Aberdeen City Masterplan Approved
The masterplan to breathe new life into the heart of Aberdeen received the unanimous backing of the city councillors this week. The proposals had been approved by 73% of the public who had responded to a massive public consultation exercise. The 29-page Masterplan maps out proposals to transform a major part of the city centre by creating three distinctive new "neighbourhoods" -
The owners of the two main shopping centres in Aberdeen have worked closely with the council planners on the proposals which, it is hoped, will produce a retail experience in Aberdeen that will make it one of the best in Scotland. Retail space will be boosted by 33% to 74,000 square metres, but all new building heights are planned to be broadly in line with what already exists. The plan should make a significant contribution to the regeneration of the city centre, with new public open spaces, green "oases" for relaxation, redesigned bus routes, new cycleways, public artworks, better lighting, clear signposting from landmark to landmark, extra parking space and far easier access for all.
- a new Retail Heart centred on the Bon Accord Shopping Centre and John Lewis; a footbridge of glass and lightweight structural materials would link the upper level of the Bon Accord Centre to the St Nicholas Centre.
- a new Green Heart in the area of the St Nicholas Shopping Centre, St Nicholas Kirk and kirkyard, and Marks and Spencer; a winter garden with restaurants and cafes could be created above the St Nicholas Centre.
- a new Civic Heart focused on Marischal College and Provost Skene’s House with a new civic square.
Glasgow's Arc of Triumph
The newest bridge over the river Clyde was officially open to traffic this week and Glasgow City Council announced the official name for the first time - Clyde Arc. But just as the Clyde Auditorium, a few hundred yards away, is always known locally as the "Armadillo" because of its unique design, the new crossing will probably still be known by its nickname - "Squinty Bridge" - so named because it crosses the river at an angle. It is the first new vehicle bridge across the river for over 30 years - the nearby "Bell's Bridge" which opened for the Garden Festival in 1988, is pedestrian only. Of course, civic pride in the new triumphal arch came before a fall. Within 24 hours, one of the filter lanes onto the bridge had to be closed due to a burst water main. The fault had actually occurred at the weekend, but Scottish Water delayed full repair work so that the official opening could go ahead on Monday.
Failing Teachers Face Dismissal
Education minister Peter Peacock has announced that he is drawing up plans to deal severely with teachers who have not "stepped up to the mark" and adapted to the changes that have taken place in the profession. While most teachers are doing a tough job very well, it has always been nearly impossible to sack teachers for incompetence. That has been not only bad for pupils, but can be demoralising for the majority of teachers who are performing well. The minister did not spell out how many teachers might be affected, but media reports have noted that a recent HM Inspector of Education report said that about 5% of lessons were below standard. That could equate to around 2,000 teachers. Even the largest teaching union agrees that if a teacher fails to meet an agreed standard, assistance and support should be provided. If that fails, it is probably not in anyone’s best interest for that person to remain in a teaching role.
Scottish Water Worst in UK
Ever since the days of the great Victorian engineering projects that brought clean water to cities and towns across the country, Scots have always thought that they had a wonderful water supply system. Visits to the south of England, particularly London, where the water from chalk and limestone aquifers furred kettles and tasted awful, only served to confirm that view. So when the UK government sold off the water utilities to private enterprise in 1989 (yielding billions of pounds to the Exchequer), there was a noisy campaign - which was ultimately successful - to leave the water supply and sewage system in Scotland in the hands of a government agency. Since then, however, an independent regulator has reported on the performance of Scottish Water, compared to that of the private water companies in England and Wales. The regulator's latest report stresses that Scottish Water's service to its 2.2 million customers is worse than the poorest performing water company south of the border. And, despite these private companies having to earn profits to pay dividends to their shareholders, they are still charging less than Scottish Water. The Scottish company is "narrowing the gap" but still lags behind the worst in England and Wales. Of course, Scottish Water argues that much of the criticism relates to the aging infrastructure which it inherited. But so did those in England and Wales.
Business Leaders Call for New Forth Road Crossing
The Chambers of Commerce in Fife and Edinburgh have joined forces in an effort to persuade the Scottish Executive to give the green light to a new bridge (or tunnel) across the Firth of Forth. The existing bridge is now carrying twice its design capacity and there is a threat of closure hanging over it as a result of corrosion in the main cables. It would take ten years or more to create a new crossing, but the government is avoiding a decision until after the next Scottish Parliament elections in May next year. The Federation of Small Businesses pressure group has said that it would be happy to meet the Chambers of Commerce as they are keen to find a solution to the current congestion problems. Transport Scotland, the Executive's national transport agency, says that they have appointed a technical consultancy team to carry out the "strategic transport projects review." A study into a possible replacement Forth crossing will be fast-tracked as part of that. But we all know what "fast track" can mean in government circles.
