Oct 172014
 

By Bob Smith.
u-st-watt-grant_lo

Div ye myn o Peter Craigmyle
A gweed referee in his day
Fa ained a tobacconist shoppie
Sellin bogie roll an Craven A
.
Div ye myn o the Majestic Cinema
Wi its usherettes fair smairt
Div ye myn o Woolies in Union Street
Wi its bonnie twins richt pert
.
Div ye myn o the Kit Kat Café
Nae far fae Holburn Junction
Div ye myn o Mitchell and Muil
Fa catered fer teas an luncheon
.
Div ye myn o J & A Ogilvie
An upholsterer maist posh
Their Union Street  shoppie
Welcomed fowk wi lots o dosh
.
Div ye myn Peglers on Union Street
Ye cwid buy fresh fruit richt fine
Jist efter the war, fer bananas
Ye hid  ti aa queue in line
.
Div ye myn o Claud Hamilton
As coachbiggers they stairtit oot
Div ye myn o Rossleigh’s showroom
A placie o richt gweed repute
Div ye myn o Burroughs an Watts
Ye cwid play snooker or ping pong
Div ye myn o the Playhoose cinema
Showin picters like King Kong
.
Div ye myn o Herd’s Corner Hoose Restaurant
Aboot half wye doon Bridge Street
Div ye myn o a lounge in Back Wynd
A think it wis ca’ed The Elite
.
Div ye myn o The Northern Assurance
Hame o the famed Monkey Hoose
Div ye myn o Bon-Accord lemonade
A favourite in nearly ivvery hoose
.
Div ye myn fin Union Street wis full
O shops o aa different kines
Div ye myn o fowk shoppin in George Street
Fin bike wheels got stuck in tram lines
.
Div ye myn  o  Union Street Setterday nichts
Or on Sundays nae dodgin fowk drunk
Nae fear o aggro fae loons an quines
Fa noo are drunk as a skunk
.
.
.
.
©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2014
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Nov 142013
 

Clown in the jewel by Duncan Harley By Duncan Harley

In the recent “Aberdeen Parking Permits To Hit Garthdee Residents” article Aberdeen Voice looked at how the elected councillors and paid officials of the Granite City have seemingly decided to use the easy option of targeting car parking to make a bit of cash.

Since then more information has emerged to back up this assertion and a further residents meeting has taken place to discus the issues involved.

Aberdeen Council also had a meeting to discuss the matter.

In typical council speak it was called something like “EPI Committee Meeting 12/11/2013.”

If you had been fortunate enough to be there, you might have heard Cllr Mrs Angela Taylor saying that it was “unfortunate” that the previous administration had misled the residents over the fact that they might have to pay for parking permits in the future.

This in many Garthdee and indeed many Kaimhill residents’ eyes, raises some quite serious questions regarding the validity and legality of the proposed CPZ (Controlled Parking Zone) charges.

Said one resident:

“what difference does it make which administration put the parking restrictions in place, if they are wrong then surely that is the important thing.”

“I can understand folk in the centre of town having to put up with this” said another “but in Garthdee? I know we have a student parking issue but to be honest that’s not a huge problem. RGU have been offering to pay to sort it out, why don’t the council just tell the officials to talk to them?”

parking 2 garthdee duncan harley

Parking in Garthdee – Credit: Duncan Harley

The financial implications for the people of Garthdee and Kaimhill are clear. Pay up to £200 each year to park outside your own door of face a fine of £60 per day.

This is an area of mixed fortunes.

Only around 49% of houses in Garthdee are owner occupied.

The rate of car crime is higher than the city average. The rate of vandalism is double the rate for the South of Aberdeen City.

Garthdee has a 2% unemployment total compared to the Aberdeen average rate of 1.6% plus a higher than average claim rate for Severe Disablement Allowance leading to calls from relatives of disabled residents to scrap the unfair charge.

Garthdee is not in the same league as some other Aberdeen inner city deprived areas, but it is certainly not as affluent as the adjoining Morningside where, just 100 metres away across the Old Royal Deeside Railway line residents are, until now, blissfully unaffected by any threat of parking restrictions.

