Archive for ‘Union Terrace Gardens’

Jan 19, 2012

Think of a number – higher : Union Terrace Gardens V Concrete Walkways

The battle has been hiked up over the proposed removal of Union Terrace Gardens following a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers which is being presented to Aberdeen City Council.

Anyone who has ever drawn up a proposal for funding knows this is an exercise in exaggeration. The number of benefits are exaggerated. The number of jobs likely to be created are exaggerated. The positive impacts are exaggerated.

From Archaeolink to the Olympics.

Think Olympics here. There are lots of huge claims for the impact the Olympics will have on the UK. We know this is pure optimistic speculation based on nothing and the need to have public approval for such huge public expenditure.

From Olympics to small schemes funded by public bodies – creative fiction is employed.

We are told by a Gerry Brough who is said to be a project director that the concrete web development which will replace Union Terrace Gardens will create 3000 industry jobs, 2300 business jobs, 470 retail and leisure jobs and 180 in culture and the arts.

This is preposterous.

Naturally there are no details. The Council presumably will be given these. But whatever the figures the people of Aberdeen know that the numbers have been plucked out of the air.

• Any shops built into the concrete web will draw customers away from existing shops in the city. Just look at the impact of the city’s many malls on Union Street.

• Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire have the highest employment rates in the country.

• Only someone who is unfamiliar with this area could possible believe that anything like 180 jobs will be created in culture and arts in Aberdeen. People involved in culture and the arts in Aberdeen have been fighting for decades for expansion of provision and this will not change – especially over the next years when the recession will be continuing to make its impact on public spending.

• Sticking with culture, can only someone with a vivid imagination could possibly conjure up the figure of 3000 industry and 2300 business jobs.


Perhaps Gerry Brough was not in Aberdeen when it attracted so many oil and gas companies because of its park – joke! No, because of the facilities and situation for the exploitation of the north sea. No-one hesitated to come because they thought – oh, we might want a shop sunk under an immense web of concrete before we decide to make zillions from oil and gas extraction. Not even briefly.

• Employers are attracted to Aberdeen because it has a flexible, educated and reliable workforce (NB employment levels are high here).

Aberdeen has loads in its favour as centre for setting up business – apart from the workforce it has a beautiful coast, mountains and historical associations which go a long way to satisfy people moving into the area. People don’t move for shops or concrete walkways.

(I suppose the NY architects are aware of the impact of ice and frost on raised walkways in this part of the world? Possibility of being closed off for H & S during the winter months?)

He (Brough) added: “Without major investment in the city centre, investors may come to regard Aberdeen as a complacent and backward-looking city that is, consequently, unworthy of further investment.”

Is that what you think of Aberdeen Mr Brough? I’m surprised we’ve detained you.

‘Colin Crosby, director of Aberdeen City Gardens Trust (ACGT), said: “Essentially this means that for every £1 we invest today in the scheme, Aberdeen will on average secure a return on investment of £1.32 year on year.’

Speculation. You have no idea.

‘Campaign group Friends of Union Terrace Gardens have criticised one of Mr Brough’s recommendations to councillors – to set aside up to £300,000 from the council’s contingency budget to cover all council costs associated with drafting and negotiating legal agreements.
Chairman Mike Shepherd said: “Next week’s council meeting is absurd. Councillors are being asked to approve the final City Garden design without the full facts.
“There isn’t even any discussion of what happens if costs massively over-run. They are being sold a ‘vision’, but it’s a blurry vision and the City Garden juggernaut is heading alarmingly towards the cliff-edge. Put the brakes on now before it’s too late.
“They told us no council money would be spent on this project and now councillors are being asked to allocate up to £300,000 of public money for legal fees. At a time when our amenities and services are being drastically cut, this is a shocking abuse of council funds. It is time to call a halt to this wasteful project.”
The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens said they will request to make a deputation at the meeting.’ (STV News report 19 Jan 2012)

People ought to be aware that the people pushing the UTG project will do and say anything to get a vote in its favour.

And I mean anything.

I hope ACC has the interests of its citizens in mind and scrutinises figures lobbed around by officials.

Do you do that Councillors?

Have you always been told the truth by officials or do they sometimes appear massaged?

Are you up to the job or just a sad disappointment to the people you represent?

Jan 16, 2012

A Tangled Granite Web Weaves around Union Terrace Gardens

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!

                                     (Sir Walter Scott)

Another kick in the teeth to the people of Aberdeen by the totally undemocratic clique empowered to decide on the preferred option for the development of Union Terrace Gardens.

This clique, presumably selected by ACSEF ( a PPP and undemocratically elected body which is key to current and future developments in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) is made up of various people who have no obvious talents to be judge and jury over such significant changes to the city’s architecture and changes which will utterly destroy an important and treasured aspect of its heritage (excluding the council and ACSEF from that subjective comment).

Heritage is a moveable feast. Mostly moveable in the case of Aberdeen which has no noble history in recognising what is worthy of preserving and what is not. Very little of Aberdeen’s once distinguished old city is extant. Those public figures who have been instrumental in the eradication of the old and distinctive areas and buildings in the city have created a homogenised urban landscape which leaves no lasting impression on the imagination. It is not stimulating place to be in. It is not a relaxing place to be in. It is the same as so many places up and down the country.

