Monday, 31 October 2011

Last night I dreamt I went to Stockethill again.


Last night I dreamt I went to Stockethill again. It seemed to me I stood by the granite steps leading to the path, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The path wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done. But as I advanced, I was aware that a change had come upon it. The development spectacle had come into its pomp by some sudden empowerment and by brutal turn and JCB track had destroyed the gentle footpath with concreted ballast fenceposts for commercial hoardings, ripping to a shred the poor thread that had late been public right of way and its little steps and rustic benches. And finally, there was elm and beech; mature, tall and stately; secretive and silent. Surely even commerce could not mar the perfect beauty of those twenty-five metre trunks? The development spectacle can play odd tricks upon the fancy, and suddenly, looking at the aspirational promotional hoarding depicting mocked-up aspirational couples laughing in perfection outside their perfect new aspirational houses, it seemed to me that all might be as it had been, not one month before. And then a cloud came upon the sun and hovered an instant like a dark hand before a face. The illusion went with it. I looked upon the desolate tree-stumps, with no whisper of the past about their forever-gone canopies. We can never go back to Stockethill again.

Friday, 28 October 2011

March Stones 56 & 57 ABD. K is for Kittybrewster.

In a wide-ranging exploration of just what psychogeography means in Britain today, Tina Richardson - Psychogeographer of Leeds - wrote in her blog-post "The Psychogeographical Franchise" about a strain of 'radical nostalgia' (per Bonnet - pdf) within British psychogeography. This approach whereby "loss and redemption are explored and negotiated" is said to be typified by author Iain Sinclair.

And yes, sometimes when we read the online psychogeographical output of others, we find ourselves reading what in fact turns out to be but a whimsical commentary referencing lost buildings or now-obscured geographical features. A sort of mildly-indignant melancholic short-range travelogue - very often beautifully-written - with a loose historical context. Histobunk. For our part, we psychogeographers of OtherAberdeen are aware that nostalgia has the potential to be a pitfall and have guarded a handful of times against the ease of falling into its attractive trap. But that's not to say we don't do it too - sometimes it simply can't be avoided. Often we find in Aberdeen so egregious are the harms done to once thriving neighbourhoods by planning blight and spectacularly ill-conceived development decisions that the"radical nostalgic" theory and praxis is the best searchlight to turn upon the situation.

And so, while tracing the ancient boundaries of Aberdeen - the "March Stones" we came upon the once-thriving former suburb of Kittybrewster. Here, two of our semi-regular strands ("March Stones" and "The A to Z of Aberdeen") coincide. "K for Kittybrewster": location of march stones 56 and 57 ABD.

Celtic Place-Names in Aberdeenshire
John Milne, 1912
KlTTYBREWSTER, KlTTYBROUSTER WELL, KlTTYTHIRST WELL. In these names the first part represents Cuitan Briste, broken fold. Cuitan, dim. of cuit, fold; briste, broken. Usually, folds for cattle had water near them. Kittybrewster was in the den now called Berryden, which means watery den. Kittybrouster was on the boundary between St Nicholas and Spital parishes, on the west side of Monthooly. It is mentioned in a charter defining the bounds of the Spital lands, in the possession of the Town Council. Kittythirst is in Keig, and in this name, from association with a well, briste had become thirst. Broken- fold in Forglen is a translation of Cuitan Briste. These folds had been made by planting trunks of trees upright in the ground. When these decayed the folds had become ruinous.

Speaking to my old mum and dad, they tell of a mid-20th century heyday for Kittybrewster:

The Great Northern Road. Town meets county. A railway junction and locomotive engineering works with 20-track turntable and engine shed. A split-the-wind fork in the road, a luxury hotel, a livestock market. A huge - huge! - rail-head freight terminal at the former ancient borough boundary which follows the watercourse route of the Powis Burn. Dozens upon dozens upon dozens of cattle-trucks in the acres upon acres of marshalling yards - as far as the eye can see. Tweed-clad flat-bunneted livestock owners and wranglers smoking pipes and cheroots and 'ticklers'. Impenetrable dialects. The cattle-pens all the way to Berryden. The smell! The auctioneer's cant, his clipboard, his gavel, his white coat.  Agricultural machinery vendors and motor-sales garages. Open outcry roups of second-hand harvesters and motorcars on the cinder football pitches in the suburb's Central Park. Vertically integrated agricultural business, horizontally diverse service enterprises. Cafes, pubs, restaurants. Barbers, florists, grocers. Bakers, stationers, newsagents. A diverse confluence of transport, commerce and industry at the edgeland. Integrated transport - road, tram, rail freight, passenger rail - diversified businesses. A coming together at the crossroads, money and goods changing hands, people changing trains. Aberdeen's largest ever granite built cinema, velour and polished-brass luxury next door to the deco achievement of the Northern Hotel.
A grand day, a good price - silver service, malt and cotton sheets at the best hotel in town, then first class carriage home in the morning. Prices not so good? A dormitory bunk at the Temperance Hotel and third class home to Formartine. Cattle driven from market the short downhill drove to the captured bolts and razor-sharp long knives of the slaughter men at George Street with their "Butcher's Arms".

