I’ve managed to keep UTG off this blog so far so I reckon it’s about time I put my tuppence in. [edit: after reading the post I realise this is more than tuppence worth, go grab a coffee and come back...] First a quick timeline from my memory banks, this may not be entirely chronologically accurate…
When the original CSP ‘vision’ was first tabled I thought it looked pants. It was ugly. I’d never been in Union Terrace Gardens at that point so didn’t really worry either way about it. The thought of a £50m cash injection to a city, which at the time was on it’s knees financially, sounded good though. Then I found out about the PVA scandal. This raised questions in my mind about the legitimacy of the CSP project. It felt like buying or bullying by a big dog on an underdog. It felt wrong.
There was an unofficial ‘vote’ organised by ACSEF – non binding but a good indicator of what people who were interested wanted. This was an opportunity to voice concerns about the ‘vision’ as it stood and ACSEF seemed to listen to some of the points. The CSP was re-branded CGP to encompass the strong feeling displayed about the loss of green space etc. They didn’t listen to the main point that 55% just didn’t want it at all. This to me felt like another failure of democracy. It felt wrong.
Regardless, ACSEF pushed ahead, citing a “silent majority” as the reason for the loss in the vote and put out an “International design competition” to come up with a redesign of the unpopular CSP for the CGP. This had to be “international” because the entire project attracted scathing critiscism by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, who branded it silly and actually backed the PVA plans, calling them ‘visionary’. Nevertheless, the design competition went ahead, which felt wrong.
A shortlist was compiled and taken to another public vote. The public were asked to vote by ordering the six chosen designs in order of preference. This was exhibited for a couple of weeks. The votes were counted and the
winner was chosen winner and another design favoured by ACSEF went through to a judging panel (made up of ACSEF members/business people). This felt wrong.
The second design, affectionately dubbed the concrete mankini, more officially known as the Granite Web was chosen. Well of course it was, that’s why it was taken to the panel. All this time ACC had been receiving criticism over it’s handling of the whole thing and looked unsteady with it’s decision. It decided to hold a city-wide referendum on this. This will save the blushes of the councillors who backed it, the Liberal Democrats(I use the term to refer to the party to which they belong, NOT liberal democracy as a concept, they are re-branded tories in Aberdeen) in particular seem keen to get an “out” from this. All parties say they shall respect the outcome of the (non-binding) referendum however. This doesn’t mean that if the referendum comes back saying YES to the CGP that it’ll actually go ahead though! (I know, I’m not making this up, seriously) it’ll just be subject to reviews on planning, finance etc. Not only that but if the vote comes back as YES to retaining UTG the campaign say, inaccurately, that that’ll be the end of any investment in UTG excepting normal maintenance costs. There’s no plan B. This feel like bullying. It feels wrong.
So that’s where we are at the moment. The referendum is taking place but it’s gone even more downhill in the last few days. For a start the referendum literature was put out with erroneous information, see this ACC retraction. Oh, previous to the packs even going out a building company stuck on a self-congratulatory message about winning the contract to build it! That really felt wrong. (They did retract it later, as I pointed out in the tweet, blaming an oversight and ambiguity in the article language.) Now as much as the referendum seems democratic, and it is, it is flawed. People will vote who have no interest in the project. This is ACSEF’s so called silent majority. The problem is that the very point of their silence shows they are happy with either outcome. Being forced into voting one way or the other removes this. If anything there should have been an option of “don’t really care”. People feel obliged to vote though, so will. There is no such thing as a silent majority around an issue. It is only those with an interest who should be counted. This feels like ACSEF pushing people into it, but how do you argue against a system in which you believe? This feels like bullying, which of course, as I’m sure you’re getting by this post, feels wrong.