Aberdeen City Council are of course looking to curb expenditure and in these times of economic distress are perhaps understandably looking to take in revenue wherever they can.

It’s no real surprise then that according to EPI Committee Report EPI/13/203 the council makes a hefty surplus (council speak for profit) on parking charges city wide.

Figures suggest that in recent years income from parking fees has totalled around £6.4 per annum with around £3.5m in costs. The resulting surplus of £2.8m has been used seemingly for “various transport projects throughout the city.”

Is this legal? Possibly. Is this moral? Possibly not.

“Who can tell in the absence of a judicial review?” said one resident?

parking 2 morningside duncan harley

Parking in Morningside – Credit: Duncan Harley

What is certain is that the residents of Garthdee stand to lose a fair chunk of their disposable income due the decision of their elected representatives to impose a parking charge tax which many feel is not only quite unfair but also completely unjust.

The poorer residents of Garthdee will of course be particularly affected and many local folk are angry at the seemingly uncompromising stance of those whom they elected to represent their interests. Many feel that this situation must be rectified and rectified very soon.

RGU (Robert Gordons University) have been blamed for causing the problem due to the expiry of a claimed “10 year agreement” which the council seem reluctant to re-negotiate. RGU has helpfully published a map which advises students where to purchase parking tickets and suggests streets available to park in within the city.

Many residents of Aberdeen will wonder why their elected representatives are seemingly targeting the poor and vulnerable. Many will just shake their heads and say “it doesn’t affect me.”

In situations such as this it is often useful to recall the words of Pastor Martin-Niemöller:

“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

If this situation resonates with you then consider contacting your local Aberdeen councillor to ask if they have any views on the issue.

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Nov 012013
 

Parking permits are to be applied to Garthdee residents, a move which Duncan Harley describes as ‘A Scottish Labour disgrace’.

Parking in Garthdee Duncan Harley

The councillors and officials of the Granite City have seemingly decided to use the easy option of car parking to make a bit of cash.

From 1st August 2013, parking charges apply to Garthdee residents who wish to park outside their own house.

The official line reads:

“Introduction of Charge for Garthdee Resident’s Exemption Parking Permits (Zone Y). From 1st August 2013, residents who are entitled to apply for a Resident’s Exemption Parking Permit will have to pay for a permit. Any existing permits on 1st August 2013 will be honoured.

“Any resident who has an existing permit will be required to pay if they decide to renew their permit(s).
Please note: the council will no longer issue Permit Renewal Reminder letters after 31 July 2013. Permit holders must be aware of the date their permit(s) expires. Permits can be renewed from 20 days prior to its date of expiry.
The cost of a permit is as follows,     1st permit – £80.00,     2nd permit – £120.00.”

The local government regulations attached to lamp posts in the area helpfully inform residents that:

“There are 2 types of permit available. Fixed permits are only valid for one specific vehicle and cannot be transferred to any other vehicle. The vehicle registration number must be declared on the application form. The keeper of the vehicle must be resident in the household.  Flexible permits can be used on any vehicle, e.g. a visitor’s vehicle. If applying for only 1 permit, you may choose either type of permit, Fixed or Flexible.

“If applying for 2 permits, only 1 of the permits can be Flexible. Vehicles must be: A passenger or lights goods vehicle weighing less than 3.5 tonnes and designed for less than 8 passengers (driver excluded). Permits must be displayed on the vehicle windscreen and are only valid for use within the designated residents only, on street pay and display, ticket zone and voucher parking bays.

“You are not guaranteed a parking space in your zone. The maximum number of permits that an address is entitled is 2. Permits are not required for motorcycles which may be parked free of charge in any parking bay. We ask that motorcycles are parked perpendicular to the kerb (front of wheel facing the kerb).”

A reading age of at least fifteen is required to make sense of the new rules, and a fine of huge proportions awaits those who fail to comply. If you own a new BMW or a knackered Fiesta the rules are just the same. Pay up or get fined up to £60 a day for parking in your own street.

