Violence and Propaganda – ‘Energy Transition Zone’ in St Fittick’s Park

This article is about exposing the violence and flaws at the root of plans to destroy St Fittick’s Park in Torry, Aberdeen for a so called ‘Energy Transition Zone’ (ETZ).  

St Fittick’s Park, February 2024. Natalie Hood Photography

The ETZ proposals first surfaced from the murky water of Aberdeen’s draft Local Development Plan (LDP) in 2019. The LDP was the process through which the park turned overnight from greenspace to an ‘opportunity site’ and spurred on a local campaign, The Friends of St Fittick’s Park, to protect Torry’s vibrant, last accessible greenspace. 

Much has happened since. The campaign has grown. Articles have been written in local, national and international media, attracting the attention of academics to artists and support from climate activists to trade unionists. It’s prompted at least three films, including one called ‘They’re Killing Our Kids’ claiming; ‘one of the most important campaigns in Britain.’ Not surprisingly it’s become a hot potato for Aberdeen city councillors, MSPs and government ministers.  

With all this activity and background noise, it can be difficult to know what is really going on, and you may ask: “Does it really matter if a local park is built on, especially if it’s for ‘energy transition’?” 

I’ve lived in Torry and been part of the campaign for around three years. I’ve observed many casual observers jump to a conclusion that it’s a case of ‘Not In My Back Yard’ i.e., NIMBYism. This is what supporters of the proposed plans would want you to think – just a group of pesky people getting in the way of progress.   

The context is very different. It is one of structural violence, a form of violence wherein national or local government and it’s structures, harm people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs. For decades, this has been mete out on the people of Torry by the city’s planning system which evidently favours private corporate interests, above all else.

Our community is surrounded by contaminated land and industrial estates to the south and a highly polluting road to the west. People’s homes were lost to industrial harbour expansion in the 1960’s and access and views to the sea were destroyed recently to make way for the south harbour expansion.  Our air is often polluted by uncatalyzed ship exhaust fumes. A sewage treatment works built 20 years ago often creates rank odours that linger. In 2023, a large waste incinerator was completed and turned on, just 400 yards from a primary school. 

From the 1st Torry Peoples’ Assembly 2021 – Photo Rachel Grant

Thus, the more sympathetic ear may characterise the story as David vs Goliath(s) – local community refusing to sacrifice yet more of its land to corporations and industry. But this too doesn’t fully capture what is going on and why the future of St Fittick’s Park not only matters to the people of Torry, many of whom, indeed don’t have ‘Backyards’, but it matters for everyone. It matters because it’s about directly addressing the underlying inequalities of power and access to resources. It also matters because it’s about ‘exposing where, by whom, by what means, and with what effects energy transition futures are built’, as the academics Otchere-Darko and Weszkalnys suggest in a forthcoming paper.

The words of those advocating the ETZ in St Fittick’s Park reveal the inherent flaws and contradictions in their plans, especially when placed against current national policy on ‘Just energy transitions’.  

The Friends of St Fittick’s Park believe the plans are nothing to do with energy transition, irrespective of the claims in the heap of planning documents submitted to support the scheme. We believe the plans are a grab of public land for private profit. But let’s first begin by stating what we categorically know about the multiple challenges facing us all, and in particular Aberdeen. 

  • We know we are in a devasting climate crisis where there has been scientific consensus for over two decades that the fundamental cause is the burning of fossil fuels.  
  • We know there is overwhelming consensus that oil companies must stop exploring for more oil and gas. 
  • We know that the combined consequence of this will significantly affect Aberdeen’s economy, physical and social infrastructure. 

As climate storms have brewed over the past 20 years, the city’s political leaders, planners and much of the business community have been asleep at the wheel. There was no planning for when the storm inevitably hits. Riches gleamed from the oil industry have blinded Aberdeen’s supposed leaders to the need to change course. The most influential business figure in the northeast, oil billionaire Ian Wood, recently admitted it only in 2019 did he ‘begin to get some inkling of how serious the climate emergency was…people weren’t talking about climate change five years ago”.

The oil coffers that once insulated much of Aberdeen to wider economic shocks, now appear bare. The leading edge of the storm is upon the city, bringing the winds of change. The once bustling Union Street is now full of empty shops, Aberdeen City Council is closing public services. Local headlines of treachery point to the Labour Party’s (and probably next UK Government) policy to continue the oil and gas windfall tax. Signalling oil has had its day in Aberdeen. But the city is ill prepared. 

Press and Journal 15th February

It wasn’t until 2019 and the global wave of climate protests, that plans for a ‘Energy Transition Zone’ were hastily hashed together by a nexus of people and organisations, led by Ian Wood’s Opportunity North East (ONE). A new company, ETZ Ltd, was founded by ONE, Port of Aberdeen, Scottish Enterprise and co-sponsored by Aberdeen City Council. 

ETZ Masterplan Ironside Farrar – White line showing extent of park to be destroyed for the ETZ.

The key proponents for the ETZ have explicitly stated that the land at St Fittick’s park, which only makes up 3% of the entire zone, is essential to its overall success, and by extension the economic future of Aberdeen. This sounds like hyperbole, but it’s been written time and again in various planning documents submitted to support the rezoning of the park as an opportunity to be exploited.

