Posts tagged ‘willie young’

Jan 24, 2015

Less is More: the muse of Marischal Square

Many hundreds of Aberdonians turned out to show their disapproval of the hugely misconceived Muse development which has the enthusiastic backing of the Labour led Aberdeen City Council.

Anti-Muse demo

Views ranged from outright anger to suspicion over how we were so misled by them. At one stage all talk was of a civic square being created to act as a focus for the city which would be used for cultural events as well as a sanctuary for the people of the city – who it should be remembered own this site.

The square idea contracted and contracted until all that remained after officials, councillors and developers completed their negotiations was a street, and one that will be overshadowed by a bloody great series of soulless boxes.

Where else have we seen them?

Ah, yes over at the Triple Kirks going up right now.
Who, in their right mind, would agree to this dismal development?

Several of those demonstrating their opposition were pretty certain they knew the reason (reasons) that swayed support. Suffice to say it was nothing connected with the architectural integrity of the site.

Marischal College is one of the finest buildings in the whole of Scotland. A backdrop of this magnificent granite edifice to a civic square would place Aberdeen on the map in terms of civic pride and ambition.


What the Muse shopping centre will do is underline the bankruptcy of ambition and imagination of the current Labour led council.
Muse demo

I did not see Dame Anne Begg there – she was a prominent opponent, correctly, of the equally appalling Union Terrace Gardens design. So does this mean she, and her fellow Labour MP Frank Doran and the usually opinionated MSP, Lewis Macdonald have given their backing to this monstrosity? We can assume so until we hear otherwise.

On 9 October 2014 the local newspaper quoted Willie Young, Labour group secretary saying they did not operate a whip and that planning decisions were non-political.

I think we can all make up our own minds on that.

The 7000 signatories to the petition objecting to the Muse development are well aware of the shortcomings of those who have pushed and pushed this proposal.
We should be asking WHY this one?

WHY is this design that overwhelms the site?

The architecture is ugly. The scale is ridiculous. The loss of a world-class amenity ought to be a actionable.

It is time to hold the people who flex their power to impose such an abomination on the city to account for their cultural vandalism.

“Councillor Marie Boulton, Aberdeen City Council deputy leader, added: “We are seeing the start of what will be a vibrant and exciting development on the old St. Nicholas House site.”

“Planning committee convener Ramsay Milne insisted, however, that the council acted “entirely properly” in its handling of the case.

Mr Milne moved to approve the plans, praising officers and insisting elected members had a “civic duty” to back the redevelopment.”

“Council leader Jenny Laing said Marischal Square could provide a “beating heart” for the centre of Aberdeen.”


“Labour’s Willie Young faced a backlash after his comments in the Press and Journal that it was “already determined” that the £107million Marischal Square project would go ahead. 18 July 2014.”

It was great that so many gathered to demonstrate their disapproval but having turned out in their high hundreds the organisers should have had something to focus the event to increase its impact: speakers on mic, holding hands around the condemned site, demanding an appearance from the man the crowd held most responsible for this debacle, Willie Young, who it was reported was in the Town House at the time.


Muse demo

There was a time city officials were prepared to face their critics and respond to their objections to their decisions but no more, our present-day incumbents hide in their Town House ivory tower.

Such is 21st century democracy in Aberdeen.

Jan 9, 2015

The Great Marischal Square Cornswaggle – 3D

The people of Aberdeen have been cornswaggled by their council AGAIN.

The big lie that was Marischal Square is exposed.


pinnacle visualisation


There is no square. There probably never was any intention of creating a square, by any definition.

We were duped. We were wary of their promises but were duped by that old trick of the public consultation. Look where that’s taken us.

Cast your eyes on this projection for how the Muse Development will look once the concrete is poured and the common land, that belongs to everyone in the city, is turned over to a private development for the erection of tawdry towers.

Willie Young

Which means this development was given the full-hearted support of Labour members of the council willingly.

