called because there lay nearby a large stone, irregularly square in shape, known as the Crab Stane, which relates to an Aberdeen mercantile family descended from John Crab, a 14th Century baillie of Flemish origin. Not far off was a longer, more slender stone, appropriately named the Lang Stane. The two stones may have been march-stones (or boundary stones) from their Crabstone Croft. It may be that the stones were once part of a stone circle.
They provided the names for two streets now in the neighbourhood, Langstane Place and Craibstone Street. The Lang Stane may be seen at the east end of Langstane Place, i.e., at the south-east corner of the first house in Dee Street. The Crab Stone abuts upon the pavement on the south side of the Hardgate near where it crosses Bon-Accord Terrace, close to where the battle between the Gordons and Forbeses took place in 1571.
Moray’s mother had a portrait painted of her son’s mutilated body, the famous ‘Death Portrait’, which depicts the ‘Bonny Earl o’ Moray’ as having been shot several times, hacked about the body and slashed twice across the face by sword. The situation was that King James VI had asked Huntly to arrest the troublesome 5th Earl of Bothwell (nephew of Mary Stuart’s Bothwell) and his associates, of whom Moray was one.
There was some evidence of a ‘hit-list’ of the King’s enemies. Certainly the King took no action against Huntly, who was never brought to trial, and in fact received a Royal Pardon a week after the murder.
However, after Huntly and his ally Francis Hay, the 9th Earl of Erroll, attempted a Catholic rebellion in 1594, King James felt obliged, for the sake of appearances, to have their castles at Strathbogie and (Old) Slains blown up; and Huntly and Erroll were forced to depart Scotland for France. But they were soon pardoned and back home, and in 1599 King James promoted George Gordon to the rank of 1st Marquess of Huntly and the major responsibility of Lieutenant of the North.
Unlike his mother, Mary Stuart, King James knew who his real friends were, and kept them close, to the occasional extent of letting them get away with murder. The Gordons had come through ‘interesting times’ and had survived, but they were never again to be as ‘gey’ as in the glory days of George Gordon, the 4th Earl of Huntly.
Contributed by Alex Mitchell.