No doubt something along these lines brought Ian Wood, a local multi-millionaire businessman, to conclude that economic expansion would only come (back) to Aberdeen if the city had a square at its heart. I would not disagree had he chosen the area in front of Marischal College. He didn’t.

Aberdeen did have a park in its centre. It does have a park; Victorian gardens. And it is reasonable to see why someone with disposable income measured in millions might want to influence improvements to the centre of his home town (although that in itself calls into question the morality of influencing policy just because you have more money than most) but the motives behind the proposal have shifted since it was first envisaged. I have written about this before and am not going over old ground. Suffice to say that by creating a piazza ( and that was the term in use at the beginning of this whole UTG episode) the city would attract business is specious. I don’t for a moment imagine that Mr Wood ever moved his business into anywhere because of the look of the place, whether or not it had a piazza, but because of the economic returns his company hoped to bank.

People in and around Aberdeen have long recognised Union Terrace Gardens needed revitalising. The fact that the once popular park has been left to degenerate to the extent it has is down to a dereliction of duty by Aberdeen City Council. The touches which could bring this wee gem of an oasis back into popular use are clear and would work out far, far cheaper than the extortionate scheme in hand. It looks like what swung the council in favour of this latest wheeze to bulldoze a unique city landscape is flattery. People (some people) are flattered by men with money.

So two architectural designs were shortlisted and the clique within a clique was given the task of selecting a winner

The undemocratic body knew the public’s favourite. One which preserved aspects of the old gardens and extended them.

The undemocratic body did not select the public favourite but went for a radical design instead.

And who makes up this appointed clique which represents the people of Aberdeen?

Duncan Rice – A former Principal of Aberdeen University
Ian Wood –the millionaire businessman who promised around 1/3 of the cost of the project
John Stewart – a libdem councillor
Tom Smith – who runs a telecommunications company
Charles Landry –bought in as an expert on urban innovation
Lavina Massie – no idea who she is
Malcolm Reading – bought in as a consultant on capital projects

Of the competition winner, this is what I said in an earlier blog on the subject.

The Granite Web
This is incredible. It’s like someone’s idea of a joke. For starters we have raised walkways, streamlined with figures wandering around. Now call me picky but can you see health and safety allowing people to walk at these heights without tall fences along the walkways? And quite right too, I could take a dizzy and topple onto the folk eating below, or if I was less polite I might… well.

Cutting through the turgid descriptions of nature and culture fused into a ‘vital network’ – what ? – ‘an elastic web’ – ‘stretching across the historic river site – ’ which river would that be then? No rivers there. The Denburn. Far fetched calling that a river, ‘multi-tiered archaeology’ has anyone checked what this guy’s been drinking? ‘quiet hang outs to meadows’, ‘the city’s emergent future’.

Cutting though the crap. This design is a mess, misleading in its visualisation and frankly, an eyesore in the making.

And it seems I’m not alone. The Los Angeles Times had a piece on 15th September 2011 about the winning company, Diller, Scofidio and Renfro entitled Culture Monster.

‘The real question is whether this project will prove to be the one where DS+R shows a clear ability to turn smart conceptual ideas into really affecting built space. Too many of its projects — the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and Brown University’s Granoff Center are two examples — have lost something crucial in moving from schematic to completed form; they are often thick with ideas but rather thin emotionally.
This may be because DS+R, which has been hugely prominent in theoretical debates over architecture’s future but has relatively few finished projects to its credit, is still perfecting the slippery art of building well. Or it may simply be because the firm’s strength lies in strategic thinking rather than in the act of making architecture powerfully moving in three dimensions. I think the jury is still out.’

Well the jury of architects may well be still out. Unfortunately the screw has been turned on the removal of Aberdeen’s city centre gardens for this vulgar acreage of concrete, Astroturf and a few potted plants.

People of Aberdeen it is up to you. Are you prepared to let a group of the great unelected stick two fingers up to you – just because they can?

How Wood accumulated so much cash

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Jan 8, 2012

Park with a View to the Span – beautify Union Terrace Gardens

Take the simplest route to providing Aberdeen’s heart with a stunning park is by opening up the magnificent single span bridge on Union Street.
Put in simple access and forget about the countless millions of debt we are headed for. That’s all.

Jan 5, 2012

Vote to keep the vandals out of Union Terrace Gardens

Nov 2, 2011

Union Terrace Gardens versus the City Garden Project

The Victorian Union Terrace Gardens in the heart of Aberdeen create an unusual feature which alludes to the city’s historic past around the valley of the Denburn. It is a public park paid for by public money and not private land for a select group to remove. Or is it?

Few of Aberdeen’s historic landscapes have escaped developers. The city has a reputation for failing to recognise what is important to preserve for future generations. The city does not convey any sense of pride in its heritage. It chooses to ignore it instead.

So, Union Terrace Gardens are up for grabs. If you have money there’s a chance you can determine what goes and what stays in the city.

For a moment it looked as if the ordinary citizens would also have a chance to voice their opinions. A questionnaire attracted a big response and when the people gave a resounding ‘no’, the questionnaire was rubbished.

The proposal went ahead despite opposition. Some councillors began to get cold feet; shifting their stance on the subject but only after a working group to push ahead with the plan was set up. Some people have asked who the people on the working group are and what gives them the right to make decisions about the future of a public park. We haven’t been given an answer to that.