Pre WW2 - Astoria Cinema, Central Park and Livestock Mart
with tenements behind on Great Northern Road.

There's not much to see at Kittybrewster today, other than derelict and vacant industrial and retail premises and, amid the devastation, the great-survivor that is the grade-A listed Northern Hotel. But, of course, the past is the past, and Kittybrewster is neither transport hub nor commercial nexus today. No-one could credibly suggest that the area (which is no longer suburban, rather it is very much inner-city) would be a suitable area for cattle-trading and meat-packing, nor indeed for a rail-freight terminal. No, indeed, in Aberdeen, no-one should be surprised to learn that the sites formerly occupied by rail marshalling yards, by cattle-pens and by agricultural machinery showrooms are to be swept away in favour of a radial urban expressway which is designed to deliver high volumes of high-speed motor traffic into the town centre in ever larger numbers. This radial expressway scheme is known to our urban planners as the "Berryden Corridor Improvement" [sic]. When it is opened, the destruction of Kittybrewster will be complete, and far from being the literally crucial destination that it once was, Kittybrewster will be separated even from itself by the new motor-highway.

March Stone 56 ABD.
Just to the north of the site formerly occupied by the Astoria Cinema

So the formerly economically vital business, trade and transport and community hub that was centred in the community of Kittybrewster was a diverse nexus pinning Aberdeenshire to the edge of our town like a brooch but is today a disquietingly quiet place. The already devastated area appears to be holding its breath and steeling itself for the greater devastation to come, planning blight. Kittybrewster - the "broken cattle-fold". Nominative Determinism? 

March Stone 57 ABD. Close to the railway bridge at the
southern end of Great Northern Road. By the bins.

Having walked through and thought about Kittybrewster, we return now to the analysis of nostalgia itself, and its use in and affect upon psychogeographical theory and praxis. For during our dérive through Kittybrewster an alternative analysis concerning the real effect of nostalgia upon urban liveability came to mind. Rather than sit here in our atelier, typing up this report, luxuriating in the indignant bemoaning of Kittybrewster's current situation: "oooh, it's not like the old days" and willingly revelling in wistful nostalgia, we can see that Kittybrewster is, in fact the real victim of a very different kind of nostalgia. In those urban-expressway plans which are on the cusp of being implemented we discern the realisation of a strain of nostalgia which, rather than being the harmless plaything of us dilettante psychogeographers, is actually a genuinely harmful influence on the actual situation of the forthcoming urban environment. For in their grandiloquent road transport plans we can detect in our local urban planners a longing for the kind of retro-future, the sort of spectacular 'motopia', which was first dreamt up in the centre of the car-crazy 20th century. That now, as we approach the main run of the 21st century, the planners of Aberdeen begin to implement these embarrassingly old-fashioned motorcentric plans is nothing other than the lazy indulging of a nostalgia for a stillborn future which never arrived, and which we today know very well will make for urban places and spaces which are unpleasant in the extreme.

Development corridor
Fill it with motors! 

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

An Open Goal, An Uncontested Scrum

If you're familiar with local planning issues in Aberdeen, skim this first couple of paragraphs. If you're not, then you might be surprised to learn that in Aberdeen we have a sunken town-centre park called Union Terrace Gardens (very much like a pocket-sized version of Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens) which is under threat of redevelopment for the sake of business profits. The vision of one man (oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood), this proposed redevelopment has been branded as the "City Gardens Project" and is being 'driven' forward by local business development quango ACSEF (Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future) along with some other local tycoons. Visit the website if you want.

