Around 80 people, with a strong contingent from Aberdeen, rallied at the Scottish Parliament yesterday to demand that the Scottish Government stops developments in Torry, Aberdeen that would see the end of St Fitticks park, a hugely important green space in a heavily built up area. The message from the protestors was that there’s no justice if ‘transition’ is driven by the Oil Industry seeking new sources of profit at the expense of working people and the environment.
The protestors called for supporters to text, tweet and use every available means to tell Minister Tom Arthur and your local MSP to order the removal of the rezoning of St Fittick’s Park from Aberdeen’s new Local Development Plan.
Taking the Fight for St Fittick’s Park to Parliament
THURS, 12 JANUARY 2023 1.30pm
At the Scottish Parliament – Holyrood, Edinburgh
This post is a copy of the call from Aberdeen campaigners
Come and join people from Torry and the Friends of St Fitticks Park, outside the Scottish Parliament to demand the government uses its powers to stop the industrialisation of the last remaining accessible greenspace in Torry, Aberdeen.
Meet and hear directly from the people who will be most affected by the reckless plans. And the why destroying a thriving and much loved greenspace is not the answer for Aberdeen’s, or indeed Scotland’s energy transition.
Why are we at the Parliament?
Time is running out. The minister for Planning, Tom Arthur has until Monday 16th January to use his powers to direct Aberdeen City Council’s new development plan is changed to ensure St Fitticks Park is protected from an unjust corporate land grab in the name of energy transition. For more details visit here: https://saintfittickstorry.com
We need as many locals and friends of the park to demand the Scottish Government acts in the interest of people and not profit.
For those travelling from Aberdeen the Friends of St Fitticks Park will provide free coach travel for the day. Booking details will be released early in the new year, but you can provisionally book places by emailing FriendsofStFitticksPark@proton.me .
Quan Nguyen was the Scottish Coordinator of the COP26 Coalition. His recent article reflecting on how the climate movement has developed since COP26 is well worth reading.
Here we publish a personal response to Quan’s article from retired oil worker Neil Rothnie. This is an important discussion, and we’d love to publish more views. If you’d like to write something, or perhaps be interviewed, please use the Contact tab to get in touch.
I think we can share the confidence of Quan’s final thought that;
“ . . . . we are still standing and can rise again to challenge the heart of Europe’s fossil fuel capitalism on its own soil.”
And this from the man who has more reason than most to be “tired and exhausted”. Because on top of his big job as Scottish Coordinator of the COP26 Coalition, he also led the hugely successful and well organised weeklong Climate Camps. This year the 2022 camp challenged the UK climate movement’s London-centricity, and confronted the international oil and gas industry in its European capital by occupying the Torry dock of Aberdeen harbour and laying down a marker for the whole movement. Sooner rather than later the job of shutting down the North Sea will have to be carried out by a movement that has the active support of the masses. Who thinks the industry/government conspiracy will do it themselves in a planned way that avoids climate chaos and gives us renewable energy? Looks like Quan thinks that that scenario is a fantasy.
This of course begs the question of what part in this transition – the “real” transition not the greenwashing shite that Quan warns about – will be played by the oil workers, their families and friends and neighbours in communities throughout the country. An issue we in ScotE3 have been grappling with at some length. And more thought needs to be given.
When Quan deals with the lessons of COP26, his call is for a rethink of what he sees as a form of“protest” that no longer works. His analysis is a hard read but his conclusion that:
“We need to recognise that the climate crisis will worsen and there is no blueprint for the climate movement to follow towards climate justice”.
surely opens up a space for a detailed examination of his thoughts on the lessons. Perhaps others reading this post might want to look at the problems he perceives in more detail.
I’d never heard of Alaa Abd El-Fattah, who both Quan and Naomi Klein champion. But we could do a lot worse than give serious attention to his 4 themes. Quan pulls the 3rd and 4th together as,
“We need to defend the complexity and diversity of our own movement, and create our own spaces, not consume ready-made action plans that lead to nowhere.”
At one level, this is exactly what Climate Camp Scotland was doing in partnership with local oppositionists to Shell’s Ethylene plant at Mossmorran last year, and the Friends of St Fittick’s in Torry in Aberdeen this year.
