Sep 242010

By Sara-Jane Duffus.

On Saturday September 18th, Friends of Union Terrace Gardens held their first AGM to formalise the committee.

The meeting opened 15 minutes late – due to a larger than anticipated crowd – to a packed St Mark’s Hall. Continue reading »

Sep 102010

By Mike Shepherd

The plan was to build a multi-storey car park in place of Union Terrace Gardens with a concrete civic square on the roof. The local papers carried a drawing of the proposed scheme with happy smiling people wandering aimlessly around a concrete wasteland dotted with a few pot plants.

This view could have come from the feasibility study for the current City Square project, but it did not. This is what had been proposed for the gardens circa 1984 by the commercial company National Car Parks Ltd (NCP). If my memory serves me correctly the council may also have been involved as a joint venture partner.

Back then I worked in an office in Dyce and on the bus to work I read an article on the scheme in the Press and Journal. My initial thoughts were that this was not a serious proposition, the council could not possibly allow a much loved city centre park to be replaced by a multi-storey car park. Soon after, I talked to two of my local councillors and asked them about the plans. To my astonishment not only did they take the proposal seriously, but one of them had a rant at me. As far as he was concerned the sooner Aberdeen was turned into a modern city the better.

This was an alarming situation as it looked as if Aberdeen was about to lose the gardens and there was nothing anyone could do about it. I was overwhelmed by a feeling of powerlessness in the face of greater forces at work. What could I do?

The campaign went viral and the car park scheme became highly controversial throughout the city

I went on to discover in my conversations with family and friends that the scheme was extremely unpopular and I could not find anyone other than councillors who supported it. In fact I could not find anyone that could discuss the issue without losing his or her temper!

I then decided to act. I formed a small campaign group and organised a petition with 2000 signatures. This may not sound that much by comparison to the recent “I heart UTG” petition with over 10,000 names, but this was pre-internet and getting 2000 signatures was hard work back then. We also contacted our councillors and wrote letters to the local press.

Aberdeen is ideally set up for a campaign of this sort. It is a small well-connected city where almost everybody knows somebody that knows you. The campaign went viral and the car park scheme became highly controversial throughout the city. At this point one of the councillors on the leading group running the city decided to speak up and voice his concerns about the plans. His party were then faced with splitting into two factions over the issue or throwing their lot behind the renegade councillor in order to maintain political unity. Subsequently, permission was unanimously rejected by the planning committee and the scheme was dead.

I now find myself 26 years later helping with a new campaign against a very similar scheme to build over Union Terrace Gardens. The councillors are a different bunch now but with the ruling group still out of touch. They are too close to big business in the city and it appears that they do not listen to the people.

Many think that the City Square project is unlikely to happen as it is just too expensive and too risky for the council to get involved with. It could take another two years for the council to realise this or they might even buckle under the pressure sooner than they did in 1984. The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens intend to campaign with the utmost vigour until this happens.

One lesson from 1984 is clear; Union Terrace Gardens occupies a prime site of downtown real estate with big business forever eagerly eyeing it up. The citizens of Aberdeen need to keep eternal vigilance to ensure that this space is kept the way they want it to be; a beautiful Victorian park in harmony with the granite buildings that surround it. The fight has been won before and it will be won again.

If you want to help with the campaign, join the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens on our website.

Sep 102010

Aberdeen Voice’s Old Susannah opens her heart and her dictionary to define more familiar but tricky terms.

Continuous Improvement.

Look around you:  look at your streets, your social services, your schools, your leisure facilities, hospitals and your libraries (if any).  Continuous Improvement is all around us.

The state of our services is not an accident, you know.  The Continuous Improvements we can see are the work of a Continuous Improvement Committee, which makes Continuous Improvement Reports, and publishes Continuous Improvement Audits.

The April 2009 CI Audit (available from Aberdeen City Council’s website at a mere 50 pages) gives a useful overview of the many areas in which our local administration continues to improve services for us in a simple, easy-to-understand, economical fashion.  Old Susannah is particularly impressed by the Corporate Communications section, which claims that £14K was saved by creating a summer brochure (although the cost of not creating a summer brochure was not immediately evident).  This particular document also delves into types of telephone communication areas, including ‘Homecheck’ and ‘Telephone calls for Trees’. ‘Telephone Calls for Trees’,  one imagines, must be something to do with trunk calls.  But personally, I am stumped.  The ‘Trees’ section promises careful monitoring, ‘allied integration’ , training materials and implementation plans.  Time and money would be saved by getting rid of trees (cutting out the dead wood, as it were), and getting in a few more parking spaces and shopping malls.  Happily, this is being considered.  Or so I heard on the grapevine.

