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Aberdeen doctors unite to warn ETZ at St Fittick’s Park risks furthering health inequality in Torry

St Fittick's Park, Torry, is being eyed for an energy transition zone business park.
St Fittick's Park, Torry, is being eyed for an energy transition zone business park. Photo by Kenny Elrick/DCT Media

Doctors from all over Aberdeen have banded together to challenge plans for a business park on Torry’s last expanse of green space.

St Fittick’s Park is being eyed up for an energy transition zone, due to its proximity to the new south harbour.

But residents are fiercely protesting the idea, brought forward by Sir Ian Wood and Opportunity North East as a way of securing jobs and the low carbon energy industry in Aberdeen.

Campaigners are pressing ETZ Ltd, the firm formed by Scottish business tsars to oversee the project meant to support 2,500 jobs by 2030, to look again at alternatives in nearby Altens, where a number of brownfield sites lie vacant.

And now, they have been backed by 22 medical professionals, from north of the River Dee and even as far away as Stonehaven, who warn it would “permanently undermine” the battle against a “plague” of health challenges faced by people living in Torry.

In brief:

  • Doctors raise concerns ETZ being built on St Fittick’s Park in Torry would “permanently undermine” efforts to tackle health inequality
  • Open letter signed by 21 doctors and a nurse urges rethink of potential site and challenges council and Scottish Government to protect the vital green community space
  • Someone living in Balnagask, Torry could expect to live 13 years fewer than a counterpart in other areas, such as West End North
  • ETZ Ltd hint towards protection of wetland wildlife spot, “recognising the importance of accessible public green space” in Torry – as well as promising jobs boost

The group – including senior GPs and nurses from the Torry, Camphill, Holburn, Calsayseat, Links, Kincorth and Cove, and Stonehaven medical practices – claim the loss of St Fittick’s would “make no sense”.

They have been supported by psychiatrists from Royal Cornhill and a leading paediatrician from Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital.

Huge health disparity in Torry would be worsened by an ETZ at St Fittick’s, doctors warn

In an open letter, the medical professionals drew comparisons between Balnagask, with the park on their doorstep, and West End North, where residents of two streets have exclusive access to 15 acres of mature riverside woodland.

The award-winning wetlands in St Fittick's Park could be at risk if the ETZ goes ahead on the Torry site. Photo by Kath Flannery/DCT Media
The award-winning wetlands in St Fittick’s Park could be at risk if the ETZ goes ahead on the Torry site. Photo by Kath Flannery/DCT Media

“There is a 13-year difference in life expectancy between these two areas, yet it is the community with the lower life expectancy that is threatened with losing its green space,” they wrote.

“The difference in healthy life expectancy is around twenty years.

“There is an eight-fold increase in the risk for someone in Torry being admitted to hospital with complications of chronic lung disease, yet it is this community which will lose the trees that help clean the air, and the green space where exercise can be taken to help improve lung function.”

They also pointed to the higher proportion of youngsters living in Torry, with Balnagask an already crowded part of Aberdeen with a population that will “increase significantly” over the next decade.

Child poverty is high, access to private transport is less common to reach distant green space is much more difficult, and one of the highest levels of unemployment in the Granite City.

St Fittick’s Park is the last large green space in a very industrial area

The doctors highlight the continuing industrialisation of the area, with two commercial harbours, business estate, railway line, sewage works, landfill, regional waste centre – as well as one of Scotland’s most polluted roads – surrounding Torry.

An energy from waste incinerator, which will burn non-recyclable rubbish from the city, Aberdeenshire and Moray is still being built.

“The only gap in this circle is St Fittick’s Park: it is the last remaining green space aside from the Balnagask golf course that is easily accessible to the population of Torry,” the doctors added.

“To requisition this for a speculative future economic benefit for the rest of the north-east therefore seems highly unjust. This is an area that has the highest concentration of multiple deprivation in the region.

“To remove St Fittick’s would add ‘green poverty’ to the existing list of deprivations with which the community already contends.