All well and good of course: if you own a car, you are liable to pay for parking in busy city streets. But outside your own house and in a residential satellite scheme three miles from the city centre?

Dame Anne Begg, who has been the MP for Aberdeen South since 1997, was contacted by a resident. Could she take up the case on behalf of the folk of Garthdee? Could she fight their corner on this issue? Could she empathise with constituents who are being bullied by Aberdeen City Council and forced to use hard-earned funds to buy a licence to park outside their homes? Seemingly she is powerless to fight the issue.

At a recent meeting in Garthdee Community Centre to discuss the issues, one 73-year-old resident pointed out that if she needed her house repaired for any reason she would now require a visitor’s permit to allow a tradesman’s van to park outside her door. If family or carers visit they too would require to use her visitor’s permit.

“Why should I pay £200 to let folk park at my door, I don’t even own a car,” she said

“what if I call the doctor and he won’t come unless I have a parking permit?”

Many residents feel that Garthdee has plenty of kerbside parking. In fact many residents are too deprived to even own a vehicle. What is the council thinking of?

Get in touch with Anne at:
anne.begg.mp@parliament.uk
01224 252704
Dame Anne Begg MP
Admiral Court,
Poynernook Road,
Aberdeen
AB11 5QX

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May 312012
 

Voice’s Alex Mitchell takes readers on a tour of Aberdeen offering a snapshot in time with regard to the appearance, condition and history of some of the city’s streets, features and buildings.

Saturday 19th May 2012:
The first sunny day for ages, so  I left the car at Union Square and went for a wander.  The handsome Archibald Simpson building (former Employment Exchange) at the north-east corner of the Market Street & Virginia Street crossroads has been stone-cleaned to useful effect.   Similarly the Tivoli on Guild Street has benefited from its restoration.

More stone-cleaning is being undertaken on the Carmelite Hotel on Trinity Street. The rectangular enclosures along Carmelite Street are now filling up with shrubs.  

The trees planted along both sides of Rennie’s Wynd are taking hold now and doing their bit to enhance this otherwise fairly grim length of streetscape alongside the Trinity Centre car park.

Into the Green.

The shop premises formerly occupied by Coco Violet, just east of the Back Wynd stairs, remain untenanted.

Similarly the former butcher’s shop next to Correction Wynd and the large former sportswear shop on the south side.

Café 52 seems busy, but otherwise few people to be seen at 2.30 pm on a sunny Saturday.

The south side of the Green is already in deep shade. The Green and the surrounding area are characterised by very tall buildings and narrow streets and wynds, the unfortunate effect of which is to shut out the sunlight in the afternoons, even in the summer months.

Along Hadden Street. The trees planted in the rectangular enclosures alongside the Aberdeen Market are now protected by elegant & substantial black wrought-iron tree-guards, which create a welcome impression of regularity and symmetry.

Similarly the Rox Hotel up ahead on Market Street, its 1845 Archibald Simpson premises and frontage elegantly restored.

But the Market Arms pub at the corner of Hadden Street & Stirling Street is looking very shabby these days.

Down Market Street and along Shiprow Lane.

On Shiprow itself, the Ibis Hotel and the huge office development beyond, apparently still unoccupied.   The lights are on, but nobody is at home.

Across Union Street and along Broad Street.   The restoration and stone-cleaning of Marischal College really show up to good effect on a sunny day and the statue of Robert Bruce is also highly effective.

The restored Marischal College has become the ‘iconic’ backdrop of choice for any TV news item about Aberdeen and it does our town credit.

Along Gallowgate.   The BrewDog premises in the former Marischal Bar have become something of an institution, an unusual case of a pub actually being improved by a change of ownership.

Down Littlejohn Street, across King Street and along East North Street to the Castlehill roundabout.

We lost the Timmer Market car park some time ago, to the huge disadvantage of businesses & residents in the Castlegate, and now the East North Street car park is closed down and being redeveloped as part of the new Health & Care Village on Frederick Street.

