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David Gordon:Interview

ST. NICHOLAS HOUSE February 2004

Corporate director of Environment and Infrastructure Committee, DAVID GORDON
Interview by Graham Kerr, Jonathan Adam and Eva Merz

Graham Kerr: Whose decision was it to put up the fences in Broad Street?

David Gordon: The fences came from money provided by the Aberdeen City Centre Partnership (ACCP).

GK: Were any members of the public consulted about this?

DG: The ACCP and the councillors who are on the ACCP were at a meeting where it was discussed and approved.

GK: How much did it cost?

DG: Oh, I don't have that figure in my head just now. No doubt I could find out for you how much money was involved all together. It's not just the fencing there. Some other work was done as well in order to enhance the security and safety of the planting round and about the city centre.

Jonathan Adam: Do you know how the plants were being damaged?

DG: In a variety of ways. And if you want to talk about skateboarding, it was skateboarders physically jumping on the top of the walls and ending up in the flowerbeds, and plants were being squashed, damaged, uprooted...

Eva Merz: So have the same kind of fences been put up in other places in Aberdeen?

DG: There are other fences of a similar type; I couldn't give you all the locations. I think I saw some similar fencing in Duthie Park. But that wasn't necessarily a deterrent to skateboarding, just as a protection to the flowerbed.

GK: Are the fences on Broad Street deterrent for skateboarding?

DG: Initially they were not intended to be a deterrent to skateboarding, but as a protection for the flowers.

JA: Do we know who designed the fences?

DG: I don't know, but they were obviously a form selected by one of the people who are responsible for the horticultural gardens within Aberdeen Area.

GK: What's your opinion of skateboarding in general?

DG: I don't have any problems with skateboarding in general. My own son had a skateboard - I even had a shot at it myself! But not in the city centre. I think you've got to accept...The City Council would like to make a provision for skateboarders. I'm not involved in that that's why I tried to get Gordon McIntosh to be at this meeting, but he wasn't available today. He's the Director of Area Central and he is actively looking at a facility for skateboarders. The Council sees it as a need. The Council was supportive of the skateboarding park that was put up down at the beach, giving them the ground to do it. But it was only a temporary facility. We are supportive; we just don't have the money to make a permanent skateboarding park. But if skateboarding is done in the wrong and inappropriate places it can cause damage to people. The people that are skateboarding and using that wall down there it's not been fixed yet so if you want to take responsibility for it I will happily send you an invoice! The wall was being damaged by people sliding on top of it; it's got wax on it and all sorts of things...

EM: Which wall?

DG: Just outside the front door here.

GK: Do you not think that instead of spending however many thousands of pounds it was on fences, a better way to stop people skating there, would be to put the money towards a skate park so we wouldn't go to Broad Street anymore?

DG: First of all, we did make a contribution toward a skate park in effect with the provision of the ground, or whatever amount was charged for the ground, down at the beach. So the Council allowed that to go ahead, but at the same time we put up the fencing as a protection for the plants, not as a primary deterrent to skateboarding. There are other methods of doing that. But Aberdeen will try to provide a facility that is required and try to find a partner to provide funding for this facility. And hopefully people who are skateboarding will use these facilities or areas where they can carry out their sport without interfering with other people's enjoyment or property.

EM: Street skating is a discipline within skateboarding. I think that there should be awareness about this that even if a new skate park is build there will still be street skating...

DG: I think I can accept that people do skateboarding in different forms and areas. There will always be people using the streets to some extent. All I'm wanting to happen is that it be in a safe manner, somewhere safe to do so, somewhere that doesn't interfere with other people's enjoyment of the street and that there's no damage being done to other people's property.

JA: Now Broad Street used to be a designated corner where we were just allowed to skateboard. Would it be possible to have a certain area in Aberdeen that could just be for skateboarders and just be accepted as a spot, rather than having to be moved on?

DG: Well, while skateboarders did occupy certain areas in this vicinity, it wasn't without concern and complaint. We had complaints from the staff about the noise of people skateboarding when they're trying to work; we had different complaints from the public about the skateboarding on the footpath. I can say for myself that they were a potential hazard to themselves; they were skateboarding on the footpath, onto the road, in front of the bus or whatever. I don't think we would be condoning something that would be potentially dangerous to either the users or members of the public.

GK: Since we can't skate in Broad Street anymore, where would you suggest we skate until the new park is up and running?

DG: I don't know that. I don't know of any other suitable locations, certainly not since the skate park went out of commission quite recently. But I do know that people go as far as to Dundee. There are skate parks being built in other cities as well. I see inline skaters skating a long the lower promenade at the beach, places like that, where they are not causing a great interference to other people.

EM: I don't have any doubts that people complain about the skaters and the noise. And some people might be afraid of the speed...But I also know that people, that I've asked, have complaints about these fences. Maybe not officially...I have brought some photographs here...What kind of image do you think these fences give of Aberdeen?

DG: (looking at the photographs) I haven't actually thought about that. But these fences are certainly functional with regards to protecting the flowerbeds, which is what they were intended to do. I have no doubt that there could be some alternative types of fencing. But it's certainly a bit discouraging to the operatives, who are responsible for these flowerbeds, to see their work undone, trampled over or whatever. These photographs show quite clearly the damage to the edge of the granite. What sort of image do you think that damage and that mess on the front of that wall gives? That will be a fairly costly exercise to clean up. But I certainly wouldn't like to clean it up and see it damaged again.

