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Gordon McIntosh:Interview

St Nicholas House, March 2004

Director of Neighbourhood Services Central, Gordon McIntosh
Interview by Graham Kerr, Jonathan Adam, Tom Jones and Eva Merz

Eva Merz: We did an interview with a local Councillor who said that we will get a skate park in Aberdeen City Centre this year. Is that true?

Gordon McIntosh: Well...did any of you go to any of the consultations about the skate park?

Graham Kerr: I went to the one at Bridge of Don.

GM: Back in October I was asked by colleagues in the property section to come back with a report by June on the possibilities in relation to establishing a skate park by third parties - not by the Council, okay? So far, I've had four consultation meetings with the public. There has also been a model-making exercise. Anyone involved with that?

GK: Yeah I went...

GM: In terms of model-making it's using the technique of Planning for real to help plan the process of getting ideas and consult the process in terms of what the requirements are. There is a web site, which isn't wonderful, but it's there. Have you been on the web site?

EM: I've tried, but it doesn't work with a Mac computer.

GM: I will give the man who deals with it an e-mail tomorrow. We have now set up a working group that will meet three times in April and May, and give a report to the Council on 6. June. In the meantime the Jesus Revolution group, who supplied the Beach Skate Park, are interested in providing a permanent facility somewhere in the city. They will have to raise funding to do it, but they are of the view that they can do that. Secondly there are two young guys who are separately looking at establishing a skate park in the city. I've tried to speak to both parties and tried to have them speak together, and both of these groups are on the working group. Other representatives on the working group are two people from the model-workshop and some guys that have been involved in the skate park at the beach, in particular Andy Dobson. Councillor Jill Wisely, who is very pro skate parks, is leading the Council side and officials, who are basically responsible for play equipment, Jim Nicol and the Chair of the Youth Action committee, Hamish C is also invited onto that group. So the make-up is at least 50% users. I'll admit that I don't know much about skateboarding, but I'm getting to know more. Clearly I have identified that there's two main groups in Aberdeen, there's street skaters and there's performance skaters...

GK: I have never heard the term performance skaters before.

GM: What do you call it?

GK: Vert skaters.

GM: Aha, right, okay. There's a lot of information...The Councillors at this moment in time are positively disposed towards helping where ever possible. I've got to report what is possible. And the Council may end up coming in behind us trying to do something...I can't say they will or they won't; you know what Council's are like...We can make recommendations, etcetera, but it's up to the Council, once the proposal is put in front of them, to decide whether it's yes or no. In the meantime I'm looking at other ways in which we may be able to provide street skating facilities without going into big budgets like a skate park, which is, in terms of the consultations, the major thing that's coming through. The majority of folk are looking for one single, big skate park possibly with some street facilities included in it. There are obviously people who would like other, smaller skate parks around the city as well.

GK: Have you seen Perth Skate Park or heard anything about it?

GM: I've seen pictures of Perth Skate Park. My information on the Perth Skate Park is that it's a good facility...

GK: Yeah, they have got a good mix of obstacles for everyone and it's really popular.

EM: All skateboarders I've spoken to say that it's a skate park that should be looked at as successful in terms of facilities.

GM: I can understand that you guys would like to influence me, telling me what you want. But through the model-making exercise I'm trying to get the users to develop some ideas of what they really want.

GK: I found that Whitespace Workshop kind of dismal. It seemed really impractical, no one had any idea of what they were doing. It was mostly just kids that didn't have any experience with skate parks at all.

GM: That's why the Working Group involves guys that really know about skate parks, like Andy Dobson and James, who managed the Beach Skate Park day to day. He's the recommended representative from the Jesus revolution group. So, basically, if I get it my way, it will be guys who know about skate parks who will be saying what should be in a skate park, not officials. The officials, like the guys who do play equipment, have got knowledge but they don't have the detailed knowledge like the guys who are basically using the facilities all the time.

GK: There is a small problem because most skaters have different tastes of what's good. So if you just ask one or two then chances are that it won't cater for all the skating community. So it's best to get a broad range of people involved.