So the proposal went out to tender and 6 finalists were selected and the results displayed for the public to see and voice their opinions.  Well, up to a point. The choice for the public was to number the designs in order of preference. There was no box to say they wanted the gardens to remain with a few alterations  – such as improved access. Sleight of hand there.

There was no reference to the proposal by the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens to work with the Council to restore the gardens and improve the space, at a fraction of the cost, were it to stay on budget, which we all know it won’t.

Like the bulldozers of the future ploughing up the grass, the mature trees, this unique urban green oasis the plans were drawn up, models shaped and Perspex-covered boxes built in preparation for the people to look upon.

‘Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Yes, there are plenty who have despaired.

Firstly they promise ‘A new green space’ but there is a green space there already. They promise a ‘civic space’. It already is a civic space – owned by the people for the people, remember? It will ‘provide a home for an international arts centre’ – what does this mean? An internationally important architect had his innovative design for an arts centre, partially sunken in keeping with the shape of the gardens first accepted, then when Wood came along, rejected by the council. And what is an ‘international arts centre’?

These are old ideas. The difference is the people behind them.

The official document promises the creation of a ‘natural amphitheatre to host events. There already is an amphitheatre, natural or not there. So nothing new in this, either.

There were 55 submissions. All I can say is there must have been some shockers if the 6 remaining are the best. Still it’s not down to me, or you little people, to choose the design. This will fall to – well, see below. `

No matter –  let us take a look at what is on offer.

Number 1 The Granite Web

This is incredible. It’s like someone’s idea of a joke. For starters we have raised walkways, streamlined with figures wandering around. Now call me picky but can you see health and safety allowing people to walk at these heights without tall fences along the walkways? And quite right too, I could take a dizzy and topple onto the folk eating below, or if I was less polite I might… well.

Cutting through the turgid descriptions of nature and culture fused into a ‘vital network’ – what ?  – ‘an elastic web’  – ‘stretching across the historic river site – ’ which river would that be then? No rivers there. The Denburn. Far fetched calling that a river, ‘multi-tiered archaeology’ has anyone checked what this guy’s been drinking? ‘quiet hang outs to meadows’,  ‘the city’s emergent future’.

Cutting though the crap. This design is a mess, misleading in its visualisation and frankly, an eyesore in the making.

Number 2  The Winter Garden

Hmm, sounds a wee bit like the Winter Gardens which already exists in Aberdeen.

This one appears to be most in favour with people who have looked at the plans, perhaps because it looks most like Union Terrace Gardens  – only much, much more expensive.

They want to preserve and enhance the existing park’ – good. So do lots of people.

They talk of decking over the railway and road, hope that doesn’t mean decking as in patio style.

The decking feature is where they build what looks to me like a long glass caterpillar – i.e. the winter garden- singular friends of Spike. Now they compare the caterpillar to the Crystal Palace, uhm don’t think so, or the Kibble Palace, never heard of it. It is to be home to cultural events, a garden, restaurant and cafés. Now can you just see Aberdeen Council paying to heat this place in winter? Can you?

That said, this looks like UTG. It’s even keeping the arches which are wonderful. And hopefully the balustrade which a councillor assures people is rotten – so of course ready for removal. Well the council’s rotten but no-one’s talking of removing  …oh, yes, so they are.

Number 3 Sculpted Landform & Connections

This design is deceptive. I thought at first it was just rubbish – a technical term for substandard design. Then I read the water feature is actually two quartz pavilions and I thought, really? But I looked again and decided I was right the first time.  It says one is opposite Her Majesty’s Theatre – so it’s not Aberdeen ,then? That’s good. There isn’t any Her Majesty’s – some attention to detail.

It goes on about a cairn, more about culture, fine views of the park – must be different from the view I was getting which I wouldn’t describe as remotely fine. Horrible, horrible.


Number 4 The Flower of Scotland

Nice tune pity about the design. Blah blah ‘latent potential’, blah, blah ‘harmony’, ‘truly rich’ blah, ‘grand iconic space’ Is there anything that isn’t iconic nowadays? Aye, most of Aberdeen.

It’s all glorious and beautiful and – well flat. Floral patterns ‘meanders’ over the site. I can’t tell you how much I dislike this horrible, overworked, disappointing expanse of nothingness.


Number 5 The Cultural Plaza

This one is not going to simply ‘deck over’ the existing valley’ – thank god for that. It is aiming to created ‘interconnected spaces’ ‘variety of scales’ ‘a ‘Ramblas’ no less-  Barcelona! A city of inspired public art. A spectacular city so like…no. Anyway I don’t like the caged birds on the Ramblas so that doesn’t work.

The impression of multiple slopes which look like it might be decking with some tufts of grass poking through. All over. That’s a helluva lot of decking. How much decking can you buy for £150million? Quite a lot.

Number 6 Cultural Podium

Straight in with ‘arborial wealth’ – didn’t know we had that, did you?

They want to create a promenade ‘framed by an alée (no an alley, I think it’s Frinch) of London Plane trees’ Fit! London! Yer in Scotland! We hiv trees.

References to Aberdeen’s granite heritage – that’s good – even the council doesn’t do that. And they’ll give us ‘visual, tactile and fragrant’ They’ll provide an art and cultural museum – more than the council does. But wait – does that museum look like something out of the Flintstones? I’ve been to Flintstone Park.  I know it when I see it. It really fits into that corner on Union Street. See that guy who designed the Peacock centre – that’s where he went wrong – create an eyesore – and if you’re going to create an eyesore might as well make it a big one.