In a response to a question about this claim proposed by the Scottish Government’s planning reporter reviewing the draft LDP, city council officers stated: 
“It is considered that the allocation of OP56 (St Fittick’s Park) and... designation as Energy 

Transition Zones provides a framework for long term investment confidence in 

Aberdeen City in the sector of renewable energy. It is also only through bold decision making will meaningful progress be made in addressing the challenges of the climate change. The allocation of…St Fittick’s Park… while not without their disbenefits to the surrounding communities, will help play an important role in this most important strategic challenge.” 

The Reporter was happy to accept this argument, paraphrasing these words in their recommendations report for the LDP, they wrote: 

“…for the wider good, the development of this component of St Fittick’s Park is, while unfortunate, necessary to ensure the City Region’s economic diversification and to be a force in the emerging energy transition.” 

These claims form the main argument to counter hundreds of objections the plans received from members of the public, as well as government agencies, including SEPA and Nature Scot. The words are now acting like pieces of propaganda that cast an ‘illusion of truth’, taking root in minds who have no interest in critically examining these words, including some of our city councillors.  

During a recent council debate on whether to grant a lease agreement to ETZ Ltd, I watched from the public gallery and heard a councillor confidently argue that it didn’t matter if St Fittick’s Park only made up 3% of the entire zone, it was the ‘keystone’ and without it, ‘like a bridge’ the ETZ could not support itself. I wrote to the councillor afterwards asking what evidence they had to back up the claim. They replied saying they didn’t have any, they were ‘just making a point’. 

These documents and ‘speech acts’ are the subtle points at which structural violence, often unknowingly, is enshrined. They are unseen and not felt, as compared to a bulldozer ripping up the park or contaminated air entering the lungs of kids, but in some ways, they are even more lethal. 

It’s also how propaganda works, the more an untruth is written, read, said and heard the wider the ‘illusion of truth’ is cast.  
That’s how propaganda works, the more an untruth is written, read, said and heard the wider the ‘illusion of truth’ is cast. 

  But is this bold claim about St Fittick’s Park being the keystone to the success of the entire ETZ actually true? If it were, then it’s not unreasonable to think there must be strong supporting evidence, or even a line of companies publicly declaring how excited they are to be part of transforming Europe’s floundering ‘oil and gas capital’ to its new ‘energy capital,’ ‘net zero capital’, or whatever title is convenient. 
Firstly there are currently no companies publicly jostling to take possession of the site. All that we have are more words from ETZ Ltd. For example, they reach for projections on port space requirements for servicing Scotland’s future offshore wind industry and occasionally mention cable manufacturing. But if councillors and the Scottish Government cared to scrutinise the words of ETZ Ltd, they would find they are entirely hollow, without evidence or substance. 
The Chain and Anchor Capital of Europe? 

In various public events, representatives from ETZ Ltd have dropped the occasional clue about what they say they want the land for.  

  During a second ETZ public consultation day, glossy maps and fancy images adorned the display boards inside the Torry Free Church. One poster illustrated the park complete with a new large building titled ‘High Value Manufacturing’. I asked the person next to this poster who happened to be the Managing Director of Ironside Farrar, ETZ Ltd’s Masterplanner. 

“If you’re going to take our park, then please tell us what you’re taking it for”?  

I received a vague response about manufacturing subsea cables, but no company name, and no explanation of how the entire zone hinged on this one activity. It has now turned out that claim was as hollow as it originally sounded, given recent announcements for more suitable cable manufacturing sites at Hunterston and Nigg in Caithness.

Going by the social media and LinkedIn accounts of the nexus of people and organisations supporting the ETZ project, it appears a new prospective tenant is emerging on the eastern horizon, in the guise of Singaporean mooring company called Mooreast

What awaits St Fitticks’ Park? Photo – Adrian Crofton

The park is a green jewel in an area classed in the top 10% of the Scottish index of multiple social deprivation. So, if this latest scheme happens, it will effectively mean the plants, habitats, birds, deer and insect life, people’s daily walking routes, sense of place, daily enjoyment will be severely affected for a company that for all intents and purposes makes chains and anchors for offshore oil rigs and wind turbines. A sacrifice many in the community cannot accept. It takes an awful leap of the imagination to believe that the future of the ETZ and by extension Aberdeen’s economy, relies on this type of company.  

Photo credit Jean Boucher

 If this seems like an unbelievable story to you then like me, you will have many questions: 

  • What is the real story behind the plans for the park?  
  • Are the people of ETZ Ltd deliberately deceiving the public, the council and the government about the park being essential?   
  • Are they self-deluded, intoxicated by their own propaganda, and really believe a mooring company will save Aberdeen?  

It sounds like a car crash waiting to happen.  

If ETZ Ltd were a private company, it would be their loss. But it does matter for everyone reading these words, because if they succeed in destroying this vital greenspace in a community that has already suffered and lost so much, they will be using your money, to the tune of at least £67 million in the form of government grants to do so. 

