I wanted to put my views into this video, but I’m not all that comfortable with talking to a camera as I’m normally on the other side of it. I briefly talked about the Union Terrace Gardens controversy but I felt the need to delve into it further, but in words.
So above is me talking followed by a performance of Valley Under A Concrete Sea. Below is my full statement of events leading up to this week’s Referendum.
A Vote To Retain UTG Is A Vote For Democracy
For almost five years now this debate has gone on, and this week promises to see the end of it… but will it?
Its been a long time coming and I’m guessing a lot of people are wondering why I haven’t blogged about it already, but here it is the gratuitous Union Terrace Gardens Referendum blog post.
Let me get this out of the way first, if you want to vote for the CGP I don’t see anything wrong with that. After all you are given the choice. However it is a well documented fact that I am a big UTG supporter and it has upset me at the amount of people I know, many of them my friends, who don’t know the full story.
I don’t want to be one of those “YOU GOTTA READ THE FACTS!” guys, because to be honest, what exactly ARE the facts anymore? This debate has gone on and each side of the argument has been diluted by the opposing side. But for those of you who don’t know the history of the debate, then this is a different story.
Aberdeen has been on the decline for years. When I moved there in 2000 I was moving from a small town up North, Inverness (at the time it wasn’t a city yet). The biggest thing that amazed me was that Aberdeen had more than one cinema, an HMV and a VIRGIN Megastore! My how times have changed. Inverness has become a city and seen all these common stores open up on the high street and in that time I’ve also watched Aberdeen sink into a decline.
What happened to the once great Union street? VIRGIN went bust, HMV is now a T-Shirt shop. E&M, a local thriving department store went into receivership leaving an iconic building empty on one end of the Silver City’s most prized street while Bruce Millers a similar institution of local business closed on the other side. Union Street was no longer in its hay day.
And what is in the middle? A beautiful Victorian Garden, sunken into the Denburn Valley threatened by the plight of what is going on some 20ft over head. Sure The Union Terrace Gardens aren’t what they once were. As Aberdeen’s Oil Industry claims to be recession proof, it seemed it was ignoring the fact that the city itself wasn’t.
It was a time for Aberdeen to assert itself with a new industry to contribute along side the Oil Industry that employs a bulk of its citizens. With Aberdeen having had a big influence over the Arts in the North East for a very long time the people at the Peacock Visual Arts Center thought it was about time it spread its wings and expanded, opening what was to be Aberdeen’s Contemporary Arts Center. For many years it tried to find a new home, the Citidel was one. All the plans fell through until the proposal to build into the Union Terrace Gardens.
This plan was approved by the Council AND the public. The design by Brisac And Gonzalez was to build into the Garden’s existing grass slope so that Garden seemed relatively untouched, yet inside was a thriving cultural hub the likes the city had been crying out for. The impact would have been like the one Dundee’s DCA had when it opened, attracting more and more Artists and Creative types to move to the city in a sector dominated by the central belt. A new Industry, creating jobs for the art school graduates, the theatre groups, dancers, film makers, print makers the list is pretty long.
Peacock Visual arts were around £1,500,000 away from meeting the target to begin building. But then Sir Ian Wood, a man made wealthy by the Oil boom stepped in and decided this was not what Aberdeen needed, instead it needed a new civic heart, a square like many squares in great cities across the globe. He put in an audacious bid to stop Peacock’s plan and instead fill in the Denburn Valley and raise the Garden to Union Street level. He was even going to pledge £50,000,000 of his own fortune into the scheme.
This was something too good for the Aberdeen City Council to ignore so asked the public to vote which scheme they wanted. So a public consultation was drawn up to ask the public what they wanted in the new square. Do you see what is wrong there? Yes that’s right, the public weren’t being asked to vote wether they wanted the Peacock Design, or wether they wanted to retain the Garden as it was or even if they wanted the Square at all, no they were being asked what they wanted to see IN the square, meaning that all votes were pretty much as YES vote.
This foul scheme didn’t stop there, the public consultation reached out to Aberdeenshire, except by invitation only! That’s right, where employees of Sir Ian Wood’s Woodgroup were invited to come along to be asked the question “What do you want to see in the new civic square”. Not really a fair game?
Well, [Edit:] I Heart UTG was set up by some members of the public and along with Peacock, argued that the ballot had to be changed for an even playing field. It was. A public debate was held at the Salvation Army Citadel, one in which I showed up to with my friends. I watched as Sir Ian Wood dodged question after question, in which was meant to be an open forum to convince the people that his vision was the right one. Peacock were also present as was an opposing alternate view of keeping the UTG as it was.
Peacock were asked if they would accept a compromise, part raised garden, part Peacock Plan, a sort of best of both worlds. It was met with approval by Ellie Rothnie, the voice of Peacock. Sir Ian was having none of it. It was his way or the high way.
Sir Ian Wood was an embarrassment that night. He claimed that this new square was going to secure Aberdeen’s future prosperity and that the square was going to be bigger than the Red Square in Moscow and create over 6500 jobs.
Now lets back up a second, next year the Olympics is being held in London, one that they’ve been preparing for for many years, a bigger job than this square, yet they only created around 3500+ jobs. Even considering the labour to build the square, 6500 seems very optimistic. And the square was going to be bigger than the red square in Moscow? Moscow has a population of around 2,500,000 people. Aberdeen has a population of 200,000… that says it all really.