Now, personally I don’t think anyone who doesn’t know there’s an ‘r’ in Aberdeen should be given any say on UTG.

The gardens from STV

The Jury

Sir Duncan Rice – Former Principal Abedeen University

Sir Ian Wood –who began the project

Councillor John Stewart, Libdem

Tom Smith MD of a large telecommunications company

Charles Landry Provides toolkits for urban innovators

Lavina Massie  I have no idea either

Malcolm Reading  a consultant on capital projects

STV’s link to the garden designs

The council’s monitoring group.

As Shelley might have continued –

‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

Thanks Mr Shelley.

Ian Wood’s fortune comes from…

Oct 31, 2011

History is More of Less Bunk: Henry Ford and Aberdeen Council: the sad case of the weaver’s shed on the Denburn

Guest Blog by Textor

Our current Aberdeen City Council is very good at extolling the virtues of wealthy men said to be coming to the economic, cultural and aesthetic rescue of the city. It has shown itself willing to put millions into a crass project at which even Ozymandias might have blushed.

And yet, at the same time as the Council trumpets its commitment to staying true to Aberdeen’s history and sense of place, it allows unique moments of its past to fall into rack and ruin. One glaring example of this is the small stone built shed-house on the south side of the Denburn near Mackie Place. Humble as this building is it is one of the last structures which points to what was once a key industry of the city, handloom-weaving. While there is no definitive evidence that it was a weaver’s shed-house its shape, location and period (c1800) leads to the conclusion that this is what it was. Regardless of proving absolutely that a handloom weaver worked there it was certainly part of the historic Denburn- Gilcomston community.

Some time in the 1980s the sadly neglected, but largely intact building, was made wind and water tight, including new pan tiling to the roof. The idea was floated that the shed might become a small museum marking the city’s important past as an area of textile production. Of course this came to nothing. Funding was never found for it.

It was then suggested it could become a centre for local crafts people to bring it back into use and preserve an important local landmark. It was a great idea but once again it came to nothing.

And so the shed has been left to decay. The stabilisation of it, making it wind and water tight, money spent for nothing. It stands in this most picturesque part of Aberdeen semi-derelict with a great hole in the roof and no obvious prospect of finding a useful life.

The Council has seen fit to restore Marischal College and it must be said that it has given us a sense what the building must have looked like in the Edwardian era. Apart from the rather anaemic mannie on a cuddy in front of the building we now have sight of a magnificent glistening piece of work. But it seems, that despite our civic leaders claims to be concerned with what is today called the heritage of the city they are not willing to maintain, let alone develop, one of the last remaining fragments from the early years of the industrial revolution.   

Of course, unlike garden projects and Marischal College the shed lacks grandeur; it is not a thing of classical beauty nor is it a shrine to wealth. It is simply a record of a central aspect of Aberdeen’s industrial past; a community’s way of life which deserves to be remembered for the vital part it played as the social and industrial backbone of the city.

Until the introduction of the power loom, handloom weavers were amongst the elite of craftsmen. Highly skilled, much in demand, especially after the invention of power spinning which vastly increased the availability of yarn without a corresponding increase in productivity in weaving: the output from the weaver was tied directly to the dexterity and the inclination of the craftsman rather than to the speed of factory machines.

In sheds such as the one at Mackie Place, the weaver would be supplied with yarn by a businessman who would late sell on the finished cloth. Weavers were often assisted by their families, including children who would ensure the bobbins were always at hand when needed. When there was no alternative to handloom production the weaver wielded power. It was never an easy job for it was arduous with long hours spent in cramped conditions which led to health problems. But these men were more than mere machine hands. They were highly skilled and could, at times, command relatively good prices for their output. Indeed, for a time a weaver was a person of some social standing. They had a reputation for being literate and politically active; many of them attached to movements calling for parliamentary reform such as the Chartists. But with the introduction of power looms, the handloom weaver’s income and social position fell away. The productivity from power looms was far greater than the handloom and it was cheaper for employers of factory hands working in the Green in Aberdeen or at Grandholm to pay unskilled rates.

By the 1840s handloom weavers and their families were becoming destitute. The Aberdeen weaver William Thom gave them a voice. In his Rhymes and Recollections in which he described the weaver’s reduction from what he called, “the daisy portion” of the trade to becoming a mere factory hand with no control over his working day:

…weaving, as it year after year declined, became at length an evendown waste of life – a mere permission to breathe…

The gradual changes at the Denburn and Gilcomston mirrored the weaver’s decline and the area became a byword for filth and disease. It wasn’t always so.

In the 1780s Francis Douglas described Gilcomston as a “fine village” and later Dr Kidd of the Chapel of Ease wrote that the area comprised “mostly weavers and shoemakers”. It was a distinct community but with Aberdeen expanding in population and geographically Gilcomston was gradually absorbed into the larger city. In 1818 Kennedy wrote that “the village may now be regarded as part of the suburbs of Aberdeen”. Later this process of assimilation became particularly evident for those handloom weavers forced to look for work in factories in, the Green or further afield, in other words, men were no longer labouring where they lived but were forced to travel to and from work like other factory hands.   With Gilcomston’s absorption into the city there was an increase in its population and an expansion of small industries working the area, particularly drawing upon the waters of the Denburn itself. Tanning, brewing, dyeing all found use for the burn’s once fine water. By the 1860s what had once been described as “clear and unpolluted as a mountain stream” was said to be an “offensive puddle” full of “horse leeches”.

