Jan 172013

Constellations, an exhibition of work by German artist Bibo Weber will run at MUSA in Exchange Street from 15th January until  24th March, 2013.

An Aberdeen resident since 2009, Bibo creates sculptures and other artwork in a variety of media and techniques, using natural materials like driftwood and ceramic as well as non-organic materials and found objects.

Her artwork deals with our connectedness with nature and the transience of life, and is influenced by imagery of supernatural beliefs from different cultures and inspired by the forms she sees in the natural world around her.

Bibo often brings her sculptures into a natural environment in which she feels it merges with its surroundings and, by doing this, creates temporary installations.

A wide range of Bibo’s recent work, including sculpture, photography and ceramics, can be seen in Constellations, her first solo exhibition, which runs at MUSA from this week.

The main elements in Constellations are the tall wooden sculptures which are loosely based on the totems of North Pacific Native Americans.  A totem can be the symbol of a tribe, clan, family or individual, and it bears testimony to a close affinity to nature.

By using symbolic shapes and texture and the use of mainly organic material, Bibo’s artwork explores the spirit of people and nature, interspersed with imagery of the North East coast of Scotland as seen through the artist’s eyes.

The main material from which the sculptures are made is recovered wood which, once carved and shaped, is resurrected in the form of narrative constellations.

Bibo arranges and photographs these constellations to evoke specific encounters – similar to pictures in an old family album.
Some of these photographs, which are taken along the Aberdeenshire coastline, can also be seen at the exhibition as large-format prints.

One of the works in this exhibition, Yamatanka, is a large, mixed-media, full-head mask which Bibo was inspired to create after seeing a performance in Aberdeen by a group of Tibetan monks from the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.

Yamantaka is the Tibetan god of wrath who overcomes death by adopting the appearance of Death and whose terrifying appearance is said to protect us from external evil.

There are also some of Bibo’s ceramics on display and, in keeping with the general theme of ‘natural environment’ these small sculptures and vases are inspired by the forms, colours and textures of kelp seaweed.

Over the last year Bibo has contributed to a number of exhibitions in London, Chichester, Edinburgh Paisley Dunkeld and Aberdeen and is planning another Constellations exhibition which will be held in the Duthie Park Winter Gardens later this year.

Constellations runs at MUSA, 33 Exchange St, Aberdeen, from 15th January until 24th March.  See www.musaaberdeen.com

Further information.
Website – http://www.outsidein.org.uk/Bibo-Weber
Email  biboartwork@yahoo.co.uk

Jan 142013

By Bob Smith.

Lit me say richt awa,there wull be blue sna
Afore ma fantasy predicshuns cum richt
Bit lit us aa pray, there wull cum a day
Fin warld poverty’s nae langer in sicht

The Donald wull state,”Michael Forbes a’ll nae hate”
“An at winfairms a’ll nae hae a glower”
Afore is cums true, naebody’ll be on the broo
An hell itsel wull freeze ower

The Dons’ll aye win, their fan’s wull aye grin
In Europe Man Utd they’ll crush
Their play wull be racy, fin they sign Lionel Messi
An the green an white hordes they wull hush

Gaza Strip wull hae peace,an Israelies they’ll cease
Tae bigg on Palestinian grun
Fowk wull feel better, an guns winna maitter
An fae shell’s young bairns winna run

In oor Aiberdeen,the cooncil cums clean
An tells us aa fit’s gyaan on
Nae diggers wull dig tae bigg a new brig
Throwe the streets o puir Tillydrone

Sir Ian wull depart, in the puff o a fart
Wi his 50 odd million in a hurry
He’ll dee much mair gweed, if Africa’s hungry he’ll feed
An aboot webs an gairdens nae worry

Fit the future micht be, we’ll jist wait an see
Wull ony fantasy predicshuns cum true?
If only een wis fulfilled, a wid be richt thrilled
So a’m hopin the sna wull turn blue

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2013

Jan 112013

Aberdeen Voice is grateful to The Point for permission to publish the following essay by John Aberdein from the forthcoming volume UNSTATED: Writers on Scottish Independence.

I have contracted an aversion to hype. It is a bog-standard Rannoch Moor aversion, neither world class nor premier league. And so, if the Electoral Commission sanctions the extra box, I might not vote in the referendum Yes – but merely Uhuh.
Imagine, if you will, a tottering pile of Uhuhs. Because we have had a measure of independence for quite some time – but what have we done with it?

We have had powers over primary and secondary education for donkeys’ years, yet our education system is confounded by hype. Quality Assurance, Higher Still, and now Curriculum for Excellence. Cream is not enough for the mandarins: they must churn the schools till they get butter.

The perfectability of children – or the system – lies within our grasp, it is implied, just a couple of documents off. I enjoyed teaching in Scotland for nearly thirty years, but to re-enter the classroom under such pressures would do my nut. We don’t need independence to sort this: we need to let a whole variety of teachers with high commitment – and proper pay and pensions – proceed with the professional confidence that accords and comes with democratic power. See the Kirkland Five. See Finland.

Similarly, we have had serious devolution for a while now, with control over our National Health Service, yet much of our individual health is raddled. We gollop fast food down, we drink like whales. Pigging and whaling it because we are not independent? Perhaps with independence – and Trident gone – we could create a new defence policy, winching our more gaseous bodies up as barrage balloons. Creative Scotland likes big projects. Otherwise, with respect to egalitarian models of individual health targeting and collective improvement, again see Finland.

And we have had a Scottish Parliament for thirteen years, re-engaged to a proud old legal system, with control over our country’s infinitely toured, dearly cherished land – yet we barely know who owns the bugger, except it isn’t us. There is a fault that lies across our land, but it is our fault, not Westminster’s. That gaping fault comprises: land theft from the commons; land left waste and underused; land exclusion still unrighted. Read the Landman: Andy Wightman.

So there is national and local hype, but a general miasma. Aberdeen, it says on an airport billboard as you enter the terminal: home of the self-sealing envelope. There’s no answer to that. A worser silence hangs about Dounreay, home of weapons-grade plutonium. And – as we seek to found a planet-saving, high-export, steel-hungry, renewables industry, we meet the sign – Ravenscraig, home of globalism (flitted). Scotia, home of hames, hame of homes, can aye domesticate apocalypse.

The leader of a party not unadjacent to the ruling party in Scotland has been backing this aberration

There was a day in my youth when you could walk dryshod across the Atlantic from Ullapool to Nantucket on the decks of the herring drifters – and that’s when they were in harbour. Tomorrow there will be just one giant trawler purser seasooker that does for the lot of us. I heard of a crew that made a squillion each one night. They landed at a shady pier and quickly banked offshore.

Real independence would include defence of biological resources held in common against our own and other pirates. Plus, to refound our country properly, nationalisation of major minerals and bringing to book all tax-evaders.