Other than a scrubby swatch in the centre of a large roundabout on the Inner City Ring-Road, Union Terrace Gardens is the only open green space in the centre of our town. We've covered some aspects of this proposed redevelopment before, and we've even proposed our alternative 'vision' for what could be done to improve and safeguard (rather than destroy or jeopardise) this open green space in the town centre. Against stiff opposition, the business-orientated boosters of this commercial annexation of public space have pushed forward, ever onward - and last week opened an exhibition of the competing submissions to the international design competition which they had taken it upon themselves to organise with public funds. Members of the public are invited to view the proposals for the destruction of the gardens and are asked to vote for which of the six on offer they prefer. No minimum intervention option to restore the park to its originally-intended amenity is offered. Radical change is presented as a fait accompli.

Concept #1.
For visual interest, we've sprinkled this post with images from the submissions to the design competition, which we got from STV local. You can download big PDFs of the full submissions and read all the usual starchitect boilerplate for yourself from design competition gatekeeper Malcolm Reading Consultants' website here.

Interviewed on local TV channel STV, ACSEF-styled "heritage expert" Malcolm Reading himself, interviewed at the VIP-only opening of the exhibition which showcases the six competing designs, said:
It's a testament to Aberdeen haha really, in a sense of er it is a world city and these are world class design teams who're interested in building in this city. I, eh I think its a - its a - really it is, it is, a testament to an interest in design quality about what cities are going to be like in the twenty-first century [sic]
Concept #2
OK. Notwithstanding what's written specifically below, we're not going to examine the various proposals. To do so would be redundant, for friend of OtherAberdeen Fraser Denholm has already examined the six proposals and has written a blistering critique in his trademark style, which we endorse. Go and read it here.

Right, did you read it? Good. So we continue...

With urban generation from the turn of the twentieth century picking up, economists forecast that globalization and the powers of multi-national corporations would shift the balance of power away from nation states towards individual cities, which would then compete with neighbouring cities and cities elsewhere for the most lucrative modern industries, and which increasingly in major Western Europe and US cities did not include manufacturing. Thus cities set about 'reinventing themselves', giving precedence to the value given by culture. Municipalities and non-profit organizations hope the use of a Starchitect will drive traffic and tourist income to their new facilities. With the popular and critical success of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, by Frank Gehry, in which a rundown area of a city in economic decline brought in huge financial growth and prestige, the media started to talk about the so-called "Bilbao factor"; a star architect designing a blue-chip, prestige building was thought to make all the difference in producing a landmark for the city.
Concept #3
The trend [named] “the Bilbao Effect” after the huge success of Frank Gehry’s 1997 Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain—is just about over. 
The phenomenon of using iconic architecture to promote a city, an institution, or a real-estate development was a product of the economic boom that began in the late 1990s and ended with the recession in 2008. As Western economies begin to recover, extravagant, eye-popping architecture is giving way to a subtler new aesthetic. In the U.S. and Europe, architectural values are shifting from can-you-top-this designs toward more efficient, functional building. Innovation and experimentation are increasingly directed at sustainability and new technology. For a younger generation of architects in particular, “the spectacle building is kind of a dinosaur,” says Rosalie Genevro, director of the Architectural League in New York.

Two years ago, the Boston Globe article 'Marking the End of the Bilbao Decade' said: "…times dictate a shift away from vanity projects" and asked: "have we reached the climax and termination of a whole era in architecture?…" And now, Maria Misra writing in last month's Prospect magazine says: "We can expect the monstrous regiment of 'starchitects' who have strewn crass monuments to their [and their clients'] own narcissism across our cities to embrace a more sober, elegant and functional style…"

Concept #4
Alas, here in Aberdeen we must suffer the detritus left after the retreat of the waves at the high-water mark. In our tycoons we have a reservoir of not only the single minded monomania but also the narcissism necessary to power the last of the starchitects forward on one final vanity project, one last triumph of the will. And just as fast-fashion garments are remaindered unsold stepwise through the logistical chain all the way north through the towns and cities of the UK until at last they wash up last-gasp last-chance-to-sell in the shops of Aberdeen (next stop Africa!), so we see the last gasp of this will to "wow factor architecture" expire in our town centre.


Whatever your feelings about the quality (or otherwise) of the conceptual proposals for the destruction of Union Terrace Gardens, it's important to realise that it's the choice of site that's the problem. We must be careful not to confuse context with content. Imagine, for instance, that these proposals instead were for a building/gardens project to be sited at:
  • Mounthooly Roundabout / West Nth st. (Brownfield/transport land-use at present) 
  • Timmer Market/Hannover St car park (Brownfield/transport)
  • Denburn Health Ctr (Brownfield)
  • Holburn Valley North Slope at Justice Mill Lane (Recently redeveloped brownfield - now commercial)
  • Site of Union Square (Recently redeveloped brownfield - now retail)
We imagine that, on any of these other sites, the starchitect proposals would have been "grasped with open arms" [sic, per ACSEF] by the people of Aberdeen.