The weaver’s shed is witness to this history. Its decay might be passed off as an inconsequential loss but this is to miss the point. Yes, weavers, and many other workers too, succumbed to the demands of an expansive industrial capitalism but before this they had carved a distinct culture marked by raising families, by attending church, by extolling the virtues of political reform and by practising their trade. There is little enough that remains as material witness to their lives.
Bedazzled by gold on offer from philistine benefactors, Aberdeen City Council turns a blind eye to a more worthy cause. Shame on the Council.

Mar 25, 2011

Closed Aberdeen – just doesn’t care about people – unless they’re rich

In recent times it has become glaringly obvious that rich Aberdeen has long abandoned any concern for its people.  When was the last time the council promoted any popular ideas to develop and create an enjoyable  environment for those it is supposed to represent?  The arrogant, we know best, culture apparent in the Town House takes delight in going against local opinon.  On the one hand it bemoans lack of funding then goes ahead with developing Marischal College as the new Town House (which I approve of – having suggested this several years ago to the then incumbent Chief Executive who resisted on grounds of not liking the building himself, – however it is pretty unpopular with voters),

the olympic-sized swimming pool (necessary it’s said to produce successful swimmers – despite Aberdeen and area having produced more top swimmers than anywhere else in the UK over the past 40 years without a multi-million pool – very unpopular decision), prop up the AECC ( oh, yes very unpopular) and throw untold millions to make Aberdeen the concreted over capital of Scotland through the misconceived and hugely unpopular Union Terrace Gardens fiasco.

I wasn’t going to mention the killing, sorry culling, of the city’s roe deer population at Tullos Hill (hugely unpopular and stupid as the deer killed will be replaced by other deer migrating there, doh! Oh, but the money’s run out for it – hence the slaughter of animals for trees).

My day out in Aberdeen this week confirmed how Aberdeen handles the concreting over issue.  When a previous bunch of councillors – Labour I believe – destroyed St. Nicholas Street and George Street to create a series of shopping centres which cut off easy access to the area there was an attempt to produce a crossing point above the St. Nicholas Centre.

Street sculpture was introduced. I won’t go there. Not today. Just to say – we’re talking small here.

So I did the walk over the centre walk on Wednesday. There was a guy there. Me. A few bits of litter. About it really. Problem is people don’t like it. It’s a nasty place. And it has become progressively more hostile to people.  Railing are erected to stop people congregating – mainly targeting skate boarders.  Skate boarders are people too, councillors.

Well, people have got the message. The council doesn’t want you here.

Take a look at my day out in Aberdeen pics from this week. Does this look like a city which cares about its population?

Feb 25, 2011

Aberdeen Giving it Away – Money – want some?

Skint Aberdeen City Council has been asked to return £1.2million special project money to Cosla because its disgustingly highly paid officials were incapable of coming up with any good ways of utilising the money.

What do we pay these people for?

Is there anyone at the Council who can explain why the jaw dropping salaries these guys pick up is worth every hard earned penny by the people of Aberdeen?


Deadlines missed for funding opportunities are nothing new to this Council.  You might think, however, that in these difficult times the Council might just have its finger on the pulse to ensure that whatever funding has been allocated to Aberdeen will not be chucked away.

Well if you thought that you obviously are unfamiliar with just how incompetent this bunch is.  Will they be asked to account for the loss of cash or indeed the loss of services – don’t be silly.   Bottom line is that those ultimately responsible (I use the term loosely) Council officials will never face the sack but will can look forward to a rosy retirement based on their super inflated salaries which will be paid for by the children currently in the schools facing severe cuts.

We are talking here about the crowd who wasted, as it has turned out, nearly half a million pounds on the once viable and popular Peacock Arts building in Union Terrace Gardens –

that was before moneybags Sir Ian Would-you-help-me-build-a-park-in-honour-of-my-vast-wealth asked the Council permission to bulldoze the Gardens and pour concrete into the hole created.  Nice one Woody. Who says you can’t buy taste?                        

Haud the front page – not satisfied with toadying up to Woody, Aberdeen Council dug deep into its fast dwindling coffers and handed over a cool £375,000 public funds to moneybags Wood.  I’ll just repeat that – £375,000 from public funds to enable a vanity project for Scotland’s second riches man.

Sir Ian Wood – his fortune around £962 million.


According to today’s Press & Journal – the usual media tarts, John Stewart, Kevin Stewart and Kate Dean had nothing to say on the matter.


Nov 19, 2010

Pulp Art

Pulp Art?

Jack Vettriano,

The Councillor

and the Art Gallery

You will have seen Jack Vettriano’s work – it is frequently represented on greetings cards, posters and mugs.  The self taught artist attracts a great deal of attention and a great deal of criticism from the art world so when an Aberdeen City Councillor took it upon herself to determine Aberdeen Art Gallery’s acquisition  policy by insisting it acquire a work by the Scottish artist she caused a sharp intake of breath in some circles in the city.

It has to be said that in the main Vettriano’s critics come from people with a background in fine art – the sort who know their Ingres from their El Greco.