Action at the 2021 Climate Camp at Mossmorran
Certainly the “complexity and the diversity” was there for all to see in those who turned out and made the camps a huge success. But I’m guessing that there is another level at which this theme is even more relevant. “Our own spaces” must surely be understood not only as our camps, and the spaces we control when we take our actions onto the streets, but also (even more so?) as our communities – the geographical areas in which we share our everyday lives and where we can begin to take some real control. “The diversity and complexity” is surely our neighbours in all their uniqueness and individuality. “The ready made plans that lead to nowhere” surely the poverty and cold mapped out for us by government in lock step with oil industry profiteering and investor dividends, all predicated on the weaponisation of North Sea gas,
“The ready-made action plans” are also the endlessly failing blah blah blah of successive COPs that lead not to “nowhere” but to global climate disaster already breaking out now in the Pakistan floods, now in the Sudanese drought and famine, and Net Zero obfuscation everywhere.
And where can we “fix our own democracy” if not in our own communities? It’s here that the lessons we are learning in the climate justice movement about inclusivity can be fought for amongst the widest layers of society in the coming actual everyday struggles to access warmth and food and companionship in the face of the cold, hunger and debt that the billionaires both in and outside government and in the markets and in the oil and gas industry have planned for many of us this winter. There’s no way that what Quan calls “Fossil Capitalism” can be ended without the active participation of the widest layers of society. We need to go where the people are. They’re in their communities getting ready to face cold and hunger. The climate justice movement needs to begin to think about being there with them, engaging in conversations and organising in solidarity. We have a common enemy – North Sea gas.
When Quan says that;
“We need to recognise that the climate crisis will worsen and there is no blueprint for the climate movement to follow towards climate justice.”
He’s surely saying that there’s going to be no rational transition to renewables – no peaceful road to climate justice. What chance that the RMT union, let alone other oil and gas investors, can break their addiction to Shell and BP dividends, or that the banks and the markets are prepared to voluntarily slaughter the golden goose? All indications are that the exact opposite is the plan that they just cannot deviate from. They’ll transition only when the last dollar has been made from the last profitable barrel of oil and gas from the North Sea. It’s called “maximising economic recovery” and it’s the UK government plan handed to them by Sir Ian Wood. And if this is the industry plan in the UK, you can bet that it’s the industry plan everywhere. And we all know that by that time it’ll be too late. As Quan says,“Time is running out”
One way or another we are facing, I think, a huge discontinuity. Piper Alpha, Deepwater Horizon, the trashing of the Niger Delta, in fact the trashing of almost everywhere the industry sets foot in, is how the global oil industry organises. Dictatorial regimes around the world are the industry’s preferred stomping grounds. The myth of an organised and orderly North Sea Transition as espoused by Deirdre Michie of Oil & Gas UK, and other industry leaders, politicians and union apologists couldn’t be further from the traditional methods of, and outcomes of, the industry. There’s no peaceful road to oil and gas, no peaceful transition, to sustainability. Unaffordable North Sea gas and the unaffordable electricity it underpins have been weaponized, and are guided missiles launched straight into our homes to destroy our personal economies, and if unchallenged, our lives.
This post is a report of the Scot.E3 public meeting held on 24th October 2022. It includes videos from the meeting and links to resources and further information about the St Fitticks Campaign. Please share widely.
The meeting began with a contribution from Ishbel Shand from the Save St Fitticks Campaign
You can read a written version of Ishbel’s contribution here
Pete Cannell followed up with a short contribution on the North Sea oil and gas industry
The two speakers were followed by a wide ranging discussion which is summarised in the following account:
At the ScotE3 public meeting on 24th October “St.Fittick’s Park – Defeat the Oilogarchy” Ishbel Shand, on behalf of the Save St.Fittick’s Park campaign in Aberdeen, reminded us that nearly a century ago Antonio Gramsci, writing from a fascist prison cell, said “The old world is dying, the new is struggling to be born. We live in a time of monsters.” You can watch the whole of Ishbel’s speech about the history and current significance of St.Fittick’s Park on the YouTube link above. It’s a compelling story not to be missed.
