ENERGY is big news.

Yesterday, the First Minister told a massive renewable energy conference that Scotland could lose transformational opportunities without, of course, an urgent change by Westminster and promised hydrogen production will be scaled up with his government “leading from the front”.

But where will this new green industry be located?

During the SNP leadership campaign, Humza Yousaf promised to make Aberdeen the “renewable energy capital of the world”. Indeed, big bucks have already flowed into the Granite City for a pioneering Energy Transition Zone (ETZ)  to help ensure no oil and gas workers are left behind in the transition to renewables.

The Westminster government has contributed £27 million and the Scottish Government £26m, with another £14.7m, from the “Just Transition Fund”.

Quite a kitty. So where will this industrial hub be sited?

Leafy Rosemount, Cults or the AB15 postcode which houses 240 millionaires – the largest grouping outside Edinburgh’s Stockbridge?

Naw, of course not. What about the Altens Industrial Estate, a coastal brownfield site listed as a viable location in a 2020 council feasibility plan?

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It’s backed by local MSPs, the Scottish Greens Maggie Chapman and Labour’s Mercedes Villalba and it’s certainly spacious enough to assemble renewable hardware. Partly.

But why confine green industry to an industrial park when another bit of (probably cheaper) public land is even closer to  the harbour?

That land is St Fittick’s Community Park – the last green space in Torry, one of Scotland’s 500 most deprived neighbourhoods, where life expectancy is 12 years shorter than Aberdeen’s millionaire-packed suburbs.

According to Dr Adrian Crofton of Torry Medical Practice: “Urban greenspace is ‘critical infrastructure’ because of its proven health benefits. Removing a third of the park would not merely reduce this resource, but degrade the remainder. To ask how much park is OK to take is like asking how much health the community can afford to lose.”

Linda Harper of Torry People’s Assembly added: “We are always the city’s sacrifice zone for unwelcome developments that make money for others and not for people here.” It’s been that way for half a century.

In 1971, the original fishing village of Torry was demolished to make way for oil developments. A sewage treatment works appeared in 2002 and two landfill sites containing toxic waste were developed just behind.

In 2016, the council approved plans for a new industrial harbour beside the sewage works. Building has also begun on an incinerator.

So, Torry is encircled by heavy industry, dealing with Stonehaven’s sewage and Moray’s rubbish.

But at its centre, there is still one wee gem – the park.

Almost a decade back, this council-owned neglected waste ground was transformed into a multi-award-winning greenspace with a meandering burn, wetlands, woodlands, wildflower meadow, paths and reed beds to stop flooding and filter out contaminants like arsenic, which still wash down from neighbouring industrial estates.

The park was a particularly precious greenspace during the Covid pandemic and since the council promised it was sacrosanct – a tiny bit of mitigation for the harbour development – the future seemed secure.

But in 2021, St Fittick’s Park was rezoned for development as an industrial site in the council’s new Development Plan just as oil magnet Sir Ian Wood announced plans for an ambitious energy transition  zone – with the park as his  favoured location.

He said the venture could “create 2500 direct jobs, a further 10,000 energy transition-related jobs  across the region and £400m of added value”. No wonder the project attracted £50m from two governments  before the planning process had even begun.

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Torry campaigners say the public and opposition councillors were excluded from consultation and their last chance is now the Scottish Government which could use its planning powers to overturn Aberdeen City Council’s Development Plan rezoning St Fittick’s Park as an “opportunity site”.

The decision – to veto or approve the change – has been postponed five times since December, but is finally expected before Saturday.

So, what will Local Government Minister Joe FitzPatrick do? Or was this always a done deal?

The answer really matters because across rural Scotland, communities feel they are expected to thole financial hardship and a loss of amenity to get the green transition on the road.

If the decision goes against St Fittick’s Park, the community will refuse to end their three-year campaign to have the ETZ located elsewhere and will resist planning applications, using other forms of direct action to stop the diggers if necessary.

Why? How long have you got?

All the folk quoted below live in Torry and are Friends of St Fittick’s Park.

Richard Caie said: “If you have money you can drive or travel for leisure. If you don’t you can’t. It’s not right that the ‘suits’ who live in posh areas can take St Fittick’s 
Park away from Torry folk for corporate profit.”

Scott Herrett, also a just transition organiser for Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “Locals know there are acres of land deserted by the oil industry in the nearby Altens industrial estate. So it makes no sense to bulldoze a swathe of rich biodiverse habitat for possible use as a cable production facility, without a confirmed commercial backer.”

Ishbel Shand said: “The business plan is a verbose bit of flim-flam, full of wishful thinking and hubris, promising huge environmental and social benefits. The estimates of new jobs are so inflated, Aberdeen would have to start importing workers to fill the vacancies. We are drowning in green-wash.”

Lesley Anne Mullholland said: “You feel you are swimming against a tide of commercial aggressors whose eyes have always been on the prize of our precious park for their own agenda. There have been personal tears of despair and frustration at the injustice and the failure of officials to listen to our community which has sacrificed so much for the wealth of this city.”

Locals believe their park is being stolen by the rich and powerful – Robin Hood in reverse. Can the Scottish Government afford to have this kind of spirited community opposition all over Scotland?

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The “theft” of their park will be challenged in the Torry People’s Assembly in late May – a pioneering act of community democracy where locals will decide how to move forward. SNP politicians have been invited to attend, though no-one expects them to come.

Which is a pretty poor pass. All of which raises big questions.

For Aberdeen Council – how can it guarantee Torry won’t flood with contaminated water if the natural flood prevention system in St Fittick’s Park disappears? Do councillors accept poor air quality is a large factor in Torry’s high premature mortality rate?

If so, why zone more heavy industry there? Would the council accept a community buyout?

And since it’s a stopover point for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds, does no-one see an irony in flattening Aberdeen’s most biodiverse location, against the will of its people, to achieve a “just transition”?

Finally, for the Scottish Government – what can the phrase “just transition” possibly mean if communities like Torry are just elbowed out of the way?

In response, Planning Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: "We understand the strength of community feeling in relation to the Energy Transition Zone designation but have accepted that this matter specifically had been fully considered through the planning process.

"We have therefore not considered it necessary to direct Aberdeen City Council to make any further modifications to that part of the plan.”