As for Vettriano himself he points to Caravaggio and Monet as his main inspiration.

Italian painter, Caravaggio, who has a look of Kirsty Allsop about him in Ottavioi Leoni’s portrait, was a giant of late Italian renaissance art.  His pictures are heavily theatrical partly due to his liberal deployment of chiaroscuro: the use of strong light and deep shadows.             carravagio

Despite leading a disreputable life Caravaggio’s paintings were intended to inspire religious devotion in the viewer, as emotional vehicles in which familiar biblical themes and symbolism were strikingly depicted through dramatic diagonals which energised  scenes, suggested movement  and directed the eye around the action punctuated by bold  luminosity set tight against gloomy blackness.  As a figurative painter, Caravaggio’s mastery of investing his subjects with character is instantly apparent – real people, flesh and blood, warts and all with complex emotions written into their faces and actions.



By contrast, Vettriano’s other influence, the French Impressionist Monet, is associated with what is known as the en plein-air movement meaning the artist painted swiftly outdoors, capturing the transience of natural light on the landscape.   Monet’s art appears tame by today’s standards, chocolate boxy and easily acceptable to most tastes.  However there were ructions in the art world when Monet’s lyrical picture, Impression, Sunrise was exhibited in Paris and earned the movement its name.

Many of Monet’s works have the brilliant light of Caravaggio’s but not his depth of shadow. There is none of the melodrama of Caravaggio although he employs staged settings nonetheless.   By the time Monet was painting, photography was increasing in popularity and some of its influences can be seen in his compositions however they are scenes from D’Oyle Carte rather than Wagner.

Jack Vettriano’s paintings share the studied compositions of both Caravaggio and Monet.  He shares Caravaggio’s love of theatricality but it is a stilted version and lacks the innovation of the Italian.  Vettriano’s The Singing Butler work, butlersurely his most famous, may be set on a beach but this is no real beach but the artist’s studio, they may be populated by figures but they are comic-book characters lacking depth or insight.  We can imagine what they are thinking only from the accoutrements that accompany them.

Vettriano has applied extremes of light and dark, the  murky and portentous sky is a backdrop for his translucent foreground with its sun high overhead reminiscent of Monet yet this is no neo-neo-Impressionist

or neo-Baroque work – more Greco Roman with its frieze-like foreground of activity.

There is no doubting Vettriano’s popularity but in the snooty world of fine art popularity can be a hindrance to reputation.   So was the Councillor right to push for having this Fife artist’s work in her local gallery?  Why Vettriano?  Because he is Scottish?  There are hundreds of highly talented Scottish artists who would love exposure in Aberdeen’s gem of a gallery.  Because he is particularly talented?  Well he has a talent, no doubt about that, and is very popular – is that the criterion for including his work in the Aberdeen gallery?

So what are the factors which determine a local gallery’s collection policy?  How much influence should a Councillor have in the day-to-day running of any museum or gallery?   Is this a role for a Council committee?  Is there any need for expertise or just what appeals to whoever is there at any time?   Should such decisions be trusted to the fine art professional in the gallery?  These are real questions.  Who should the casting vote lie with?  The gallery is, after all, a public body, paid for by the public and so should be sensitive to public taste but does the logic of this lead us to suppose that its collections should be determined by the citizens of a town or city? Where then does the value of professional status of the gallery curator start and finish?

The person so keen to influence what hangs on the walls of Aberdeen Art Gallery is Councillor Jennifer Stewart who has a BA Hon Social Science (Public Policy) Politics and Economics . But while Ms Stewart has no formal qualifications she is recorded as a ‘passionate supporter of the arts; her personal vision would be to increase arts, culture and museum participation in the hard to reach group and remove the myth about snobbery within the arts culture in order to show that galleries and museums are there for everyone to enjoy.’

Councillor Jennifer Stewart  is the Lib Dem  Member for Hazlehead .  On the Register of Members’  Interests her commitment to the arts is clear:

  • Treasurer of Aberdeen Liberal Democrats (Central)
  • Director of Aberdeen Exhibition & Conference Centre – membership ceased-effective October 2010
  • Director of Aberdeen Performing Arts
  • Trustee of Aberdeen International Youth Festival
  • Member of the Board of Museums & Galleries Scotland
  • Aberdeen City Heritage Trust
  • Occasional voluntary work for Cancer Research (commenced March 2010)

In  May this year C. Stewart introduced a motion to:

“Instruct Council officers to explore all potential sources of external funding, including the McDonald Trust, which would allow Aberdeen City Council to acquire an original Jack Vettriano painting to be hung in Aberdeen Art Gallery.”

And so it was referred to Education, Culture and Sport Committee.

On 18th November a meeting of Aberdeen Council  Education, Culture and Sport Committee discussed a report from the Art Gallery which included –

‘Jack Vettriano was born in Methil, Fife in 1951. He left school at sixteen tobecome a mining engineer, however after he received a set of watercolour paints for his twenty-first birthday he taught himself to paint. His earliest paintings, under the name “Jack Hoggan”, were copies or pastiches of impressionist paintings – his first painting was a copy of Monet’s Poppy Fields. Much of his early influence came from studying paintings at the Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery…’

As is generally known, Vettriano’s work sells for relatively big money.