GM: Absolutely! You remember the Bridge of Don consultation? I tried to ask what you want to have in a skate park. I think it's difficult to get that across on a bit of paper. To be honest, I think about seven things came out, you know, and things like ramps doesn't say enough because it's about the height and what it's made of...So that's where the Working Group comes in.

EM: So the Working Group is a new thing? When I speak to older skate boarders they say that they've been struggling the last 10 to 15 years to get a facility in Aberdeen. So what's different now?

GM: I don't know what was there because I wasn't responsible for this in the past. We are part of a new structure in the City Council. I think what's different now is that there is a real commitment from the Council. The Councillors are there to listen to what the skateboarders are saying. The feeling I get from the past is that some of the Councillors basically just wanted to get you guys off the street.

EM: Yeah, but it looks like they are still wanting that, doesn't it?

GM: Well, they are and they are not. What happened, to my understanding, was that they were coming up with proposals for a skate park, but it wasn't necessarily what the potential users wanted and it wasn't necessarily where they wanted it. There was a consultation exercise before...But if we get a working group with a Councillor as head of it and take the recommendations through to the Council, then I think it will be effective. What happened the last time was that, in my view, some Councillors, once the recommendations were made to them, decided what they thought they wanted. That's their right. It's a democratic city. They are elected to make the decisions. I'm not saying that won't happen again. But the way we are going about it this time, with the Whitespace consultations and the working group to develop proposals and take them forward to the next stage, at the very least it will mean that there is an informed way forward. The other thing is, before we go for anything final, whether it's the private sector or not, then we should go out and consult again. But if one of these private groups say to me tomorrow, "Well, we're just gonna do this in any case", there's not a hell of a lot I can do. We might end up getting three skate parks!! But as long as the Council is involved we can only try to pull it together and try to create a momentum to allow it to happen.

EM: A newspaper article says that a £1 million park is under planning. What kind of money is that?

GM: That was a figure that came from the Jesus Revolution, that's what they thought was needed to build a state of the art skate park. They have a proposal for a permanent facility. That wasn't just a skate park, but an extreme sports centre. It wasn't something like the initial Beach Skate Park, which was temporary, meant to be there for two weeks literally. And then it expanded to be for the summer. It's in storage at the moment. It was better than they had hoped for. And then they wanted to establish something on a permanent basis. But the only reason they got permission for the park at the beach was that it was temporary. Because that's a zone for other planning purposes, to get the best possible value in terms of commercial sale of the site. We have had other people asking us to sell that site, so we couldn't sell it to them without opening it up for sale to anyone else. So we couldn't allow it to go ahead and, to be honest, they didn't have the resources for that site!

EM: Of course, that's a very attractive site...for casinos for instance!

GM: Well, we have actually had enquiries for many purposes for that site.

GK: You said that the ramps from the beach were in storage. Are there any plans to use them again?

GM: I met Mr. Taylor, the lead person of the Jesus Revolution group, last week. Believe me, we have looked at every possible premise for that equipment to be used, inside as well. But they are quite big ramps. And there's an up-keep cost as well.

GK: You know, a lot of the ramps were actually too big and the whole park wasn't really up to standard. A lot of people were skating there because they hadn't anywhere else to go. Nice idea, but it could have been a lot better with the money they had if they had spoken to skaters about the design.

GM: But to be fair to them, they did provide a facility for the youth of Aberdeen from their point-of-view.

EM: They did it probably in the best means and it's great that people do something. But if a third party, as you say, will provide a new skate park and it's commercial, then the question of fees comes up. And can the youth afford that?

GM: I do think there's got to be some sort of balance where there is something accessible for people who can't afford to go into a park. There are people in some parts of the city that are less able than others, who are very keen skateboarders. That's important as well. There are people in the Rotary Club that are interested in this. I could potentially see the Rotary Club providing some smaller facilities. I have got some ideas for that if I can get matched money. And what I would like to speak to you guys about is that I might be able to get access to some cash in terms of providing some street skating facilities. I don't know if you think it's suitable or not, but this area is designated at the moment, not for skateboarding but for line skating. It's the area down at the Beach Boulevard, you know, along the front. It was actually laid with a material that's good for roller-blading. I don't know if that makes any difference to skateboarding.