A billionaire I schooled with wants to raze the ancient elms in a sunken classical garden to raise a shrubbish granitette hoohaa instead. The leader of a party not unadjacent to the ruling party in Scotland has been backing this aberration and Scottish Enterprise has largely paid for the relentless PR.

The project to demolish Union Terrace Gardens is hailed by the exaggerators as vital and transformational when fatal and deformational would be nearer. A party that leads the call for independence would do well to wake up to its own whipped centralism.

Up the coast, a man with hair combed to the eyes, and shooting from the hip, rakes the marram out of the dunes to make a golf course. A party not unadjacent to the current ruling party in Scotland thinks this is grand and approvable and overrides the piffling independence of the local community to make it so.

Billionaire then gives Combman an honorary degree and lauds him for putting Scotland on the international golf map. Fictionalists from St Andrews to Troon are made redundant because they could not make that up. Combman, imported patriot, then has a bad attack of wind. And a party that purports to trailblaze to independence should now dump a tendency to tatty diktats?

Trees for Life are engaged in restoring the Caledonian pine forest. Some of my best friends are Scots pines, so I go to help Trees for Life root out slump-shouldered sitka spruce and replant with bonny, red-barked, strong-limbed Pinus sylvestris. It is a slow process, as many good processes are. TfL are also campaigning to reintroduce the wolf to Scotland. The last one was killed in 1746 by a Highland hunter called McQueen. Imagine the ceremony, if youse will. Scotland – I don’t know if you still remember – this is Wolf. Wolf, meet Scotland. What will the wolf think?

Culloden set a pellucid standard for antihype. But antihype is not really TV’s country

Meanwhile – another screengrab – as you stand in the centre of Inverness, an odd bus passes. Its destination board reads Culloden via Tesco. In the days before heritage got polish, if you went to Culloden, there was a wooden notice stuck in the heather which read: Dangerous Battlefield – Wear Sensible Shoes.

After independence, but not before, that same bus will be rerouted past Braw Brogues, that we may suffer no such deficiency again. More pointedly, the TV documentary Culloden by Peter Watkins was made for buttons in 1964, with shivering, bloodied local folk, some of them battlefield descendants, recruited to do the dying.

With a Brechtian yet empathic authenticity both moving and thought-demanding, Culloden set a pellucid standard for antihype. But antihype is not really TV’s country. And so after Watkins’ The War Game the following year, a scorching exposé of how kitchen door shelters don’t halt H-Bombs, TV dropped him.

Speaking of Armageddon, we are hanging on for the showdown…

As regards underworld, we once had three hundred years’ worth of recoverable coal. I went down the Seafield Colliery for a visit, a mile down at the speed of darkness, three miles out under the Forth in the dripping tunnel on the man-riding train. Many of the folk in the Fife coalfield were practically communists. So that had to be closed down, the pits flooded, mainly by Thatcher. To recruit for independence, if it is to be more than Uhuh and a yawn, we might need to reinvigorate that deep sense of the commons?

And, anent independence, most working people have none: the only power they have, if they are employed at all, is to withdraw their effort. This is not acknowledged by certain politicos, who can be spotted not on the picket line but hopping from studio to studio wringing their hands. Meanwhile capital can go on strike or abroad for as long as it likes whenever it pleases, and nobody holds it to account – there’s independence for you.

Indeed if capital catches cold from all its jaunting we purchase for it a medicine called Independence Plus. It is dispensed in a pail. As for one spoon of medicine for the rest of us, that would only encourage sloth and dependency. Before we write a prospectus for independence, I suggest we read and reread the recent works of David Harvey, Zizek and Badiou.

Yet I applaud instances where this Scottish Government has been humane

Because, with so-called independence, would the iron rule continue that capital needs its minimum 3% annual return, come what may?  Even if it means laying tram tracks annually and tearing them up, scrapping human scale crew-owned fishing boats to build supercapitalistic ones, and rooting out beloved gardens to ram some architectural crassness over them?

Or would we roll up our political sleeves in order to regain and develop our nationally-owned, locally-owned, and communally-owned sectors?

Huge questions, perhaps only fully answerable in action, once the present interim independence-seeking party helps us get there and then splits. Rather grimly, in terms of portent, at the moment of writing the Scottish government has just awarded the Orkney and Shetland ferry contract away from the nationally owned NorthLink to those ubiquitous public contract snafflers Serco. So that by the time this is published, cuts in employment and employment standards will almost certainly have followed, to ratchet up Serco’s margin.

Yet I applaud instances where this Scottish Government has been humane. The freeing of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, tempering justice with mercy, and against the fierce denunciation emanating from the US State Department, was a noble moment in our history, nobler in the annals of virtue than even Bannockburn. Albeit his conviction in a Scottish court in the first place had hallmarks of superpower subornment. Just as, in our daily political life, a footloose international media mogul has been interfering too.

In a different sphere, I applaud the Scottish Government’s removal of prescription charges, and hope  it presages the maintenance of a full and proper National Health Service. But in March 2012 a die was cast on this matter in England.

The UK coalition government, comprising two parties that,  clapped-together, would barely form a rump in Scotland, forced through the Health and Social Care Bill against universal professional advice and a million petitioners, thus laying the whole health service in England open to usurpation. I travelled to Westminster to lobby against this, but the coalition had already sold its ears.

I flew to Obama’s inauguration, and hungrily allowed myself to come under the influence

So up to 49% of beds in NHS Foundation hospitals in England are now legally available to be allocated to private patients. This will impact indirectly on Scotland as a Barnett consequential. The grant we receive for our hospitals from the annual Barnett formula pro rata block grant is calculated on what is received by English hospitals from government funding, but not from private insurance fees.

Once the temporary arrangements made to cover this have faded, Scottish health services, unless we get a grip and do something, will haemorrhage grant and be driven in the same ghastly privatizing direction.

Let me close with a confession.

It is ever easy to be lulled by the spell of hype. In January 2009 I flew to Obama’s inauguration, and hungrily allowed myself to come under the influence. At the start of the week I sang We Shall Overcome in Washington’s National History Museum – linked in arms  with African Americans who dared to hope that serious social change had come to pass. By the end of the week, back in New York, the neon high round News Corp’s skyscraper was tickering: President Orders Missile Attack on Afghan Village – 18 Dead.

On the Amtrak train between these cities I talked with Americans. Was this a fresh chapter in their democracy? We talked of many things, principally socialized medicine. They wanted none of that nasty stuff. I said, Forget the two-word dismissal: you need six words to understand the founding principle of the NHS. What are your six words? rapped a sceptic. Free at the point of need, I said. I further claimed, indeed asserted, that the USA could never regard itself as a civilized country until it looked after the healthcare needs of all its citizens.