Surely making staff double-up by being responsible for Transformation as well as Change represents good value for money

Taxpayers will be further reassured to know that the Community Plan and the Vibrant Dynamic & Forward Looking statement* are monitored through something called a performance reporting framework. How very far we have come from the days when a phone call was placed, a request or complaint made, and was acted upon.

How greatly improved are things from the time when, for instance, a school board had a budget, decided what it needed for its improvements, and just got on with it.

The above clearly explain Continuous Improvement, but doubtless the Continuous Improvement Committee will be only too happy to clarify any unfamiliar phrases which might appear in its reports.

Change Manager.

A letter was published some months back in something called the ‘Press & Journal’, asking what exactly a Change Manager was needed for in Aberdeen.  Old Susannah will be happy to try and answer that question, as no one from the Council seems to have had the chance as yet.

The cynical among us might suggest mankind has been coping with change since it first found fire.  But, in these modern times, a Change Manager is needed to steer a course through the dangerous waters of change and to reinvent management posts with new trendy names and create management jobs where there was no previous need (after all, job creation is always good).  Continuous Improvement means Change of course, and these two important areas of management go hand in hand. Thankfully, Aberdeen City’s Change personnel are well versed in managing change, some of them having suddenly changed from one highly paid government post to another (one such person reportedly left a Shire post abruptly with a five-figure payout and would end up in the City’s Change section.  Now that’s what I call good change management).

Areas of job classification falling under Change include ‘Transformation AND Change’ and Modernisation AND Innovation’  Surely making staff double-up by being responsible for Transformation as well as Change represents good value for money.

In the sad days to come, no doubt our Change Manager will help all of us cope with the departure of Sue Bruce from our City,  a change which we must try to manage…or does Ms Bruce’s departure fall under the heading of Continuous Improvement ?

*to be defined in a future Dictionary Corner.

Sep 102010

Natures Fecht For Union Terrace Gairdens – A Poem By Bob Smith

The craws war chattin ti the doos
Hiv ye heard the affa news
They’re destroyin oor gairdens at Union Terrace

