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Richard Caie: Energy Transition Zone plan puts private business interests ahead of local wellbeing

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 wetlands of St Fittick's Park in Torry (Photo: Kath Flannery/DCT Media)

A recent P&J opinion piece written by Maggie McGinlay, CEO of ETZ Ltd, says “less than a third of St Fittick’s Park” will be required for the proposed “Energy Transition Zone” she is employed to deliver. This is disingenuous.

As Ms McGinlay is well aware, the footprint of the park is about twice as large as the area she hopes will be rezoned as OP56.

Part of OP56 is currently occupied by Nigg Sewage Treatment Works and cannot be further developed. Development would require culverting the East Tullos Burn. Scottish Water has sewers on the site, and a water main has recently been constructed through the park, further reducing the “developable” area.

The temporary construction site in the park, which was to be reinstated and returned to public use, has been leased or sold to the Harbour Board.

So, about a third of the park – the area of greatest social and environmental value – is at risk of industrialisation. It contains the woodlands and wetlands. It is the stopover point for tens of thousands of migratory birds.

The proposed OP56 site

The recent open letter from local health professionals is uncompromising on the adverse effect losing this area would have on the health and wellbeing of local residents.

The ETZ Ltd boss is, in effect, saying: “We intend taking as much of the park as possible, and we care nothing about the social and environmental impact.”

Aberdeen is a laggard, not a leader

Ms McGinlay also suggests we should “truly fear for the future of the city and the region”, should the park not be sacrificed. In reality, it is the very poor business decisions made recently by those in power that should give us all cause for concern.

Who is Maggie McGinlay to say: ‘We are listening very carefully to concerns’? She is an unelected employee of a private company

A total of 72% of the money granted to the city for essential infrastructure via the City Region Deal was spent on the Oil and Gas Technology Centre, in an attempt to “anchor” a twilight industry in the north-east.

Other port cities were, meanwhile, positioning themselves to take advantage of future opportunities in the emerging offshore wind industry; Port of Cromarty Firth is well on its way to achieve what Aberdeen is belatedly aspiring to. Montrose has cornered the cable and anchor business required for offshore wind.

Maggie McGinlay, CEO of Energy Transition Zone Ltd (Photo: Scott Baxter/DCT Media)

Aberdeen is very much a laggard, not the leader Ms McGinlay boasts that it is. It put all its money on the oil industry, lost the gamble, and its ambition to “reposition itself as the net zero capital of Europe” is more aspirational than based on reality.

It is unsurprising that Opportunity North East (ONE), with its partners Aberdeen Harbour Board, Scottish Enterprise and Invest Aberdeen, back the scheme. ONE is a private company formed by and chaired by Sir Ian Wood. Thanks to its inclusion in the Aberdeen City Region Deal, it has decision-making powers in the city and region’s economic development.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the Proposed Local Development Plan is with the reporter appointed by the Scottish Government. The target date for her and her very recently assembled team to complete its review is August 7 2022. The decision could come five months later, as the one for the last LDP did.

Grave implications for local democratic governance

St Fittick’s Park currently has limited protection as green space, and private consultancy Ironside Farrar has been commissioned by ETZ Ltd, formed by Sir Ian Wood (who chairs ONE), to create a masterplan for the ETZ and area around the harbour.

Who is Maggie McGinlay to say: “We are listening very carefully to concerns”? She is an unelected employee of a private company. Is her arrogance based on anything substantive? Does she, indeed, have it in her gift to dictate land use policy in our city?

If so, this has grave implications for local democratic governance. It would suggest that this city has now privatised – both its economic development and its planning functions – and that these are currently in the hands of vested interests.

The local community is not alone in crying “foul”. The plans for the park are also opposed by SEPA, NatureScot, Forestry Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland, Environmental NGOs, cross-party MSPs, 22 of our current 45 local councillors and Friends of St Fittick’s Park.

Permission to build the harbour was granted by the Aberdeen Harbour Revision Order (2016) following the submission of a detailed construction environmental management document. This document clearly states that St Fittick’s Park, far from becoming an industrial site, was to have habitat creation and enhancement as compensation and mitigation for the local community’s loss of Bay of Nigg.

Is this document to be disregarded at the whim of local business interests?

Richard Caie represents the views of the Friends of St Fittick’s Park group

Len Ironside: Torry has been let down too often before and its people are worth fighting for

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