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Building work finally begins on Dundee’s flagship £32 million elite sports centre

May 16 2018

Construction work has finally begun on Dundee's new flagship £32 million elite sports centre after four years of planning. The Caird Park Regional Performance Centre for Sport, which will feature a top-of-the-range indoor athletics centre, is expected to be completed by autumn 2019. The need for such a centre was first identified almost 15 years ago by SportScotland in its National and Regional Sports Facilities Strategy. However, after Dundee was chosen as the government's preferred site for the regional centre, a series of hiccups followed. Setbacks included Dundee FC's withdrawal from involvement in the scheme, a change in location from Camperdown Park, and the shock prospect of a £750,000 annual tax bill. Speaking at the sod-cutting event yesterday, Mike Galloway, the soon-to-retire director of city development at Dundee City Council said he was pleased to see the centre finally starting to take shape. He said: "It's great we're able to see work starting on site today and see it coming to fruition. "I think it's going to be really important for the clubs and the associations in Dundee and for the elite sports people who will have access to these facilities as they've been waiting for this." Dundee initially bid to house a national centre, rather than the regional one, in 2013  but lost out to Edinburgh. The capital's centre, named the Oriam, opened around a year and a half ago. Further issues in choosing an appropriate location, as well as local opposition, caused more delays. Controversy then followed after The Courier revealed the centre would be subject to a £750,000 annual tax bill amid a Scottish Government shake-up of business rates. The venue was eventually exempted from the tax bill, much to the relief of local officials involved in the project. Leader of Dundee City Council, John Alexander added: “The regional performance centre will bring huge benefits for the city and our people and reflects our drive to make Dundee a better place for all. “It is designed to support athletes in their development and will help improve the health of our population through participation in sport.” The sports centre will feature a number of new facilities, as well as upgrades to existing ones. The athletics track currently at Caird Park is to be resurfaced and a covered spectator area added. The recently resurfaced velodrome is to have a new area of hardstanding provided for competition, with upgraded floodlighting. An innovative £5 million energy centre will also allow a district heating capability. Construction company Balfour Beatty was chosen to build the centre in March.

Angus & The Mearns

Man sacked for attending gin festival while off sick with stress

January 9 2018

A Dundee man was sacked while on sick leave following the murder of one of his friends and the disappearance of a close friend's son when his bosses found out he had gone to a gin festival. Stan Reid was off work due to stress associated with the hunt for teenager Ralph Smith, who had fallen from cliffs near Arbroath, and the subsequent killings of Julie McCash and David Sorrie following a vigil at the teenager's family home in Whitfield. However, bosses at the city's Michelin factory learned he had attended a gin festival  and fired him for gross misconduct. An employment tribunal in Dundee yesterday heard the company was alerted to a Facebook post, in which Mr Reid was tagged, that suggested he was at the event in Glasgow. A comment from him, stating "I'm not there", was followed by a comment from his girlfriend which said "shhh...." The factory's production manager and joint disciplinary committee (JDC) chairman David Ashforth said the messages suggested Mr Reid was not as sick as his employers had been led to believe. He said: "For me and the panel, we felt that if he could go to a gin festival then he could go to his work. "I understand the circumstances around this were difficult but why was going to a gin festival a good idea?" The tribunal, heard by Peter Wallington QC, was told Mr Reid had been certified as sick due to stress as a result of the disappearance and murders. Mr Reid was a major part of the search effort for 18-year-old Ralph Smith— who he had known since his birth — in circumstances described by his solicitor Ryan Russell as "incredibly distressful." The tragedy was compounded when Ms McCash and Mr Sorrie were murdered. One month later, Ralph's death was confirmed after his body washed up on the town's Victoria Park. A second witness, Michelin's development manager Stuart Duncan, said he did not believe Mr Reid was sick but did not question the authenticity of his certification. Mr Russell questioned this rationale and  criticised Mr Duncan's failure to follow company procedure when he dismissed Mr Reid. Mr Duncan said he had already made the decision to dismiss him following the JDC, despite Mr Reid being told he would be given the opportunity to argue his case. Mr Russel said: "I would put it to you that this is shocking. "It's a complete and utter disregard for all proper process. You just dismissed Mr Reid before he had even uttered a word. He was not given a fair crack of the whip." Mr Duncan responded that his understanding was that the meeting was simply to "deliver my decision". The tribunal continues today.