Dear reader, I got out alive. And that exemplifies the real basis on how I will vote – if spared – in the referendum in two years time. I will vote to be in a better position afterwards to fight to keep the single greatest bedrock achievement of socialism and human decency we have: the National Health Service. And since I do not think the Electoral Commission will trouble to find peely-wally Uhuh in its vocabulary – and since the process of essay-making has cardioverted the caveats in my ageing heartbeat – I will make my vote count on the side of our life, and not for capitalism.

  • More Info.

UNSTATED: Writers on Scottish Independence, edited by Scott Hames (Word Power, £12.99).

“We are deluged by facile arguments and factoids designed to ‘manage’ the Scottish question, or to rig the terrain on which it is contested. Before we get used to the parameters of a bogus debate, there must be room for more honest and nuanced thinking about what ‘independence’ means in and for Scottish culture. This book sets the question of independence within the more radical horizons which inform the work of 27 writers and activists based in Scotland. Standing adjacent to the official debate, it explores questions tactfully shirked or sub-ducted within the media narrative of the Yes/No campaigns, and opens a space in which the most difficult, most exciting prospects of statehood can be freely stated.” – Scott Hames

The contributors are John Aberdein, Allan Armstrong, Alan Bissett, Jenni Calder, Bob Cant, Jo Clifford, Meaghan Delahunt, Douglas Dunn, Margaret Elphinstone, Leigh French and Gordon Asher, Janice Galloway, Magi Gibson, Alasdair Gray, Kirsty Gunn, Kathleen Jamie, James Kelman, Tom Leonard, Ken MacLeod, Aonghas MacNeacail, Kevin MacNeil, Denise Mina, Don Paterson, James Robertson, Suhayl Saadi, Mike Small, Gerda Stevenson and Christopher Whyte.

The volume is due to be published in early mid-December and can be ordered from:


  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Jan 032013

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

Happy 2013 and Tally Ho! Revellers gathered in Stonehaven for the annual fire festival to ward off evil spirits; in related news, it is thought developer Stewart Milne was not in attendance.

Sadly, it seems his companies were unable to provide a Christmas tree for their Stonehaven development. No doubt schools and infrastructure will prove easier to deliver.

Crowds also gathered in Aberdeen for a fireworks display (which was not great for the wildlife by the way) around Union Terrace Gardens.

The masked ball, the Jubilee tea party, the previous year’s Christmas party and fireworks…  you could be forgiven for thinking UTG is able to be a focal point without even having a granite web.

Christmas is the season to be grateful for what you have and for performing acts of charity.  It might have been blowing a gale, but Feed the Deen managed to hand out warm clothes and serve a hot lunch at Café 52 before Christmas. 

Some generous people who didn’t know about the event in advance promptly went to the shops and returned with brand new goods for Aberdeen’s poor and homeless.

Still, a solution to local poverty seems to be at hand. No, not any local billionaire philanthropists helping out, but instead a sympathetic plan to make begging illegal.

As ever, in order to punish one or two ‘professional’ beggars, the idea seems to be to outlaw begging altogether. Aside from the professionals, other people go into the begging line of fundraising for the glamour and excitement. Alcoholics, runaway children, people with mental health issues, people who have been made poor should all be penalised.

Surely we have plenty of easy-to-access support programmes? Look at how well ATOS is treating people with special needs and abilities.

New estimates suggest that over 400 Scots could face bankruptcy each week in 2013 (but not bankers, obviously).  We’ve done a great job of hiding child poverty – no doubt we can make half the population invisible as well when homelessness increases. However, we can’t have poor people spoiling a day’s shopping for the rich, who might have to think about poverty when they see begging.

I like this idea of penalising beggars; we could get them to pay fines if caught – another revenue source for us. Result!

Speaking of charity, there is no word yet on when Africa will receive its £50,000,000 from the Wood Family Trust

Not only is this a great ploy which goes hand-in-hand with the season of giving, but this mentality of penalising all in order to stop a minority of wrongdoers has some other great applications elsewhere. For instance, intrepid police officer David Hamilton, (secretary of the Tayside branch of the Scottish Police Federation), has suggested callers pay 50p to report emergencies to stop misuse of the service.

I can’t think of any problem with that scheme, can you?  We could give it a trial for a bit, and then introduce a specific tariff for the kind of crime being reported – £0.50 for suspected burglaries, £1.00 for street robbery, £3.00 per assault and so on.

Old Susannah had to make a 999 call just before Christmas  concerning a car incident (details can’t be disclosed as yet). Clearly I should have been charged for helping the person(s) involved. Next time I’ll ask the victim I’m trying to help for some money first. I’m no businessperson – I should have asked them to refund the cost of the mobile phone calls I made, too.

Speaking of charity, there is no word yet on when Africa will receive its £50,000,000 from the Wood Family Trust.   However, the last WFT accounts show the Trust had an income of £29,000,000.  Their expenditure was some £2,355,000.

Old Susannah is still trying to get her head around how getting Rwanda’s plantation owners to grow more tea adds up to a charitable act. Is taking more land away from the very limited agricultural land available an act of charity? Are rainforests cleared to grow this charity tea? Are the people actually going to benefit and not the land owners once this scheme lifts off?

Perhaps some of the WFT staff, paid over £400,000 last year could enlighten me.  When they do, I’ll share the good news with you. However, it’s a little too complex for me to understand just now, just as I can’t understand why the Trustees (i.e. the Wood Family) seem to believe that it would

“…be operationally sensitive to disclose any further remuneration information in respect of these individuals [people getting pensions from the WFT, that is].”  

Well, charity does begin at home. I’m sure it’s all for the betterment of Africa’s poor, and if it involves the destruction of unique, crucial wildlife habitat, then we’re just exporting the Aberdeen philosophy of green space management to Rwanda.

Concerning our remaining green spaces and animals, anti-deer, pro-forest lobby (aka Scottish Natural Heritage) have put out a new report on the evils of deer.

They believe shooting and culling are the answers, or deer might eat trees

It has a great big list of reference documents, so it must be accurate (even if there are no footnotes so you can’t tell what sources support which claims). They give guesses for the number of deer/car incidents in Europe (very high indeed); and they believe that eco-tourism is overestimated especially when it comes to deer.

They believe shooting and culling are the answers, or deer might eat trees. How Scotland ever managed without SNH and these reports is anyone’s guess. Obviously every tree seedling should always reach maturity and not be part of the food chain whatsoever – like it’s always been.

I’ll read this great report and will let you know what I think of it later. It is clear SNH loves forests. It is not clear how it feels about less important issues such as meadows, SSSIs, SACs and so on.

Judging from comments on the last Old Susannah column and comments made about SSSIs, it seems that a little refresher course on Scotland’s natural heritage is in order. Some people think these are empty terms, and how right they are. We have things in Scotland which are not found anywhere else, and I don’t just mean Aileen Malone and shopping malls.

We have great landscapes, marine environments and forests – all ripe for making lots of dosh right now.