Nobody much in the Castlegate – a clutch of alkies are disporting themselves between the Sally-Ann and the Portals Bar, not doing anything particularly exceptionable, but hardly conducive to the ambiance of this historic locale or its tourist-related potential.

Down Marischal Street – a spectacularly dilapidated shoppie just up from the bridge over Virginia Street, still with its window display from about 30 years ago.   Back to Guild Street, where the forecourt of the Union Square complex seems to have become the favoured place for kids to hang out and drop litter.

Holburn Junction – the premises of the former Beluga café/bar are now occupied by a Sainsbury’s Local, directly across this end of Union Street from a Tesco Metro in the former Bank of Scotland premises.

It seems that conversion of pubs into supermarkets does not require planning permission for change-of-use, and there are a lot of redundant pubs these days.

These new small supermarkets are the one positive development in High Street shopping locales these days, being convenient of access and encouraging people to walk to their local shops and on a regular basis instead of driving to an edge-of-town superstore once a week or so.

Out the Lang Stracht to Dobbie’s Garden Centre on the western outskirts of the city.   The Garden Centre incorporates a substantial retail operation including books & magazines, leisure/outerwear – frankly, most of the togs a chap needs – plus a cafė/restaurant, delicatessen, butcher, baker etc.

Garden centres have a fairly banal image, but one can see the attractions of free & accessible parking, a clean, well-maintained environment, decently-behaved customers, clean toilets – it is easy to see the appeal compared with going into town.   And it’s somewhere to go in the car, and not too far away.

The danger is that Dobbie’s  may be the thin end of a wedge deployed to justify further retail development, followed as surely as night follows day by proposals for residential development and inexorable urban sprawl whilst retail activity continues to drain out of the city centre.

Saturday 26th May 2012: 
Brilliantly sunny weather all this week.
Left the motor in the Denburn car park and walked down past His Majesty’s Theatre, under the Denburn Viaduct and into Union Terrace Gardens – full of people, many with small children – this is one of the very few down-town locations where kids can be allowed to run about without fear of traffic.
And not an alkie or smackheid in sight.

The 78 large mature trees are looking wonderful just now.   Every aspect pleases, other than that of the Triple Kirks, its crumbling tower & spire now further enhanced by unpainted wooden boarding to shut out the peregrine falcons which were nesting there until recently.

The peregrines are a top predator, indicative of a whole food chain of wildlife species below them.

Belmont Street is full of people, checking out the monthly Country Market.   On the brow of Schoolhill, looking towards Marischal College, where the Mitchell Tower is now conspicuously dirty-grey and unrestored.

This view of the College has been obstructed these last 40-odd years by the jumble of concrete rubbish at the Upperkirkgate end of the St Nicholas House complex – the octagonal structure, the long-redundant Post Office and the untenanted shops.   Into St Nicholas Kirkyard via Back Wynd.   Clumps of bluebells between the gravestones.   Lots of people enjoying the tranquillity.

The anti-social element seems to have moved to the Castlegate these days.

To the Oxfam Bookshop, the last second-hand bookshop remaining in Aberdeen, where I obtained Misha Glenny’s magisterial history of the Balkans @ £3.99.

Bookshops and record shops used to be a principal attraction of town centres and High Streets, a reason for going into town, and now they’re almost all gone.  What, if anything, will replace them?

Back over Union Bridge and down through the Gardens; again, every aspect pleases – the granite balustrading, originally matching that on both sides of Union Bridge, the Tuscan-style palazzi along Union Terrace, the statues of Edward VII, a.k.a. Edward the Caresser, Rabbie Burns, Prince Albert and William Wallace, and the wonderful and truly iconic vista of His Majesty’s Theatre up there on the Viaduct.

Contributed by Alex Mitchell.

Mar 222012
 

With thanks to Val Sutherland.

Cash In Your Pocket, together with Homestart and the Belmont Cinema, are holding a Free Family Information & Advice Day on Friday 30th March, 9.45-2.30pm, at the Picture House, Belmont Street, Aberdeen.

