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Readers’ letters: Aberdeen libraries closing, Humza Yousaf as First Minister and Our Union Street

In today's letters, our readers discuss Aberdeen libraries closing, the future with Humza Yousaf as First Minister and the Our Union Street group with Bob Keiller at the helm.

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Sir, – After Aberdeen City Council announced its cuts to libraries, cultural activities and swimming pools, I tried to be open-minded and sympathise with the difficult choices faced by councillors with limited funding.

However, I found that attending the council chamber in person (March 27) and then watching the later stages of the debate online was an instructive experience.

As the debate wore on, it became clear that for the SNP councillors the closure of the six libraries was not really about lack of funds.

They could have taken opportunities to seek additional funding from the Scottish Government; these were not even considered.

Projects of questionable value to the people of Aberdeen had been waved through, while the council pulled the rug from under some of the most deprived communities in the city.

As this sank in, I realised these cuts are an ideologically driven project.

This became obvious when I observed the zeal with which one councillor announced a library is “just a building”. Even if that were true, why are the library buildings in six communities of less worth than the funding for the Holburn West Church buyout? Further evidence came with the fatuous suggestion the council could hold a Bookbug session in the chamber (Could they? Will they? What do you think.)

The spurious argument the council has a choice between “feeding kids” and maintaining libraries was another low. Looking at other parts of the budget the true position is the council could and should have made better choices – £2 million for 20mph signs is good for road safety. Would £1.8 million for slightly fewer road signs have allowed the libraries to stay open?

These kinds of questions were not even addressed; when opposition councillors attempted to raise such points, obfuscatory non-answers were the order of the day.

Members of the public who collected signatures and comments from the communities in question were not even allowed to address the council.

Given the name of their party, it is a grim irony, the SNP councillors have such a lack of understanding of the traditional Scottish respect for education and reading.

Why do they think Sir John Anderson and Andrew Carnegie gave so much of their wealth to the establishment of libraries and reading rooms?

And where were the Lib Dem councillors? It’s hard to avoid the conclusion the price they’re paying for their seat in the ruling coalition is to pass the SNP budget while pretending not to notice the damage caused.

My children, who visit the library at least once a week, threw themselves with enthusiasm into the campaign to save the branch libraries. Today has been a grim lesson for them.

They will be all right, I will support them and am fortunate to have the means and mobility to take them to one of the remaining libraries.

But as my son (who was mentioned in the chamber) said, he had been campaigning for all the libraries and everyone who uses them. Who will help those library users left behind with no way of accessing the books, warmth, companionship and expert advice that our local libraries provided?

A shameful day for our city.

William Barras, Great Western Road, Aberdeen.

Final chapter for our libraries

Sarah Wang with her daughter Luna reading in Ferryhill Library before it closed. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Sir, – Over many years the behaviour of Aberdeen City Council has appeared to be so predictable to me that I have long ceased writing to The Press and Journal as it won’t change anything and they will railroad through what they want to do anyway, because in their world public opinion doesn’t matter.

They don’t like trees or parks or swimming pools or libraries; that much should come as no surprise to anyone reading this. What used to be Union Terrace Gardens now looks like Spaghetti Junction.

Years ago when they scrapped the business and technical section in the Central Library and filled it with DVDs and CDs (which are now out of fashion, due to the way people watch or listen to media) and computers (which are out of date and depreciate by the day from the moment they buy them and are little used due to smartphones) and began hollowing out the rest of the place, I wrote to yourselves saying the end game was eventually to close it.

I remember James Naughtie saying on the Today show on Radio 4 he knew what a good library Aberdeen had in the form of Central Library. If you can get hold of him I don’t think he would say that now.

What the councillors want to do is close everything down so all they have to do is clock in, read the papers, clock out, and go home. The other thing is they are not honest enough to admit it.

In America and Europe, the use of libraries has gone up. The reason why the public won’t use them here is because they know the book stocks are low and the odds are the library won’t have what they want.

James Murray, Aberdeen.

Ian Wood could save our libraries

Sir Ian Wood. Image: Kami Thomson / DC Thomson

Sir, – In 2008, Ian Wood made a conditional offer to fund one-third of the cost of a replacement Union Terrace Gardens.