The SNH, guardians of our Natural Heritage and of our right to blast animals with guns, are responsible for our natural landscapes. Let’s see what protection is given to our environment, built and natural, and what it means in practice by way of a few definitions.

SSSI (Examples:  Menie, Nigg Bay): (Eng. Abbreviation) A Site of Special Scientific Interest, a recognised designation with legal implications.

In the words of England’s Friends of Richmond Park,

“Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are the country’s very best wildlife and geological sites. They support plants and animals that find it more difficult to survive in the wider countryside where they are often under pressure from development, pollution, climate change and unsustainable land management.

“SSSIs need active management to maintain their conservation interest, and it is illegal to carry out certain potentially damaging operations on a SSSI without consent from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, or reasonable excuse” – Marilyn Mason.

Richmond Park is arguably London’s largest parkland. It is vastly underused, of course. People come from around the world to look at the famous Richmond deer herd which lives in it, and they don’t even want to shoot them.

There is no web. Ancient trees which could be used for outdoor theatre seating or just cut down to plant new trees are left to stand doing nothing more than cleaning the air. I will suggest the Friends of Richmond Park contact Aileen Malone and Ian Tallboys for suggestions on making Richmond Park more like Tullos Hill.

Balmedie was a SSSI. It had this island’s one and only moving sand dune system and associated flora and fauna. This was not to be changed or damaged per the law covering this highest of all environmental designations.

Therefore, Alex Salmond over-rode Aberdeenshire’s sovereignty, and told his (then) pal Donald Trump to do as he pleased. No doubt those promised 6,000 jobs for local area residents will be advertised in a day or two. Still, Trump is helping to feed the poor. A sandwich and a few drinks can be had at the course for less than £100! (£85).

Bad news: it seems Mother Nature is not as keen on the golf course as she is on the former ancient SSSI. The weather seems to be undoing some of Mr Trump’s great work, and that would be a shame.

Likewise there are two SSSIs at Nigg Bay. Naturally this means the Harbour Board should be allowed to extend into it for industrial marine purposes. Torry’s old fishermen’s cottages were sacrificed for the current harbour many years ago.

Kate Dean later gave us the lovely sewage plant. Torry was later coaxed into selling coastal lands it owned to help ACC out. Let’s just get rid of the only remaining unspoilt Torry coast and its SSI status (which in part was to do with some boring old geology unique to us with historical importance, not to mention the wildlife).

Once green space is given over to industry, it is virtually lost as green space forever

Benefits will include increased lorries through Torry, more pollution, and no doubt ‘jobs creation’ (even though we don’t have bad unemployment figures). I for one am getting bored of living in a suburban area with a nice coastline – I want more industry.

Air pollution levels near the existing harbour are, by the Council’s own reporting, below European standards for clean air and have been for some time. This is due in part to the road traffic (much of which is directly connected to the harbour).

There is also the lovely pollution from the ships themselves; if you don’t believe me, take a stroll near the Moorings next time a ship is belching black, oily smoke into the air. It will save you the expense of buying cigarettes.

Once green space is given over to industry, it is virtually lost as green space forever, so you don’t have to worry about environmentalists and evil tree-chomping deer any more. Green space might be good for our lungs, our health in general, our wildlife, absorption of excess rainwater, and so on. Still, economic prosperity trumps all. Let’s keep building.

SAC (Examples:  Loirston Loch, Dee River area): (Eng. Abbreviation) A Special Area of Conservation, legally protected status attached to an area.

Here is what Ms Mason has to say about SACs:

“SACs have been given special protection under the European Union’s Habitats Directive in order to provide increased protection to a variety of wild animals, plants and habitats, as part of global efforts to conserve the world’s biodiversity.  The effect of all these impressive designations on visitors is that they must not do anything that would damage the Park’s wildlife… Despite the restrictions, it should be a matter for local pride that we have such an important and beautiful natural habitat here on our doorstep.”

Proud to have important and beautiful natural habitats on our doorstep? Clearly Ms Mason’s not from around here.

The best use for SACs is development, which the previous Aberdeen City Council’s Kate Dean was pleased to approve left, right and centre. She saw no reason to prevent Stewart Milne from building a 21,000 seat stadium for his club (where the average attendance is ever so slightly lower than 21,000 – about 50% lower) over an under-used bit of land.

We might have lost a few endangered species and some more fresh air in the process of increasing our urban sprawl, but we would have had another football pitch. The new stadium supporters said that they were creating wildlife corridors. If you count taking a vast wildlife area and turning it into a small corridor surrounded by industrial area, then indeed they were.

As you might  recall, 100% of the fans were in favour of going out-of-town to watch AFC play, even if there was not going to be enough parking for them.  My favourite part was the fleet of 80 buses which were going to take fans from the town centre to Loirston in fifteen minutes’ time. Sure, that was always going to work. Hopefully we can put up a factory or something there soon.

Clean air, clean water, enough green space for people and wildlife to enjoy – best leave that sort of thing for the next generation to work out. We have concrete to pour, identikit houses to stick up, and money to make.

Common Good Land: (compound Eng. noun) an area of ground owned jointly by the population of an area, often left in trust or deeded to the public.

No less a person than Robert the Bruce left common good land to us in the form of  Union Terrace Gardens. This was an amazing example of foresight. He must have known that ACSEF could have made some money out of it, and that Ian Wood’s statue could have stood proudly and deservedly alongside statues of The Bruce. Why build on boring brown field sites and bring them back into use, when VAT-free land is ripe for the taking?

SSSIs, SACs – clearly all these designations are protected by our national bastion of environmental soundness, the SNH, operating free from any politics or special interest group pressures. SNH said yes to Loirston, they said yes to Trump at Balmedie and they said yes to changing Tullos from a meadow into the luxurious forest we now have. Let’s see how else they plan to protect us in the future.

Next week – more definitions, and a 2012 review

  •  Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Dec 062012

Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly today received documents from the First Minister’s office shedding light on ‘Webgate’ – the genesis of the failed bid to build a granite web over Aberdeen’s Union Terrace Gardens. Kelly investigates.

Aberdeen’s Granite Web is history; it will not go ahead, and the city will not be borrowing £90 million towards its construction.

Alex Salmond’s personal interest in the project was well publicised when it emerged his office had intervened in the TiF (Tax incremental Funding) bid appraisal for pilot projects in Scotland.

The appraisals were undertaken by the Scottish Futures Trust, which had placed the Aberdeen proposal 10th in the list of projects to be recommended based on a variety of financial and technical criteria.

Salmond’s intervention, at the expense of projects from Renfrewshire, West Lothian, Ayrshire and Dumbartonshire, propelled the web into position to be one of the potential pilots.

Correspondence between First Minister Alex Salmond, Sir Ian Wood and ACSEF has been released to Aberdeen Voice today under a Freedom of Information request. These letters shed further light on Salmond’s relationship with Sir Ian, who had promised £50 million of his own money towards the controversial £140m+ project.

