The City Square Project website, has shed its placeholder and contains all manner of "information" surrounding their proposals including a consultation survey. This survey asks three questions, the first asks you to rank "the most important features to you" from nine options, before going on to ask "what would you like to see in the City Square Project?" again with a ranking system to name your top five out of nine, before asking a simple yes/no question to "do you support the City Square Project?" I personally replied to the second question with "I do not support the City Square Project, therefore I do not want to see anything in it" and answered the third question with the expected "NO." However if you select that you do not support the square, yet want to see "water features", a "conference centre", "specialist retail", "outdoor ice rink" and a "contemporary arts centre" in it, then how will this effect the result. How exactly will these results be collated and reported anyway? Responses to these three questions are wide open to interpretation, and if there's anything PR companies to best that's spin. After all it was Weber Shandwick's CEO Colin Bryne who was Tony Blair's PR adviser at the 1997 and 2001 elections.
This “robust and comprehensive” consultation, in fact "the scheme’s backers have promised will be the “most comprehensive” consultation yet seen in Aberdeen", is so comprehensive that late last year it was reported that the existing proposals with majority funding and full planning for the Northern Light Contemporary Arts Centre would not be included as part of the consultation. ACSEF's Tom Smith claims, paridoxically, that "It would be completely inappropriate to consult on a scheme which already has planning permission", which means that this "comprehensive" consultation into the future of the Denburn Valley is leaving out the only fully realized project for the area, one that Mr Smith claims "If the public don't wish to support our proposal, the option is to go with Peacock’s design." As ACSEF have no funds to speak of, the undisclosed cost of the Public Consultation (With budget enough to employ a freephone line, a text service, employing the World's leading PR agency, full page newspaper adverts, travelling exhibitions, leafleting of all homes in the City, catering at the focus groups and goodness knows what else) is again being paid for by the taxpayer, yet excludes another project which has secured £9.5 Million pounds worth public money and spent another £1 million in their own preparatory work. Prime example on the complete disregard for public funds being shown by ACSEF through the entire process, which will presumably continue along the long and costly road should the result of the consultation come back in their favour.
The track history of the outcome of ACSEF commissioned (and publicly funded) "investigations" does not suggest a fair unbiased outcome. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the Haliday Fraser Munro technical appraisal into the Denburn Valley project not only failed to look into a compromise option of achieving Sir Ian's "vision" but retaining the Gardens and the existing Peacock proposals but dismisses the third option, of the Brisac Gonzalez Art Centre and landscaping of the existing Gardens "will not create any significant economic and social impacts"(Section 8.8), conflicting with the independent financial assessment and two years of groundwork which resulted in Peacock securing full planning permission, public funding from three different sources and a place as one of the ACSEF's strategic priorities for the region. The appraisal also manages to bring the cost within Sir Ian's original estimate, even though the report itself outlines 25 notable exclusions, including the compulsary purchase of “Site acquisition fees/costs. Air rights, rights to light (or any third party compensation settlements), over sailing licences, sale or letting fees/costs”, which the report states could amount to £10 Million, and the question of out of hours working, Network rail has stipulated that they will only allow access “9 hours at weekends and 5 hours during the week." Add to this that Aberdeen City Council has confirmed that the £140 Million estimate is only for the structure itself, any features which "the people of Aberdeen want", Landmark Sculpture, Conference Centre, Landscaped Gardens, Water Features etc would cost extra on top. The actual full costs of the square would likely end up double the estimate, assuming that the construction does not run into any disputes or encounter any other problems during the project, and adding on the expense required with the actual design, planning applications, another public consultation etc which must happen before the project can even think about raising the £90 Million plus required for destroying the Gardens and building the structure.
In the lead up to Monday's launch of the public Consultation ACSEF's PR drip fed news of high profile supporters such as ex-Aberdeen Manager Willy Miller and Hotel Magnate Robert Cook as well as a disability group voicing their concerns about access to the Gardens, an issue which is a part of the Peacock project with their introduction of a lift that can grant access from Union Terrace directly down to the bottom of the Gardens. Perhaps one of the most outrageous move was a full page advert published in Friday's Press and Journal, which has already angered funders at the Scottish Arts Council, who have invested £4.5 Million pounds in Aberdeen, for claims that the Peacock-led Contemporary Arts Centre will be "exclusive", compared to the City Square which will be "inlcusive."