Concept #5
But, of course, the great big open goal which the tycoons and their bagmen have missed is the site of the now empty and soon to be derelict St Nicholas House, former headquarters building of Aberdeen City Council. Leaving our own feelings aside, the building is (rightly or wrongly) generally regarded as a much-loathed buck-tooth turned rotten, an eyesore in the heart of our town. Were the tycoons to have proposed a city garden or civic square on that site, they would have been pushing at an open door and been assured of the wholehearted support of the vast majority of Aberdonians. They would have reaped the benefit of citizens' goodwill for years to come (along with all the consent thereby manufactured for their atmosphere-jeopardising hydrocarbon production activities - but that's another story). How could they miss so obvious a wide open goal? What's wrong with them? We thought they were supposed to be clever.


As mentioned, this project is being forced onward by local enterprise quango ACSEF (Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future) on behalf of the oil-tycoons for who's interests they provide the necessary administrative fig leaves. But the name ACSEF itself points to the problem these people have in defining the necessary content for our local community and wider society as they and we collectively face an uncertain future, for they have a demonstrable problem in defining the context in which they work. The name ACSEF - Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future - is a misnomer, for these people concentrate their efforts on maximising benefits for local business (which is the concern of discrete private individuals, and is limited in its time horizon by reporting seasons and tax-return basis periods) rather than the local economy. The local economy, which is by definition the entirety of the local area, its land, its people, its society, its natural and human resources, its knowledge, its potential and its limitations - in addition to its businesses - is not delimited by time horizons either in the past or the future, and is much larger in scope than can be encompassed by mere business concerns. Thus, by viewing everything through the myopic lens of business, ACSEF blithely have alienated significant sectors of local discourse, which they simply cannot see.

So, having established that, we examine sceptically ACSEF's assertions that this redevelopment project is a "fundamental plank" necessary for "businesses and investment to secure jobs for our children and grand-children" and is required to "transform the economy". All this, somehow, from a small city centre park. It's clear that the problems facing the economy are several orders of magnitude more grave than any which might be solved by a real estate deal involving a town centre park. Again, from Prospect Magazine, from back in 2008 - close to the start of the current economic difficulties:

Gelrald Holtham writes:
The freeing of capital movements in the 1980s combined with the collapse of communism, releasing billions of new workers into the world economy, has recreated a global reserve army of labour. That in turn has contributed to a rise in the share of world GDP accounted for by profits and an accompanying decline in the share accounted for by wages. Such a development easily leads either to over-investment by businesses or a shortfall of aggregate demand. When wages lag, spending can keep up with output only by an expansion of consumer debt.
Since Keynes was unfashionable and Marx unmentionable, no-one asked what this would mean for the level and pattern of demand.
Yet here was the central problem with the globalised system. If profits and output rise persistently faster than wages, who will buy the output? A lack of effective demand, in Keynesian terms is averted for a time [by the expansion credit], but ultimately shows up in a problem of "the realisation of capital". 
So we in the developed world find ourselves here: globally defective demand caused by an imbalance between wage and profit rates, made worse by a collapse in the availability of the very consumer credit which had masked the problem for a decade or more, and severely aggravated by the necessity to pay down that debt at both national and personal levels.

But here, in our small corner, those who have taken it upon themselves to secure an 'economic future' for Aberdeen believe (or, rather, would try to have us believe) that a real-estate deal involving a small public park and benefitting a handful of local construction companies and property developers will fix it. It will not, of course. The imbalance between wages and profit took decades to reach this crisis point and so it will take comprehensive attitudinal shifts in society; a change in the local, national and international conversation, and a widespread paradigm shift to remedy this imbalance. It's tasteless in the extreme that a local business development quango should use the global crisis as a smokescreen for what is, in fact, a project to privatise - for the benefit of a tiny handful of already-affluent local business-people - a relatively small (but high-value) patch of what has been community-owned land since the middle-ages.