Pete Cannell spoke next, on behalf of ScotE3. He emphasised in particular the catastrophic nature of the North Sea Transition Deal, agreed in March last year and flouted as the first agreement “between the government of a G7 country and its oil and gas production community”. Almost unbelievably this Deal has been signed up to by the Scottish Government and by the Unions which represent the oil and gas workers. More oil and gas, nuclear, and hydrogen for heating. This is a disaster for the climate – particularly in terms of investment. It’s what underpins the Cost of Living Crisis because energy prices would inevitably remain high – much higher than would be the case with renewable sources of energy. It would also be a disaster for jobs – preserving the status quo for jobs is the worst-case scenario, defying any chance of a just transition. You can watch Pete’s presentation on the second YouTube link.
We had hoped for a speaker from Climate Camp, who sited their annual camp this year in St.Fittick’s Park and illegally occupied the site of the old fishing and boat-building village of Torry, destroyed to make way for oil and gas industrialisation. Unfortunately no-one from Climate Campaign was available for this meeting, but their name was on the lips of many participants as a model of how to respect local communities rather than impose on them.
The bulk of the meeting was given to general discussion. Many good points were made, including:
The oil and gas industry has never brought anything positive to the Torry community
There is a parallel between the threatened industrialisation of St.Fittick’s with the Bo’ness road in Grangemouth, which physically divides the local community and threatens the health of that community with air pollution from traffic congestion.
There is also a parallel with the Buckie community’s fight to save the Slochy Wloods
The potential power of communities is huge when they come together to fight – for example the success last year, at enormous personal costs, of the Ujaama indigenous communities in securing land rights in Tanznia.
There is a fundamental democratic deficit which in general communities face.
There’s not just one unaccountable Goliath faced by the David of the Torry community but four – One North East, oil tycoon Ian Wood’s company which will control the development of an “Energy Transition Zone”; Aberdeen Harbour; Ironside Farrar, the environmental consultants tasked with drawing up a “master plan”; and Aberdeen City Council and its Local Development Plan.
Artists/musicians recently performed 45 minutes of songs and poetry at the new Arts Centre in Banchory
Films, short and long, have been made about St. Fittick’s.
University students are giving St. Fittick’s magnificent support
Those of us who don’t live in Aberdeen need to extend the Local actions of the Torry Community to National actions and solidarity across Scotland, through spreading the word far and wide about the threat to St. Fittick’s.
We all need too to take opportunities to spread the St. Fittick’s story internationally.
There’s a need for more radical change than just fighting for “renewables” – a term which can conceal negative elements – for example the jackets for off-shore turbines are plastic and the blades are steel.
The Cost of Living Crisis is fundamental in that it has the potential to mobilize nearly everyone.
The Scotland-wide COP 27 mobilisation is at 12noon on Saturday 12th November in Edinburgh. People from Aberdeen wanting to join this rally were encouraged to accept hospitality from those members of ScotE3 based in Edinburgh.
Yes, this is a time of monsters, but it’s also a time of jewels. St. Fittick’s Park itself is a jewel, as is the current response of the campaign to the threat of industrialising the Park.
The chair ended the meeting with this quote from Ishbel, which emphasises the often-neglected but fundamental significance of the Nature Crisis in all our current struggles:
We can choose to continue with the old dying world of exploitation of people and nature for short-term financial gain. Or we can choose to repair and nurture our damaged environment and learn to live within the constraints that nature imposes.
The film about Old Torry is particularly moving. The Aberdeen Social Centre have a complete collection of issues of the “Aberdeen People’s Press” from the period.. One Old Torry resident, with a compulsory purchase order on her home, laments that the same Council that wouldn’t allow her to put in new windows because of the historic importance of her house are now going to bull-doze it, because Shell want the land.
A link to Mike Downham’s post on St Fitticks on this site
Mike Downham explains why the fight to save St Fitticks Park is so important.
As I write this (on 22nd September) the Scottish Government Reporter has announced her decision to confirm zoning changes in the Aberdeen Local Development Plan which would allow St. Fittick’s Park to be industrialised.
St. Fittick’s Park
The 17-acre St. Fittick’s Park is owned by Aberdeen City Council and currently zoned as Greenbelt and part of the Greenspace Network. For centuries the land had been grazed by farm animals, until the 1960s when it became a rough field, much explored by children and known affectionately by the local community of Torry as “Our Fieldie”. The East Tullos burn which crosses the land had been channelised and over time became polluted with heavy metals and hydrocarbons.