Dundee’s first every whisky festival proves a big hit

March 26 2018

Dundee's first ever whisky festival proved a big hit as hundreds of enthusiasts packed out the weekend event. The Whisky Social saw around 500 lovers of Scotland's national drink snap up tickets for the celebration, held at Dundee University's Bonar Hall on Saturday. Visitors had the opportunity to sample more than 50 spirits from dozens of distilleries from across the world. Masterclasses such as cocktail making were also on offer, as well as the chance to meet brand ambassadors and sample traditional Scottish cuisine. It was organised by Harbro Events, headed by husband and wife Andy and Kirsty Ure, who first launched the Whisky Social in Falkirk two years ago, selling out both years. The pair also organised a new craft beer festival in the city at the same venue in February. Craft Beer Discovery saw brewers from across the country flock to take part, as well as local companies such as 71 Brewing and Law Brewing. Andy said the whisky event had also proved to be a big hit. He said: "Dundee was an obvious choice for us. It's up and coming. "We actually first had the idea to come here during the city's campaign to win the 2023 European Capital of Culture title. "Although that ultimately fell through, it still showed it's a place on the up. "We noticed that there aren't many of these types of bespoke events and saw an opportunity. "We've been proved right to come here because both this and the craft beer festival have been very popular." The pair have already announced that the beer festival will return next year after attracting around 900 ale enthusiasts. Andy added a decision on whether to also bring back the whisky festival would be made soon. He said: "We will always look for opportunities to put on events if there's demand. "We do a gin festival in Falkirk as well as a vegan festival but we know those two things have launched here in the last few years so we probably wouldn't want to step on anyone's toes. "It's a learning cycle for us. It's all about finding out what Dundonians want. "The Bonar Hall has the capacity to hold even more so we can potentially expand if there's enough interest." The event was split into two sessions, the first from midday-3.30pm and the other from 4.15pm-7.45pm. Tickets cost £27.50 and included all tasters and masterclasses.


‘Everyone did an incredible job’ — autopsy carried out on beached sperm whale in Tayside could be world first

March 26 2018

An autopsy carried out on a 45-foot sperm whale beached in Tayside could be a world-first, a researcher involved in the effort has claimed. The infant whale, which was found dead on Barry Buddon beach near Monifieth on Thursday night, was examined by experts on Friday and Saturday before being buried under a large mound of sand. Due to the incredible skill of digger operators from Cupar-based FTM Plant Hire, a brain sample was taken from the huge mammal before it reached decomposition. According to Dr Andrew Brownlow, head of the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme, this may never have been done before following the death of a beached whale and may lead to greater understanding of the fascinating creatures. https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/news/local/angus-mearns/624142/video-how-did-45ft-sperm-whale-which-washed-up-near-monifieth-die/ He said: "I have been doing this for 10 years and have never seen this. "It's more than likely it has not been done before this quickly anywhere in the world. "It may have an impact on future research worldwide. It's so very rare to manage to do this. "The digger operator, Martin Smith, used the shovel of the digger with the precision of a scalpel to crack open its skull in the exact location we needed." https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/news/local/angus-mearns/624009/video-watch-as-complex-operation-to-probe-death-of-and-bury-tay-sperm-whale-gets-under-way/ Dr Brownlow was joined by a number of students from the St Andrews Sea Mammal Research Unit and fellow marine rescuer volunteers. It is hoped the autopsy will allow experts to understand how the whale came to be stranded on the beach, which is both a Site of Special Scientific Interest and an EU Special Area of Conservation. He added: "It's just amazing to gain greater insight into these incredible animals. "They decompose ridiculously quickly and the whale was already falling apart on Saturday. "A post-mortem on a sperm whale is just so difficult logistically. The head is massive. "We will be able to rule out a few possible reasons for its beaching from this sample. "It can now be analysed for any possible issues in its brain function which could have caused it to navigate off course. "I want to thank everyone involved in the effort. Everyone did such an incredible job."


Councillor ‘astonished’ at time taken to exempt Dundee’s new flagship sports centre from tax bill