GK: Not really...

GM: Right, so it doesn't make any difference. And it's also wide enough. I've bounced it off with the planners and they feel we could put facilities in there.

Jonathan Adams: So would that be different obstacles dotted about along the whole length of the beach?

GM: Yeah. I have got to get approval to spend the money at the end of the day – but if I can take forward the proposal, I would work with you guys. You are specifically street skaters as opposed to a wider consultation group. So I would like you to open that discussion.

EM: Yeah, we are also going to be in touch with people who know about these things. But also we are interested in the whole attitude towards street activities in general. I can't help but being very critical to this...(showing photograph of the St Nicholas prohibition sign)...you know, what kind of signal does this send forward? Any roller blading, skating, cycling or sporting activity is prohibited...it's going to end up as a totally dead city!

GM: I agree with you. The problem here is that you a preaching to someone who's already converted! I suppose I have got to take the perspective of the citizens and I have to say that I have spoken to guys skating and I haven't come across any rude or nasty skateboarder yet! The guys I have spoken to have been absolutely polite, well mannered and usually very considerate. I think it's more about perception. Things like...you know, you are on the skateboards and there's old folks and see this door here (photo of fences in front of entrance to St Nicholas House)...honestly I'm still asking about this, and David Gordon told me it was the City Centre Partnership that put it up. I have asked the City Centre Partnership and they said it wasn't them. So I want to know who put these in. Whatever happens...there is an issue here though because this is the point where old people go and have access to various services in the Council. You'll see them, 60 - 70 year-olds, walking along here and they are generally frightened, and they are wrong, but it is about perceptions. And it's about how we get the message across. I remember being in Boston 12 years ago, seeing a group of line skaters coming through Boston on a Sunday evening in the summer. There was a pack of 25 of them and I have never seen anything as impressive in my life. They were all over the place, over the handrails...they were past me in a few seconds...it just made the whole place live! Super! Maybe we should be looking at times as well, when it's more achievable. In Lyon in France they set about two hours aside for a bit of the city centre for the skateboarders and they are using it. And it's supposed to be brilliant.

GK: In Vancouver in Canada they have a skateboarding week, where the skaters have freedom in the city to do their thing.

GM: Yeah, but we need to sell the message and I think in the back of the work we are doing with the skate park we need to lift the whole thing. The impression I get is that A: there's a large number of quite good skaters here in the city and B: a lot of skaters from outside were attracted to Aberdeen when the skate park down at the beach was open. And that's got an economic development impact in the city as well. And we have got to look at how we give the city life and a buzz.

Tom Jones: Have you been on Broad Street at night since the skate blockers have been put in? It's dead; there's no one there. Everyone is cold. Before they would be nice and polite. The skate blockers are depressing.

EM: I see the problem with fast skateboards in public and old people being afraid, but this is just a total other extreme...Could you possibly help us to find out about these fences?

GM: I'm asking, seriously. I also want to find out. Every time I meet skaters they ask me who did it.

EM: David Gordon said the money came from the City Centre Partnership and it was decided at a meeting including city councillors. He didn't know whom. Anyway, he wasn't keen to tell us much about it. I have asked him to find out about the cost of the fences. You know, rumours circulate, people are talking about this. So I told David Gordon that maybe it was also in his interest to get the figures right.

GM: But guys I have to say that, if I was you, I wouldn't be confrontational about this. If you start being confrontational you are going to loose the other message. We want to find a place where we can make it happen. You need to say, "Right you've done this, let's recreate it somewhere else"!

GK: Yeah.

JA: It's true.