‘ …The Singing Butler was sold at Sotheby’s for close to £750,000. More recently prices have levelled. The highest seller at a Sotheby’s auction sale of Scottish Art in April 2010 was a 15 inch by 12 inch painting entitled Game On, which fetched £49,250.

…Currently he is not represented in any of Scotland’s national collections. Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery owns two paintings and is the only local authority funded public collection to include his work. One painting was donated in 1997 and the other, a self portrait, was a gift of the artist in 2002. Vettriano’s known collectors range from lyricist Sir Tim Rice and businessman Sir Tom Farmer to the former motor-racing champion Sir Jackie Stewart, who commissioned a triptych of himself and his wife. 

…Purchase prices for Jack Vettriano’s work have fluctuated over the years,ranging from the record price reached at auction for The Singing Butler (£744,500 in 2004) to an auction sale at Sotheby’s in 2010 where seven out of ten paintings failed to find a buyer. The highest seller was Game On which sold for £49,250. A selection of images and their purchase prices is attached for information.

The Museums and Galleries purchase budget is £26,376 to cover works of art and artefacts from all disciplines, dating from earliest times to contemporary work. The budget for the year 2010-11 is already committed. If the acquisition  of a Jack Vettriano painting was considered in future years external match-funding would be required. Many grant-giving organisations require a percentage of local funding to match the grant given. Museums Scotland, the National Galleries of Scotland or the National Library of Scotland. Advisers will base their recommendations on evidence given in the application under the following headings:

significance of the proposed acquisition

relevance of the acquisition to the applicant’s collecting policy

whether the price quoted for the acquisition is a fair one

evidence of public benefit demonstrated by proposals for display,

learning/public programmes, study or research, or loan to other


objects of great local interest judged to be of good museum quality objects which will aesthetically enrich collections and support the expansion and development of new areas of collecting…’

I find it interesting that the report mainly sets out the cost of acquiring a Vettriano rather than a critique of him as an artist but then if this Councillor gets her way she blows the entire annual budget of Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums for how many years?  Is Vettriano worth it?  Is this kind of intervention in the running of art galleries likely to reduce collections to the lowest common denominator?  Will galleries run the risk of being flooded with exotic green ladies


or the ubiquitous cute tennis player scratching her arse (as a fellow tweeter suggested) or any of the anodyne prints designed to co-ordinate with your sittingroom décor on sale in furniture stores for far more than a good original piece of art?  It cannot be denied that this type of print is very popular with the public so why shouldn’t they be hung in public art galleries?

For images of Jack Vettriano paintings try:

Nov 15, 2010

One Aberdeen? Pure Pîche

It is said that life is stranger than fiction. Certainly is if you live in Aberdeen.

What appeared wildly exotic fantasy in John Aberdein’s marvellous satire, Strip the Willow has come to pass. Yes, really or should I say, Aye, ken fit I mean, min?

If ever there was a misbegotten name it is surely One Aberdeen so let’s improve on it – how about LeopCorp?  Hang on, it’s not a million miles from Aberdeen Pure – the joint venture water bottling plant on top of Brairiach – ‘A Peoples’ Water – Aberdeen Pure’. (STW)

I don’t think so.  One Aberdeen.  Live in hope dear council.  It has been a very long time since the people of Aberdeen were at one with their council.  Given the debacle of the consultation and ultimate decision to trample over the views of public feeling and push through the hugely unpopular Union Terrace Gardens programme largely determined by one man, albeit a rich one, Aberdeen citizens know exactly where “their” council stands – on the opposite side of the chasm from them.

Council officials fish about in their in-trays marked ‘panic’ and out drops such crisis coping gems as:  close all public parks, all art gallery and museums and as many schools as we can get away with.

Okay council officers are just playing silly buggers so that when the sensational headline proposals are junked there will be a collective sigh of relief when the axe really does fall on services once regarded as essential.

But wait, wait a bit – how then is One Aberdeen still in the reckoning?

It runs along principles along the lines of – Aberdeen City Council is incapable of handling the city’s multi-million pound assets so there will be shared responsibility for developing them by linking up with local businesses.  Once there has been a transfer of such property and land to One Aberdeen wave a magic wand say abracadabra and watch money rain down on Aberdeen and what remains from the profits after the private companies had taken their whack will be invested into ‘less affluent’ i.e. poor areas of the city.  Land values will rise, Aberdeen will attract outside investment and jobs will be created.  That is the sales line.

Among the 14 or so targets of One Aberdeen will include the area surrounding Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC is losing money hand over fist), the Bon Accord Baths (closed down under great controversy despite being well used), Union Terrace Gardens (even more controversial with its rich man’s vanity project utterly rejected by the people of Aberdeen but steadfastly supported by the Cooncil).

Er, why does the city hold properties and control certain services in the first place?  Perhaps something to do with not being able to trust private enterprise to preserve and value them and so they are held in trust by the people for the people.  Along comes some whipper-snapper official who thinks a trouble shared is a trouble halved and so big business is in.

Perhaps with a joint holding organisation in charge of public assets it might be expected that the peoples’ representatives will hold the chair and casting vote but, wait again, this is Aberdeen – no, the council is to hand over the final say to the chair- a city businessman – or woman. I can only imagine the Cheshire cat grins on these men’s face as they rub their hands and lick clean their cream-laden whiskers.

The jargon promises maximising the city’s unused assets and promoting regeneration – well blow me down, isn’t that kind of what council’s should have been doing these past years?  What’s the matter with these people?  What do they get paid for?  Anyone out there who can answer that?

