Proposals have been outlined to create a cutting-edge Energy Transition Zone (ETZ) that would tie in with a new harbour expansion project in Aberdeen which aims to help tackle climate change and provide jobs away from the oil and gas industry.
The ETZ will be dedicated to “high-value” business related to the clean energy industry, including offshore wind, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage technology, and could bring 2,500 jobs by 2030.
Developers behind the plans, including businessman and philanthropist Sir Ian Wood and Opportunity North East, have earmarked land occupied by a popular park in the outskirts of the city as crucial for the success of the ETZ, providing necessary access to the new South Harbour scheme.
But residents and healthcare professionals are warning that people living in neighbouring Torry, one of Scotland’s most deprived areas, will be further disadvantaged if their local park is bulldozed.
St Fittick’s Park is much loved and well used by a wide variety of people in the area.
A small but nature-rich green space, it is home to award-winning wetland and reedbeds and diverse wildlife – including 43 species of breeding birds, some very rare or endangered, numerous amphibians, insects and mammals, such as otters, as well as more than 115 types of plants.
It borders Torry, where the life expectancy of some residents is 13 years lower than those living in Aberdeen’s wealthier parts.
The community, once a village in its own right, is nowadays surrounded by two working harbours, an industrial estate, a railway line, landfill sites, a sewage works, an incinerator that is currently under construction, a regional waste processing facility and one of Scotland’s busiest roads.
A campaign group, Friends of St Fittick’s Park, has been formed to fight the ETZ plans.
Now 22 doctors, nurses and healthcare workers from across Aberdeen have joined the battle to save the 18-hectare park, writing an open letter highlighting the health and welfare benefits of getting outside in nature and warning of the potentially severe impacts for locals if the park was lost.
Requisitioning this last remaining green space would be “highly unjust”, they say.
“To remove St Fittick’s would add ‘green poverty’ to the existing list of deprivations with which the community already contends,” the letter states.
“Much of the housing here is poor-quality: small, damp and affected by noise and light pollution.
“Residents frequently complain of high levels of exposure to antisocial behaviour.
“On the other hand, many of the patients and staff of Torry Medical Practice tell us how access to the green space at St Fittick’s has helped them with their physical health as well as their mental health.
“It is where they walk and where their children and grandchildren play.
“It is a lovely quiet place, where you can escape the pressures of everyday life, walk, jog or sit quietly and experience nature.”
It concludes: “The people of Torry and the services that support them are working hard to tackle the gaps in health outcomes that plague the area; the removal of this last piece of green space would permanently undermine those efforts.”
The loss of St Fittick’s would be “a retrograde step in the fight against health inequality”, they say.
And the place is much more than a recreational space, according to local resident and Friends of St Fittick’s Park campaigner Ian Baird.
“It is a highly complex ecosystem with woodland and wetlands,” he said.
“It functions as an urban lung and carbon sink and works as a sustainable drainage system in a place that would otherwise be prone to flooding.
“It supports the mental and physical health of high-rise and sheltered housing residents who have no other access to green space or gardens.
“It is a playground for children, used extensively by dog-walkers, naturalists and runners.
“It’s already functioning as a space which simultaneously serves the locality’s needs, gives a home to wildlife and contributes to global sustainability.”
Biologist David Hunter, who runs private conservation firm Habitat People, has been monitoring wildlife at the site for the past four years.
He said: “It is the last green corner of Torry, which was once known as the garden city, and is literally the garden to thousands of people in flats adjacent to the park who lack private gardens of their own.
“The destruction of this site would be an ecological, social and environmental catastrophe in the same vein as Donald Trump’s golf course in Aberdeenshire, only affecting more people.
“From what we have all learned from lockdown, spaces like this are vital to the physical and mental health of locals in an increasingly tense age.”
Mr Baird added: “Increasingly the societal value of open space, greenery, good air quality and lack of noise are understood in preserving individuals’ resilience when other negative factors – lack of income, inadequate housing, and poor health – prevail, but instead the area has the feel of a sacrificial zone.
“Although the ETZ is being promoted by its proponents as providing jobs and the incinerator comes accompanied by a heat network to alleviate fuel poverty, everyone in Aberdeen knows full well that no other park in the city would be requisitioned for industrial use and any suggestion to site an incinerator near a primary school in the leafier parts of the city would be unthinkable.”
ETZ chief executive Maggie McGinlay insisted that local concerns would be listened to as the masterplan is developed, with ongoing community consultation.
She said the not-for-profit company was “fully committed to ensuring that access to public green space is a key priority”.
She added: “We remain absolutely determined to ensure benefits of the project are widespread and felt keenly amongst those citizens who live and work in close proximity to the project.”