GM: That's what we need to do. Look at somewhere, not in the middle of nowhere, but less confrontational. If you start taking on the Council on this issue it's going to turn them round, potentially turn them against what we are trying to do. What I don't want to happen right now is to loose momentum in terms of trying to get a skate park.

EM: That takes us back to the skate park. Do we get a skate park this year?

GM: No. I'll be honest with you. I've got to deliver a report in June, which takes it to the next stage. I had hoped that we would have something temporary based on the stuff from last year, you know, the Jesus Revolution stuff because I'm aware that we don't have anything sizeable this summer, unless we can get some street stuff. I would like to push for that as quickly as we can. I want to take this to the first meeting with the working group and try to get their approval, so they are behind me to go ahead and potentially spend the money that I think I can get a hold of. We are speaking about anything between £15,000 and £25,000, which is not a lot of money, but it's enough for some street facilities.

EM: When you see what they can skate on it doesn't need to cost that much. It's more about finding a good location and, I guess, one of the problems with having not a lot of money is if you spread it out too much, so you have one ramp here and one ramp there...

GM: I don't think I know what I'm speaking about, but this is from a discussion I've had with other folk: it's far better to have everything continuously in one line instead of a bit here and bit there.

JA: There are some spots in Miami, Venice Beach, which are like 4 miles of continuous little kicker ramps and grind blocks and things, and section where you can stop and skate for a long time and then carry on. That would just be perfect, basically!

GM: That's the kind of thing I would like to see. And if we can get some pictures of that so we can get an idea of it. That's the thing I would like you to try to put in place.

GK: And there's something like the Skate Plaza; they are building it in Ohio. The web site is www.skateplaza.com.

EM: I have got an article here with pictures (from Sidewalk Magazine), of course this is amazingly huge, but the idea is to incorporate street obstacles as well as a public park. This article is very interesting. What about planning permission for skate parks and stuff like that?

GM: In the working group I have got guys from the property department, okay? And I have got a guy who's in culture and learning, Jim Nicol, he does the play equipment for the Council. And I want somebody from planning on there and ultimately I will be liasing with people from finance and legal.

EM: Back to the Whitespace workshop; will there be somebody from there on the working group?

GM: Yeah, there's Lesley Thompson who leads Whitespace and, if you guys have got concerns, make sure you say you have spoken to me and make your point of view. That's what it's for.

GK: This might sound stupid, but what is actually the point in that workshop?

GM: It's really a consultation exercise. The building of the model itself is more about getting the issues out. It's like, if you are building something, you can start to have discussions. It's not just about a ramp; it's about these elements of a ramp. That comes out in a discussion around the building of a model. So the issues are identified round about the planning of a skate park.

GK: The material we were given to work with was some kind of paper mache or something, and you just couldn't shape it, it just didn't work really...

GM: I will speak to Lesley about this, but my view is that the model isn't important itself; it's the issues that come out of it. It's the fact that you can come across those specific things about ramps, etcetera. It is about involving people in planning, for anything, in the future, in their community. I associated it very much with town planners, which is wrong. It's been used for community development exercises in Aberdeen already, and it's seen as a very good way of engaging people in a discussion. Rather than sitting in a hall like we did at the Bridge of Don...This is more about trying to make folk feel happy about putting forward their ideas around a model. They get stickies and you'll then put your views on the model. And it's those views, that are collected, that are important, not the actual thing itself. The detailed model has got to be developed after that. At the moment it's not up to us to develop that detailed model. We have got two guys in the private sector, trying to develop something.

GK: As long as they are not building what they think we want.

GM: Absolutely. And, whether it's a commercial venture or whether it's a charitable venture, they want to be involved, whatever you want. The charitable guys want to be what you want. They will get failure on their purpose if they do something that's not being used. And the commercial guys, for sure, don't want to put their money into something that's not going to be used. That's why they want to be involved in the working group too. I can offer you guys to join as well, if you want.

EM: For our group to have a representative on the working group? Yeah!

GK: That would be great

GM: So if you give me your name and address before you go. The first meeting, I think, is 6. April.

