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Meeting with Councillor Jim Hunter

LA LOMBARDA, Castle Gate, December 2003

Interview by Graham Kerr, Keith Allan, Alistair Allan and Eva Merz

Eva Merz: Jim Hunter, we are very grateful that you could come to this meeting. Personally, my big interest is about communication and that's why I’m so glad you came. Now we can talk! We are interested in these skate stoppers in Broad Street and Graham, Keith and Alistair have some questions for you. Maybe you could start by telling how you are involved in Broad Street?

Jim Hunter: As I'm a Castlehill Councillor, Broad Street happens to be in my ward. I've been told that the Council put up the barricades - or whatever you want to call them - to stop the skateboarders from falling into the flowerbeds and to save any injuries from happening. There have been lots of figures put out for this, but I think it cost £30,000. I have been in contact with the Corporate Director, Mr. David Gordon. The money apparently has come from the City Centre Partnership. It became available out of some fund, I don't know exactly which one. It has definitely not come out of Council funds.

Alistair Allan: I just wondered if the local community was consulted about this?

JH: Certainly the Community Council has never been consulted. I think that some certain officials took this upon their own head and did it to stop any casualties. That's what I was told today. They never consulted me, the local Councillor, which they should have. This happens quite a lot, not only in my ward but in others too. I have quite mixed feelings regarding this.

Graham Kerr: Do you not think that the money they used would have been better spend on building a proper skate park instead of putting up these fences?

JH: Yes, I do believe that. As a local Councillor I do my bit for the community. But the new skate park in Westburn Park will be out of my area; it will be in one of the Liberal Democrat's area. I just hope they continue to spend as much money as they did on the railings to enforce a good skate park.

AA: Have you got any idea of how much they are going to spend on a skate park? Is it going to be anywhere comparable to what they spend on the railings?

JH: Well, if it's a good skate park and it's done up to health and safety measurements and everything else it will be much more than that anyway.

Keith Allan: We had a workshop at Peacock with an architect and within a minute or so we thought of designs that were cost efficient and...you know, could prevent us from skating on these blocks in Broad Street. So if they'd consulted anyone with common knowledge about skateboarding they would have been able to do a much more cost efficient job, more practical and more aesthetically pleasing for the eye.

JH: I have been in touch with Gordon McIntosh, the Director of Neighbourhood Services Central, and I'll make sure that the skateboarders are kept in the picture. I will get your names, addresses and phone numbers and I will keep you fully informed, I can ensure you of that.

AA: There was a public meeting at Peacock Visual Arts about Broad Street. Where you there yourself?

JH: I was there but unfortunately I had to leave because I had a surgery that night. But one of my friends, ex-Councillor Allan McIntosh, did a talk.

EM: He's supposedly very supportive of the skateboarders.

JH: I'm very supportive as well. Everyone was young and the youth must enhance their potential. But the skate park down at the beach wasn't safe towards the end. I was one of the principle officers that went against it. In health and safety measures anybody could have got injured down there. That wasn't a good situation. But a new skate park will be done this year, hopefully. Some people say it might go to Union Terrace Gardens but apparently there's mixed feelings regarding that. I think that Westburn Park is the favourite just now.

EM: When you talk about health and safety I think it's a little bit funny because skateboarding is quite wild and basically not very safe. So what are your measurements for health and safety?

JH: Regarding the design and planning health and safety must be involved.

GK: Do you think there's any chance of the railings in Broad Street being removed?

JH: No I don't think there’s any chance at all.

EM: Why not?

JH: Because the Council put them up to stop the skateboarders using them actually! There's no more I can say about that. Honestly I don't think they'll be removed even if there is a petition or whatever. They've spend this money on the railings to protect the granite and the flower beds, etcetera...That comes from the Corporate Director, David Gordon.

