The results of the £309, 676 Public Consultation into Sir Ian Wood's City Square Project have been published. "The majority of people who took part in a consultation on plans to create a civic square in the heart of Aberdeen opposed the plan" with the overall totals for the response to Question Three "Do you Support the City Square Project" coming in with 44%(5242) in favour and 55%(6512) against the City Square Proposal (Also, inexplicably 2% against, making the Consultation inexplicably widespread in it's uptake of 101%) which means that there is not the majority support Sir Ian and his cronies at ACSEF desired to push through the project.
The quantative results, which contributed to what king of contradiction, Tom Smith, described as the "sheer weight of feedback meant it would be unable to announce the outcome until April 13",(two weeks after the initial March deadline for Peacock Visual Art's SAC funding for the Northern Light Contemporary Arts Centre) spelled out how most respondents (17%) to the questionaire desired Formal Gardens while "The second and third most important facilities were a contemporary arts centre and a cultural centre for the performing and visual arts."
Already ACSEF's policy is to skew the results and not take the majority of opposition to heart, as Smith claimed "This was never intended to be a referendum type consultation." in response to demands by North East MP Lewis MacDonald for results being released before the April 13th date, saying “Given the importance attached by Sir Ian Wood to support for his proposals, the key question would appear to be whether or not these proposals commanded clear support from the majority of respondents." Now, ACSEF are, predictably using the quantative data which apparently points to "the public have said they want change. They believe the gardens are underused and inaccessible. Significant new green space and a cultural centre must be part of this change that would give us a more attractive and safer city centre and kick-start the wider regeneration of the city centre."
However, also unsurprisingly, Tom's blinkers don't notice the proposal the City Square Project could almost have been designed to scupper, the proposed Contemporary Arts Centre. Given that the results themselves show that 55% of people are against the proposals, but there is a desire for some sort of change, with favour leaning towards Gardens, a Contemporary Arts Centre and a Cultural Space, then Brisac Gonzalez's designs are the obvious choice. Everything that the people want to do with the Union Terrace Gardens can be achieved through the Peacock plan and the retention of the existing Gardens, for a tenth of the cost of the City Square, which the majority of respondents did not want.
However, even before the results were announced, Tom Smith giving the voice to ACSEF's finger which appears to have been placed on a slab of concrete rather than anywhere near the pulse was already denouncing the results of the consultation saying “It should not fail because we do not have the necessary vision and ambition.” Although ACSEF had said "we do not want to pre-empt the consultation, we want to make it clear to people that our plans are not about replacing gardens with a concrete square but about using the natural sloping topography of the location to create a civic space with gardens which everyone can enjoy" their line now the consultation results are in, and not in their favour is remarkably similar "This project is about so much more than the gardens, it is about a radical transformation of our city that will help deliver the jobs and prosperity we need for the future success of the region" despite being unable to demonstrate exactly how the Square will deliver "jobs and prosperity" or how, as Sir Ian described, it would be "essential to safeguard the future prosperity of the city."
In fact, adding to the £100 million shortfall in the City Square Scheme, discussions such as Tax Increment Financing and the establishment of a Business Improval District in the city centre requiring a business rate hike which "would be ring-fenced and used to fund ACSEF priorities", would actually make the area around the square less desirable. Businesses find it hard to move into Union Street because of the high rates, then raising them will hardly do what ACSEF believes the Square will do and "kick-start the wider regeneration of the city centre."
After the conclusion of the process on March 5th, a statement on The City Square Project website, PR consultants, Weber Shandwick, announced that "The process will begin with each single response being logged, checked and duplicates removed. The figures will then be analysed along with a vast amount of qualitative data, which will be studied for common trends. ACSEF will then announce the result of the consultation on Tuesday 13 April." Tom Smith, of ACSEF, defending this date as the "sheer weight of feedback meant it would be unable to announce the outcome until April 13" going on to describe how "the consultation report on Edinburgh trams took 12 weeks to compile based on feedback from 3,500 people. There has been three times that amount of input from the public for the city square project."
Continuing Tom Smith's trend of not checking previous comments made this unsurprisingly contradict ACSEF's statements the week before blasting the consultation process saying "public participation was so low that there was a danger that Sir Ian would withdraw the £50million he has pledged" and Tom Smith's own fears that "the damage to our reputation should we reject it would be significant.” However, the City Square project has been the subject of a high-level of criticism, in a BBC Documentary by Jonathan Meades, been slammed by Architecture and Design Scotland, ridiculed in Private Eye, and the situation inspiring laughter in a crowd listening to Edgar Gonzalez give a presentation on the Northern Light Centre, which proves the idea of destroying a garden and leveling off one of Aberdeen's unique selling points has already damaged the reputation of the city, and will be likely to do more so should public opinion be ignored and the project proceed.