EM: So what do you personally think it's going to end up with? It sounds good with some public street skating areas in town, but the skate park; do you think it's going to be a private initiative or do you think the Council is going to come up with the money?

GM: Well, I haven't seen a definite proposal from anyone yet, that's what worries me slightly. I think that we will get something at the end of the day. It's when, that's more the worry for me. How long will this take? We will get a proposal ready in June, and then we will have to raise the money. Even if it's the Council it has to put it into it's budget, you know, it would be next April before the Council could get it in. So, some part might be ready for the following summer, earliest. In the meantime, hopefully, something can happen, finding someway of getting the Jesus Revolution's equipment out and about so folk can use that in the meantime. I know its not ideal...

EM: And then some street facilities...

GM: What I'm slightly frightened of is that, if I go ahead and put in street facilities – I want to do that as quietly as I possibly can – some folk will think; "Oh they’ve got something", you know. And that's not what I want...

GK: When we were skating in the streets people were telling us to go down to the beach, even months after it closed!

GM: That's right, and as I said earlier, some people just wanted you guys off the streets. But it’s good that you've got this. You've now got a marketing arm, it's great!

EM: I think it sounds really good - good meeting...

GM: I'm not trying to be overly optimistic. I don't want to build up hopes, but I really think we can make something happen and I do think we can push on and try to get something done in terms of street skating.

GK: Is there anything we can do to help moving things on?

GM: I would like to just consult with your group in terms of street skating and it might help you as well, for getting what you're looking for. I would be delighted for you to tell me what you want and then we can price it and I will be totally open and share everything with you, anything you want, quotes, whatever, planning issues, share correspondence, etcetera. I have no problem with that at all. I'm not an expert, but I've been thinking about this...I better explain it first: when you watch the competition skating it's always mobile ramps they have, nearly always. So if we could have mobile ramps it would be ideal; then I could think of a number of places we could put them as long as we had an underline budget. But it would be limited to some times, meaning that something else could use that space and we wouldn't have to pay for it. You see what I mean?

JA: Yeah, like Stoneywood Ice rink.

GM: Yeah, I even thought about the Exhibition Centre, even the Exhibition Centre car park...I can see that you haven't got something permanent where you can go whenever you want, but there is that balance between cost and permanency, you know, there is a cost for anything that's permanent. If you've got something that's more flexible then you maybe don't have access 100% of the time but it's not as costly. It's about trying to strike that balance between everything that's important. Some of the stuff in here (The article about Skate Plaza in Sidewalk Magazine) is just wonderful...

GK: I think there's a marble skate park in France, which is based on street architecture like benches and stairs, just made of marble blocks. It's hugely successful, one of the best skate parks I've ever seen in magazines. No chance to get that?

GM: I'm thinking...the trouble is that it's going to cost, but think about Aberdeen and it's granite. If you could have a granite theme somewhere, you know, running down different things made of granite. I don't know if granite is a good thing to skate on...

GK: Oh yeah.

GM: Is it? I presume that this is okay (photo of granite blocks around the flowerbeds in Broad Street); of course you need more variety than that, but some things in granite.

GK: It would be good for the image of the city.

EM: But that takes some vision and that the Council is willing to take that risk, doing something totally different...

GM: I wonder if we have got granite slabs and blocks and street furniture lying about that could be reused in that sort of way. I will have a look at that. Maybe we need to think about that as a group. Rather than importing stuff, you know.

EM: It would be a good way to keep the costs down too...Could I just ask you one more thing? We have this exhibition at Peacock in July, and we are going to set up our office there, so there will be representatives from A.S.S. present during the exhibition. We want to have a public discussion event. Would you be interested in participating in that? The one we already had at Peacock was good, but it was maybe too broad and we want to focus more on skating and street culture in general.

GM: Yep, I'm up for that, definitely! Anything I can do to help, just let me know.

EM: Great!

GK: Gordon, would you like to be a patron for A.S.S.?

GM: Ha, ha! Yes, why not!!