Support for Marine Energy Projects
The Scottish Executive has unveiled new proposals to support marine energy development projects, with the aim of creating increased financial returns to wave and tidal generators. The aim is to give the sector the incentive needed to grow and contribute to Scotland's renewable energy ambitions. The Renewables Obligation (Scotland) Act, which was passed in 2002, obliges power supply companies to utilise an increasing percentage of renewable energy sources. But that has meant that they opt for the lowest cost solutions, such as wind turbines or hydro-electric generators. The Scottish Executive has already tried to kick-start the marine industry in Scotland with funding amounting to £14 million in total, aimed at helping Scottish firms who want to develop in Scottish waters. The latest support scheme will give an additional financial incentive to firms seeking to harness marine power.
Win Some, Lose Some
The call centre industry in Scotland bounced back from the loss of 450 jobs from insurance giant Norwich Union, last week, with the announcement this week that service company beCogent was to add another 350 staff at its Erskine site. The company, which provides telephone services for a range of clients including John Lewis, Argos, NTL/Telewest, Traveline Scotland and the National Australia Bank Group, already employs 1,800 staff at three call centres in Scotland, at Erskine, Kilmarnock and Airdrie. The firm's founder says that for every company moving work offshore, there's a company returning to the UK, due to the massive investment in training and development, which has bred a rich pool of highly-skilled customer service staff.
Bill Gates Chooses Edinburgh
Bill Gates is bringing the prestigious 2007 Microsoft Government Leaders Forum for Europe to Edinburgh in January. It will be held in the Scottish Parliament building and it is the first time that the conference has been held in the UK. The event is a forum for political leaders to meet to discuss how cutting edge technology can make a difference to education, government and economic development. First Minister Jack McConnell is delighted about the event coming to Edinburgh, seeing it as three days when leading figures from Microsoft, along with some of Europe's most influential political leaders, will see all that is good about modern Scotland. Hopefully, there will not be the same level of angry protests as accompanied the hosting of the G8 conference at Gleneagles in July 2005.
Supermarket Moves to Rail Freight
The ever increasing volume of traffic on our roads is not good for anyone, and the Scottish Executive has been trying to get it reduced with the aid of cash incentives. Now the UK's biggest supermarket chain has jumped on the rail bandwagon and signed up for a new deal with road haulier Eddie Stobbart - plus a £200,000 grant from the Scottish Executive and £235,000 from the Department for Transport in England. It will mean that goods will be transported by rail from Daventry, Northamptonshire, England, to Grangemouth, from where the goods go by road to Tesco's distribution centre in Livingston. The new service will remove the equivalent of just 200 truckloads of freight from our roads, but is estimated it will generate £3 million of environmental benefits.
New Village for Aberdeenshire
A new super village near Stonehaven, with 100 homes, a golf course, a cricket pitch, wildlife trails and an equestrian centre, has been approved (narrowly) by Aberdeenshire Council's Kincardine and Mearns area committee. Derelict but historic Ury House would be restored to become a focus for the area. Of course, such grandiose plans come at a price and the cheapest homes in the £40 million development will cost £250,000. There are also reservations from some in the town about such a major building project and its impact on Stonehaven (population 9,500) and its infrastructure. The plans will now go to Aberdeenshire Council for approval.
Picture via Wikipedia shows the present Stonehaven harbour.
Ban on Christmas Day Opening by Stores
The tradition in Scotland of New Year being celebrated more than Christmas, arose after the Church Reformation in the 16th century. The celebration of Christmas was frowned on by the Kirk, which regarded it as a Catholic festival. Even in the latter half of the 20th century, many people in Scotland were required to work at least for a half-day on 25 December. But times change, of course, and Christmas Day became an accepted public holiday. Then the pendulum began started swinging back, as commercial pressures encouraged some large retailers to open on both Christmas and New Year's Day - much to the displeasure of many of their staff who have to turn up for work. So now legislation is being considered by the Scottish Parliament which aims to prohibit large shops from opening for the purpose of retail trading on both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Two years ago a public petition gathered 14,000 signatures calling for such legislation. Surprisingly, Scotland is behind England and Wales on this - they have already banned such store openings.
Tay Bridge Traffic Volume Falls
For the first time since the bridge across the estuary of the river Tay from Dundee to Fife opened in 1966, the volume of traffic fell in the past year. The fall was only 0.8%, however, and the bridge authorities described it as a "blip". The toll on the Tay bridge (and on the crossing over the Firth of Forth) has been in the spotlight ever since the charge on the Erskine bridge over the river Clyde was abolished in March this year. Angus, Dundee and Fife local councils have been campaigning ever since to have the tolls on "their" crossings removed also.
Brother and sister millionaires Brian Soutar and Ann Gloag, who made their fortune from growing the multi-national Stagecoach transport company, have sold their 90% controlling shareholding in ScotAirways "so that they can concentrate on other projects." ScotAirways, originally called Suckling Airways, after its founder, Roy Suckling, changed its name in 1999 after the Scottish entrepreneurs made an investment in the company. One of the ScotAirways routes is from Dundee to London City and the Stagecoach HQ is less than 20 miles away in Perth. It is thought that despite the change in ownership, the service from Dundee's Riverside airport will continue.