GK: You're talking about the image that the mess on the ledges give, but if you see kids out in the sun, enjoying themselves with a healthy exercise and just having a laugh with their friends that's a pretty positive image if you ask me!

DG: I'm saying, I have no problem what so ever with people who are skateboarding. Nice, healthy sport. As long as they are not injuring other people or damaging other people's property, it's not a problem, fine. But we have to find somewhere where we can do this without the downsides I'm describing. You would obviously be happy, since you've formed an association, to act as responsible people in trying to achieve that. That suits me as well.

EM: Has there actually been injuries, actual accidents in this particular spot, have you heard of any?

DG: I think you would know...Yeah. Well, I've seen injuries. But the injuries that the young people do to themselves are fairly minor and they are prepared to tolerate these sorts of injuries themselves. But it's not really something where you can say, "Well as long as they don't kill each other it's not a problem". There is a potential for them to run into an old person on their skateboard because they're quite fast, knock some old person over and that's a broken leg, damage. There's always that potential. But the accidents I have witnessed have been the skateboarders themselves and they have not been terribly serious.

JA: Is there any way of finding out who have designed these particular items because I see them as restricting the entire kerb rather than just protecting the plants. For example why doesn't the curve lean over the plants rather than out over the kerb. Is there anyone we could get in touch with?

DG: You should either talk to Gordon McIntosh or myself. I mean, I can easily find out. I know it's one of my staff who selected that particular type of fence. It's a matter of opinion which one you go for, and that particular fence is being used elsewhere as well. In actual fact, the bike stands are a bit of a deterrent themselves to skateboarding if that's all they wanted to achieve. The fences were planned months ahead of when it was put up and the bike rags were put up within a week after the fences as a separate arrangement. The fence was intended to be protection to the plants and that as such also is a deterrent to the skateboarders. But the bike rags themselves would be a big enough deterrent to the skateboarders.

EM: Do you then agree when I say that this must be protection against the skateboarders because if it was only protection from "ordinary" vandalism the fences would have been different I mean, you can just jump over that low fence?

DG: Skateboarders skate along there, right. They didn't skate down there and there (pointing at the photographs). The fence has gone around the whole bit! So it serves several useful purposes, maybe not as far as you're concerned!

JA: Would you describe these creations as dual purpose?

DG: Well, I'm happy to describe them as dual purpose, yes. They protect the flowerbed from a whole variety of different things including people skateboarding.

EM: But do they give a nice picture of the flowerbeds in Aberdeen?

DG: That's honestly an individual opinion...If the flowers are damaged by whatever cause, it's certainly preferable to have them protected in some way. But they have survived many years before without the fences, so let's not argue over that...

GK: If they've survived so many years, why bother with the fences at all?

DG: Because they were being damaged at this time. It costs money to do the planting, waste of time, putting the plants in. And the fence was looked at as, not only protecting the plants, but also being a deterrent of some description, to other activities.

JA: At the moment there don't seem to be many plants there!

DG: You see the flowerbeds out here; we do change the bedding through out the year. Most of the plants in this area have been damaged or otherwise couldn't survive the aggressive area that they live in. The ACCP are particular keen to have this high quality amenity in the city centre area.

EM: So the decision was made within the ACCP?

DG: Yes, they made the decision with regard to the fencing. They provided the money for it, as I understand.

EM: It's very important for us to know because we want to get all the facts right.

GK: I heard that all this is going to be torn down and redeveloped.

DG: Oh yeah. There is a proposal which is about demolishing the entire building and move across the road to Marischal College and I hope the area might become another civic square within Aberdeen or be redeveloped in some other way.

GK: When?

DG: There's no timescale set for it, but sooner, rather than later...

GK: This civic square or whatever new development do you think there's any chance we could incorporate some skate friendly architecture?

DG: I think it's a long way away. I'd rather suspect that at that time you'd be an architect yourself!

EM: Or a politician! Do fences like these need planning permission?

DG: No. Planning permission is required for walls and fences over a certain height and this is within the limit and doesn't need planning permission as far as I know. But I'm not a planner physically. Okay?

EM: The directors of the City Centre Partnership are Tom Moore and John Carnie?

DG: Yeah, it's entirely up to yourself who you approach and it's entirely up to them whether they wish to talk to you about it. The process was started before I actually came here, so I couldn't tell you the exact names.

EM: Then you wouldn't know when the decision was made?

DG: I could almost find that out myself, or Councillor Hunter could tell you he was in the period of the last administration, before he became a Councillor. So we are talking about within the last couple of years.

EM: Would the Councillor before Jim Hunter have been involved in the decision or not?

DG: I cannot say for sure if he was or not but certainly the paper from the meeting would be available or his representative would have been at the meeting where it was discussed. But I don't know you asked me a question out of the blue.

EM: Are papers like that available to the public?

DG: Eeehhh, well papers from committees are certainly available to the public; they are available in the libraries, so if you went to research the public libraries, okay!