It was with some incredulity that I read the following headline in the Press & Journal of 19th March 2011 : “City Gardens bosses to apply for lottery cash”. Now to clear up any confusion right at the start – The City Gardens Project is, of course, the name under which the reviled City Square Project is currently masquerading but as Mr. Shakespeare himself is alleged to have said “a turd by any other name stinketh just as fouly“.
So, the City Square Project is apparently after Lottery money to help fund the wholesale destruction of Aberdeen’s Victorian Union Terrace Gardens. The City Square placemen keep telling us it’s a transformational project – it’s transformational all right as it will effectively TRANSFORM A PUBLIC PARK INTO A PRIVATE PLAZA.
Now, in the aforementioned
newspaper P&J article ACSEF Chairman Tom Smith is quoted as saying :
“It has always been the intention to approach the Heritage Lottery Fund for funding for the project at the appropriate stage.”
Some have always argued that there are massive – and deepening – holes in the funding structure for the City Square Project. Talk of going cap in hand to the Lottery at this early stage is alarming and may raise new questions over just how shaky the financial platform for the project really is?
Aside from the questions about the financial viability of the project that this new revelation raises – let alone that it comes hot on the heels of the last financial scandal about the project – there is another more fundamental question to consider here. It is a question of importance well beyond Aberdeen: Should Heritage Lottery Fund money be used to destroy heritage?
In my opinion, what is effectively a property development that seeks to take a public park (which also happens to provide a unique window into the evolution of Aberdeen as a city), place it in private ownership and then proceed to erase a valuable part of the city’s heritage by submerging this green valley under a concrete sea* should not be getting any cash handouts from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Section 8 of the ACSEF Technical Appraisal for Union Terrace Gardens ( Many interesting documents available here, but be warned Section 8 is a massive pdf file ) contains a chapter titled Planning and Historic Scotland which includes a copy of a letter from Dr. Anne MacSween of Historic Scotland to Dr. Margaret Bochel of Aberdeen City Council, dated 11th May 2009. Dr. MacSween states :
“The gardens and their surroundings are key elements of this part of central Aberdeen. As well as providing a green space, the gardens are important in marking the extent of the medieval town. In addition, the bridges, buildings and balustraded terraces which edge the gardens are significant in the development of this part of the city. The topography here is also very important in terms of the legibility of the city and its development”
What Dr. MacSween describes sounds a lot like important heritage to me. Why should Heritage Lottery Funding be used to destroy this real heritage?
The Heritage Lottery Fund are currently running a “consultation on our strategic framework for 2013 – 2019” on how they will spend the money WE put there when WE buy our lottery tickets and until 26th April 2011 you can make your comments online here. If you dont think things like this scheme should get funds, please let them know. You could also consider sending an e-mail directly to Colin McLean, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland – e-mail : ColinM@hlf.org.uk – quoted in the same P&J article as saying :
“Aberdeen’s heritage gives the city and its communities their unique identity. It is important that we look after this or things which cannot be replaced will start to disappear.
This consultation is a great opportunity for us to learn how our funding can help Aberdeen. People are at the heart of what we do so I urge anyone who has an interest in preserving and sharing our past to have their say.”
Now while the massively funded ACSEF / CitySquare PR machine tries to bedazzle you with stock images, belittle your views and wear you down into resigned inaction, I would urge you all never to lose heart. The days of the NE citizenry doffing their caps to developers and docilely bending over for big business are drawing to a close. Don’t let them turn a public park into a private plaza, and certainly don’t let them use lottery money to fund the scheme. You may have read this and still be thinking “I can’t do anything” but remember, as the National Lottery likes to remind us: IT COULD BE YOU! It could be your e-mail to HLF or your response to the HLF consultation or your letter that ensures that when the suited City Square scroungers step out of their shiny limousines and present their begging bowl to the HLF they are sent packing. Just as they were sent packing by the public when they tried to foist their plans to destroy the green heart of the granite city last year!
* bit of an homage to Aberdeen rising stars Katerwaul who released a UTG-inspired single “Valley Under A Concrete Sea” last year. The beautiful packaging of the limited edition physical single (long since sold out, I’m afraid) includes a lyric sheet combined with a map of central Aberdeen on which the City Council HQ is shaded in red, a glance at the key shows that this signifies “Democracy died here April 2010”.