Not one of them recognised the architectural outrage they were about to impose on the city.

willie young


Who voted for this abomination?


Labour: Ramsay Milne, George Adam (Lord Provost), Jenny Laing, Angela Taylor, Willie Young, Barney Crockett, Neil Cooney, Len Ironside, Ross Grant, Graham Lawrence, Tauqueer Malik, Yvonne Allan, Scott Carle, Lesley Dunbar, Jean Morrison, Nathan Morrison, Gordon Graham. SNP: Graham Dickson. Independents: Marie Boulton, Andy Finlayson, John Reynolds, Fraser Forsyth. Conservatives: Alan Donnelly (23)


SNP: Bill Cormie, Muriel Jaffrey, Callum McCaig, Gordon Townson, Gil Samarai, Sandy Stuart, Andrew May, Jim Kiddie, Jim Noble, Jackie Dunbar, David Cameron, Kirsty Blackman. Liberal Democrat: Jennifer Stewart, Martin Greig, Aileen Malone, Ian Yuill, Steve Delaney. Conservatives: Ross Thomson. (18)


Bring on the next election


Oct 9, 2014

Now you see it – now you don’t – Marischal Square


The vote was taken at once, and it was agreed by an overwhelming majority that rats were comrades.                                                                                                                                                                (Animal farm)

Aberdeen City Council has reinforced the belief that it is surely one of the most disgraceful and sleekit of local authorities.

It has played a dirty game over the development that it once boasted would be Marischal Square – a great opportunity for a civic space it once promised – an idea that captured the mood of the city’s citizens browned off by a recent diet of lacklustre plans lacking in ambition and confidence.

Did they say square? They did. Did. Not any more. Because square there aint. Unless you follow the logic of Cllr Boulton who, in reply to being challenged on the great disappearing square, muttered something along the lines of – the whole area is a kind of square.

 The erm, Square


There used to be a distinctive old street there called Broad Street. Lord Byron, Geordie Gordon, bade there as a child. The old Aberdeen Journals occupied a large property there and Bissets bookshop was there at the other end. There never used to be a square and there sure as hell isn’t going to be one in the near future. Not until these eejits running the council are dead and buried.

So square is now a former concept of a square. This wonderful civic square that would become a hub (councils love the term hub) for city folk and so the idea of Marischal Square was born – no not born, conceived.

Then the council had a think and it thought – hey min there’s nae cash in an empty space.

Come on you didn’t think they’d stick to their word – did you?


Average councillor brain

There’s been a lot of talk – encouraging the public to get involved, implying citizens’ views would be taken note of in drawing up the final design. That is until people said,

Yes we want a square – ken fit I mean, min?

Well you ken fit want gets.

It is clear the Labour-led coalition which includes a Tory and Independents while happy to provide a blank sheet for the developers eager to build shops, offices and a hotel is less interested in what the people of the city want. Did I say less interested? Not interested.

Of course councils ignoring the wishes of the people is not a new phenomenon but disappointing nevertheless whenever it occurs and when it doesn’t even try to modify the commercial aspects of the design as a sop to public opinion.

The final decision was taken away from the Planning Committee and put to full council to ensure the commercial proposal went through, as councillors would be more or less voting along party lines. This was nothing short of politicising the scheme and a scandalous manipulation of power on a project that is so controversial.

Cllr Willie Young is reported to have indicated on July 17th this year that the decision had already been taken to go ahead with the Muse development causing consternation among opposition councillors opposed to the deal.

Squares are good

Squares are good

Squares were good

Squares were good

Squares no good

Squares no good

Squares were good but concrete is better


What we want is concrete and more concrete. Can’t get enough concrete. Our aim is to concrete over Aberdeen. Concrete is money. Fill the mouths of those who dare to speak out with concrete. That’ll shut them up.

Cllr Jenny Laing tells the world this vibrant developments of offices and shops will prove that Aberdeen is open for business, as if one of the most economically dynamic areas of the UK isn’t already open and doing a grand line in business.