“Clinicians from elsewhere in the city who come to Torry to work invariably comment on the surprising frequency and severity of the illness they see here compared with the rest of the city.

Last weekend, consultants Ironside Farrar ran a masterplanning workshop in Torry as they look to draw in local input on the plans, which are still being drawn up.

St Fittick’s Park and nearby Doonie’s Rare Breeds Farm might soon be zoned for development, if the Scottish Government approves the council’s new local development plan.

The Edinburgh-based consultants have promised to listen to what residents are telling them – though their final plans and what parts they intend to use in the park, which includes hundreds of trees, ecologically important wetlands and vast green space, are yet to be finalised.

ETZ boss responds to doctor’s line on St Fittick’s Park plans

Perhaps giving the strongest hint yet that ETZ Ltd might spare the greenery, nature, accessible paths and wetlands of St Fittick’s, chief executive, Maggie McGinlay, said the lobbyists were “fully committed” to public green space as “a key priority”.

ETZ Ltd chief executive, Maggie McGinlay. Her firm is drawing up designs for the business park, linked to thousands of jobs, using some of the St Fittick's Park site. Photo by Scott Baxter/DCT Media.
ETZ Ltd chief executive, Maggie McGinlay. Her firm is drawing up designs for the business park, linked to thousands of jobs, using some of the St Fittick’s Park site. Photo by Scott Baxter/DCT Media.

She added: “Critical to the energy transition zone’s success is ensuring the local community is listened to and we remain absolutely determined to ensure benefits of the project are widespread and felt keenly amongst those citizens who live and work in close proximity to the project.

“The masterplan process, which reflects Scottish Government best practice, is in its early stages and we have embarked upon an extensive programme of consultation and dialogue with the local community. The ideas and concerns raised throughout first ‘meet the masterplanners’ workshop on December 4 will all be considered carefully as we continue through the process.

“We particularly recognise the importance of accessible public green space and biodiverse areas for the people of Torry, including the walkways and the wetland habitats  at St Fittick’s Park.

“The points made in the GPs’ letter are important in this regard and will definitely inform the development of the masterplan which will identify how we address these concerns.”

“It is important to note that any future proposals would be subject to a planning application process that includes environmental, health and equalities impact assessments.”

Addressing the wider points made about the huge deprivation those in Torry endure, and the fact your life expectancy can fall by 13 years depending on which side of the River Dee you live on, she promised a jobs boost if the ETZ was given the green light.

This would include an energy skills academy within the zone and apprenticeship schemes in Torry and Cove.

It is understood talks with major industry players are ongoing to make plans for those schemes.

St Fittick’s ETZ: Doctors challenge council and government to step in

The doctors also laid down a challenge to Aberdeen City Council, which will eventually decide on any planning application brought forward for the ETZ, and the Scottish Government, which has committed £26 million towards it, to show they are “genuinely serious” about tackling health inequality and stopping the plans for St Fittick’s.

The medics said the community’s “clear opposition” to the idea shows backing the development would “further enhance the sense of powerlessness which underpins much of the burden of chronic ill health” in the area.

A council spokeswoman said the local authority would be obliged to follow planning law on any application made for the ETZ, and that people could make representations when proposals are brought forward.

Aberdeen City Council will make a decision on any planning application for an ETZ in St Fittick's Park in Torry. Photo of council HQ, Marischal College, by Kenny Elrick/DCT Media.
Aberdeen City Council will make a decision on any planning application for an ETZ in St Fittick’s Park in Torry. Photo of council HQ, Marischal College, by Kenny Elrick/DCT Media.

Meanwhile, responsibility for the location of the ETZ was firmly pinned on the council by the Scottish Government.

As ministers consider the Aberdeen local development plan, a spokesman for the government said it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment further.

But he added: “Scotland has some of the most stringent environmental impact regulations anywhere in the world and our planning system ensures that local communities have their say and all developments are subject to consultation with the public and statutory and local bodies, including community councils.”

The ETZ would have to offer communities “societal benefits” including coastal access, open space, landscape and biodiversity enhancements, he said.

The full St Fittick’s letter from the doctors and ETZ response:

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