Thae humans are a bliddy menace

The doos said are ye sure yer richt
We ken you craws are nae that bricht

Oh aye we heard it fae a wise aul owl

Fa wis doon the Toon’s Hoose for a prowl

Noo Jenny Wren wis hoppin aroond
Fin she heard the doos kickin up a soond

She flew up high ti see fit’s fit

Fit she heard she didna like ae bit

Oh michty me an gweedness gracious
Fillin in oor gairdens fit are richt precious

The trees and shrubbies far a hop aboot

Wull aa be for the chap nae doot

The tale wis telt ti the snails
They lit oot some affa wails

Iss surely it jist canna be

Destroy the gairdens an we’ll aa dee

Syne the news it reached the bugs
They hid heard it fae the slugs

The Toon’s Hoose wull be oor destination

There ti hae a wee bit infestation

We’ll crawl aa ower the Provost’s chair
An get in yon John Stewart’s hair

The mannie’ll hae ti hae a scratch

Serves him richt the silly vratch

The moles they noo heard the chatter
An said we’ll hae a wee bit natter

We can undermine St Nicholas Hoose

So’s the foondations are a bittie loose

Noo the robins war maist pit oot
As roon an roon they did scoot

Iss is news jist affa silly

As they passed it on ti a blue tit billie

The Blue Tits they warna overjoyed
In fact they were fair annoyed

We’ll hae ti flit ti Westburn Park

An that’ll nae be much o a lark

Syne a butterfly it flitted bye
On hearin aa the spik did cry

Fit aboot the bonnie flooers

Far a spent sic happy oors

The squirrels they cam oot o hidin
Fae holes in trees far they wis bidin

They canna chap doon oor hame

Fa thocht up iss silly game

The bees noo they war bummin
Wi frustration they wis hummin

We’ll hiv ti sting aa the bums

O Sir Ian Widd an his chums

The flooers, shrubs an the trees
War duncin wi anger in the breeze

Iss his been oor hame for yonks

Aa ti be trashed by stupid gonks

The aul aul trees hid some inspiration
We’re covered by an order o preservation

Jist aabody bide in oor leafy green tops

Agin the diggers we’ll pull oot aa the stops

Leave us aa aleen is nature’s plea
Nae hairm ti humanity did we ivver dee

Ye humans are jist bliddy feel

As oor gairdens ye try ti steal

Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2010

Sep 032010

By Dave Guthrie.

On a quiet Saturday evening a couple of weekends ago a celebration took place in Union Terrace Gardens.
As evening fell, small groups of people began arriving with picnic blankets, candles, lanterns and glow lamps to take part in ‘Unplugged in the Park’, a low-key event loosely organised by Friends of UTG.

Amidst a sea of shimmering lights the audience were treated to storytelling, poetry, some amateur dramatics ( rather wittily entitled ‘Trees Not Wood!’ ), some fine music and African drumming.

The first lantern-balloon, released perhaps too soon, rose slowly in the still night air and there was some apprehension as it hovered close to the trees and HMT but there was a collective sigh of relief – and a few cheers – as it caught the breeze and seemed to head decisively in the direction of St Nicholas House.

Later launchings were trouble free.

A couple of bobbies strolled through the Gardens, no doubt grateful for a few minute’s respite from the street-level intensity of a city-centre Saturday night, as everyone enjoyed the entertainment and the spectacle.

Perhaps the only sour note rose from the two under-maintained port-a-loos standing in for the Grade ‘B’ listed Victorian facilities which have been allowed to fall into a sad state of disrepair.

The weather was kind, with the showers not arriving until most of the crowd had quietly dispersed and the clean-up operation was well under way.

Once again, the Gardens had provided an oasis of calm in the city centre which people could enjoy fully with the minimum of fuss.

Aug 202010

By John Sangster

“POWER TO THE PEOPLE”, what does that mean? It was John Lennon who first brought it to my attention, although I am informed that in a 70’s sitcom the character Wolfie Smith was first to utter it. The reason I say this is that when Jimmy Reid died recently almost every article about Mr. Reid began with Lennon’s song.

So! What does it mean? Do the people not already have power, the power to withdraw their labour or the power to remove politicians from their posts? Continue reading »

Aug 202010

Old Suzanna enlightens the unfamiliar to some more tricky terms.

It may be fair summer weather now, but winter is not far off.  Here are some terms you may not be familiar with, which may prove useful in the months to come:


A pothole is a tiny dent or rut appearing in a road for no discernable reason.  The causes of potholes are unknown, although there are those who believe potholes might occur more frequently in cold, harsh climates; on less well-made roads; on roads made up of many different types of materials; or on roads which are constantly being dug up (but that would not happen here). Continue reading »

Aug 062010

Aberdeen Voice’s Dave Guthrie reports on an afternoon when Union Terrace Gardens provided the backdrop for a tri-partite cultural gathering and a small community festival brought together Gallowgate residents and group.

It was a busy day in Aberdeen last Saturday.
First of all, there was the modest and little-publicised Gallowgate Festival centred around St Margaret’s Church, you know the one with the big golden Christ on the cross opposite the Blue Lampie.
Continue reading »

Jul 092010

By Pat Carlos

Although the Council meeting on 30th June looked like lasting all day – and eventually progressed well into the evening – it would seem to have proved to be productive for those Friends of Union Terrace Gardens and others against the destruction of the gardens due to the insight gained into the other large issues on the agenda and the wealth of contradiction contained within them.

The day commenced with a demonstration outside the building. If you have seen the local press on Thursday you will have a good idea of how it looked – placards with succinct statements held, an amiable, good natured assembly and carrying a PR triumph in the form of Spike who is now known affectionately as  “willy nilly” a Mascot of the protest. Perhaps a small statue in the gardens for him if and when/they are out of danger….?

Some of us went into the gallery to support Mike Shepherd of Friends of UTG and Steven Bothwell – local businessman and owner of Café 52.