Do people actually vote for these people who speak in banalities?

ACC ratings

Aberdeen Evening Express

Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure.

On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility.

Contrary to what the Labour group say there is nothing , absolutely nothing in this design to attract people into the city. On the other hand a large photogenic square would most definitely become a tourist attraction as well as a potential gathering place and area for music and entertainment. Think of what some photographs of a fine square with the magnificent Marischal College, the second largest granite building in the world,  in the background and those fine old properties of Upper Kirkgate along one side, would do to enhance the attractiveness of Aberdeen.

Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer – except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs.

May 21, 2014

The Marischal Odeon or Gone with the Wind: A Muse and Council Joint Production

The controversial £107million plan by Muse Development, part of the Morgan Sindall Group, to build a block of shops, car parks, offices and hotel in front of Marischal College in Aberdeen has been lodged with the council and is so awful it is pretty well certain to be given the green light.

The common good land is about to be leased to private developers for the next 35 years to do with as they please. While local opinion is for tearing down St Nicholas House and having no building replacing it thereby creating a large open square to front Marischal College Aberdeen council and the developers are pushing ahead with commercialising the space. Let us hope that 35 years down the line it doesn’t get passed on from one private leaseholder to another until eventually the land is lost to the public. Not that this would ever happen. Of course that has never happened. No of course not.

Various consultations have taken place and some 4000 opinions provided which Muse said have been noted. Well all I can say is you will be hard pressed to detect much alteration in their plans.

Try as I might to open the detailed plans on the council website I failed but at least I had the council press release to reassure me how much the new build will improve the site ‘once dominated by the former council headquarters building St Nicholas House.’

I was more successful finding a link to the Final Report on Pedestrian Level Wind, doesn’t sound like much fun, and discovered the council’s reassurances were less than convincing.

Take a keek at this

Wind analysis of the site highlighted a ‘relatively windy microclimate at ground level’ in parts of the area – nearest Union Street – the result of wind ‘blowing around the St Nicholas House building, which is comparatively tall in relation to the surrounding buildings.’

Hold that thought as you check out the picture showing a model of the proposal and absorb its height in relation to surrounding buildings.

According to the Report around the 469 year old Provost Skene’s House it will become significantly windier because wind will be channelled between it and the proposed hotel. Conversely it argued that with more tall buildings the southeast area, around the rapidly disappearing St Nicholas House, would become less windy – losing the wind tunnel impact of St Nix.

The Report envisaged potential problems for pedestrians moving to and from the north and west of the site and suggested this might be dealt with by ‘solid or porous side-screens or recessing the entrances into the building.’

Landscaping would provide other types of screening. I think they mean shrubberies and trees but possibly more screens to
‘create suitable conditions for sitting.’

To avoid being rocketed into space people occupying the roof terraces would have to be sheltered by high balustrades or yet more screens and planting – and possibly guy ropes.

All of the above were put forward as mitigating measures for everyday breezes off the North Sea which are a feature of the Castelgate and Broad Street. When wind levels increase, as they do quite often in this part, then it’ll be a case of haud ontae yer hats folks because you can expect something ‘in excess of Beaufort Force 7’ that’s gale force, around the proposed pedestrianised corner, near to Provost Skene’s which ‘would cause pedestrians to experience difficulty walking’ Nae reading the P & J wi a cappuccino then – small comforts there. But just to be on the safe side you won’t be allowed access when winds get up – ‘restricted access during the windiest times during the year.’ Occasionally winds reach Beaufort Force 8 in this area.

So as well as having their access restricted when the wind blows the good folk of Aberdeen will be subjected to frequent bad hair days when venturing through Muse’s world bearing in mind Aberdeen is windier than many other parts of the UK.

For your information wind levels are classified according to levels of ‘comfort’ for ‘business walking’, ‘carpark/roadway’, ‘leisure walking’, ‘standing/entrance’, ‘sitting.’