Far from allowing local governments sovereignty over their own affairs, Salmond has shown, by intervening in the appraisal process, that central government can and will over-ride expert advice. He and Nicola Sturgeon have since said any TiF application for Aberdeen must involve Union Terrace Gardens – another intervention without precedent.

Although TiF is a pilot here, as a fundraising method it is already losing fans in its country of origin, the USA, where it is proving unsuccessful in several states. How central government can insist that a brand new, untested means of borrowing money cannot be used by Aberdeen unless it sacrifices its common good land park for a project runs contrary to cries of ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’ used by the SNP to encourage a vote for independence.

But what of Salmond’s correspondence on the subject of the web?

From the letters received, it is clear ACSEF and Sir Ian had been lobbying Salmond and his government to support the web – clearly with success. A letter of August 2011 indicates that Nicola Surgeon had been in contact with Sir Ian about the project. Here are some extracts:

August 2011: Alex Salmond to Ian Wood

“Thank you for your letter of 28 July updating me on progress with the Aberdeen City Garden Project. Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the opportunity to discuss these issues with you when she visited Aberdeen at the beginning of August…

“In relation to the TIF funding application, we are in the process of identifying further projects which can be included in the TIF pilot scheme. I understand that Aberdeen City Council will submit an outline proposal to the Scottish Futures Trust this month in accordance with the process that has been agreed. We look forward to considering this further.”
See – https://aberdeenvoice.com/2012/11/salmond-to-wood-aug-2011/

It is clear Salmond has admiration for Wood; could this have coloured his judgement when he saw fit to intervene in the recommended TiF projects?

19 July 2012: Salmond to Wood

“I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of the Scottish Government to thank you for the considerable contribution you have made to both the oil and gas industry in Scotland and to Scottish public life…”

[note: this contribution had not included paying NI on Wood Group staff for a number of years; the payroll was moved offshore]

“Your involvement in Scottish Enterprise Grampian and your successful previous chairmanship of the Scottish Enterprise Board have set the bar for others to follow… I have enjoyed meeting with you over recent years and very much appreciated the enthusiasm and dedication which you have brought to the Wood Group, the industry and more widely to Scotland…”
See – https://aberdeenvoice.com/2012/11/salmond-to-wood-19-07-12/

[note – initially Scottish Enterprise were supporting Peacock Visual Arts’ own plans for premises in Union Terrace Gardens. It is not precisely clear at the time of writing how the Peacock bid lost SE’s support, which quite quickly turned to Sir Ian’s favoured City Garden Project instead].

Sir Ian returned the 19 July letter in part as follows:

01 August 2012: Wood to Salmond

“I have been particularly grateful for the support your Government have provided to the Aberdeen City Centre Regeneration Project which, as you know, I believe is vitally important for Aberdeen’s long-term economic future and wellbeing.

“The vote of Aberdeen City Council on 22nd August will be crucial, and if this is positive I will obviously allocate some of my time to support the development phase of this project in any way I can, and I know there will be an important role for Scottish Government to play in facilitating this. If the vote is negative, Wood Family Trust will have no choice but to withdraw their offer of funding.”
See  – https://aberdeenvoice.com/2012/11/wood-to-salmond-01-08-12/

The first part of the paragraph above begs the question: why did the government support the City Gardens Project at the expense of others on the table, several of which were given higher ratings by the Scottish Futures Trust? Concerning the potential withdrawal of the £50 million offer, there is some ambiguity.

A statement from Sir Ian indicated this money would be deployed to charitable work in Africa, a most laudable act, indeed. The nature of this charitable work may or may not be the same as a project described on the Wood Family Trust website, in which they seek to improve the business acumen of tea plantation operatives in Rwanda, a country only just recovering from civil war, an aids epidemic, widespread hunger and poverty.

A further letter shows evidence of yet more lobbying; this time by a private trust, signed jointly by Tom Smith (ACSEF and the Trust) and Ian Wood:

28 July 2012:  Aberdeen City Gardens Trust, ACSEF and Wood to Salmond

“The concept designs will be available to exhibit to the public late September with the public asked to indicate their views… with the winning concept design presented to  Aberdeen City Council to endorse.

“The current plan is that by mid-December the city council will be in a position to approve the TiF business case prior to it being submitted to the Scottish Futures Trust. It goes without saying that the Project will not proceed without TiF funding.

“We’d be very happy to discuss this with you further… We will also be seeking some further discussion with John Swinney…”
See – https://aberdeenvoice.com/2012/11/wood-smith-acgt-acsef-to-salmond-28-07-11/

The striking feature of this letter is that it indicates the city council is not in the driving seat. The council is expected not to debate or vote; it is expected to ‘endorse’ and ‘approve.’

The Aberdeen City Gardens Trust (ACGT) is a private entity set up to run the City Gardens Project that listed Tom Smith (also of ACSEF, and formerly Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of  Commerce) and Colin Crosby (A&GCoC) as its two directors. It is therefore of further interest to note that in this letter of 28 July 2011, ACGT lobbies Salmond with praise for the scheme and seeks further meetings with both Salmond and Sturgeon.

ACSEF is paid for by the city and by extension the public, and the public were very much split on whether or not this project and its associated, high-level financing were acceptable. Precisely how ethical it was for a publicly funded body like ACSEF to forward a scheme favoured by its private sector members and also to expect the city to endorse its recommendations is unclear.

Sir Ian Wood, signatory on the ACGT letter, apparently had no official connection to ACGT (Companies House lists three directors of this trust). There seems to have been no tendering process for the ACGT to be handed a management role over the garden project uncontested and unelected.

If Ian Wood had influence over the ACGT as the letter indicates, as well as influence over the project via the Wood Family Trust, his influence over the project arguably would have outweighed that of the council. 

Remembering that the land in question is common good land, not to be changed in usage per its ancient grant, the thin edge of the web towards privatisation is a worrying precedent.

The contents of these letters raise serious questions about the continued future of ACSEF, and the genesis and advancement of the Aberdeen City Gardens Trust as the proposed management body/special purpose vehicle for the scheme. Aberdeen City Council should reappraise ACSEF’s future, and at least ensure that ACSEF is not dictating policy going forward.

The most concerning issue emerging from these letters, however, is how the First Minister and his cabinet members were lobbied successfully and elevated a scheme from an Aberdeen billionaire above more fiscally credible schemes from other parts of Scotland.

Aberdeen Voice is pleased to offer readers the opportunity to read these letters, giving an important insight into this recent chapter of local history. While the Granite Web is truly consigned to the dustbin, the actions of those in positions of power who tried to foist the scheme on the public are still very much with us.