Concept #6


Above, when we pointed out the 'open goal' we mocked the boosters of the City Gardens Project for their choice of site. But maybe, just maybe they are cleverer than we give them credit for. We are particularly worried about the Concept #6 proposal, with it's bizarre monolith. Go and look at it again (pdf). Maybe we're just paranoid, but we worry nonetheless. Throughout this entire controversial debacle, we've had the feeling that we're being scammed in some way - and not the obvious one - that this whole thing is some sort of shell game. Large real estate deals have always and everywhere been characterised by the now-you-see-it-now-you-don't misdirection of bad-things-made-to-look-good and good-things-made-to-look-bad conjuring. Our concern is that this Concept #6 has been chosen for us, pre-selected. On internet chat forums, blogs and social networking sites, we're all too busy having a damned good laugh at its egregious MONOLITH to notice that this is, indeed, the only proposal which 1. nearly fits the tycoon Sir Ian Woods' parameters and 2. is said to have a 'feasible payback strategy'. We're all too busy being misdirected by the big flashing red herring MONOLITH to notice the 13000 sq metre three-storey public car-park which sits beneath the MONOLITH, and the unspecified area of private car-park which occupies the airspace above the Denburn Road dual carriageway to service the parking needs of the workers in the the 7000 sq metre commercial offices which straddle the valley and 'add to the urban grain' along the eastern slope of the Denburn valley.

For this design, rather than take the approach of all the other designs which are, in fact singular, genuinely monolithic buildings filling the valley. Concept #6 is actually modular, consisting of several discrete buildings which can be pick-mixed to suit. And, indeed (MONOLITH aside) to the vast majority of the public, proposal #6 looks OK. The gardens -particularly the natural [sic] amphitheatre - are shown to be left more-or-less untouched. With a push and a rush, we might envisage this proposal being adopted as Aberdeen City Council favourite, with the proviso that the horrid monolith part is left out (thus making it 'even' cheaper). Of course, the ever-promised arts centre was intended for location in the monolith - but you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs! So, in the end what we get is Concept #6 sans monolith (sans arts centre) but including its large development of commercial offices straddling the Denburn at Union Bridge and several new blocks of offices along the eastern slope of the Denburn valley. These commercial developments along with the large new carparks occupying the current 'dark' area of the gardens and over the Denburn Road dual carriageway. These commercial enterprises, carparks and offices, forming the 'payback strategy'. Brilliant!

We have heard members of the public mentioning that the #6 concept has nice things included in it - for instance the extension of the gardens to encompass the William Wallace statue and the inclusion of a spur which appears to extend greenery a hundred metres north as far as Woolmanhill. It has also been pointed out that the Concept #6 plans include the re-greening of Golden Square. But the 'nice' things about this proposal are merely the (very cheap) quid pro quo for developing the currently green backlands of Belmont St for commercial offices and turning fully one third of Union Terrace Gardens into a multi-story carpark.

Surely we need hardly point out that the extension of the park to Woolmanhill and Wallace, and the greening of Golden Square do not require the polity of Aberdeen to give consent to a real estate deal which will see the rest of the Denburn Valley at Union Terrace and Belmont Street fall prey to overdevelopment. Yet, having been presented with a fait accompli, we fear that people will feel compelled to choose the 'least worst' option. The 'least worst' option - we have heard and read a number of our townsfolk opine - is option #6.

And so the moneyed interests which would benefit from this privatisation of common land are offered an uncontested scrum. Amazing. We have heard a great deal from the promoters of this project about "World Class Architects". We have no particular comment on their competence as architects in the usual sense of building design. But we must offer our complements on the developers' heresthetical skills in the design of the "Choice Architecture" which is being presented to the people of our town. World Class.

Submission #6 - Multi-storey carpark on common ground

Submission #6 - Overdevelopment of Belmont backlands

Submission #6 - Overdevelopment of Belmont backlands

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

High-Water Mark



Cast iron parapet riveted.
Rolled steel structural skeleton.
Baked clay ceramic blue-green brick.
Dressed stone rusticate masonry.
Damp lime mortar stalactites.

Lilac, turquoise, cobalt, umber,
Citrine, cadmium orange and slimy
Intersticial ion exchange,
Anodic and cathodic they drip.

The tangy products of corrosion
Slither smeary snot slick, thick,
Serous and silvery electric.
Slatherous and lathering - chemical biology
Minerally feeds bacterial bloom.
Over ferrous, igneous metamorphic
And ceramic substrate:
Fungus, lichen and blistering moss
And leaf litter
And litter
And guano
And frass.

Then just dust.

From pustulating mustard and viridian blisters
Mushroom dank dribbling papules
And the ocherous crevice; a dark citrine fracture
Is a disquietingly cold fissuring breach

aromatic wet-dry rupture

A fragrant technicolour symbiosis born of organic metallic bacillus mineral ejecta. Animal, vegetable, mineral -  it's a meaningless distinction.
For now, it is alive - that's all.
It's beautiful - that's enough.