Royal Mail Launches Online Postage Stamps
On April 1 some years ago, there was a newspaper report that the Royal Bank of Scotland had started an experimental service sending banknotes to fax machines, where they could be printed on special paper, to save people queuing up at online cash dispensers. It was a joke, of course, but maybe it wasn't so far-fetched. The Royal Mail has now started a service which will allow people to buy their "postage stamps" online, using their credit cards, 24 hours a day. Each item of mail is then printed with a barcode and the resulting image fixed to letters and posted as normal in a post box. Postal charges will be the same as for standard postage stamps. Stamp collecting will never be the same again...
The explosive growth in recent years of mobile phones is a world-wide phenomenon and a recent survey shows that youngsters in Scotland are fully participating in the trend. Carphone Warehouse, one of the major suppliers of such equipment, found that more than half 10-year-olds own a mobile phone. And by the time they go to secondary school at 12, more than 90% of pupils have their own phone. It is often used for texting, rather than speech - on average, 11 to 17-year-olds send 9.6 texts a day, according to the survey. Many are addicted to the devices, agreeing that they would "feel unwanted if a whole day went by when my mobile phone did not ring". But the technology that would allow parents to keep track of them via their mobiles got the thumbs down from youngsters - two-thirds thought it was "not reasonable" for parents to do this.
Glasgow's Bells Ring Out for Clan Cameron
When the Jacobites, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, were retreating from their thrust into England, the city of Glasgow and its merchants were openly hostile to the retreating army. The Highlanders were all set to sack the city when Cameron of Lochiel - known as the Gentle Lochiel - intervened and forced the commanders to think again. As a result, the city was spared. Glasgow was so grateful to the Cameron chieftain that the town magistrates decreed that every time the Lochiel or his descendants entered the city, the bells would be rung in his honour. That 260-year-old tradition was re-enacted this week. The Lord Provost was hosting a reception for the Clan in the City Chambers and the participants were greeted by the sound of bells from the Trongate Steeple and St George's Tron.
New Tartan Takes to the Skies
New tartans are launched on a regular basis these days and often do not grab much media attention. That might have been the fate of the new tartan by the charity which runs the Erskine hospital for service veterans. But instead, it got a lot of column inches, not just because it was being launched by an RAF Tornado pilot. But because the pilot was the brother of mega movie star Ewan McGregor. Squadron Leader Colin McGregor is based at Lossiemouth and he has just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. He says he was delighted to help to raise awareness of the unrivalled care that Erskine hospital provides to ex-servicemen and women. Funds raised from the sale of items made from the tartan will go directly towards the care of veterans throughout Scotland. The design of the new tartan incorporates the dark blue of the Royal Navy, the azure blue of the Royal Air Force and other colours representing the original six Scottish army regiments (prior to the recent amalgamation).
Tracking Honey Buzzards to Africa
Although the number of common buzzards (a large raptor with a wing span of around four feet) has grown considerably in Scotland in recent years, thanks to conservation and protection efforts, there are only a few of the distantly related honey buzzards nesting here. The bird is similar in looks to the common buzzard, but can be distinguished by a dark double bar near the base of the tail. And its diet is somewhat different too - Honey Buzzards raid bees and wasp nests. After raising their family in Scotland, they fly off to Africa and southern Asia for the winter. In order to find out more about what happens to them while on their journey, the Forestry Commission Scotland and Highland Foundation for Wildlife have fitted two honey buzzards with satellite transmitters and their progress is being recorded on an Internet site. So far one of the birds has not travelled far in the last two weeks from its nest in Strathnairn, but the other one is already in the south of England. You can follow their progress at Highland Foundation.
Picture via Wikipedia.
Warm Summer Brings Exotic Moth North
Hummingbird Hawk Moths are usually found in North Africa and the Mediterranean and occasionally get as far as the south of England. They only occasionally get as far north as Scotland. But this summer, the warm weather seems to have attracted them further north and there have been quite a number of sightings in Aberdeenshire. It has a wingspan of about two inches and hovers over flowers just like a hummingbird. This year there has also been an explosion in the number of the more common "Silver Y" moths - there have been large numbers of these day flying insects in gardens across the country.
Weather in Scotland This Week
The remains of Hurricane Gordon were supposed to lash Scotland with 80 mile an hour winds towards the end of the week, according to the weather warnings published early in the week by the Meteorological Office. But in the end, Gordon turned out to be a bit of a wimp, with strong winds only reaching south-west Scotland in Dumfries and Galloway on Thursday night. Earlier that day, the weather system had produced sunshine and high temperatures, with Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders reaching 25C (77F) and Glasgow not far behind at 23C (73F). Earlier in the week, there had been a fair amount of showery weather - Glasgow only reached a maximum of 15C (59F) on Tuesday - although that is in fact near average for this time of year.
The illustration here is of "Pampas Grass" - Cortaderia selloana. Despite its origin in South America, it grows well as a feature in Scottish gardens - often growing to a heeight of over ten feet.
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online large format photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include Anemone Japonica, Apples "Red Victoria", a Moth "Silver Y", Dahlia "Glorie van Heemstede", Clematis (see thumbnail) and a Painted Lady Butterfly. See This Week's Colour Supplement.