Business walking you’ll appreciate means not hanging around but keeping up a steady pace, possibly while carrying a briefcase or other business accoutrements but almost certainly not soliciting with a nonchalant swagger. It is possibly advisable to do the business walk when approaching or circumnavigating Provost Skene’s House to cope with serious wind problems in its vicinity although with the wind at your back you may not require oxygen. It should be added at this juncture that if the proposed hotel were not erected here then wind wouldn’t be an issue but it will be – unless of course Provost Skene’s is demolished which would resolve the wee issue of a wind tunnel between it and the hotel. Business is business after all.

A heids doon fecht wi a nor’easterly isn’t what most folk expected when the council promised a pedestrianised area for leisure and pleasure – brisk walking being the main activity it would seem.

Oh well, there’s always the screens. Sounds like a promising business venture for councillor Swick. They’ll be needing so many screens when this proposal gets the thumbs up it can only be called the Marischal Odeon.

There’s been a lot of wind expended over this project with lots more to come. The bottom line is there’s a strong desire for a very large open square fronting Marischal College. This is not what Aberdeen Council wants because while thousands aired their opinions its money that talks in the end.

With a choice between what the people of Aberdeen want and multinational businesses the council has chosen business all the way.

Councillor Willie Young was quoted in the Press & Journal 17 May as saying
‘Some people who have responded have misunderstood what the consultation was about.
‘The council entered into a binding legal agreement with Muse on a leaseback basis.
‘It was never for the council to determine that it would be an open space – it’s a commercial space.’

Actually it isn’t a commercial space it is common good land and belongs to the people of Aberdeen.

Jul 22, 2013

Aberdeen’s City of Culture Bid: A Lesson in Mediocrity

Aberdeen’s bid to become UK City of Culture 2017 fell at the first hurdle and has provided the  current Labour administration’s rent-a-quote councillor  Willie Young to jab an angry finger once again in the direction of the Scottish government.

22sept2012 053For those of you unfamiliar with Silly Willie to say he has a bee in his bunnet is an understatement. Each travail affecting the city of Aberdeen can be traced back to shortcomings of the Scottish government in Willie’s opinion. Sometimes he may be correct. On this occasion he is not.

If Willie Young paused for breath just one moment and read the City of Culture judges’ report on the Aberdeen bid he might actually learn a thing or two which could just help Aberdeen in any future bid, or at the very least help the city to tackle its cultural deficiencies.

The major failing referred to by the Bid judges was not the low base from which the city would begin to grow its cultural activities – and Willie Young’s point that Aberdeen fails again and again to get fair central government funding (this happened when Labour was in charge at Holyrood as well) which necessarily limits its cultural life – but the dearth of ideas submitted by those involved in Aberdeen City Council’s bid – criticised for their limited expertise; lack of coherent vision and having  no wow factor.

This is pretty damning and far from spluttering about the Holyrood government Willie Young and his colleagues who agree with him should look closer to home – to the people given the responsibility of developing a programme of ideas worthy of a city of culture and who have been shown to be, well mediocre.

Now this is not to say nothing of note goes on in Aberdeen. The city plays host to lots of great cultural activities and it has outstanding museums and an excellent art gallery which is innovative in its exhibition programme.  There is a thriving artist community and community arts. The theatre often has shows and plays from London’s west end although it has to be said that too often the same ones appear year after year. There is quite a bit of criticism of the city’s main theatre for its tendency to go back to old favourites.  

But back to the bid. Judges concluded that:

‘Despite the potentially compelling need and offer to Aberdeen’s bid, it does not deliver a compelling case in terms of vision or deliverability.’

That is less than complimentary to those with responsibility for drawing up the bid. And it is clear the issue had little to do with the current state of culture in Aberdeen but an unfortunate paucity of ideas for sustaining a year of innovative cultural events.  

Sad isn’t it – and an indictment of those chosen to lead the bid.