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Nov 162012

Voice’s Old Susannah surveys the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond, and smells something fishy while she’s at it. By Suzanne Kelly

Tally Ho! The masked ball was a huge success socially and financially; its use of Union Terrace Gardens was inspired. This great common good asset made money both for the city (I assume a fee was charged for using UTG – it normally is) and for the charity – and all during hours the park would normally have been closed.

Organisers Balmoral Group announced they hit their £50,000 target with a thousand or so to spare, all for the benefit of the Friends of Anchor charity. What’s not to like? (Someone was there in a gold deer head mask: I wonder who that was?)

I have good news for all fans of great literature – news that can only add a touch of class to our City of Culture bid. It was reported at the weekend Aberdeen Journals Ltd is to branch out into fiction – and not just their usual P&J and EE kind of fiction, either.

Someone on the board must have read 50 Shades Of Grey and decided this was the way forward in the 21st century – yes, the Journals is to start its own erotic literature publishing company! Will this feature people sending in readers’ wives photos just like the EE does? We shall see.

No doubt this is a move calculated to stimulate young minds, and absolutely nothing to do with cashing in on the latest, no doubt flash-in-the-pan trend for cheap mummy porn. One wonders how one of their books might open? Hmmm…

“It was at an ACSEF meeting he first caught her eye, or rather her eyes lingering on his bulging portfolio just a tad longer than might be considered decent in polite company. His interest well and truly aroused, he quietly checked out her assets from beneath hooded lids while scanning her CV, impressed by its list of the quangos she had dominated while the taxpayer paid through the nose.

“But could she handle his inducement? Would she help with his erection if he gave her 50 million big ones? Could they spin a beautiful web together? Questions, questions, and as he chewed them over, she glanced in his direction, wondering how he would feel if she started talking TIF. She didn’t want to go too far, too fast, too soon. But she needn’t have worried. They were made for each other.”

With all the comings and goings of these past few weeks, I can’t help but feel something fishy is going on. The Scottish Government’s (legal? really?) insistence that UTG must be developed is giving everyone who cares about the park a haddock. At this stage, with the city divided, it is very shellfish indeed of Wood to continue carping on. Central government won’t clam up either: we either build over our park or it’s no TIF for us.

Pretty soon, the SNP/Scottish Government is going to have to tell us exactly what piece of legislation it is that enables them to insist we develop UTG if we want TIF funding for other projects. Several Freedom of Information requests await reply, very simple requests asking exactly what communications have passed between Holyrood, Sir Ian, ACSEF and the rest of the usual suspects regarding the future of UTG.

You might recall TIF in Scotland was rolled out as a pilot scheme, with no real rules about what land must or must not be developed. On the other hand, the TIF model as practiced in its US birthplace is already creaking, and creaking badly. Designed to be used only for the regeneration of disused brownfield sites in deprived areas, unforeseen difficulties with the TIF funding model in the States are in most cases causing havoc.

Here, we could be forgiven for thinking central government has something against the greenbelt and SSIs of Aberdeen City and Shire, or even that they have a secret agenda of sucking up to the rich at every opportunity. I wonder what discussions have taken plaice?

Our previous collection of councillors included an old trout or two, not to mention Councillor Coral. They were old school and fell for the Granite Web hook, line and sinker. Not since the days of the Krays has anyone had so much pressure piled on as our new councillors – but at least they aren’t out of their depth like the old lot.

BTW I didn’t set out on porpoise to do any bad puns, but I was having such a whale of a time at BrewDog the other night (where coincidentally people named Fisher and Squiddy work), that by some fluke fishy jokes just came to the surface!

Now it’s time to look back at last week and mullet over. Without further delay, I offer you a chance to trawl through my small school of definitions that I hope will be good for the sole.

Sturgeon: (proper noun) a particularly primitive type of large fish, has not evolved much in 100 million years

This particular bottom feeder lacks any real teeth, although its posturing makes it look most fearsome. It survives in its murky habitat (Holyrood) largely by using its large nose and sense of smell to navigate.

Though it tries to push smaller fish out of its way, the Sturgeon tends to be outwitted by smaller, quicker species. Mostly known in North America, the pallid Sturgeon has been seen in Scotland of late (Edinburgh specifically), where it reputedly swims with sharks. The Sturgeon in question is looking more pallid by the week.

Somewhat ironically, the future of this fish is in jeopardy – its natural environment has been negatively impacted by mankind, whether through overfishing – or excessive building. Our local politicians might well learn a thing or two from the Sturgeon’s decline.

Puffer Fish: (proper noun) genus of fish known for slow speed and deadly poison

The Puffer Fish writes PR prose, known as ‘puff pieces’. They may, for example, tell you to enhance your land by building glorified walkways and redundant theatres. Puffers might look a bit dumpy in stature but they are often garishly coloured (or have lots of expensive fashion accessories).

Their comic appearance should not deceive anyone; they are filled with some of the most deadly venom on the planet. They are highly sought after but can still poison clients who sample their wares e.g. the delicacy fugu is poisonous if incorrectly prepared. Still, people are willing to shell out plenty for puffer fish. though  it should be noted they are not that quick to react to stimulation, and find moving quickly or gracefully rather difficult.

Salmond: (proper name) A rather common sort of a fish; goes with anything

The Salmond is identified with Scotland – an independent Scotland. Sought after and easily angled by rich businessmen who visit the Northeast in search of real estate deals, land and money.

The Salmond is one species which seems not to mind wind farms. Red Herrings are often found when the Salmond is in the area. This fiercely independent fish is often found swimming against the tide.

Craw Fish: (noun) a crustacean with large grasping claws; an omnivore, devouring plants and fish whether they are living or dead

Stitched Up Like A Kipper: (Eng. phrase; exact origin unknown) to be tricked, entrapped, cheated etc.

I can’t think why this phrase having to do with being badly used, manipulated and conned should have sprung to mind. If I can find any examples, I’ll let you know.

Well, I’d better get my skates on – sea you next week!

  • https://aberdeenvoice.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/DictionaryThm.jpg
Oct 262012

Another week of fun and games have passed. Old Susannah was pleased to have attended a few nice dinners, and enjoyed a few nice BrewDogs.

Malone is synonymous with quality, elegance, good taste and beauty.  Jo Malone that is.  A lovely champagne and canapes event was enjoyed by a few dozen people this past Wednesday in their Aberdeen showroom, and I’ve got a few lovely new colognes and candles.

As to the other, slightly less fragrant local Malone, Aileen must be pleased as punch that the ‘Tree for Every Citizen’ scheme has won an award!  More on that later.

I am also very grateful indeed to have now made it to 100 columns.

There never seems to be a shortage of things to write about in our city, shire and country. Just when you think you have seen it all (from seagulls stealing crisps from newsagents to men getting their heads stuck in rubbish bins), something even more preposterous comes along.

The virtues of our former council and its employees, our Independence woad-warrior First Minister, some of our worthy citizens and even Japan have been inspiring me with their virtues of late. Faith, Hope and Charity are considered to be among the most noble of virtues.  Let’s see where they fit in with this week’s developments.

