A blueprint which will dictate what can be built in Aberdeen in the coming five years has been sent to the Scottish Government for examination.
The city council’s proposed local development plan (LDP) has been submitted for scrutiny of a government-appointed reporter.
And the move will escalate community concerns for St Fittick’s Park in Torry and Doonie’s Rare Breeds Farm, as a leading campaigner last night admitted he was losing hope of saving the green spaces.
Sites fancied as centre for new north-east industry
Called the Energy Transition Zone (ETZ), it will focus on clean energy industries in the hope of repositioning the north-east beyond the current reliance on oil and gas jobs.
Sir Ian Wood revealed plans for the new centre last January, with the two sites identified as prime locations given their proximity to the new £350 million south harbour.
Ministers hope the zone will support around 2,500 green jobs by the end of the decade, on top of another 10,000 in related sectors – and similar sums from Westminster have also been committed to the project.
The council kept a consultation on the proposed LDP open for views for more than three months and turned to technology for solutions last year, as Covid heavily disrupted the statutory six-week public poll.
A five-year framework, it is due to come into force next year to replace the 2017 plan.
Not a done deal: planning chief stresses coming scrutiny of ETZ plans
Planning convener Marie Boulton said: “We have a well-rounded LDP which addresses the future needs of the city in a considerate and well thought through way.
“It was very pleasing it was unanimous decision, which I believe shows everyone understands the critical juncture the city is at and the need in terms of that site moving forward.
“It is important to stress this is just establishing a city-wide plan, applications will still need to be lodged as sites come forward including those related to St Fittick’s.
“The strategic direction for the city to move away from a dependency on oil and gas and the opportunities that the new South Harbour gives for renewables needs to be maximised.
“Individual applications will still need to be submitted and will involve statutory consultation processes allowing people an opportunity to make views known.”
Campaigner: ETZ progress should not come at the ‘expense of the last green space in Torry’
Despite a widely accepted need for the north-east energy industry to transition into renewable sectors, hundreds of Torry residents have hit out – claiming the move would cost them their access to nature.
Local campaigner and environmental scientist, David Knight, said: “St Fittick’s should still be a community green space, it being next to the harbour makes no difference.
“About 10 minutes away from my home in Torry I can walk to Altens industrial estate and see empty units on every corner – enough to account for the ETZ.
“I am still all for moving the energy industry way from fossil dependence and on to green technology – but the government has said it wants a ‘just and fair transition’.
“If that is the case it should not come at the expense of the last green space in Torry.”
Scottish Government’s reporter could yet bring about change in LDP review
St Fittick’s – like many outdoor areas – has enjoyed increased visitor numbers since the lockdown, and if so loved in Torry due to its accessible path, allowing people of all abilities to enjoy the wetlands wildlife.
Referred to as opportunity site 56 within the local development plan, it is one of dozens of issues requiring further input from the government reporter.
It will then come back to councillors for final approval, complete with revisions on policies and proposals.
Other areas with unresolved issues include Cove, where there are concerns about additional housing, and Kingswells – where the row over permission for Aberdeen FC’s planned Kingsford Stadium rages on.
Published last year, the proposed LDP predates council plans to keep the club within walking distance of the city centre – as executives consider the beachfront site occupied by the empty former Hilton Doubletree for their new home.
That site remains marked as urban green space in this latest LDP.
But back in Torry, Mr Knight worries if the LDP is approved as is “that will be it” for the community’s last sizeable space – despite Mrs Boulton’s reassurances the ETZ will require planning permission.
“Although it may need to need to go to planning, there were plenty of objections about the park being rezoned and it looks like that is going ahead anyway.
“So if there are objections at planning, it could still go ahead – and even if it is rejected locally it could be called in and go ahead through appeal.
“I am not hopeful they would take local feeling into account.”
ETZ chief: Promise those impacted by zone will benefit from it
The ETZ is the brainchild of Sir Ian Wood’s economic development body Opportunity North East (One), and senior figures from the organisation have joined the board of a new firm, registered as Energy Transition Zone Ltd with Companies House in April.
Chief executive, Maggie McGinlay, described the council’s unanimous approval of the LDP as a “welcome step” – and promised people most impacted by the zone, if approved, would benefit from its construction.
“The energy transition zone is an ambitious and exciting project that will reposition the north-east as a globally recognised integrated energy cluster and our clear focus is on the delivery of net zero and developing a sustainable long-term international industry base that delivers sustainable jobs and growth for the region.
“The significant backing from both the Scottish and UK governments will help ensure the regional energy transition ambition becomes a reality and is deserved recognition of our proven ability and unique position within Scotland and the UK to take advantage of this massive opportunity.
“There is a lot of work to be done in order to realise this ambition and a programme of extensive engagement with the local communities and businesses will ensure the region’s energy transition ambitions are developed in line with the needs of the community, industry and investors.
“It will be a key priority of ETZ Ltd to ensure the benefits of the project are widespread and felt keenly amongst those citizens who live and work in close proximity to the proposed energy transition zone.”