When I heard Aberdeen’s Bid Manager was to be Rita Stephen I did raise an eyebrow. She has been around at the council in various capacities for a long time but what, I wondered, does she know about culture?

Not much it transpired.

I groaned when I learned she was surprised at just how much was happening in the arts in the city. Well she shouldn’t have been. The impression given was that Ms Stephen was not familiar with Aberdeen’s cultural life or why would she be surprised? And if she wasn’t someone involved at some level in the cultural scene in the city then why was she put in charge of a bid of this kind?

The reason was surely that Rita Stephen has been at the centre of the council’s economic links with private business for a long time and she was until the bid job came up development manager at Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Forum (ACSEF) who were behind the disastrous plan to cement over the unique Union Terrace Gardens.

Of the bid she said:

‘The whole process for us is about making sure everyone in this city has access to art and that Aberdeen becomes a creative city.’

What does this mean? Currently everyone does have access to art, if they choose. There are no charges in the first-rate Art Gallery or museums and there are various community arts projects which take place, well in communities around the city.  So what did she mean?

If she envisaged, as it appears those who cobbled together this bid did, that Aberdeen 2017 would be built on community arts projects with the opera Madam Butterfly thrown in for the high brows then it’s no wonder the judges were quick to throw out their dull plan.

If you judge success by the numbers participating then what does that say about quality? How good, how exciting, how worthwhile are the events? What about people who choose not to participate? Will this be seen as a failure? Why should it be?  I’m fairly arty and middle class but take my sister-in-law – she would not thank you for levering her out of her seat at the bingo to sit through a performance of Madam Butterfly and neither would she be interested in any community arts scheme to paint shop shutters in her neighbourhood. It is not that my sister-in-law does not know what is going on, she’s not interested. And there’s no reason why she should be.

I am perplexed by Rita Stephen’s remark that :

‘We see the bid as a catalyst to bring Aberdeen’s culture back into the sunlight, because it has been hugely overshadowed by the city’s reputation as an oil and gas capital.’

This is nonsensical. The wealth that there is in the city should have been just the catalyst for the arts not a reason for their demise. The fact that oil companies have failed to put anything back into the city, other than jobs, is a well-rehearsed argument in these parts and it ill becomes Ms Stephen whose work has involved her directly with the very business people in the energy sector, mainly hugely wealthy, who have failed to invest in the cultural life of the city to any degree.

Rita Stephen cannot get away from her economic background. She emphasises the shortage of workers, sorry employees – no-one is a worker anymore – in Aberdeen which boasts very high employment.  To win the City of Culture bid would be the perfect means of attracting more people into the area and so increase the supply of potential employees.

She wants to anchor business in the city. Well here’s the bottom line Rita Stephen, business will stay in the city as long as the area has sufficiently profitable business opportunities – as it has now – and has had for over forty years sans culture. (I exaggerate) And a few more murals on shop shutters is never going to be the deciding factor.

‘The ethos of the bid is in economic necessity.’

Is the cultural emphasis being lost here to the interests of the industry that Rita Stephen knows so well?

Among other unhelpful remarks was one from Councillor Marie Bolton who said,

‘We have a huge wealth of culture, but it’s all under the surface. This will give us the opportunity to start people talking. They’re beginning to get involved in such cultural offerings as music, arts, drama and food. It’s seeing the greater population actually starting to get engaged.’

Yes well she is a politician and probably doesn’t know that arts is a collective term which takes in music and drama – though strangely not food. Maybe she was thinking about art. Maybe not.

I see what the bid judges mean by saying the vision of the bid group was limited. They wanted more opera, more dance, more music, more theatre but precious little detail emerged in their proposals. Still they had worn out the handbook of council workers, sorry employees, clichés for filling in bid forms.  Lots of:

aspirations, driving forward, transform our communities, cultural identity, community cohesion, renewed engagement with culture,  help close the gap between rich and poor

Oh it takes me back

beacon for culture,  a magnet, an anchor, regenerated communities, fundamentally change people’s perceptions, cultural confidence, bold vision, shared vision, culturally vibrant city.