The day will focus on providing help to families on matters around their finances.

This event is open to everyone with family responsibilities: parents, grandparents, carers and children – there will be something for everyone.

As well as access to advice and information from a wide range of partner organisations taking part on matters such as heating your home, savings options, benefits and keeping healthy…. and more, there will be fun for the family with free bingo, prize draws, soup packs and refreshments, free facepainting, balloons and healthy snacks for children, with the added bonus of cartoons being screened throughout the event.

We would encourage everyone to come along, to join in the fun and pick up tips on how to make the most of your money.

Val Sutherland
Cash In Your Pocket Partnership

Tel: 01224 200221
E- mail: val.sutherland@ciypp.co.uk

Mar 082012
 

The Council has taken a bit of a pasting recently, probably in Voice as much as anywhere. That’s what happens when we invite citizens to pen articles for us. One of Aberdeen Voice’s founders, Ross Cunningham, makes a welcome return by musing on some of the things that councils responsible for the city actually got right over the years.

Let’s face it, our city council is pretty woeful.
Hundreds of millions in debt, essential services cut, hair-brained schemes to revamp the city centre and deafness to those who wish to voice their opinions on the city itself.

But, was it always like this? Surely our great city’s leaders must have been competent once upon a time?

I’m sure there are many more fantastic schemes the council has facilitated over the years that I’ve left out, so please feel free to add to the list. But first try these…..

1. Raising Union Street to street level from Union Terrace to Castlegate

What a superb plan. It almost bankrupted the city when it was built in the 19th century but that was the problem of Aberdonians back then and not ours. Can you imagine having to go downhill and back up again to get from KFC to Poundland? No thank you!

2. Putting the Canal Street signpost on top of a pole instead of at street level

Brilliant! We were all tired of seeing people scoring out the C and S to formulate a crude and badly-spelled statement. To hell with delivery drivers unfamiliar to the area who may not have a TomTom to guide them. Someone needs to treat these things anally!

3. Britain In Bloom champions umpteen times

Being an ex-gardener, the floral displays in the city have always delighted me. Considering we are surrounded by grey, the colour and vibrancy the flowers provided were always a welcome sight. It looks like we may have a new place to show off our horticultural nous very soon. I’d rather we just did up the old one.

4. Revamping Marischal College

It’s amazing what you can do with a pressure washer nowadays. The granite sparkles with a freshness not seen for at least half a century – apart from the old church on the side – and it sits across the road from the recently-evacuated monstrosity. Still, the view from the never-ending queue to wait to discuss inaccuracies on your council tax bill is better than it ever has been.

5. Rebranding the city arms logo

Does anyone remember when the leopards on the city logo looked a bit too fierce and menacing? Surely not the sort of image the city would wish to portray? The answer? Make them look more like a cartoon drawn by an infant, with their tongues sticking out. Sorted.

Feb 292012
 

By Bob Smith. 

Union Street-eence an elegant lady
Full o verve an flair
Nooadays she’s an aul hag
Faa’s sprootin facial hair

Biggins they war clean an bricht
Maist wi a fine granite wa
Some noo in need o a dicht
Ti wash dirt an stoor awa

Ye hid shoppies o aa descriptions
Sellin different kines o goods
Noo ye’ve git phone shops
Sellin mobiles ti flashy dudes

Fer smairt sartorial elegance
Yon Fred Watt fittit the bill
We’re left wi multi nationals
Faa’s prices wid mak ye ill

We hid bakers an grocers shops
Car showrooms showin their wares
Local baccy shops an fruit merchants
As weel as butchers sellin hares

Shopkeepers eesed aye ti keep
Pavements free o sna an ice
Ask them ti dee aat nooadays
Maist widna tak yer advice

On pavements eence bonnie an clean
There’s tabbies an chuddy aa stuck
Faith ye nivver are affa sure
Fit’s drappit amang iss muck

Biggins up abeen the shops
War clean an used as flats
Nooadays they’re dreich an worn
An mair suited for some bats

The restaurant at the Capitol
Wis famous fer its high tea
Syne ye gid throwe ti the picters
An drooled ower Sandra Dee

Setterday nichts on Union Street
Eesed ti be aa gweed fun
Noo ye’ll git a richt kickin
As yer lyin on the grun

Worst o aa noo is the traffic
The cause o noise an soss
Maist drivin doon Union Street
They jist cudna gie a toss

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2011

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 242012
 

By Mike Shepherd.