So when a member of the audience asked “but how” Sir Ian started talking about renewable energy from wind turbines on the coast, this was met by a “but how?!” and he reiterated renewable energy. The whole 300 strong public audience then screamed “BUT HOW?!!” This got him in a sulk and refused to answer the question.
I remember standing up, after receiving the microphone, that day and saying; “Why do we have to lose something we all obviously love so much? If E&M is empty we need to fill it. If the council have almost bankrupt themselves by moving across the road to the Marischall College, why can’t we just knock down the eyesore that is the council building? Build your civic square there, next the the Bon Accord Centre, St Nicholas Center and Provost Skene house. It won’t cost £140M and we get to keep UTG AND have the Peacock Visual Arts Center. Everybody wins. My question to you is, why not build your civic square there?”
He smirked and said “That is not the topic of discussion today”. I can tell you that to this day it is a question that keeps cropping up and time after time he deflects the question. When will it be the topic of discussion? The council have gotten themselves into debt by moving a couple of hundred yards to a historical building for no other reason than, it’ll be cool to work there. They’ve racked up a £500,000,000 debt in the process! In by doing that they’ve left a high rise block relic of the late 70s empty in the middle of the city centre, next to another empty building that was once the E&M department store.
The night of the great debate I was interviewed by STV, as were so many other disgruntled people. This was a victory for the people, and maybe not for Peacock, but it was for UTG. However the news broadcast that night told a different story.
I watched in horror as the only clips shown were Sir Ian’s pitch and an interview with him afterward saying “The only true winners are going to be the people of Aberdeen”. The Oil influence wins again. Even the papers were full of pictures of his face, a victory for Sir Ian Wood. His campaign rumored to have invested almost a quarter of a million pounds in advertising into the media, it was no surprise that the local news was nothing but pro civic square. Only the national press seemed to balance the events correctly and unbiasedly. But votes outside Aberdeen don’t count, unfortunately.
The foul play wasn’t to stop there, when the consultation was closed they said that “Due to such high voting it would take weeks to get the results” the named a date, that conveniently fell a few days after Peacock were to lose their funding if they hadn’t gained the approval by that deadline.
Peacock were given an extension, and the public voted against the civic square. Against all the odds Peacock had succeeded by a narrow margin of a couple of percent. Seeing as the conditions were far from fair it was an amazing feat.
It was not over.
Sir Ian Wood implored the Aberdeen City Councillors to over turn the decision as the margin was too close, and that the majority of the people of Aberdeen DID want it, but were somehow bullied into silence by the vocal minority. (You can’t make this shit up)
The councillors came together to vote, many of them controversially abstaining from voting. Some councillors had the balls to stand by their voters and say NO. But the unfortunate outcome was for Sir Ian’s vision to be passed and Aberdeen was to lose out on not only an Arts Centre but a piece of its heritage. Union Terrace Gardens was to be filled with concrete.
Recently a design competition was held to design what would be built on top of the Gardens. The people seemed to vote for a “Winter Garden” but for some reason Sir Ian thought it best we had something known as “The Granite Web”. Yet another democratic poll made a mockery of.
The council have once again asked for the public to vote in a referendum to once and for all decide, does the Garden stay, or will they take a massive gamble in spending a fortune in building a huge structure on top f it, losing hundreds of years of history in the process, because that’s what it is. A gamble.
People’s head might have been turned by the grand gesture, a new impressive city centre, a beautiful one. And yes the design is a beautiful one by some of the world’s best designers. But no one can prove that this square will save Aberdeen, if won’t it may well end up killing it.
Yes Sir Ian Wood is pledging £50M but where is the rest of the £140M+ going to come from. They keep mentioning schemes and whatever but the truth of the matter is, Britain is bust. The economy is going down hill, the council is £500M in debt is building a massive concrete square for £140M really the answer? When you have multiple schools closing down, people losing their small time jobs, homes etc is a grassy knoll with a few cafe and things really going to secure Aberdeen’s financial future?
There is a risk that the people may have to make a significant contribution, even if they say we won’t. But what will happen if we need to? Council tax goes up. Aberdeen’s council tax bands are already the most expensive in Scotland. I had to move away from Aberdeen, live in Dundee and commute everyday to afford to live. That is preposterous! Aberdeen isn’t London!
Aberdeen needs to take its Oil blinkers off. It needs to stop letting the Oil Industry make all its decisions. This is a case of the industry thinking it knows what is good for you to the point where its taken your democratic right to vote away!
If this were a referendum for Scottish Independence, then the outcome was that we wanted to stay a part of the UK, but then they over ruled that decision because it wasn’t won by a big enough percentage. It would be crazy right? So what gives Sir Ian Wood the right to keep trying again and again until he finally gets the out come he craves?
If I still lived in Aberdeen I would vote RETAIN UTG. IT doesn’t make economical sense. Its morally wrong on so many levels. Edinburgh’s Prince’s Street Gardens is below street level, but it’d be ludicrous to pave it over. UTG has hundreds of healthy mature trees, only to be cut down, filled in with concrete then new one’s planted instead. It would also mean your memories of the place will be just that; memories. The days of lying on your back soaking up the sun in the arms of a loved one, all consigned to nostalgia.
Most importantly, the citizens of Aberdeen voted NO only for their democratic rights to be removed by an Oil Tycoon. A vote to retain UTG is a vote for democracy.
Thank you for your time.