Allowing for inflation, he could use just half of that offer to keep all of the city’s recently-threatened libraries open for another 100 years, an action that would be of genuine benefit to the city’s residents.

Over to you, Ian Wood.

Andrew Wilson, Brunswick Place, Aberdeen.

Action to rescue Union Street

Sir, – There’s nothing better than a good headline to encourage one to get stuck into reading an article. That was the case with The Press and Journal front page (March 22): “New bid to sell city’s Granite Mile to world.”

That immediately excited me, because it sounded like an amended version of Neil Armstrong’s comment in 1969 – “one small step for the world, one giant leap for Aberdeen”. Then I read the article and my excitement waned and my bubble of hope soon deflated.

However, all is not lost. It is good news that a city business leader, Bob Keiller, is prepared to “step up to the plate” and offer his expertise free to lead a new organisation, Our Union Street.

His business pedigree is impeccable. He is under no illusion this would be a “massive challenge” and although the formation of a citizens’ “army of volunteers” would be very welcome, I doubt if volunteers “grabbing a bucket of soapy water and a wire brush” would make much of an impact on the immense task that is the reformation of the Granite Mile.

Bob Keiller. Image: by Scott Baxter/DC Thomson

Like it or not, the elected councillors have failed to come forward with a solution to the problems of Union Street. By now they must realise they have, sadly, been out of their depth in finding a solution.

I am therefore encouraged by the formation of a start-up organisation, headed by Mr Keiller. He, more than any, will know that time is of the essence, because the regeneration of the Granite Mile is in the last chance saloon.

To gain the support of citizens, Mr Keiller will realise he will be required to ensure that citizens see the plans for the regeneration fairly quickly; know the objectives; and whether it will be car and bus- free thereby providing a pedestrian oasis, or will it be partially pedestrianised?

What kind of mix of retail, hospitality, business and accommodation will Union Street provide? Will there be entertainment areas, will buskers be permitted? Will it have the horticultural impact of a David Welch? Will it be yes or no to begging?

While it is not possible at present to hire contractors to deep-clean the buildings, there is no hiding the fact this is an essential part of the regeneration package.

However, the leading city bodies who will collaborate with Our Union Street should make access to funding easier.

It’s exciting to read that people like Mr Keiller are prepared to commit to leading a campaign to improve their city. He deserves encouragement, support and success for even believing the regeneration is possible.

John Young, Anderson Drive, Aberdeen.

Speed up this new safety measure

Sir, – There are very few rural and urban communities in Aberdeenshire which are not bothered by vehicles speeding within its 30mph zones.

Even if drivers comply with the 30mph limit, there is plenty of evidence which shows a pedestrian hit by a vehicle travelling at 30mph is five times more likely to be fatally injured than if hit by one travelling at 20mph.

In 2020, Aberdeenshire Council approved a move towards 20mph speed limits from the current 30mph in residential areas.

Our community council is aware that, in 2021, the Scottish Government issued a shared policy programme to introduce a safer speed limit of 20 mph for all appropriate roads in built-up areas by 2025.

Image: Vicki Butler-Henderson

It would seem that Aberdeenshire Council has paused its speed limit reduction programme.

If this delay is the cause of just one fatality in Aberdeenshire, then the council will have it on its conscience.

Other authorities are getting on with the job. Why isn’t Aberdeenshire Council?

Hugh Martin, Secretary, Longside and District Community Council.

Union is failing to function for us

Sir, – Small nations Ireland, Denmark, and Finland show there is no reason why Scotland could not flourish.

Referring to “UK finest union in history” by Dr Marsh (Letters, March 22) is an archaic empire memory.

His response to Dick Winchester is guilty of his own “disingenuity” on Denmark, where his data are selected extremes.

Average tax is 44% (not his 56%), higher than the UK, but affordable childcare, public transport access and pensions are far greater as a result.

Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Car tax can be half his 180% for small cheaper cars; this tax is worthily meant to promote use of good public transport. His words on cancer care, education and pollution are opposite to ratings by world bodies.