Faith: (noun) An unswerving loyalty to a cause or religion, trust in a person, group or religion, often where there is no hard evidence or logic to support taking such a position.

I guess we all need a little  more faith, particularly in our leaders and those who want our money for charity.

To start with, we should take it on faith that Alex Salmond did/did not take legal advice over the legal aspects of an independent Scotland and the EU.  He definitely did/did not say anything of the kind.  He also did/did not spend taxpayer money trying to thwart a Freedom of Information Request which would have shown he did/did not take legal advice.  Hope that’s cleared things up.

When Japan had a catastrophic tsunami event some while back, like many others, I sent money in good faith, believing that the money was going to be used to help those affected by this natural disaster.  Thankfully, there was so much money left over that the Japanese government was able to take a million or two and put it to the very charitable use of a PR campaign to smear the Sea Shepherd.

Now the Sea Shepherd is an irritating vessel and crew that try to stop scientific progress.  They are interfering with Japan’s scientific reasearch programme on whales and dolphins which involves scientifically harpooning the creatures and eating them, and/or selling them to aquariums, where the lucky dolphins and whales can be scientifically taught how to jump through hoops for food.

We just saw the annual slaughter (a fairly recent event really – don’t believe the hype this goes back hundreds of years – it’s new, hip and trendy) of about 50-60 marine mammals in Japan’s Taji Cove.  Bothersome protestors tried to monitor and deter the event.

Perhaps those who enjoy seeing animals perform in aquariums might like going along to Taji next year?  It is after all what they’re supporting when they pay to go to dolphin and whale shows.

I’m thinking of sending Japan some more money now, to help with the science, you know.  You gotta have Faith.

There is, by the way, a Japan Facebook page, extolling the more pleasant aspects of the country.  Alas, it no longer allows me to make posts.

Some guy named Richard posted a comment on the Japan page to the effect of ‘shut up about the bloody dolphins (I guess they were bloody by then, having just been killed in a tiny cove they had been held captive in for weeks) – posting about stuff on Facebook is stupid and doesn’t do any good.’

Richard of course decided to share his wisdom about the futility of making posts on Facebook by… making a post on Facebook.  I  hear he may look for a job in the BiG Partnership.

Hope: (noun) An absence of despair, a belief that something good will happen.

Hope is likewise a great virtue.  When the old Council had Aileen Malone running the Housing & Environment committee, it was hoped she’d do a great job.  Result.  She, Ranger Ian Tallboys and Pete Leonard very much hoped that no one would realise there was a deer cull attached to their excellent ‘tree for every citizen scheme’ when the consultation to the public was open; they also hoped no one would notice they didn’t mention the cull at the time.

They definitely hoped private companies would come forward with money, but strangely enough, no one wanted their brand linked to slaughtered deer.

One of their hopes has come true:  Princess Anne is shown in a lovely photo this week in the local news, giving Ian Tallboys… a certificate!  I always thought he was certifiable.  Can honours in the New Year be far away for Talltales, HoMalone and Pete?  I know I hope so.

However, I hope no one will be writing to the Princess’ secretary, giving full details of this amazing scheme, such as the 2,500 people who signed a petition against the cull, the scheme’s financial accounts, the fact the city let Chris Piper write a report which in effect recommended giving him loads of dosh for killing our deer, and the fact that a few thousand less trees than promised were planted on Tullos.

It should be noted that the ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme is nearly as scientific as Japan’s whaling programme.  It started with a LibDem election pledge which was a soundbite (A tree for every citizen! Genius!) Then, per one of Tallboy’s scientific powerpoint reports, one of the challenges was…. to figure out where to put all these trees.

Soundbite first, reality second.  Did it matter we lost a meadow and a herd of nearly tame, dearly-loved deer?  Not in the least.

I hope no one will be sending the latest photos which prove the exposed ground is basically a pile of rocks with lots of trash mixed through it, and the place is now an absolute shambles.

Here’s hoping nothing will spoil this great triumphant moment of success.

As Ian Tallboys put it:

“It is great news that the hard work of everyone involved is now being recognised on the national stage.” 

As I am fond of saying:  Result!  I will do all I can to ensure they get the recognition they deserve.

Charity: (noun) the act of giving assistance, whether financial or practical, to those in need.

The Aberdeen Cyrenians, a charity for the homeless was just one of many local charities to have its budgets slashed by the Kate Dean adminstration back in the good old days.  Rather than working to collect some £11 million of bad debt, and manage things wisely, we cut down on wasteful charities.  Quite right too.

Thankfully we have since been more selective in what charities we give money to – or at least the previous administration did.  I can announce for those of you who didn’t know that Aberdeen City generously gave £22,245.00 to a great cause in November 2011.  This amount was for an ‘Enterpreneur / Enterprise Education Pilot’.

Was the  money requested by some grass roots group with little resources?  Perhaps by a local charity with no means of its own?  Was it a group that needed money for this pilot more than the other charities which had funding slashed recently?

Indeed.  Yes, this money was paid by the taxpayer to The Wood Family Trust.  You know, the people who brought you – well, nearly brought you – the Granite Web.

You might be wondering what kind of a charity the Trust is.  So am I.  As we know, billionaire Sir Ian promised to give £50 million in aid to Africa if we didn’t want  the web.  I am sure Africa will be getting this much needed aid any second.  When the Wood Family Trust shortly reveals its next audited accounts as charities must, I’m sure all will be clear.

They seem to do a great deal of work in Rwanda, and have  partnership of some sort with the Sainsbury organisation to do so.  Now you may have read of Rwanda’s AIDS epidemic and the problems of AIDS being passed to children.

( Click On The Picture to Enlarge. ) 

Perhaps you think of its early mortality rates, and the genocide which plagued the land, and the povery that most people live in.  The Wood Family Trust is going to change all of that – by improving how Rwanda landowners grow and market tea.

There is an old saying, ‘give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach him to fish, and he’ll never go hungry.’  I think this needs an update, and I might suggest: ‘give a man a better way to grow tea on his land, and the wealth will trickle down to the neediest members of that society – or not.’

Charities get all sorts of amazing tax breaks; some of the more cynical among us might ask questions of some charities.  What do they actually do?  Who or what problem are they helping?  Do they have  many people on board who earn over £50k per year?

If they have millions of pounds, how much is actually going on direct charitable work for others?  Are they asking for taxpayer money which then means other charities, schools, the elderly or people with special needs must go without?  Good thing we’re not cynical and have faith in charities.

Are all charities not for profit?  Not exactly.  For instance there is a charitable trust based in the tax haven of Lichtenstein run by a banking group.  A nice little wheeze was recently exposed when an accountant was jailed for a £5 million pound tax evasion scam – which he’d apparently skimmed off those clients he was helping.