While the consultation process was originally scheduled to begin in July, directly after the publication of Haliday Fraser Munro's technical fable, however an alleged dispute and then the administration of original consultants Glasgow's Lighthouse meant the process was delayed. From then it took almost six months for ACSEF to announce a date for consultation which was then due to begin in November and to be carried out by PR consultations Weber Shandwick, supposedly to be completed in time for the expiry of the original extension of Peacock's £4.3 million grant from the Scottish Arts Council.
However when November came along, ACSEF reacted to a three month extension from the Scottish Arts Council to investigate compromised approaches to the development of the Denburn Valley and to allow time for consultation results to be collated by announcing "it was postponing its consultation on the square – due to have started earlier this month – until the new year." ACSEF's criteria for the "compromise" was still to strongly adhere to Sir Ian's personal perameters for the project, which would in no way allow for the original Gardens to be retained. Despite knowing full well that the Scottish Art's Council's uncertain future after April 2010, ACSEF chose to ignore the funding deadline of late March and the understanding that results would be published in time for that deadline, and decided that results would not be released until two weeks later.
Fortunately the SAC, in reaction to ACSEF's games and with their own future still unknown, extended the deadline for another two months. Ian Munro co-director of SAC stated "'“The outcome of the recently concluded public consultation, led by Acsef, will have a significant influence on the continued development of the existing Peacock scheme. The initial timetable given by Acsef to announce the outcome of its consultation on City Square was scheduled for March. However, this has now been delayed until April 13. As a consequence, the Scottish Arts Council will now review its position in June 2010 at the next scheduled meeting of our lottery committee.”
During a Youth Consultation session last June Sir Ian was adamant that we live in a democracy and and therefor only had a single vote, and has sade throughout the process that
“However, unless Aberdeen City Council at that meeting decide that the project should proceed with their backing, and that they will step in and take a key leadership role along with Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future (Acsef), my financial offer will be withdrawn.”
However, Liberal Democrat Council Leader John Stewart claimed that he was "concerned about ... people taking this decision for the right reasons – and that is for the long-term future of Aberdeen.” with SNP depute leader Kevin Stewart saying “We can no longer deal with the city centre in terms of a piecemeal solution." While giving nothing away, the council seem to be making noises echoing the thoughts of ACSEF and Sir Ian, in particular Tom Smith's emphasis that "This money is not available for other projects or piece-meal developments." It seems the pressure ACSEF, as Aberdeen Council's Economic think-tank are going to continue pushing the city square as the only way Aberdeen could ever achieve external investment while continuing to forecast doom if it is not taken on board: "If we let this window close on us, the clear message will be that we do not have the ambition or the foresight to prevent a downward spiral that will see a serious decline in our economy, the gradual loss of businesses and consequently jobs and quality of life."
Without displaying in demonstrable proof of why the Denburn Valley remaining generally as-is is a ticking time bomb to the destruction, and against statments made by the Scottish Council for Development and Innovation who stated 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.”
Amid the "bullying", feet stamping, hypocrisy it cannot be denied that the results of the consultation are a victory for those seeking to Save Union Terrace Gardens, an eleven percent majority of those who filled out the formal questionaire opposed the city square. While both the I Heart UTG Petition and "Support the City Square" petition were included in the report, their numbers were not included in the statistics of the results. There was even a disclaimer after the mention of the I Heart UTG Petition which pointed out "It should be noted that this petition was running for six months prior to the start of the public consultation." Although, just to be clear, while the petition did indeed start six months before the consultation, this graph put together by a supporter shows a comparison of the day-to-day uptake of both petitions, with there being a very obvious trend throughout the consultation period.
Going forward, the people of Aberdeen must continue to appeal to their councillors, those we have elected to represent us to do the right thing. An individual with Money must not be more important than the majority of citizens in the city who are rightly concerned about cost, locatation, timescale and environment. Please keep contacting your councillor, you can find out who they are at www.writetothem.com, and urge them (politely) to do what the people have wanted and ensure democracy is played out in Aberdeen. Also, the I Heart UTG petition is still active and we will be encouraging people to continue to sign it and pass it on until the full council meeting on May 19th.
The people of Aberdeen have not voted for the City Square, and the things they expressed they have wanted is already planned, funded and will cost a tenth of the approximate price for the City Square while saving the face of Aberdeen both internally and externally. Please let your councillors know this.