A popular farm and visitor attraction in Torry faces further uncertainty as pressure grows to make it a key part of a proposed industrial park next to the Aberdeen harbour extension.
An event providing information for local residents on proposals for the Energy Transition Zone (ETZ) displayed sign boards that claimed the lease on Doonies Rare Breeds Farm will not be renewed in order to make way for a “multi-use campus” with ready access to a proposed hydrogen pipeline landing site.
The board stated: “Aberdeen City Council own and lease the site. ACC have determined not to renew the existing lease for use as a rare breeds farm.”
However, Aberdeen City Council insisted “no decision has yet been made” on what will happen to the site once the lease comes up.
Consultancy Ironside Farrar, which prepared the display, admitted the wording on the board on display “could have been clearer”.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the council said: “We are in talks with the tenant to renew the lease at Doonies Farm, however no decision has yet been made and is still under review.”
The council’s revelation of the talks came as a surprise to Graham Lennox, who is the site’s tenant farmer. He said he has had discussions about grazing animals on Ness tip, the landfill site to the north west of the site, but not for the farm itself.
He said: “No one from Aberdeen City Council has held any meeting with me to discuss renewing the lease. In fact, they have not discussed the ETZ with me at all.”
It is thought the firm has less than four years left on its current lease.
The ETZ has been heralded by its proponents as a “transformational development” that will help to ensure the region plays a role the country’s energy transition from oil and gas to renewable and low carbon energy.
Project promoters ETZ ltd, chaired by oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood and led by chief executive Maggie McGinlay, argue the project is also essential if the region is able to secure a “just transition” that saves the tens of thousands of jobs in the north east currently reliant on the waning oil and gas industry.
As well as backing from public-private sector development body, Opportunity North East, ETZ has also amassed funding for the plan worth £59m from the Scottish and UK Governments. This is despite a planning application for the controversial development not expected to be submitted until at least the summer.
Ironside Farrar, which has offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester, was recruited by ETZ ltd to engage “the local community and other stakeholders through the various stages of the master planning process”.
The firm ran the workshop in the Torry United Free Church to draw in local input on the plans ahead of submission for approval.
It added that the ultimate fate of the land remained “subject to necessary planning processes”.
Doonies covers 54 hectares on the southern side of Aberdeen from Nigg Bay to Cove and is home to 23 rare breeds of pig, cattle, sheep, horses and chickens.
It is also designated “OP61” in the council’s proposed local development plan, which has envisaged the ETZ would support over “35,000 direct jobs, in the city and region”.
Nearby St Fitticks Park, designated as OP56 in the plan, has also been earmarked as a potential site for manufacturers looking to access to the £350m South Harbour’s quayside.
However, campaigners are thought to have struck an impressive blow to the ideas for St Fittick’s after several GPs and health professionals joined forces to condemn the impact on health of local residents if the award-winning wetlands area featuring a scheduled monument were sacrificed for the industrial scheme.
Doonies is a member of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST), which protects the genetic lines of Britain’s unique native animal breeds.
It would be terrible to lose this wonderful contribution to the survival of our wonderful native breeds and we still hope that arrangements can be made to secure its future.”
Christopher Price, chief executive, Rare Breeds Survival Trust
Christopher Price, chief executive of RBST, said: “Over the years Doonies, has provided a home for some of the UK’s rarest native livestock breeds including Norfolk Horn, Oxford Down and Greyface Dartmoor sheep, Eriskay ponies and Clydesdale horses.
“It is a brilliant and unique resource for the public to see these breeds up close and understand their place in our heritage as well as their genetic and biodiversity importance today and for the future.
“It would be terrible to lose this wonderful contribution to the survival of our wonderful native breeds and we still hope that arrangements can be made to secure its future.”
A spokesperson for Ironside Farrar said: “ETZ Ltd has been clear they would like us to explore development of a number of potential projects, to be tested and reviewed through community and stakeholder consultation and engagement.
“The masterplan process will look to how best to create enhanced opportunities and look to secure both economic and community benefits and wider wealth building arrangements.
“The first of the ‘meet the master planners’ workshops on 4 December was very well attended by local members of the community and we are grateful to everyone for their participation.
“The ideas and concerns raised throughout the day will all be considered carefully as we continue to develop the masterplan.
“We recognise the wording on our board could have been clearer – the site is owned by Aberdeen City Council and leased to Doonies Rare Breed Farm.”
Ironside Farrar is planning similar events in February and March.