The first major item on the agenda was the planning application for a huge office building on the Oakbank site. It was rejected after the human beings living in the area versus “economic advantage – Aberdeen is open for business” school of thought debate was conducted to a conclusion. There was also the question of safeguarding the architectural and environmental heritage of the area. This item was significant to those of us opposing the Ian Wood plan/City Gardens Project (CGP) because it was to be a TIF related project.

Tax Increment Finance forms the cornerstone of funding for CGP development; it is a sort of build -now- and increase-the- business -rate -when- itʼs -all -profitable sort of scheme. There are a number of future projects based on TIF which are supposed to fund the gap between Ian Wood’s purported generous gift and funds from an anonymous donor.

A following item seemed to be an attempt to renege on a contractual agreement to pay normal increments to council staff. It was a painful debate resulting in the issue being shunted on for further discussion at a later date.

The argument was once more about morality and money. The elderly and rather apt joke about “others standing on the edge of a precipice but we took a step forward” relieved the mood for a few seconds. Apparently there might be legal implications to address. It was a taste of what would be happening all over the country. The emphasis was focused on the lack of money and how that could only get worse in the current UK financial climate. Hardly a perfect economic climate for the non essential CSP/ CGP project.By this time the council meeting had progressed well into the afternoon.

In the maelstrom of angst, hand-wringing and political sniping it became clear that the economic situation was playing more heavily on the nerves of some of the pro – project councillors. The way forward became loaded with more and more provisos and caveats in an attempt to control the “juggernaut”. The Executive position included many uncertainties – there are gaps in the procedure for instance over who decides on even the short list of possible designs. A Project Management Board might be the way forward. The cost of maintaining the structure ( described by Councillor Allan as “almighty” ) would have to be built into a business case. There had been no discussion that UTG would leave public ownership. It was discussed that there might be a trust of some kind in future. The council would try to avoid liabilities, and so on.

In the middle of all this came the contributions of Mike Shepherd and Steven Bothwell.

Mike Shepherd went through the economic anomalies contained in the proposals including the lack of consideration given to insurance, VAT, landscaping, council assets possibly needed as collateral, overrun (he referred Edinburgh City Council having to borrow against the overrun for the tram system), the TIF gap which is now widening with the fall of the Oakbank project, and so on. Asked about who he represented he told the Council that The Friends of UTG has a daily increasing number of supporters – a loose network including people with technical, financial and legal expertise, and that the aim is to restore the Gardens and to encourage more public use. The Gardens are already used and are much loved. Mike Shepherd is a professional geologist with extensive expertise in oil recovery analysis.

Steven Bothwellʼs representation was concentrated on the need for a visionary approach to the restoration and public use of UTG. He had in the past put forward a suggestion for integrating a brasserie , finding ways to refocus public attention on the gardens. He made the point, as did one of the Councillors, that there needed to be some permanent toilet facilities located in UTG. Aberdeen is an important hub in oil development and has done much to nurture that development. Oil and gas industries didn’t include the CSP/CGP as a reason for being here. The architecture is fantastic, the gardens have in the past been described by the Council as a “gem”. The proposed scheme has not met with the approval of citizens. A proposed SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) to further the CSP/ CGP/ Wood scheme has fewer obligations in the event of financial crisis. Who would pick up the tab in that event? The Council and the public would be hung out to dry.

After much, at times highly charged discussion, a vote was taken on two amendments – one to stop the whole thing right now before more time is wasted and more money spent. This one was defeated by 25 – 15 votes. The second amendment was an attempt to find out a great deal more about the proposals before moving ahead. This was set against the proposal that the project development should go ahead but with safeguards and accountability set in. This was the final stage in the business and resulted in 7 votes for the amendment, 22 for the go-ahead and 11 nonvoting.

Letʼs see what happens next. There appears to be increasingly frayed nerves as the prospect of cuts begin to bite.

Jul 092010

By Caspar Lampkin.

The Big Lunch began life as a well watered seed a few years ago in the Eden Project, Cornwall with the core idea of bringing communities together. The point being that the friendships that you can make in just one fun get-together will last for the rest of the year.

The students at Aberdeen University are hosting Aberdeen’s contribution to this now national event supported by the ‘Friends of Union Terrace Gardens’  and with the great help and use of Cafe 52 on the Green. Continue reading »