Evening Excess No.1 – Union Terrace Gardens

UNION TERRACE GARDENS DESTRUCTION

Well you voted and you were promptly ignored. 55% of you voted against the City Square Project (Scotland’s widest ever public consultation) yet our Council not-ables have now opted to proceed with the project, completely ignoring the wishes of the public. If voting actually made a difference they would make it illegal. It is apparent that the public consultation was nothing more than a charade (a very expensive one costing the taxpayer some £300,000) where the answer was already known. The ‘Aberdeen business mafia’ or their official title ASCEF (Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future) now have what they wanted/engineered. What is even more amazing, is not that 20 councillors said yes, but that 12 abstained; do they not have a opinion! Ian Wood has said that the councillors have been “visionary and far sighted”, but one mans vision is another mans folly.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE GARDENS

The neglected state of UTG and its apparent lack of use has clearly become an issue for some councillors. The gardens are not cared for like the other parks; Johnstone Gardens and Duthie Park etc. The toilets have been closed, there is poor access for prams or disabled people and there are massive potholes in the pavements. Change is needed, but not by the destruction of a historic public park. All that is required is that the Council actually does its job and maintain the gardens and improve the access points. Can you imagine Edinburgh destroying Princes Street Gardens? – NO! – so why should Aberdeen?

UTG is a more important park than the others in the city because it is the green lung in a city centre of concrete and granite. It is set in the natural amphitheatre of the Denburn and creates a city landscape that does not just exist at street level but benefits from different viewpoints and variation. Erasing the natural slope of the topography is erasing part of Aberdeen’s heritage.

The destruction of Aberdeen’s heritage is nothing new to the actions of the Council. There are countless examples where private vanity projects, shopping centres or road widening have swept away great buildings and areas in our city. You only have to go to Aberdeen parks to see bits of buildings (a whole building in one case) that have been removed from their original location to make way for some ‘progress’ or other. The ‘visions’ like Ian Wood speaks of are not far sighted. We have seen them before and know the damage they have caused. It is no use allowing the City Square Project to go ahead and regret it later on.

FIGHT FOR PUBLIC SPACES AND SERVICES

I can see why Ian Wood and ASCEF don’t like green spaces: they don’t have shops that make money. They want to see all public spaces with private retail and advertising opportunities (that no doubt they can invest in themselves) and if people spend time sitting in parks they are not spending money. In business eyes everything has a value derived from the profit it makes. Parks and other services for the public like the National Health Service are constantly under threat from business interests because there is no understanding of how public services should not just be valued in monetary terms, but in the benefits they provide to people. Public spaces are where people can freely go, mingle, spend time alone, where children can play around nature and where there is reprieve from the traffic, shops, bustle and noise of the city. People go to UTG because it is a refuge and they understand that as a public park they ‘own’ that space with the other citizens of Aberdeen.

Public services have been under attack for many years. The closure of the UTG public toilets are just one example where the assumption is that private business will now provide that service, not the city Council. As shop toilets are private property, only providing these services for paying customers, the public have no ownership or rights and are mere customers.

The new City Square will not be a ‘public space’ as ASCEF has plans for cafes and restaurants meaning there will be strong private interests represented. UTG is important because this is the time when the public say NO MORE to the removal of their public spaces and services.

CITY SQUARE AND TRUMPLAND – 2 SIDES OF 1 COIN

Ian Wood and Donald Trump are inseparable. Both projects at UTG and at the Menie estate have been initiated by very rich men who have ridden roughshod over local opinion. Both men have waved their money at local Councils and have got what they wanted. If Ian Wood really wanted to do something with his money why doesn’t he pay for the public services cut by the Council in the last few years or give money directly to support the poorer communities of Aberdeen. There is a kind of twisted philanthropy special to people who started as a ‘lad o’ pairts’, who are proud to claim at every opportunity that they came from nothing, worked up the system and are now top of the pile. It is impressive yes, but there is an unbelievable arrogance where they think that they know what is best for their cities and that no-one should stand in their way.

DIRECT ACTION

Although the Council has reversed the wishes of the public vote, the battle is not yet lost. Protests will continue to force the Council to change their position. The Council must listen to the people they serve – not the small business cabal of Aberdeen but the Aberdeen public. Shy of concreting over Ian Wood’s garden to see how he likes it, there are things you can do –

Every Saturday in UTG from 12-5, picnic in the park

12th June, a day of protest