STOP! Enough of this empty rhetoric.

The bid goes on to say that regrettably Aberdeen does not feel like the ‘vibrant city it should be’ which is strange because Aberdeen’s cultural vanguard has been ‘driving forward’ Aberdeen as a ‘vibrant city’ for a long long time. Clearly they’ve failed.

Anyone remember Vibrant Aberdeen2010-15? No?

key drivers

I said stop. Enough of the pen-pushers’ guide to positive terms guaranteed to enhance any funding application.  We’ve all been there. All done that.

 new opportunities, the city already getting behind the bid, the process is already creating a “buzz”

Just over 700 on its Facebook page last time I checked (only time I checked). So less of a buzz more of a zzzzzz then.

empower collaborative thinking and planning, key strategic partnerships, empower partnerships, embedded in the ACSEF Economic Action Plan, Aberdeen Inspired, the city’s Business Improvement District, there is an appetite for culture in Aberdeen

Aye. Read that how you like.

Aberdeen is unique in the UK

Oh yes so it is and so is every city – unique. Aberdeen is unique in the world, in the universe.

Our vision is bold, ambitious and unusual

Unusual?  So it is.

Aberdeen can be an illuminating beacon

Uhu. Maybe not quite yet. Anyway I think I’ve done that one already. Must have picked up His Majesty’s Theatre syndrome.

Aberdeen saw its bid as different as it had –

 potential to make a cultural impact that is well beyond the reach of any other regional UK city

Only words. And meaningless words at that.

There were attempts to pin down what their vision was:

local engagement – does this mean community centres ? and learning partnerships  and not least they were taking the Aberdeen public on a journey.

Think we were all being taken for a ride.

It’s easy to scoff. It is true that Aberdeen is largely ignored by the Scottish, never mind UK cultural media. BBC Scotland has an appalling reputation in this regard and the bid quotes the Arts Commissioning Editor of The Herald saying he had not visited the city in 25 years. That is a disgrace and born of central belt ignorance and laziness. There is a view that while other parts of Scotland, indeed the UK, will shout and make a lot of noise about very little Aberdeen and northeasters in general are far more self-deferential and not given to bumming themselves up.

There is more than a hint of this in the Aberdeen bid.

  • Storytelling: traditional and singing – Aberdeen’s story of fishing, granite and oil and the Doric and the city’s international residents.
  • Working with school kids.
  • Connecting to the rest of the world. Aberdeen – Japan link through Blake Glover  hence  performances of Madam Butterfly, Japanese movies, a symposium on Japans influence on western culture, student exchanges.
  • World acclaimed theatre directors involved in new productions.

Are you persuaded?

And the city’s cultural and artistic strength?

  • The city
  • Our education sector
  • Festivals and events
  • Literature
  • Tradition and heritage
  • Visual arts and crafts
  • Performance
  • Music
  • Film, media and new technology


For anyone involved in culture in Aberdeen over the last two decades most of the above is familiar territory. It may be that the same personnel are involved today as they were then and so fresh ideas are thin on the ground. What they offer is a well-trodden path albeit dressed up in inspirational lingo – although not that different come to think of it.

Vision? Vibrant? There’s nothing to show that it is.

Click on culture on Aberdeen City Council’s website and it mentions ‘high quality arts and cultural activity’

22sept2012 014

When you scroll down to SEVENTEEN it refers to the need for ‘a central space for artists and arts organisations’, ‘an information point for residents and visitors’, ‘workshop space for artists and arts organsiations’ – is this different from the ‘central space’? and ‘a flexible meeting and networking space for the arts sector’

All necessary I’m sure but not very ambitious.

The bid’s community arts mentality was never going to hack it for the City of Culture 2017 and unless Willie Young, Rita Stephen et al actually pause to consider and address their shortcomings then Aberdeen’s cultural life will bob along as it has been doing but won’t be wowing the world with its creative originality any time soon.