About 20 years ago the Torry community came together to create a nature-based vision for a public park, with access paths and play equipment for children. £250,000 was raised to realise this vision, £168,000 by the community, with Aberdeen Council contributing the remainder. The new park was named St. Fittick’s because it includes a ruined church overlooking the North Sea at Nigg Bay. From here you can look across fields to the edge of Torry, and wonder how different this landscape must have looked when, according to legend, a religious foundation was established here by St Fittick in the mid 600s.
The story runs that St Fittick, an Irish monk, was thrown overboard by superstitious sailors when a storm blew up. He came ashore at Nigg Bay and established a church to give thanks for his salvation. Legend became history in the late 1100s when a chapel was built on the site of today’s ruins, under the auspices of Arbroath Abbey. This chapel was consecrated in 1242 by the Bishop of St Andrews David de Bernham, and continued to serve the local community until the Reformation.
In 2012 Aberdeen City Council carried out a city-wide greenspace assessment and identified St. Fittick’s Park as a priority for nature-based improvements. The Council commissioned a feasibility study for a project with three objectives: 1) Improve water quality of East Tullos Burn, 2) Improve
biodiversity and 3) Create a public amenity. Combining Aberdeen City Council funds with funds from SEPA, Aberdeen Greenspace, and others, £365,000 was spent to complete the project in 2014. Using a nature-based design, the burn was naturalised with meanders and aquatic and riparian vegetation and reedbeds and wetlands were added to provide habitat and help clean the water of pollution. The project installed 180,000 native wetland and wildflower plants, 20,000 square metres of wildflower seeding, extensive woodland planting on the adjacent upland slopes and 800m of access paths. The community got to work, in one day alone planting 10,000 trees.
The biodiversity and aesthetic beauty of the Park have significantly improved year on year over the last ten years. The Park is now well used and well loved, with school children, families and seasoned or budding naturalists enjoying this rich and diverse landscape. Many species of birds, amphibians, invertebrates and mammals are observed and studied.
This summer an MSc graduate of Aberdeen University carried out an aquatic biodiversity and water quality study of East Tullos Burn and found statistically and biologically significant improvements in the burn as a result of the restoration project, notably an increase in species abundance and richness, an increase in the dynamics and complexity of the food web, and improvements in water quality. Additional studies have found an explosion in biodiversity since the restoration was completed, including 115 plant species, 42 breeding bird species, including eight red listed and eight amber listed, and dozens of migratory species. Invertebrate surveys found over forty species of moth, 11 butterfly species, and a range of other invertebrates. Two invertebrates found on survey were nationally threatened species.
The Torry Community
St. Fittick’s Park is the last remaining accessible green space for a community of 10,000 people, in an area unfairly burdened by pollution, where few residents have private gardens. Before the advent of the Oil and Gas Industry, Torry was a centre for fishing, fish-processing, boat building and boat repair. Only the fish-processing remains. The old fishing village was destroyed in the 1970s to facilitate oil-related harbour developments.
An open letter from a local GP, signed by 22 doctors from across Aberdeen, points out that Torry is surrounded by two industrial harbours, an industrial estate, a railway line, a sewage works, landfill sites, a regional waste center, an incinerator that is currently being built, and one of the most polluted roads in Scotland. Much of the housing, the doctors say, is poor-quality – small, damp and affected by noise and light pollution. Residents frequently complain of high levels of exposure to antisocial behaviour. The doctors draw a comparison between the Aberdeen area of West End North, where the residents of two streets have exclusive access to 15 acres of mature riverside woodland, and the residents of the Torry community: “There is a 13-year difference in life expectancy between these two areas …The difference in healthy life expectancy is around twenty years. There is an eight-fold increase in the risk for someone in Torry being admitted to hospital with complications of chronic lung disease …Torry has a higher proportion of young people and children living in it … there is a significantly higher proportion of dependent children per household than in the rest of the city, and more often in single parent households. Child poverty is accordingly high. Access to private transport is less common in the area and access to distant green space is thus much more difficult …[Torry] also has the highest level of unemployment in the city. Median household income is more than four times greater in West End North … Rates of dental decay in Torry run at over 80% by the end of primary school. These schools have some of the lowest levels of attendance in the city. Teenage pregnancies are still more than twice the average for the city and around eight times more than for West End North. Prescriptions for antidepressant medication are more than twice those for West End North. Drug-related hospital stays are almost three-times the Scottish average, and drug overdoses are more frequent here than anywhere else in the city. There are also disproportionately high levels of domestic abuse and household fires.”