Hello, hello, hello what have we here – ah, Kate Dean – why do people smile when they hear that Kate Dean is up for something?  So, as convener of the Enterprise, Planning and Infrastructure Committee Ms Dean – is it too intrusive to ask just what have you and your committee been doing for the city?  Can’t hear you. Oh, you have nothing to say. Ever have self-doubts? No it’s fine, just a rhetorical question – I’m not that naive. A quote from Councillor Dean, “I welcome this. Moves to create a company like this have been around for a long time. We have assets at the moment which are not working for the people of Aberdeen and that’s not what we are about. We want to make our assets work for the city.”

No, Councillor Dean – this is precisely WHAT you are about – a plan around for a long time, assets not working for the people – this is YOU and the rest of the COUNCIL that has created and sustained this situation – nobody else. Still no self-doubts?  Okay, can’t criticise me for trying.

Vice-convener Callum McCaig gets to the nub of the issue.  Public private partnerships have been around for some time and not always very successfully but an optimist, McCaig states, “…this is a public private partnership which will actually work for the public, not just for the private sector and I look forward to seeing it moving forward.”

Well it’s a point of view but not a guarantee Mr McCaig.  You recognise that not all PPPs work but assure the people of Aberdeen this one will – and not just for the private sector – is there an inference there that in the past that’s what PPPs have done? Just pause a moment Mr McCaig – what if it turns out like the rest of them? What happens then?

It is not only Aberdeen facing this type of quandary and more councils will be looking at PPPs as the economic climate continues its downward spiral.  There will be many more moves to use public assets to attract private finance for regeneration programmes.

“…concern has been exacerbated by the structures being classified by Treasury as “novel, contentious and repercussive”.   There we have it – chances are all the optimistic talk is just that.  What happens when reality sets in?

Whatever the name adopted by this type of joint venture arrangements between public and private sectors, PFI/ PPP/LSP, they aim to reap rewards but the risks are substantial.

While there are recorded successes for such partnerships that is not the whole story.  Yes shareholders and mangers of private companies involved may see higher profits but public assets are often sold off for less than their full value and public services fail to reach required standards.

“Far from constituting partnerships in any meaningful sense, PPPs provide for the contracting parties to pursue their separate, diverse and potentially conflicting public and private interests.”

PPPs – It’s time to take the PIIS by Christopher Sheil

PPPs emerged as a result of the economic crisis of the 1970s when major cuts in public spending were being introduced by successive UK governments and investment in the public sector dropped significantly.   Interestingly this was during the period when many private fortunes were being made with North Sea oil and gas extraction at its peak.

One Aberdeen has materialised from a council incapable of running its own services, a council devoid of imagination and ability. There is an expectation that private sector managers will be able to do better than the ranks of officials on salaries ranging from just under £50K to well in excess of £100K. If PPP is the extent of their combined deliberations then shouldn’t they all be offering themselves up as sacrifices for the sorry mess they have made of governing the city?  But perhaps it may be a crumb of comfort to these fat-cat officials that when private is mixed with public such as hospital cleaning, the results have been a decline in standards and no-one needs reminding of the current dire state of our hospitals with regards infections.  The private sector will squeeze and squeeze profit from joint projects, cutting staff – cutting service.

Where there are partnerships between a public body and the private sector where does the latter influence stop?  What level of responsibility does the private sector carry, e.g. for dirty hospitals?  What influence will private investors have on the running of schools, allocation of resources, teachers employed when their money is being spent on building and refurbishing them?

One Aberdeen is the private sector’s Christmases and birthdays rolled into one providing them with access and influence over empty buildings and land which will result in ‘surplus’ public assets being sold off for private development.

Lack of democratic accountability

When councillors mismanage they can be rejected by the electorate at elections, oh alright this does not apply to the mediocrity that is often the council officer but what about the accountability of the business partners represented in One Aberdeen?  Who do you think they will be more accountable to – the amorphous mass of Aberdonians or their shareholders and company boards?

Which officer from the council will turn out to be Guy Bord? (STW)

‘UberStreet’s hitherto hidden quality as a street, said Guy, as a long street, a long and very straight street, was it aptitude as a giant ball alley.’ (STW)

Public and private interests very often clash

‘Planning controls will need to be more imaginative, agreed Swink.’ (STW)

Commercial confidentiality is vital to private companies who are hot on protecting their intellectual property rights. How does this tie in with public accountability?  Will there be limited public accountability because of the strictures applied by private business interests in One Aberdeen.  You can bet your bottom dollar there will be.

100% retained by the public or lost assets?

According to HM Treasury in 1999, PFI/PPP assets should revert to public ownership at the end of the contract where it is in the public interest and when there is no alternative use for the assets. So there you have it – assets ‘should’ revert, ‘if in the public interest’ – who determines that? ‘When there is not alternative use’ – if a private company cannot see a profit in them.  Not many guarantees there then. And what will be the state of public finances at the end of the period One Aberdeen will be set up for?  Will the city then be ready to take back and run these public assets or will it have to continue down the road of another similar scheme?  Like the Kaimhill ski centre, this is a slippery slope leading straight to the bargain basement box of ‘public assets clearance sale’.

One Aberdeen as with LeopCorp’s Aberdeen Pure is unadulterated Pîche.