ACSEF and the CGP campaign are campaigning hard. The adverts are at best being conservative with the truth, at worst telling outright lies. Their sponsorship is not being (dis)played(depending on the medium). For example, every ad I’ve heard so far says this won’t cost us a penny. It doesn’t say what the source of the funding is then. The government may release what’s called TIF funding for it, should they ever receive a business case for it. ACC have not supplied such a case. So it’d be paid for, in part, initially by a government grant. Well, perhaps I missed something here but the government doesn’t actually have any money, it’s our money held by them to distribute to causes. It COSTS US MONEY!!! This feels wrong. Ah, but this will be repaid by the TIF scheme, which essentially means (though nobody’s bothered about the details of exactly how the bureaucracy will implement it) that businesses deemed(by whom?) to have benefited directly from the CGP will pay a different rate of tax (TIF stands for tax incremental funding, by the way) than other businesses in the area. Well, doesn’t this harm the, as yet nonexistant, business case for this. Businesses, as was pointed out at a BBC arranged meeting earlier this month – read about it at this awesome blog post by lenathehyena, go where the financial gain is, not where looks pretty (or in this case pretty ugly). A tax penalty will not attract new business to the area, which means less new business to pay the TIF payback etc. The council will still need to find the money and it’s my feeling that they’ll decide that *all* businesses will have benefited from the build so tax existing businesses across Aberdeen to meet it. After all, current estimates are that this’ll cost £140-odd million, I believe £92million of which would be TIF. That’s a LOT of tax to grab by anyone’s standards. The whole thing feels ill-thought out and makes me feel uneasy. It feels wrong.
Incidentally if and when the CGP goes ahead and the TIF is in effect I shall be publishing a list of companies affected by the TIF, in my opinion supporters of the CGP, on a site. ACC has already said they’d make that information available on their website to save me a monthly FOI request. This is to allow you to decide in a more transparent way if you wish to do business with these companies or not.
Then there’s the complaints of bullying, oh, not by UTG supporters, but by CGP leaders! Yes, leaders, the kind of people who get where they are by being bullied… It feels like a smear campaign, it feels wrong. I have not witnessed any bullying, although I hear (from pro CGPers mostly) that “both” sides have been active in bullying. I’ve seen a LOT of hot debate but never anything remotely bullying. There are lots of strong views on the subject, lots of heated arguments over it but it’s always been on-topic. I’m not saying it didn’t happen and I absolutely do not condone the abhorrent behaviour that *is* bullying when it happens, I’m just saying I’ve not seen it.
On a personal note, I already voted. I voted to retain UTG for the following reasons.
- I have children. They should be allowed to enjoy UTG as a historically relevant, open and safe space. (yes it *is* safe, check out the figures.) Citing the place as unsafe with those figures feels wrong.
- The argument against those figures is that there’s no crime because nobody uses UTG because it’s full of criminals. Umm, I don’t know where to start on that one! This brings me on to my problem with the argument that nobody uses it. And? If it were a business and nobody was going through the gates that’d be an issue. When it’s a park, not so much. I’ve used it. I enjoy a short stroll around it. In better weather I enjoy hanging out there. It’s quietness is to it’s credit, especially in such a central location. It’s not a business, it’s a park, loads of people there every day would ruin the peace. During events I’ve seen it very busy by the way. The whole argument about user numbers is self-defeating and feels wrong.
- I don’t appreciate bullying by those in seemingly powerful positions. It feels wrong.
- I don’t appreciate those with the financial means, using money as leverage. It feels like selling out, which feels wrong.
- I don’t appreciate the loss of the park as a park. Why must it make money? It’s a park. The CGP campaign has a financial benefit as fundamental to the whole project. It feels greedy, it feels wrong.
- I value democracy. I value this above almost all other things. The only word I can think of to describe democracy in Aberdeen, especially around this, is invisible. It feels so wrong that there was simply no other way I could vote!
- There is no benefit to the city with the destruction of UTG. If this was going on the old St Nic’s House site the whole city would be behind it. It’d be replacing one eyesore with a lesser eyesore. What’s being tabled though is the destruction of one area of beauty with an eyesore(IMHO – I know some people like the mankini design). This feels wrong.
The CGP PR bulldozer is in full-effect, the UTG campaign has no funding to match it. We have to do what little we can and hope those undecided vote the right way, by voting to retain. I urge those not yet decided to vote for retaining UTG. If you are on twitter add your face here too and then tweet about your support, if you’re not on twitter go to the page and click the facebook like button to share it. If you despise social networks then please, most importantly vote to retain UTG. The alternative is just not worth it socially, financially, ethically, environmentally, aspirationally or by way of quality.
In closing, this feels wrong because it *is* wrong.