I believe any organisation that is responsible for delivering a Just Transition, must have community and worker representatives on their board of directors or trustees. But currently the ETZ project is far from a Just Transition. They carry out performative community consultations that allow them to say they have engaged with the local community, where in truth each time they have ignored the community’s views.   

But here is what is really going on.  

The ETZ in St Fittick’s Park is of course nothing to do with securing the future economy of Aberdeen.  

As I’ve shown, it’s also nothing to do with energy transition, let alone a Just Transition.  

The people behind ETZ Ltd, do have a plan and do know what they are doing, and it’s been known in public since 2020, only if, like the Friends of St Fittick’s Park you pay attention.   

Their real motivations can be found in the Port of Aberdeen’s 30-year masterplan. This document shows that the Port of Aberdeen, a private company and key partner, seek to move most of the traffic and quayside businesses from the north harbour, to the recently constructed south harbour. Currently most of the traffic that moors in the north harbour are oil and gas supply vessels. Moving this to the south harbour will free up a long swathe of land from Trinity Quay in the heart of Aberdeen all the way to Fittie at the harbour mouth. The masterplan highlights that this will create prime waterside real estate for the construction of apartments, retail and hospitality businesses. To accommodate the additional traffic in the south harbour, more warehousing and hardstanding areas will be required, hence why these plans show expansion into St Fittick’s Park, as well as the Bay of Nigg Golf course and parts of Greyhope bay. This will encircle the whole of Torry in heavy industry, when Torry already suffer from much poorer health outcomes because of historical and ongoing noise, air and light pollution from existing industries. 

Extract from Port of Aberdeen Masterplan 2020 showing new ‘developments’ in north harbour and industrial emphasis placed on new south harbour in Torry.

The ETZ in St Fittick’s Park is a land grab of public land for the Port of Aberdeen and property developers to profit privately. This bears repeating time and again. 

Therefore, the Scottish Government must then take responsibility in this saga, if they are truly serious about delivering a Just Transition, not just for Aberdeen, but for the whole of Scotland.  

They must stop the flow of public money to a private, unaccountable and untransparent organisation. We cannot leave the energy transition to private sector executives. Especially those that have close links to an oil industry still determined to squeeze the last drop of oil from beneath the north sea, as well as offering false climate solutions, such as Carbon Capture and Storage and Hydrogen. 

The Scottish Government must pivot instead and harness the power and knowledge of people found in workplaces and communities across Scotland, such as Torry. If they did, then I’m confident the narrative of energy transition would be much more meaningful and effective, than the hollow story of ‘high value manufacturing’ being told by ETZ Ltd. 

In May 2023, the 2nd Torry People’s Assembly was held in the park. A coming together of people seeking new ways of fighting back against the decades of state violence inflicted onto the community and how to make Torry a healthy place to live and grow up. The Declaration of Torry was written which captures what was said and gestures towards a new inspiring narrative and intention for the community, which

“…insists on a just and fair energy transition. Not ETZ’s obscure and unfair land grab. We will seek to set up a Torry Retrofit project, to insulate homes, reduce bills and emission, improve health and provide meaningful long-term work here..”. 

This is just the start of what must happen. Both here in Torry and across the whole of Scotland.


Comments (6)

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  1. Meg Macleod says:

    The illusion of truth……you have captured a phrase that underlies our society in general…


    1. Graeme Purves says:

      Just so.

    2. Scott Herrett says:

      Thank you for reading the article Meg.

      I did think carefully before using the term. It does seem to apply to much of public and political discourse currently, but sometimes without evidence. I’m confident though I have shown enough for it to apply in the context of St Fittick’s Park.

  2. SleepingDog says:

    I don’t know anything about this site, but the essential requirement to use brownfield sites surely should be a national requirement so that such campaigns are unnecessary.
    My preference for a biocracy would mean that the flora, fauna and fungi of the park would automatically have political representation, along with wider Earth systems like the biosphere.

    1. Scott Herrett says:

      Thank you for reading and the comment.

      In terms of brownfield sites, you would think so, but the Scottish Government have failed to apply a variety of their own ‘world leading’ policies in this case, including the one you highlight, but also policies on Just Transition, Biodiversity and Health inequalities.

      They had the opportunity when reviewing the local development plan, but both their planning reporter and then plannning minister failed to apply the policies.

      In each time they accepted the ”for the greater good’ argument proposed by ETZ Ltd and the schemes backers. But as laid out in the article there is no substantial evidence provided to actually support such an argument.

      As one member of the campaign once remarked – “Imagine going to the planning department and saying you want to build an extension. Planning would ask to see your plans. Imagine you did what ETZ Ltd do, and said ‘The plans are not ready, but what I’m going to build is something really good!’

      And ‘Biocracy’ interesting idea, will look that one up. But one would hope we all find a way of dismantling the current ‘Corporocracy’ first…!

  3. Satan says:

    Shame there was so little comment when Torry academy was moved to the arse-end on an industrail estate. Also a shame that the plan doesn’t involve flattening Balnagask. But I suppose it’s important to some people to have a stroll across a bleak wastland from a sewage works to a landfill. At least the foghorn doesn’t blow anymore and the place doesn’t stink of fish on a warm day.

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