"It's beautiful"

Under my breath,
Just to myself.
But overheard by
The one passerby
Who replied:


"Aye. I bet they couldn't make it like that these days".

I was standing still, and had been for a while. The passerby was walking smartly through, underneath the railway arch. So we lacked a common frame of reference - that's why it took a while to understand that the beauty he appreciated was in the structure of the arch, its construction and its span rather than the entropic interplay of the arch's intricately dynamic atrophy; that which so fascinated me. Instead, he thought I was lauding the beauty of this stone, brick, rubble, iron and steel arch of the mile's stretch gently-graded railway viaduct. It's a testament to single-minded capital. A river diverted, the estuary drained. Ecological devastation brought and so many lives and fortunes lost to bring it here, now so very very long ago.

Here where the natives once came to gawp and cheer maharajas and tsars changing trains - highland-bound they were to go and placate with fawning tribute the heavily-armed and continually victorious megalomaniac widow in her mountain-fastness purdah. Her, and her vast armies.

And here now the London-bound, soon to be superannuated, high-speed diesel loco coughs and farts its humming flywheels into whirring angular momentum. Blue-grey particulate smoke issues in fitting discharges from stubby rearward-raked exhaust pipes which penetrate the striated locomotive roof. Then, carriage linkages finally flexed, smooth acceleration. Deserted first class carriages, an oily yellow glow diffusing from their chi-chi little table lamps into the autumning gloom. As the driver throttles-up the 25-year old engines front and rear with their Record-Breaker's potential on the Flying Scotsman run, I think of how far we came. And why we stopped.

That same viaduct, travelling all the way down time from 1867. That same rail-line brought the commissar Tony Benn from Westminster to oil-boom Aberdeen in 1976. Gravid with rational civilisation's last message to the joint-stock seven sister daughters of Standard Oil;  he was to tell Mobil and Exxon and Chevron and Amoco and the others that no, they couldn't just take it all. Our British National Oil Corporation would have 51%, for all the people of the UK.

Those same locomotives and carriages, travelling all the way down time from 1976. That same late 20th century high-speed diesel train - as promoted, commissioned and inspired into existence by the insistence of that same rational socialist technocrat. High-tech high-speed rail for all! Now fading glory - yes. But because of that, all the more evocative and heart-wrenching a glimpse into the Concorde- (or TU144-?) era world-we-could-have-all-had.

And all the while, as free-market votaries kicked their heels in the shadows, (sharpening their stilettos and scissors and axes in Chile and elsewhere), our own stakhanovite visionary government technologists and bureaucrats were accidentally betrayed by unwittingly myopic oblimovist organised labour at the high-water mark of civilisation. Oops.

And that betrayal afforded the stilettoed ideologues of irrationality the trigger they were waiting for to make their putsch; to let the credulous market-religion adherents in. And taking the name of "capitalism" in vain - erroneously using it interchangeably with "free market" - they superstitiously worshipped the idol which they openly called "The Invisible Hand".

Mistaking affluence for wealth, the free-market fundamentalists first concentrated then dissipated our common capital and so grievously failed us all. But they also mistook price for value and so, in turn their beloved markets failed. And all that is solid melts into air.

"Aye. I bet they couldn't make it like that these days".

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


These abhorrently visually-intrusive recent additions to our stock of spacially-intrusive street furniture in Aberdeen are supposed to improve the air quality in our town.


Aberdeen City Council
Air Quality Action Plan 2011

VMS [variable messaging system] is currently used in Aberdeen to provide drivers with general car parking guidance, enabling them to avoid driving unnecessarily looking for car parking spaces. Further VMS signs have recently been implemented around the City on key corridor approaches advising of incidents/events that may affect their travel onwards. ACC [Aberdeen City Council] is also to use the VMS to post general air quality messages, particularly on peripheral City routes. These messages should raise awareness of air quality, especially during air pollution episodes [sic].
(our emphasis)


But the system exists solely for the benefit and convenience of motorists. It marshals and directs them with the maximum possible state-of-the-art technological efficiency towards the surfeit of parking spaces available in the town centre. We cannot remember seeing this variable messaging system ever displaying a total number of fewer than two thousand vacant parking spaces available.

