With less than five days to go on the public consultation into The City Square Project, the results of the process are beginning to roll in, ACSEF appear to be looking for a getout clause from their "robust and comprehensive" exercise.
On Monday the Evening Excess published the results of an independent opinion poll they themselves had commissioned Ideas in Partnership, yet another PR company, to carry out relating to the City Square. The article highlighted that "the survey of 500 people found just 38 had made the effort to provide feedback on the £140 million scheme put forward for Aberdeen’s Denburn Valley" and that the straw poll of the 500 asked brought results in as "266 (53%) against and 230 (46%) in favour of the proposals to raise the area to street level. Four people (1%) did not have an opinion on the proposal." While there is a tight margin between for and against votes, the apparent low turn out appears to have instilled a fear in Sir Ian Wood: "Unless the majority express their views formally through the public consultation in the remaining few days, there is a real risk this project will not go ahead" going on to say "We have always recognised that the strong negative opinion will make up a large part of such a low participation."
As usual the statements made by ACSEF and those by Weber Shandwick regarding the same subject are not quite in alignment. On the City Square Project site a press release from the 23rd February claims that "official participation is higher than consultation on the Forth Crossing, GARL and Edinburgh Trams." and that "Participation in the City Square Consultation looks set to be one of the highest in Scotland," describing participation as "unprecedented" and a "huge response." As expected the responses to date from Weber Shandwick have been by the book in comparison to the downright unprofessional conduct from The Big Partnership and ACSEF as Weber Shandwick have been tasked with carrying out the consultation while ACSEF have a vested interest in making sure the scheme goes ahead.
The brief for the process outlines how Scottish Enterprise would be informed of progress daily by the consultant with further regular engagement between the consultant to "liaise with a small Working Group representing the larger Client Stakeholder Group." The working group includes Dave Blackwood from ACSEF, Jennifer Craw representing Sir Ian Wood, Fraser Innes representing Aberdeen City Council, and Derick Murray from NESTRANS. This means that throughout the duration of the consultation these stakeholders are being informed of how the results are going which has presumably dictated the PR output from ACSEF over the last two months. While stating initially that they "do not want to pre-empt the consultation", it seems now that the results are coming in that they are looking to distance themselves from it.
Throughout the process, Sir Ian has been insistant that the Civic Square is "essential to safeguard the future prosperity of the city" and that "Aberdeen faced a bleak future and serious decline" attempting to forcast certain doom if the Square is not accepted by the Aberdeen population, obviously without explainging how the creation of a five-acre expanse of non-commercial, non-retail civic space is so "essential." This week the north-east committee of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) spoke out in favour of the City Square Project, however were quick to stress that "should the Union Terrace Gardens/Denburn Valley project not be supported, SCDI believes that the north-east economy can still be successful in the long-term” dispelling once and for all the scaremongering tactics touted by Sir Ian and ACSEF as attempts to use fear to encourage the North-East public to support Wood's personal vision for a five acre space which belongs to the public of Aberdeen.
Also emerging in support of the plans this week was Stewart Spence, using more of the negative rhetoric used by supporters of the Square damning the city centre. Mr Spence declared that "he warns guests to wear blindfolds if they visit the city centre." Hardly the most inspiring way to market his exclusive hotel as belonging to a city which isn't worth looking at, however of course he can see a solution, claiming that "only way to restore civic pride was to back Sir Ian Wood’s proposal for a new civic square." Surprising how that suddenly destroying Union Terrace Gardens and decking over the Denburn Valley has suddenly become the only way to turn around Aberdeen's unfortunate decline, especially as it was never considered as such until Sir Ian decided it was worth £50 million of his personal fortune. Unsurprisingly Stewart Spence sits on the ACSEF board, making him the fifth of the ten business representatives on the board to speak out in favour of the project that they themselves are promoting.
Also this week (and it's only Tuesday at time of writing) Tom Smith, ACSEF chair, has jumped on an unsubstantiated claim by Alex Salmond at the ACSEF Youth Summit that "the funding [for Peacock] would be available whether the arts centre was in the gardens or as part of the new square." As usual, a press release was put out without ACSEF checking the facts with Peacock themselves, or even funding body Scottish Arts Council who have stated the funding would have to be earmarked by the end of the month. Smith claimed that "We can have it all," again ignoring the huge proportion of non-Peacock supporters who wish to retain Union Terrace Gardens. Unable to deny that the Gardens will be excavated to make way for the concrete and steel structure ACSEF choose to ignore the concerns of the thousands of citizens who simply do not want to see the Gardens removed, or even want to see the great expense involved with removing those Gardens to create a superficial street-level ornamental garden.
As friday draws ever closer only time and press release will tell how many more transparent tactics ACSEF will employ in order to put their own ignorant and environmentally unsound stamp on the face of a City which does not belong to them. Aberdeen City Centre belongs to the people of Aberdeen, and to anyone who cares about the city and the shape and future of the City Centre should be decided by them, and not a single man with a narrow, twenty-year old vision.
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