Lazy checking of data is a poor basis to promote his bias and recall of a past when UK people did have some unity.

Higher-tax Finland and Denmark are open countries, far more transparent, invest strongly in outlying regions, and seem socially united and at ease.

Any country could do the same with sustained effort, with people of unified action. Neither the UK nor Scotland are in this state.

The current UK state looks backward; a smaller Scotland would struggle but may have some chance, if all parties could collaborate.

I have no wish to see the UK break up but I cannot accept the “lying and self-interest” that seems endemic within recent UK governments and which polarises society.

I have long been dismayed that the UK seems champion at losing control of utilities (rail, energy, water companies that now dump raw sewage) to market forces, and allows overseas sale of some major UK companies that are truly world-leading, like ARM (the heart of most mobile phones).

I wonder if Dr Marsh voted for the recent years of dysfunctional UK governments, clinging to some empire memory?

Mike Hannan, Cults, Aberdeen.

Trump the only Fool on display

Sir, – The only Fool I could find in Saturday’s paper was Donald Trump.

A Armitstead, Achiltibuie.

Cock and Bull plan for safer roads

Sir, – The Press and Journal (March 31) showed the probable new user-friendly road systems affecting the town and suburbs.

There was an illustration of a proposal for the old A90 opposite the Cock and Bull Pub and I wondered what person made up this design. It puts a pedestrian lane on the outside of the bike lane thus putting any young mother in charge of children in the precarious position of trying to control them, exposing them to the threat of traffic on a road which would be restricted in width.

Surely the common sense approach would be to put the pedestrian lane close to the vergeside with the bike lane nearest the traffic. If the same amount of intelligence is applied to the rest of these modifications, dear knows what we can look forward to, and I would think the name of the pub gives a good idea as to the quality of thinking that has gone into this debacle.

It appears the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

Alexander Sutherland, Hilton Drive, Aberdeen.

Nothing changes with Yousaf’s SNP

Humza Yousaf sitting in between Ash Regan and Kate Forbes. Image: Andrew Milligan/PA

Sir, – Nicola Sturgeon has gone. Well almost – her protege Humza Yousaf has taken over and is carrying on in the Sturgeon way which inevitably led to her demise. We know the most important thing to Yousaf is independence even though it has gone through the courts and a Section 30 order is the only way for it to happen.

He has appointed a minister for independence at a wage of just under £100,000, this as well as the minister for constitution Angus “Air Miles” Robertson, so doubling up on independence ministers.

Surely the most important thing is to sort out the disasters left by his predecessor and himself – SNHS, transport infrastructure, education, ferries, underfunding of councils, drugs and alcohol deaths and DRS. But no, it’s all independence and the people of Scotland don’t matter, and to finish it off the two Green ministers have been kept on.

I look forward to the next election when the SNP will be thrown out of office. It can’t come soon enough.

Ian Gray, Mosstowie, Elgin.

Stand up to be counted

Protestors have vowed not to be silenced.
These are the 24 councillors who denied protestors the chance to speak. Image: Roddie Reid/DC Thomson

Sir, – The 24 city councillors, Nationalists and Lib Dem coalition, who voted against campaigners being allowed to talk have in my opinion turned their backs on the people who trusted in them.

I’m sure these councillors take an oath when elected to the council that they will be honest and truthful with the public.

Yet they already planted the seed many, many months ago to close city establishments that the public depend on. This was not open and honest.

I would also like the 24 who voted for a closed meeting to be publicly named.

We the people have a right to this information.

Joseph Durno, Cummings Park Circle, Aberdeen.

City’s libraries very precious

Sir, – I remember sitting on my doorstep watching the workers building Northfield Library. I was four years old and couldn’t wait to join.

A whole new world opened up to me through the words written in those books.

Northfield Library. Image: James Ross

Little did I know that one day I would work in Northfield Library for a short time before moving to the Business and Technical Department at the Central Library as a qualified librarian.

My family had very little but I was able to go to university.

I honestly don’t think I would have been able to achieve that without the access to free books at the library. I know the council has to make savings but why not scrap some of the projects they come up with that are designed to “entertain” us and keep our libraries for all to use.

M Dickson, Danestone.