The polling cards are out for the Union Terrace Gardens referendum and you have until March 1 to vote. The hype means you’ll have been bombarded with leaflets, pamphlets, news items and radio adverts.
If ‘connectivity’, a ‘21st century contemporary garden’, or ‘street-level access’ are key factors in deciding your vote, look no further; vote for the City Garden Project.

If you are undecided or swithering then read these very good reasons for voting to retain Union Terrace Gardens. 

1. Your vote will preserve the look and feel of the Granite City. Union Terrace Gardens are an integral part of the heritage of Aberdeen. Planned by the same architects who designed the Art Gallery and the frontage of Marischal College, they show an architectural harmony in the city centre which would be destroyed by a modernistic City Garden.

2. Your vote will not result in a ghastly modern structure replacing our park. Although described as the City Garden, it is in fact a mixture of buildings, flyovers, underpasses and parkland. The design has a passing resemblance to 1960s-style new town architecture. At one public meeting, someone said that the underpasses in particular were likely to end up as urban no-go areas. I have even heard a supporter of the scheme conceding that it will look dated after about five to ten years.

3. Your vote will stop a multitude of new glass box office blocks being built in the city centre. Council documents show that consideration has been given to plans to build a central business district in the city centre and encourage office block construction. The building of the City Garden Project, “will encourage development in the city centre sooner, and on a bigger scale, than might otherwise be the case without public investment in enabling infrastructure.”

4. Your vote will improve our much-loved park. Jimmy Milne, oilman and MD of Balmoral Group, has said:

“I and many of my business contemporaries, are committed to establishing a fund which will help bring the gardens back to their former glory. Without destroying our heritage, and without putting Aberdeen City further into debt, it would not be difficult to breathe fresh life into the park. Improved access, new planting, cleaning and restoration, park wardens and live events could all be relatively easily and cost effectively achieved.”

5. Your vote will ensure that the mature trees in Union Terrace Gardens will be saved. All 77 trees will be kept, including the twelve elms, some of which are at least 200 years old.

6. Your vote will stop our Council borrowing £70m they can’t afford. Aberdeen City Council, £562m in debt, is being asked to borrow £70m through a risky tax scheme to help fund the City Garden Project. If there is insufficient money to pay back the loan, Council funds will be required to service it.

7. Your vote will avoid significant disruption and pollution in the city centre for the near three years it will take to build the scheme. The technical feasibility study for the project estimates that the equivalent of 3,947 dump trucks of earth and 4,605 dump trucks of granite will be excavated from the Gardens causing ‘large environmental impacts from noise, transport, dust and energy use.’

8. Your vote will avoid the major traffic problems caused by the movement of heavy lifting equipment, dumper trucks and lorries in and out of the city centre. It is estimated that the City Garden will take almost three years to build. It is likely that there will be major traffic problems in the city for much of this time. City centre business will be impacted by this and may never recover.

9. Your vote will avoid much, if not all, of the Council’s cultural activities being displaced to the underground building in the City Garden. The council funds institutions occupying cosy, intimate venues such as the Music Hall, Lemon Tree and Belmont Cinema. A review of council-funded cultural activities will be made with a view to possible relocation to the underground concourse.

10. Your vote will avoid any consideration that the future of the HM Theatre could be in doubt. Two major performance venues will be built in the City Garden only yards from HM Theatre. Councillors have asked if this will have an impact on the future of HM Theatre. No specific assurances have been given.

Aberdeen could change forever if the City Garden is built, and probably not for the better.

We have the chance to keep the leafy, green heart of the Granite City. 

VOTE: RETAIN UNION TERRACE GARDENS