AA: The public meeting was generally about discussing the use of Broad Street as a quite dynamic public space, like in different parts of Europe where they actually have all sections of society coming together. Instead of this kind of segregated thing we have with old people in the houses, young people in pubs and children at home watching TV. I thought that it was a bit of a hopeful conclusion we came to at the meeting: that there were these different options for having mixed activities in public spaces. It just seems so bleak to completely rule that out. It seems that the amount of money spend on this could have been spend on a nice space. And for tourism and all sorts of different aspects it would have been so much more enlivening to the city centre. So it seems like a waste of a perfectly good space to turn it into just flowerbeds, a bus stop and a covered over space under the Council building. That was just a comment.

JH: Well, I will try and take your comment into consideration and I do believe there might be some developments if the Council moves across to Marishal College. There might be open space for development later on.

KA: At the meeting it was discussed that there's not so much need for any more open space and why not use what we've already got, like the Castle Gate we're in at the moment. It's a large open space but it's not used for anything really. So it could be smoothened over, you know, made into a place...

EM: Skate park?

KA: Ha, ha, ha!

AA: More an area where people are allowed to do all kinds of activities generally.

JH: At a recent local plan meeting we talked about maybe try and make the Castle Gate into a green area. That was one of the proposals I had put on. And there is hopefully a development going to take off down in Frederick Street so more people would use the Castle Gate area and it would help to keep the shops and other businesses going.

GK: I heard that they're planning to take down St. Nicholas House in five years. Is that right?

JH: Well, there's been nothing concrete about that yet. It might be before that, but I think it will be after five years because they have to get the surface done on Marishal College and there are big alterations to be done. That's only my personal view, but there has been nothing passed to the Council yet.

GK: Then those things are going to be demolished. It seems like there's not much point in spending all that money on the barricades.

JH: Regarding the barricades I think I said my piece on that. Regarding St Nicholas House coming down, I think everything is a pie in the sky just now. It's a new administration. They're trying to maybe promise too much too quick...

EM: Could I just take it back to the barricades? I've been looking quite a lot at them because I think the design is quite astonishing and it looks to me...well as many things, but certainly hostile. To me that all seems badly planned and it looks like a very quick decision and. What do you think about that? I know that you haven't been involved in the decision-making behind the skate barricades, maybe it was decided before you became a Councillor.

JH: There has definitely been a lack of communication. I don't know who's made the decisions regarding the railings, but David Gordon is going to try and find the names.

EM: What department is David Gordon Director of?

JH: He's in charge of Roads and Economic Development.

EM: We have this mission to find the designer.

JH: I will try to find out for you and if you need to have a further meeting we can easily have that.

GK: I was wondering what kind of stage the skate park is at just now?

JH: It's only out for consultation. But I have a meeting tomorrow morning with all the central councillors down at the beach and I'll ask Gordon McIntosh how far they are with the skate park.

GK: I was at a meeting at Bridge of Don. It was exactly the same as a another meeting a couple of years ago and it seems like they're always about to build a skate park, but they never do.

JH: Yes but I can assure you there will be one built. Even though it's not within my area I will keep you well informed about what's happening.

EM: Graham, what goes on at those meetings, why don't you think they are getting anywhere?

GK: Well, all that happened was the Councillor asking people what they wanted in a skate park, locations of where they wanted to be and this really basic stuff. But they have asked that before and nothing ever came out of it.

JH: I will take this up tomorrow with the Corporate Director, Gordon McIntosh.

EM: Very good and we would like to meet him too...

JH: I could maybe ask the planning department what design they are going to use in this future skate park and I hope it's going out for consultation as well.

GK: I have got a problem with parks designed by people in the Planning Department. They obviously don't know what skaters look for because they are not well designed at all. If you're gonna make a really big park for Aberdeen you should really have it designed by skaters, you know, for skaters.

AA: I think another big problem with the interaction between skaters and councillors is that they're often neglecting that street skating is quite a popular activity. Because there's been no skate parks in Aberdeen it has become about street skating, which is a different discipline in itself. And whenever there's been some kind of skateboard construction put up the councillors think the problem is solved and they can ban people from skating in the streets. I'm assuming that's why the skate stoppers have gone up in Broad Street. Basically they were put up right after the thing down at the beach opened this summer. I know there's a big issue about us getting in the way of people. But in Broad Street most people are using the bus stop and sitting on the ledge there and we used the channel in the middle that no one else used. So we found our niche and then Councillors take that away when they sort of do quick solutions like the skate park at the beach - and that's our problem. I don't know if that has come to your attention?