How can this be? This is a contradiction to the aim, we cannot reduce the harm cause by motoring by encouraging more motoring. For this system, which demonstrably has the increase of driver convenience as its entire reason for being, serves as an invitation for irresponsible motorists to bring cars into the very centre of the town. So the system acts as a disincentive to active travel or modal shift. This system normalises the bringing of noisy polluting vehicles into the town centre. It provides both permission and facility. The message sent by this Variable Message System is: "If you are a motorist, you are very welcome in the centre of this town - look; see how much space we have made available for you. Don't worry about climate change, don't worry about air quality. This town doesn't - it will pander to you, don't worry... don't worry..." We very much doubt that the promise to "post general air quality messages" to "raise awareness... during air pollution episodes" will ever suggest that the motorist reading the message is contributing to the problem and should leave the car at home. No - secure in their hot, locked, filth-belching, noisy metal boxes - motorists are comforted and enabled by this system.

This is wrong. Motorists must be made to worry, life must be made difficult for them in town centres. To offer motorists facility and sanction for their harmful and selfish activity is no way to reduce pollution, no way to cut down on dangerous carbon emissions. A better policy which would result in improved air quality in this town and a reduction in its carbon budget would be a policy which sees the removal of this car parking guidance system, accompanied by a complete ban on creating any more parking spaces and the phased closing down of existing parking facilities.

Friday, 7 October 2011




Flagship UK carbon capture project 'close to collapse'  
Scottish Power expected to pull out of government-promoted scheme to build a £1bn prototype CCS plant at Longannet
Terry Macalister and Damian Carrington, Thursday 6 October 2011 15.32 BST

A £1bn flagship government project for fighting climate change – the construction of a prototype carbon capture and storage (CCS) project at Longannet in Scotland – is on the verge of collapse, it emerged on Thursday. Talks between the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) and Scottish Power have run into deep trouble and the electricity supplier is expected to pull the plug on the government-promoted scheme, which hoped to bury carbon emissions from the coal power station in the North Sea. [...]

 Decc had promised £1bn of public money but the developers are understood to be arguing that they cannot proceed without more money to trial the scheme, close to the Firth of Forth. Both sides insist "talks are ongoing" but well-placed industry and political sources say the process is "pretty much over" and a statement to that effect could be expected shortly. Jeff Chapman, the chief executive of theCarbon Capture and Storage Association, said the collapse of the Longannet scheme would be a "severe disappointment" for the wider hopes of the sector. "Everybody knows the negotiations have been very difficult, so to that extent it's quite possible [the talks] don't come to a conclusion – although there are other projects coming through the system hopefully."  [...]

 The Fife scheme was by far the most advanced and spearheaded the drive to develop this new technology in Britain. Ministers have repeatedly stressed the importance of CCS as a way of keeping coal and potentially other fossil-fuel burning power stations in operation without undermining moves to cut CO2. Longannet is the third largest coal-fired power station in Europe at 2,400MW and was once highlighted as Scotland's biggest single polluter.




Three mega-rich (at least one of them giga-rich) capitalists of Aberdeen. Standing at the head of their multiple boardroom tables in the town which styles itself the 'Energy Capital of Europe' they are watching as this scheme to neutralise the atmosphere-menacing emissions of Europe third's largest coal-burning power-station - Scotland's biggest polluter - collapses. This project to neuter its teratogenic discharges lies close to breakdown for want of an investment shortfall - the sum of which would be less than one tenth of this cadre's aggregate net worth. That is; this project does not want for material, or know-how, or industrial capacity: no, it fails for lack of the trivial fiction of cash-money.

For this novel technology (while scientifically simple) remains commercially unproven; it is a business risk; the financial returns are uncertain. For this pecuniary reason alone - despite its promise of continual gigawatts (but scrubbed, guilt-free, of harmful carbon) from the 50-year-yet certain supply of global coal - no power station anywhere in the world has a full-scale carbon capture and storage system running. No-one yet knows just how much it will cost to clean up electricity which is manufactured from coal. No-one yet knows how much (or how little) profit is to be made.

In this town, we have a large workforce of innovative technologists and engineers with the skills and experience necessary to design, manufacture and operate systems like these. The wrangling of high-pressure gas, fluid and plasma is very much our stock-in-trade. And in our oil tycoons, we have the capital which, if deployed into these low- and no- carbon electricity and motive power sources (of which CCS is just one) would truly, finally change this town's self-styled moniker from "Oil Capital" to "Energy Capital" and so at last give truth to the conceit. 

Now, today, we all stand at the crossroads. Will these men mobilise their capital - are they prepared to take the risk? Much is made by the PR agencies they retain of their philanthropic credentials. What could be more humanity-loving than risking a small part of their capital on a chance to safeguard the atmosphere? Or is the one-way-bet certainty afforded by an oil-price which, despite globally defective demand; despite recession or depression, remains proudly above the psychologically significant $100 per barrel mark distracting them?

