Community ownership has been put forward as one of the key possible options to save a “cherished” Aberdeen park from industrial development.
Torry residents have joined forces to try and take charge of St Fittick’s Park’s future, and preserve and enhance their “last green space” for community benefit.
The wetlands in south-east Aberdeen have been a hotly discussed matter since last year, when the area was earmarked for an energy transition zone within the council’s new local development plan.
The site – along with Doonie’s Rare Breeds Farm – was identified as a prime location for the energy scheme given its proximity to the new £350 million south harbour.
However, members of the local community and politicians have perpetually voiced their opposition to flattening the park, claiming the proposal is “a slap in the face for the people of Torry”.
Community desire to gain control over the future of St Fittick’s Park
Over the weekend, dozens of locals gathered at St Fittick’s Park to share ideas on how to protect the park for future generations and improve it to suit the community needs.
Participants in the Torry People’s Assembly unanimously backed proposals to take ownership of the park if needed to prevent yet another “unwanted” development being imposed on the local community.
Co-organiser of the event, Scott Herrett, said: “There is a desire for the park to be protected in perpetuity and that’s where the idea for asset transfer was brought up as key.
“What came up as a main point is they need more information what an asset transfer involves, but they like the idea of the community being in control and having the power to decide what goes or doesn’t go in the park.
“The local people understand that there is a need for an energy transition zone in the north-east, but obviously not at the detriment of a cherished local green space, which has provided a lot of benefits to people, especially in the last 18 months.
“For me, that shows complete detachment from the community by the city council, and also a lack of imagination and consultation.”
Urge to adhere to the community’s needs
According to the Community Empowerment Act, communities have the right to request ownership for any land or building from local authorities if they feel they can make better use of it.
A range of options on potential improvements to the park were discussed and presented at the assembly – including converting the land into a natural reserve and building an outdoor learning centre or a community hub.
Other suggestions were to keep St Fittick’s Park as it is, or allow the construction of small-scale development at the site – such as a cafe or toilets – to make it more accessible.
Emma Jeal, who attended the event with her one-year-old son Isaac, said any further enhancement to the park is welcome as long as it remains an open green space for the public.
The 32-year-old said: “Torry’s got a lot of issues and it’s not fair to give it another one.
“If we have to give examples of ways we can make it better, in contrast to what others are suggesting, to prove we use the land well – then fair enough, we’ll stick all bells and whistles on it.
“It’s an amazing space and it’s right on my doorstep, and there are alternative sites for it. So why is this even being suggested, when it’s so good for the local people and wildlife.
“Things always seem to be happening to Torry, rather than with Torry. Somehow they don’t seem interested in us or what we need at all – they just want to build on us.”
We had a fantastic weekend at the #TorryPeoplesAssembly! We were very happy to come together in person and think about ways to #SaveStFitticksPark as a community: No @ETZLTD1 here 🙅♀️.#PeopleHaveThePower and together we are getting stronger. We can't wait for the next time 👫🙌 pic.twitter.com/V3AMFNSz6d
— Friends of St Fittick's Park (@fittick) September 28, 2021
Another resident, 45-year-old Simon McLead, who has lived in Torry since 2010, added there are other options to be explored.
He said: “It shouldn’t be concreted over, simple as.
“Much of it can be retained as it is, and possibly we can look into the feasibility of having a wind turbine or something similar so we can actually be more environmentally friendly and bring some money back to the local community.
“Communities want change, but they want that change to represent them and not just limited business interests.”
How will the development benefit people in Torry?
The major development is part of long-term plans to shift the economy away from a reliance on oil and gas.
The new centre is expected to support around 2,500 “green” jobs by 2030, along with another 10,000 related jobs.
However, residents and politicians have raised concerns over the “actual benefits” it will bring to Torry and whether these jobs will be sustainable for local people.
The “lack of engagement and consultation” over the proposals has also accelerated the existing tension, with locals claiming there is a greater need for “transparency and communication”.
But Aberdeen City Council has previously reassured that if an official planning application is lodged, “the community will be able to fully engage with that process prior to any decision being taken”.
Green MSP Maggie Chapman, who has backed campaigners from the start, insisted people need to be included in all discussions and represented in the right manner.
She said: “So often, community voices are marginalised and ignored, if they are heard at all, and we have an opportunity to do something different here – to redress the power imbalance in our planning and democratic system.
“We also need to look at the inequality and the neglect that Torry has faced for decades – from the council and the government – it’s just been forgotten.
“It’s about how we can make it better as a community space – keep the green space and the wetlands, allow the biodiversity to develop and grow, and make it more accessible and usable for people.”