Now St. Fittick’s Park is under threat of industrial development, which would pave over with concrete a large part of the Park. Unbelievably, Aberdeen City Council has agreed with the Oil and Gas Industry to designate St. Fittick’s Park as an opportunity site for a new Energy Transition Zone (ETZ) in the local authority’s 2020 Proposed Local Development Plan. The Council and Energy Transition Zone Limited, the private partner in the proposed development, assert that industrial use of the park, adjacent to Aberdeen’s new South Harbour, is necessary to advance the North East’s transition to a low carbon economy. The new South Harbour itself is an affront to the biodiversity and well-being of the Torry area. As recently as one year ago, visitors to St. Fittick’s Park could walk along the shore of Nigg Bay and look out across the bay to the North Sea. Now this shore has been reduced to a placid pool blocked from the ocean by a high concrete wall.
But this proposal is only ‘unbelievable’ if you continue to think, as it was reasonable to think in the past, that our elected representatives, whether in local or national governments, are serving the interests of their electorates. These days it’s the big energy corporations with their huge wealth who run things – through lobbying and bribing our politicians, and through their control of the media so that we get to be told only their version of reality. In relation to the proposed Energy Transition Zone in Aberdeen it’s the oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood who is the mover and shaker. He got control of economic development in the city in 2016 via the City Region Deal. Wood chairs the development company Opportunity North East (ONE) which is pushing the ETZ. He has enormous influence on both Westminster and Holyrood. The Wood Review of 2014 led to the tax cuts for the Oil and Gas Industry and the principle “MaximizingEconomic Recovery of UK petroleum” in the Infrastructure Bill, 2015. Note the intentionally occult jargon of “Infrastructure Bill” and “Maximum Economic Recovery” – for which read extracting every last drop of oil and gas from the North Sea regardless of costs and climate impact. Inevitably Wood also has a huge influence on a Scottish Government which increasingly tails the Westminster Government in its energy policies. He is the man behind the plans to industrialise the park.
If you look a little more closely at the purpose of the ETZ , you are told that “The project is based on using clean energy such as offshore wind, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage”, with a quote from Wood who says “We’ve got the opportunity in the north-east of Scotland to help balance the economy with a new industry, and at the same time, play a really significant role in one of the world’s greatest problems right now in global warming.” Wood said recently that it was only in the last two or three years that he realised that climate change was a serious problem.
This is a classic example of being told only his version of the story because in reality neither hydrogen or carbon capture and storage have any chance whatsoever in reducing global warming in the necessary time-scale, nor can they be described as ‘clean energy’. For simple explanations about hydrogen energy and carbon capture and storagesee Microsoft Word – briefing 13.docx (wordpress.com) and Microsoft Word – Briefing 10.docx (wordpress.com). In reality these technologies are fake tickets to allow the oil and gas companies to continue to pay their executives and their shareholders and to remain in business.
Collision of Crises
At St. Fittick’s Park we are seeing a head-on three-way collision between the Oil and Gas Industry, the Climate Crisis, and the Cost of Living Crisis. Neither the Climate Crisis nor the Cost of Living crisis can be sustainably resolved until extraction and burning of fossil fuels is stopped globally – see the report of a recent discussion which made this clear at North Sea Oil and Gas and the Cost of Living – Employment, Energy and Environment (scote3.net) . Stopping reliance on fossil fuels will mean different things for different countries, depending on their current energy sources. But for the UK and Scotland it’s primarily about stopping North Sea oil and gas extraction.
Collisions like this are of course not unique to Aberdeen. But what makes this one unusual is that it’s actually a four-way collision involving the Nature Crisis too, plus the visual proximity between a resource vital for Nature and a resource vital for the survival of the North Sea Oil and Gas Industry. This proximity makes obvious a choice which is often blurred by the topographical distances between the conflicting interests. Moreover in the case of St. Fittick’s Park it’s not only Nature which is being put under yet another threat which it can’t afford, but it’s also the well-being of one of the most deprived communities in Scotland.