JH: I will take that up tomorrow. Right, street skating is different from park skating (taking notes).

KA: The problem with the skate park down at the beach was that it was done by one individual. It was good that the Council consulted him but it was only one man's opinion: Andy Dobson.

GK: No, he didn't do it. I found out that it was "Extreme Ed" - remember the roller-blader guy that was here last summer? "Extreme Ed".

KA: Oh, was it him?

GK: Then, when it reopened this year they gave Andy Dobson two weeks and he was trying to sort something out for the street people. That's why he had the little mini installed and the rail as well. But that's all he had time to do...

EM: It should also be mentioned that it was a totally private initiative...

JH: Can I come in here? The Christian association that built it left a terrible amount of debt with it. There was nothing paid for, the rent wasn't paid for and that's the principle reason why it was closed. Have the skateboarders got an association or a group?

AA: As far as I understand it's only been this lot here, nothing officially…

JH: I think you should form a skateboarders association so you could try and get some funds or grants for this.

AA: There's been meetings about parks for years and years and there's been skateboarder and rollerblader groups and I went to a couple of meetings when I was 15. So it's been an ongoing thing and groups have been organised especially with some of the older skaters.

JH: You would have to be registered as a group.

KA: How do you go about starting an association?

JH: Well, you just have to form a committee and have an annual general meeting and propose Eva as a Chairperson! Then you could have a Vice Chair person, a President, a Secretary and a Treasurer.

AA: Even the group of people that used to skate in Broad Street is enough to start.

KA: The range of age is from Graham, who's 17 to George, who's 12 or something.

AA: Are you worried about not being taken seriously as a young group?

KA: Yeah.

AA: I think that's an issue. Will that become a problem?

JH: It shouldn't be a problem.

EM: That's what Jim's saying; you would be taken more seriously as an organisation.

JH: We could arrange to get 20 people or more together and chair it well, have an annual general meeting, get rules drawn up - it has to be done properly. You could maybe call it Aberdeen Skateboard Association

GK: Aberdeen Street Skaters or ASS!

JH: Cheers! All the best for you! Are you boys away skateboarding tonight?

GK: Yeah, if you want to, you could come with us! On Saturday two of my friends got taken into the police station. We were skateboarding at the Town House. There were quite a few of us and these two policemen came over and they told us to move on because we were in people's way. But there was no one around. They said that it's public pavement and we kind of told them "Yeah, we are public too"! But they weren't having any of it and...

KA: One police officer put out his foot to try and trip me off my skateboard.

JH: Did you get their numbers?

GK: I forgot.

KA: He tried to trip me off...I questioned if he was allowed to do that and one of my friends said that we could get him for assault, in a joking sort of way, and then the police officer grabbed him by the hair and dragged him...

GK: ...to the ground and then he grabbed his arm and twisted it behind him and tried to drag him to the police station. The guy who was being dragged has a twin brother who was there, going insane. He tried to pull them apart and the other policeman grabbed him in pretty much the same way and the one brother was saying "Do you think you can do this to us just because you're wearing a uniform"? They didn't like that so they dragged them to the police station, where they took their names. We went there and were told to wait for them and then they came out. But they can't justify that! They hadn't actually done anything wrong, my friends. It's pretty serious.

AA: A bit totalitarian isn't it?

JH: So how old are you three?

GK: 17

KA: 16 in a week

AA: 20

JH: If you want to form an association we can maybe do something after New Year.

EM: Great! Also you know plenty of guys that would want to be part of it.

GK: Oh yeah, hundreds!

JH: It would be really nice.

EM: Thank you so much for that brilliant idea!

GK: Yeah! Handshake!