The Third Don Crossing is a new bridge planned for the River Don in Aberdeen. The last two local councils have been elected with this new crossing high on their manifesto of promises. With the development a flagship policy the people living near to the proposed route feel their voices and planning concerns never had a chance to be heard.
The bridge has been mooted since the 1970’s but in 2006 a Scottish Government Reporter recommended the development be removed from the local plan. Since then however the council have continued to support the bridge development to ease traffic congestion and provide access to the city centre for 7,000 new houses planned to the north of the city. In March 2010 the council granted permission for the crossing through Tillydrone, one of the poorest areas of Aberdeen.
What has been the role of local people?
The community councils and residents around the proposed bridge have been involved in consultations over many years and are campaigning to stop the bridge under the Donside Crossing Communities Alliance.
They argue from local experience that the bridge will not solve traffic congestion but just bring more cars into the city centre and move congestion inwards. They have proposed alternative plans to speed cars around the centre including a flyover for a congested major roundabout.
They also argue the bridge will increase traffic and pollution to an unacceptable level and sever the Tillydrone community in half; all for the benefit of wealthier areas to the north where the new housing is planned.
Resident’s feel like they have been sidelined. They felt they were “on our own” when campaigning and not supported by political representatives.
During Planing Democracy’s visit to Tillydrone people pointed out they were unpaid volunteers who were expected to participate in a system where other the stakeholders were paid professionals.
They said there was “no time to draw breath with structural plans, the local development plans and then application” in quick succession and that “Neighbourhood Community Action Plans, which then just disappeared, took the attention away from structure plans and local plans”. There was “so much information – we can’t cope”.
Residents participated in the structure, local and application consultations but feel like the major decisions had already been taken. Not least because the bridge was a flagship policy for the ruling political party. One resident said the process was “political manoeuvrings, not planning!”
They called for the Government to ‘call in’ the project and decide the application centrally. People felt that taking the decision “outside the castle walls”of the local authority was the only way to ensure local politics were kept out and planning considerations were given priority.
A ‘call in’ did not happen however and the bridge was given the green-light in March 2010 by Aberdeen Council. The development requires the ‘compulsory purchase’ of land that’s part of 60 people’s properties and sections of registered common good land.
Objections to these compulsory purchases from local residents have triggered external scrutiny via a public local inquiry that was heard on 29th November in Tillydrone. When the decision is made we will publish an update.
Politics in planning?
Is politics in planning a problem? Though they may involve a technical element, planning decisions are also always highly political, raising value-laden questions about the kind of places we want to live in now and in the future.
To make good decisions in this political sphere there needs to be debate on equal terms. Inequalities of access to various resources and power needs to be challenged to provide a level playing field between stakeholders. And at the start of this debate the outcome cannot already be decided, the participants have to be able and willing to change.
Clearly local authorities need to be able to support good infrastructure projects and plan the future of their area but the best plans are influenced from the bottom up as well as from top down. In Aberdeen and Tillydrone it seems inequality rules and bottom-up influence is being trumped again.