Basically, a few worthless shares were artifically pumped up and over valued.  These shares were sold to charities, and donated / moved on.  In a complex scheme, the ‘charities’ were able to claim the price difference back and got gift aid as well, while getting tax relief.  Maybe we should all go into the charity business.

Next week:  more little gems I uncovered while looking through last year’s invoices – including some Milne invoices, and a BiG surprise.  Cheerio!

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Sep 212012

By Dave Black. 

In November 2010 the Aberdeen-based oil and energy company Wood Group signed a contract with Dorad Energy to build a natural gas power station in Ashkelon, Israel.
This contract is worth approximately £563 million and the 800-megawatt power station will produce 8% of Israel’s electricity in the near future.

New gas fields have been discovered within Israel’s off-shore area and Wood Group is intending to expand its operations. Shlomo Cohen, the Group’s Israel manager last year stated that:

“The company considers this project as a cornerstone for extensive operations in Israel”.

On numerous occasions Wood Group has been given the opportunity to clarify whether or not the new Ashkelon power plant will supply electricity to illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It has refused to do so, even when asked by a local MP. However it has stated that it is

“…safe to say that Wood Group does business in a number of parts of the world where there are distressing conflicts which cause hardship and inequity”. 

Israel’s occupation of the West Bank has been ongoing since 1967, noted as the longest occupation in modern history.  This occupation has seen mass government-backed Jewish settlement building in the area, in clear contravention of the Geneva Conventions. Settlement building was also deemed unlawful by the International Court of Justice in 2004.

Despite the flagrant breach of international law, and the consistent Palestinian position that settlement building in the West Bank is a critical barrier to any peace agreement, Israel continues its policy unabashed and unpunished.  The United States continues to fund Israel to the sum of $3 billion a year and the European Union fails to tear up its trade agreement with Israel, whilst paying lip service to the language of human rights, democracy and justice.

However, although still very small, there have been increasing signs of discontent with Israel’s ongoing occupation and settlement building.  For example, this month the Co-operative, the UK’s fifth largest supermarket, built on its previous policy of refusing to stock goods produced in Israeli settlements, and has ended all trade with companies such as Agrexco who carry out part of their agricultural production in these colonies.

Early Day Motion 2717, raised at Westminster earlier this year, may be also relevant to the Wood Group’s activities.  The EDM is entitled “Proposed EU Legislation on Financing of Illegal Activity in the West Bank” and welcomes the findings of a recent EU report following visits to Jerusalem and Ramallah last year.  The motion ends by calling for:

“economic operators aiding and abetting the building, maintenance or servicing of illegal Israeli settlements [to] be excluded from public contracts in the EU”

 To date the motion has 77 signatories.

Take action

Write to your MP, ask them to sign up to EDM 2717 if they haven’t already, and request that they write to Wood Group to clarify its position on potential fuelling of illegal Israeli settlements.

Write to Wood Group and ask that it takes heed of Palestinian civil society’s call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions on Israel.  Read more about the BDS campaign here

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Mar 192012

A proposal to build a road through woodland in Ellon has come under fire from a group set up to support the management of the area. The intended purpose of  road is to provide access for the development of 250 new homes. Those opposed to the plan believe the road is unnecessary, destructive, and in contravention of a Blench Charter. Friends of McDonald Park founder member Lynn Gilbert brings Voice readers the story.

The plan is being opposed by Friends of McDonald Park, a group set up by Aberdeenshire Council in 1990 when the Council bought the superiority of the Park from the charity Barnardos.
The aim of the group is to support the management of McDonald Park for the benefit of the community. We have done this by planting bulbs, trees and a hedge as well as regularly clearing litter from the ground and from the Modley Burn.

The Park was given to the Burgh of Ellon in 1928 by Sir James McDonald and is governed by a Blench Charter.

The terms of the Charter state that the Park should be used for recreational purposes only, that nothing should be done which is detrimental to the Park and that its area is not to be reduced in any way.

In 1996, we successfully opposed a plan by Aberdeenshire Council to use part of Caroline’s Well Wood, the east section of McDonald Park, as a bus park for Ellon Academy. On that occasion we raised the terms of the Blench Charter and an alternative solution was found without destroying any of the Park.

In 2010, builders Barratt East Scotland and Scotia Homes were given Council permission to construct 250 houses in Ellon’s Castle Meadows but it was only when marks appeared on trees in the east section of the Park, that it became apparent that the plan was to construct a road through it, from the development site to Golf Road. I made enquiries on behalf of the Friends and was told that the road had been approved by councillors.

In August 2011, the Friends were informed in a Council Estates Department letter that an S75 Legal Agreement for the application had still to be signed, and were asked for their views on the proposed access. The same letter stated that legal advice given to the Council was that:

“vehicular access must facilitate/improve public access to the park and cannot be granted purely to allow development”.

The Friends voiced total opposition to a road through the Park, stating that it would be in contravention of the Blench Charter since it would not improve public access to the Park, but was solely for the development. It would also involve the felling of a large number of mature trees in an area inhabited by red squirrels, bats and spring/early summer migrating birds.

It would seem that councillors were not satisfied with the legal opinion offered and they sought further advice several times from Sir Steven Stuart QC. This was given in a privately-heard report presented at a Formartine Area Committee (FAC) meeting on 6 December last year. It suggested that temporary construction access could possibly be granted, subject to a number of safeguards and agreements being in place.

  The Friends and many others have lodged objections to the planning application

On 17 January, a report to the FAC, again heard in private, proposed a temporary five year construction access which would become a pedestrian and cycle path once the five years had elapsed. This temporary access would be a tarred road with lighting and other services and which would involve the felling of at least 99 mature trees.

It would take a fifteen metre slice of the woodland at the Golf Road end, this increasing to nearer thirty metres at the top, a significant area of the Park.

It seems that when councillors first approved this access, they were not aware that they themselves were in fact Trustees of McDonald Park. It was in this capacity that councillors had to consider the application at their 28 February meeting, and as Trustees they rejected it.

This application is to be considered at a Planning meeting on Tues 20 March.

The Friends and many others have lodged objections to the planning application, and I have asked to speak at the meeting should it be heard there. Quite apart from the effect of this road on the woodland, a precious asset to Ellon, there is another matter to be considered.

Construction traffic using Golf Road would access the Park at the rear of Ellon Academy, an area used by a large number of Academy pupils and mothers with buggies walking into Ellon. There are two other access roads to the development, but some residents along these routes would rather see part of McDonald Park destroyed than have traffic pass their homes.

Interestingly, the site of this proposed access is given as ‘Castle Meadows’ on the planning application, when in fact it is McDonald Park. This makes it easy to overlook the reality of the situation.

Further info: Save McDonald’s Park Caroline’s Well Wood Ellon : Facebook Page
Image credit: Ian Jukes 

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.