Hands Off Our Green Spaces in Torry: A just or unjust transition?

“Yet another unwelcome and unwanted industrial development in Torry was on the horizon – this time on the last remaining green and wild spaces which we had all been assured… would be protected and improved.”

THAT ANNOUNCEMENT in the notices people received through their front doors in June that St Fittick’s Park and Doonies had been included in the Council’s Proposed Local Development Plan 2020 (PLDP) as opportunity sites (OP 56 and 61 respectively) for development, where an industrial development, an Energy Transition Zone (ETZ) would be favoured took the Torry community by angry surprise. Surprise ,as there had been no community consultation whatsoever regarding this.

They were part of the bid for a much larger area of greenspace/greenbelt land, submitted by the Harbour Board at the end of Consultation period for PLDP’s precursor. That was not open to public consultation.

The bid had been assessed by the council as speculative and the sites undesirable where rezoning would not be favoured. Their environmental, cultural and historical value is so high that mitigation would reduce the damage from development only from significantly adverse to adverse.

A feasibility study (FS) commissioned by City Growth and Resources in partnership with Opportunity North East (ONE) and Invest Aberdeen to inform the emerging PLDP recommended scenario 2, which included the future OP 56 and 61.  In spite of identifying the same environmental and cultural/historical and social constraints on them  as the council, the very costly essential removal of the Water Treatment works in OP56, and the breach of Scottish Water’s long term lease on the site. 

The FS had been completed in what it acknowledged as “an extremely short timescale” and did little to clarify the proposed activities, describing them in general terms as “land hungry offshore wind” and “other low carbon operations”, citing the need for a large area of level land directly adjacent to the harbour several times, and referring to two manufacturing industries that increased the land requirement to 30 ha. It was confident that the ETZ would be a critical contributor to Scotland’s achievement of net zero by 2045, and justified the change to the Bay of Nigg Development Framework 2016 – which restricted the area of  Aberdeen Harbour Expansion Project (AHEP) to the current OP62 – by a “sharpening of minds”, resulting from the “reality of the development of the new harbour”.  A change that may not have been unconnected to Crown Estate Scotland’s July 2019 announcement of an October 2019 target date for opening the next ScotWind leasing  round for offshore wind farms.  

 The ETZ was announced in public at the end of January, and backed enthusiastically the local press and TV, even before the PLDP had been accepted by the Council. The  unsubstantiated claims for the ETZ are assessed more modestly in the 2 September Arup assessment of Scotland’s Ports for Offshore Wind (Arup) from a  Scottish strategic perspective, and even at the time there was one dissenting voice. In addition there are serious doubts that many of the resulting economic benefits of offshore wind will come to Scotland . One example is offshore mnaufacturing, which is the rationale behind the inclusion of OP 56 in the ETZ.

The FS and PDLP were passed to councillors on 24 February, one week before the full vote on the PDLP on 2 March. Not surprisingly, given all the ETZ’s favourable publicity, it was approved when an amendment to remove OP56 and OP61 was defeated  by only one vote. And so, they stayed in.

Yet another unwelcome and unwanted industrial development in Torry was on the horizon – this time on the last remaining green and wild spaces which we had all been assured – when the AHEP was approved that St Fittick’s – would be protected and improved, to compensate for the destruction of the view over Nigg Bay and access to it, in accordance with Schedule 2 of the Aberdeen Harbour Revision Order ( 2016).

News of the ETZ proposal spread like wildfire in our community as the statutory neighbourhood noticed were issued.  Appalled and heartbroken we set to work to oppose this beloved precious greenspace being taken away. The opposition was not to an ETZ but to where it was to be sited as plenty of unused facilities to develop an ETZ were close by in Altens and East Tullos, which had been included in the plan for the AHEP in 2015.

Renee Slater, community activist and stalwart, immediately setup the ‘Hands of Our green Spaces in Torry’ Facebook page allowing the community to express views of what losing this dear green space would mean and share ideas how to oppose it. A petition was set up and signatures quickly reached 3000! Other page member researched documents from ACC, the LDP, Harbour Board and studied the Feasibility Study for the ETZ and shared a substantial amount of legitimate objection points for the community to use in official objection submissions to ACC. Objection points included plenty of brown field sites nearby to develop, an option that had been included in the FS itself,  unsuitability of St Fitticks due to flooding and contamination, a successful award winning SUDS  system in place at East Tullos Burn to help control these, which at the same time had become a beautiful wetlands, home to many species of plants and birds and a major contributor to the beauty and peace  of the Park that have been so important for people’s physical health. The wetlands are a 2020 finalist in the Nature and Climate Action Section of the RSPB Nature of Scotland award .

Many are concerned about St Fittick’s Church and what the effect of any devolvement would mean to the church itself, (a scheduled monument), would it be damaged, hidden or access hindered?  Statutory consultees such as Scottish Natural Heritage, Historic Scotland and Environmental Agency Scotland were unaware of the decision to include the park in the PLDP. Improvement to the surrounding areas of the church were promised as part of the mitigation for the AHEP but have yet to materialise along with other measures of improvement that were supposed to have been started within 6 months of the new harbour development beginning.

Torry has been the sacrificial lamb for a host of unwanted industrial developments over the years with few direct benefits to Torry folk – just poor health, loss of heritage and amenities, and little opportunity to develop the area with their vision.  With other positive, community0led initiatives happening in the area and improving Torry, why not involve us properly in decisions for the Park and Doonies?

This is not just a piece of grass – this is a place that is valued as an asset for Torry and Aberdeen. Let the local community lead the way to a Just Transition.

Arup concludes that Aberdeen is ideally suited as the hub for an Aberdeenshire mini-cluster of assembly and manufacturing, crew or service vehicle-based operational maintenance, with its manufacturing/assembly activities being  away from the immediate harbour area – exactly as identified in the scenario 6 of the FS, which has the advantage of providing the flexibility that many potential users would require. Hence, destruction of St Fittick’s Park and Doonies are unnecessary to Aberdeen’s participation in a Just Transition, which can cherish all its citizens and retain this small but precious area of green space, wetland and woodland.

Picture courtesy of David Hunter