I never talk about issues on here. Not really. But today I will because it's something I really care about. Green space...no-o-o-o... please don't go to someone else's blog where they are talking about Confectionery of the Seventies that you Miss or Cute Stuff my Kid Has Said or Ultimate Sandwich Fillings. Stay, I'll be brief and to the point.
THE best park in Aberdeen, the Victorian sunken garden of Union Terrace is under threat from the monster ego of someone who wants to fill it in with concrete, cut down the trees and build a civic square covering the whole valley that the gardens currently occupy. This is someone who wants to literally cement his legacy. I mean that Big Yellow Taxi song by Joni Mitchell was practically written for this purpose. That someone is Sir Ian Wood of the Aberdeen based but internationally operating company oil services company, The Wood Group. He's like Aberdeen's answer to Bill Gates or Rockerfeller.
Here's a photograph of what Union Terrace Gardens looked like this Saturday:
And here's a view of the whole garden from the other end so that those who have never visited can appreciate its unique structure:
Here's what oil mogul Sir Ian Wood and his chums would like to turn it into:
And here's the Simpsons episode it reminds us all of.
Sir Ian is chucking £50 million of his personal fortune at the venture. The catch? Conservative estimates claim that it will cost in excess of £140 million to build and our city council is nigh on bankrupt. Oh and there's another problem. The Peacock Visual Arts people already had funding and planning permission in place to build an arts centre into one of the less used sides of the gardens keeping the original structure and planting of the gardens in place and having a sympathetic (and world class) architectural design. But Sir Ian has some considerable clout in this town, and the PVA plans were put into stasis until his plans, or his "vision" as he likes to call it, for filling in the gardens with a multi-storey carpark with a civic square on top and some retail and cafe type outlets were considered. So Peacock were left out of a limb, facing the possibility of their funding opportunity lapsing in the meantime.
Who was to consider all these wonderful plans for the future with such baubles and trinkets as "moving walkways" (Monorail!) and outdoor cafe (in Aberdeen! Our town's name is Gaelic for hypothermia!)? Well, us- the public. And very kindly Sir Ian together with the council spent over £100,000 putting together a consultation. The trouble was the consultation was heavily geared towards prompting all correspondents to supporting the Monorail proposal, I mean, the City Square project, as it is actually known. in fact, since the votes were counted I've heard various reports that even if you ticked the box saying you didn't want the City Square project to go ahead, as soon as you filled in the box set aside for an additional comment, your tick disappeared and your submission counted as support for the City Square Project. Even if your comment said something like
"If this terrible City Square Project goes ahead I will lie in front of the bulldozers like Arthur Dent in The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy!"
..which I think was my comment.
Anyway at least we had the chance to comment. Sir Ian promised that if we didn't want it he would "walk away" taking his £50 million with him.
And then Aberdeen's favourite daughter, Annie Lennox got involved. She HATES the idea of the gardens being touched at all and said so publicly on her website. What she hated almost as much was her image being used in one of the City Square's pamphlets without her permission or endorsement. Those in support of the Monorail started writing into newspapers saying things like:
"She doesn't even live here anymore and hasn't been to the city since she was a wee girl and even when she does come back she never gives us a free concert like she bloody well should. And she lives in that there big smoke with her fancy ways hanging about with Bono and stuff".
Real constructive stuff like that. However feisty Annie is made of sterner stuff. Whose business is it when she comes back up to the 'Deen and how often? She's Aberdonian and cares about her city. And she's actually from Ellon where I went to school and Ellon folk are hard so I wouldn't mess.
The consultation ended and despite the skew whiff biased ballot papers reminiscent of a George W Bush presidential campaign, the clever people of Aberdeen still voted 55% against the Sir Ian Wood Monorail vision. Yay, us! That'll be the sound of Sir Ian Wood walking away with his £50 million to go and see if Shelbyville want to share his "vision" then?
Except he didn't walk away. He turned around and said something along the lines of (and I'm paraphrasing here) "Ignore all that, let the elected councillors decide. My money is still on the table, folks!"
The councillors vote on Wednesday. The Chief Executive of Aberdeen City Council has already urged them to support Sir Ian's plans. We're in desperate times. The people have spoken. The people have been promptly dismissed because they didn't like what we said . (Sounds familiar, eh?)
Still, I have a sliver of faith in the councillors. Some of them are good people and many of them know a white elephant when they see one. How many of them will listen to the public is not known, but it is important to remind them that listening to the public is their actual job.
If anyone reading this is from Aberdeen and wants to write to the councillors to let them know your views then let me know. I happen to have a handy list of their email addresses. Just email me: gillianamartin (at) hotmail.com
Meanwhile, you can read this excellent, well written and informed blog from Fraser Denholm who says all of this is a far more mature and factually irreproachable way here. His whole blog is a mine of information on the whole experience but I think it's best to start with this entry in which he lays out THE FACTS. Hi Fraser, I'm Misssy M long time reader first time caller, loving your work.
I would say that I'm putting my soap box away, but to be honest I'm leaving it out til at least Thursday.
And here's Joni because I'm nothing if not obvious:
STOP PRESS: Sadly it's very bad news from the City Chambers tonight. Click here to see BBC report. Now for them to find that other £90million (at least). Think I'll move back to Glasgow...