Flashing in their minds like the urgent "HOLD NOW" buttons of a slot machine stuck on a jackpot payout, this ton-high oil price militates against any thought of reallocation of capital crossing the minds of the tycoons. The certain play of continued and renewed investment in the oil-bearing strata beneath the seas of the UK's continental shelf satisfies the needs of capital oh so much more than adequately. Why would capital (the need to increase itself being its primary reason for existing - integral to its true definition) redeploy away from so certain a one-way bet into something risky?

The tycoons stand at the heads of their boardroom tables, their hands on the levers of capital. The tickers tick up on global heat budget, CO2 concentration, social inequality, species extinction, deforestation, ocean acidification, resource depletion and political instability and conflict. But the ticker also ticks up - ever up - on the free-market price of a barrel of oil. The tycoons have their hands on the control levers of capital. But they have feet of clay.



Profile: Ian Suttie, the tycoon with natural reserve

Published Date: 02 October 2011
HE IS the stealth bomber of Scottish business, appearing only rarely on to the radar screen of public consciousness before quickly disappearing. And that, by and large, is the way Ian Suttie likes it. But all that changed last week when a major oil find in the Kraken field, 88 miles off Shetland, by Aberdeen-based First Oil put Suttie at the top of Scotland's rich list. With one positive North Sea seismograph, he was catapulted out of the business sections of newspapers and on to the front pages. 

For an oil tycoon with 40 directorships whose company's 30 per cent stake in the Kraken field means he is now reputed to be worth more than a billion pounds, remarkably little is known about Suttie. Indeed, Suttie is said to regard the prospect of becoming public property with unalloyed horror. An oilman who worked with him said he's "not exactly reclusive, but he's not far off it - he's very private".



Jimmy Milne - A journey there and back again

“I was born on Boxing Day and have been fighting for existence ever since,” he says.
Milne [Balmoral Group chairman] celebrated his 70th birthday last year but to suggest that it might be time to ease up risks permanent impairment by the Samurai sword which sits beside his desk.
“I still feel like a 20-year-old most days and I still have a spring in my step and fire in my belly.
“I am driven by throwing back the frontiers of technology and always trying to beat the biggest and the best in the world. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.
“I can’t stand anyone saying ‘Jim I can’t do this.’ I say let’s just start again. Let’s get rid of the ‘t’ because there is always a way of doing it. I really believe in positive thinking and positive action and with that you can literally shift mountains. Another thing I can’t stand is people coming to me and saying ‘I tried the best I could.’
“Winston Churchill said that to try your best is not good enough - you have to go out and achieve what has to be achieved and there is a gulf of a difference between these mindsets.
“I don’t take no for an answer and I will never give up – but it is not just Jimmy Milne. I drive it but I have a terrific team of guys, very loyal and hard working who take pride in Balmoral and what we do but we never get complacent.
“My first employee is still with me and we have 54 long term members of staff and more than 1000 man-years of polymer experience - and that’s not just me!”
He has no doubt that the hard work ethic goes back to his childhood on the farm.

Demand for oil and gas pulls energy sector through recession
Although the oil and gas industry has been affected by the global economic slowdown the energy sector tends to work in longer-term cycles. This is particularly true of deepwater operations. The demand for hydrocarbon-based energy is continually increasing and this has pushed the industry into new territories and ever deeper waters. As a result of continuous exploration and production activity much of the offshore supply chain has remained relatively well protected from the worst ravages of recession. Despite the economic slowdown Balmoral Offshore Engineering’s international business has increased exponentially between 2007 and 2010 We are delighted that the industry is showing its faith in us as a premium provider of high quality, reliable products and have been successful in securing significant contracts for some of the industry’s most prestigious global deepwater provinces. To cope with the increasing demand we are investing heavily in a new manufacturing plant in Brazil 

Jim Milne CBE, Chairman and Managing Director, Balmoral Group 



In the school of hard Knox: Sir Ian Wood: Britain's northernmost tycoon looks beyond oil. 
Sir Ian is proud of the Granite City. Once it had realised the opportunities of oil, he says, it did the right things. 'It would be wrong to say it would all have happened anyway. The business could have gone to Dundee or elsewhere. The harbour has been rebuilt, and the local civic leaders did what they could to encourage development. That is very much to their credit.'
Now he feels his job is to make sure Aberdeen does not drift back into economic obscurity. 'We're the lucky generation of north-east Scotland,' he says. 'I'd hate the next generation to look back and say,
 "Well, what did you leave us?" '