The Nature Crisis
The Nature Crisis is often side-lined, especially at times like the present when human beings are facing multiple crises. Exploitation of Nature by man goes back to the Garden of Eden. But for the roughly two hundred years since the crescendo of industrialisation in the West, we’ve become more and more conditioned to the arrogant idea that other species are here only for our benefit. It’s arguable that this arrogance is the most fundamental reason for the mess humanity is in now. Places like St. Fittick’s can help us shift our mind-set towards thinking in terms of every non-human species being important in its own right – not only those species which benefit humanity or those which are threatened by extinction.
Large numbers of local community-driven initiatives, not necessarily as big or remarkable as the St. Fittick’s initiative, are more likely to make a real difference to biodiversity than top-down directives. The Scottish Government’s top-down Biodiversity Strategy Consultation closed a week ago, the Friends of St. Fittick’s Park having submitted a robust contribution. As well as telling the remarkable story of the Park’s restoration and enhanced biodiversity, the submission points out that the Scottish Government, led by the Scottish National Party for 15 years, has presided over a range of policies which have driven the current Nature emergency the Government is consulting about:
These policies have in common that they are designed to benefit wealthy people and are driven by profit. Some of these policies are entirely the Scottish Government’s responsibility, some are through collusion with the UK Government. Unless these policies are radically reformed any attempts to address the Nature Emergency will fail, sooner rather than later. The policies which have been most crippling for Nature include:
1. Land ownership
50% of Scotland’s private rural land is owned by 432 individuals, mostly large estate-owners and industrial-scale farmers. As historian James Hunter has said: “Scotland continues to be stuck with the most concentrated, most inequitable, most unreformed and most undemocratic landownership system in the entire developed world”. In addition nearly all public land is controlled by central or local government, not by local communities.
2. The sacrifice of biodiverse land for development
Weak regulation enables more and more biodiverse land to be paved over for industrial or unaffordable housing development.
3. Farm subsidies
Huge sums of money continue to be paid to farmers, particularly large livestock farmers, to boost their profitability. Further money is paid to mostly large farmers and estate owners to improve biodiversity, but most of these people are primarily concerned with increasing their wealth, both profits and land values. Biodiversity is not often their primary motivation.
4. Bioenergy with carbon capture (BECCS)
The Scottish Government remains wedded to the concept of planting up huge areas of land with monoculture fast-growing trees, even to felling more diverse forests to make way for these new plantations. The plan is to burn the timber from these new forests in power stations and deal with the carbon emitted by “Carbon Capture” – a process yet to be developed and tested at scale.
5. North Sea oil and gas extraction
The Scottish Government is also wedded to extracting every last drop of oil and gas from the North Sea. This has a negative impact on marine species; fuels, literally, global heating; and is responsible for the current cost of living crisis.
6. A one-nation perspective
The Scottish Government’s current proposals for addressing the nature emergency are an example of its tendency to think in terms of only one nation. Biodiversity has to be considered internationally. We should be thinking in terms of what Scotland can do to contribute to the efforts of other nations.
If the Nature Crisis was brought centre-stage two benefits, beyond enhanced biodiversity, could follow. First, at least some of the many people who care strongly about Nature, given information which would help them to recognise that profit for the wealthy is what drives the Nature, the Climate, the Cost of Living and the Poverty crises in common, they would be more likely to join the fight to stop North Sea oil and gas extraction, which is fundamental to all four crises in the UK and Scotland.
Second, young people and children are in general more and more aware of the devastation to Nature they see around them. These are the people who will sustain the fight for a better world long after our time is up. It was because the young people of the Climate Camp movement feel an urgency to stop this devastation that they based themselves in St. Fittick’s Park this summer. When they arrived they were shown round the Park, having to take care not to tread on abundant tiny frogs.
Children in particular tend to be alert to the Nature around them. The younger the children, the closer they are to the ground to make observations that we may not notice. A few weeks ago, at an Open Day for the Strathblane Wildlife Sanctuary (a much smaller and more recent initiative than St. Fittick’s Park), it was my pleasant job to lead tours of the site. For the first tour of the day ten pre-school children and ten parents turned up at the gate. The tour was led not by me but by the children, who ran ahead to point out lady-birds, slugs and molehills.
Our fight as adults must include ensuring that every child has the opportunity to explore wild land in their immediate neighbourhood.
If you want to join the fight to save St. Fittick’s Park by becoming a Friend of the Park please email