February 19 2018

A city councillor says he was left "astonished" at the time taken to exempt Dundee's new flagship sports centre from a massive £750,000 tax bill. The city's new £32 million Regional Performance Centre for Sport (RPCS) had been facing the possibility of having to pay the huge annual tax bill after the Scottish Government announced plans to introduce business rates for new community sports and arts facilities. However, finance secretary Derek Mackay confirmed on Saturday the project's "exceptional circumstances" mean it will not be hit with the bill. The Scottish Government's changes to business rates mean services run by arms-length external organisations (ALEOs) could be be subject to large rate demands. The new Caird Park facility is run by an ALEO, with North East Labour MSP Jenny Marra raising fears at the end of January that the centre could be affected. It then took the Scottish Government just over two weeks to make a decision. Though delighted with the outcome, Broughty Ferry representative Craig Duncan, who sits on the Regional Performance Centre for Sport Project Board, says the length of time taken to reach a decision only added to the problem. He said: “The success of this project is of great importance to Dundee and, as a member of the project board,  I am delighted that the uncertainty surrounding this potentially ruinous tax grab by the Scottish Government has, at last, been sorted. “I am only astonished that it has taken so long for the Scottish Government to take the threat of a huge rates bill off the table. "Whatever you do with the tax regime is one thing but the project was already well under way and a deal is a deal quite frankly. "You need clarity, especially when it's such a huge bill. You might have thought twice about it if this bill had been a possibility from the beginning. "The length of time taken to reach the decision made people worry." Before a decision had been made, the Scottish Government had said it was discussing "a range of issues" regarding the project with Dundee City Council. Mr Duncan added that he was concerned that, as a board member on the project, he had not been involved in these discussions. He added: "Without being party to the process, you're left needing to do guess work and it's not very inclusive or helpful. "You really have to be straight up front with the board and other people involved so that we can understand the thinking. "I actually had to wait and find out through the press about it and that's not right."


New cancer research group for Dundee as French scientist secures £1.35m grant

October 6 2016

A new cancer research group is to be set up at Dundee University after a leading scientist was awarded a £1.35 million grant. French scientist, Dr Constance Alabert, 36, based at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, was granted a Career Development Fellowship by Cancer Research UK. The funding will enable her to launch research into how mechanisms used to maintain the identity and function of skin cells during and after cell division affect cancer growth. Specifically, it is known that epigenetic ‘tags’ are placed on DNA cells to control whether genes are turned off or on, and it is hoped research will be able to determine how changes to these tags impact tumour development. Dr Alabert said: “We know that epigenetic ‘tags’ are important in controlling when cells grow and divide. "But little is known about how these ‘tags’ are replaced after cell division or about the role – if any – this ‘replacing’ plays in tumour development. “By understanding the mechanisms that replace these tags, we are hopeful we can identify new players in tumour development that have the potential to lead to new therapies.” The fellowships are an important source of funding for talented scientists to progress with independent studies and launch their own research groups. She said of the funding: “It’s a great honour to have been awarded this fellowship from Cancer Research UK. “Throughout my career the aim of my research has been to understand how cells work at a very fundamental level, so applying my work to help find out more about cancer brings a very human aspect to my research which is fantastic motivation for me.” Karen Noble, Cancer Research UK’s head of training and fellowships, added: “Our fellows make crucial discoveries that increase our fundamental understanding of cancer and help develop innovative new cancer medicines, tests and treatments.”


Owner’s delight after dog missing for over a week in Highland Perthshire is found

October 24 2017

A dog that had been missing for over a week on a Perthshire Munro has been miraculously found. Cockapoo Ester disappeared while she and her owner Rachael Nixon descended Ben Chonzie near Comrie on Tuesday October 17. Extensive search efforts then took place to locate the two-year-old with drones recently used by a volunteer from the Drone SAR for Lost Dogs Facebook page.   Writing on Facebook, Rachael said: "We came down off the Munro after camping with bacon and sausages and I had a voicemail but didn't want to get my hopes up so went to the person's house and there she was. "She's lost a lot of weight and has a couple sore bits and is absolutely stinking but her tail wagged when she seen me and she started crying. "She's a bit dazed and lethargic but apart from that she's been a tough dog — even the farmers were amazed." The young dog went missing when Rachael, who was visiting the area from Kirkcaldy, let go of the the two-year-old dog’s lead after she slipped on a rocky area of ground. Rachael had been joined by family and friends in the hunt for Ester every day since the incident and said it was down to a previous Courier article that she was found. She added: "I've walked 80 miles up steep hills of 3000ft to find her and that's not even including all the searching my friends, family, volunteers, and estate workers have done. "The man who found her saw the article, recognised her immediately and got her to safety. “It’s all because he had seen her in The Courier and knew her name and who she was. "She's had a wee clean up at Wags to Riches so that her sore bits don't get infected. "It's a miracle. "  


Dundee music fans urged to avoid ticket touts for Slessor Gardens gigs

May 16 2017

Those looking to buy tickets for Dundee's upcoming gigs at Slessor Gardens are being advised to steer clear of ticket touts. As yet, tickets to see UB40 and Olly Murs are still available to purchase and Leisure & Culture Dundee (LACD) are encouraging anyone still interested in attending to get them from directly from Dundee City Box Office. There have been various reports of ticket touts selling tickets for the gigs for hugely inflated prices, sometimes by as much as 400% — despite them not being sold out. Websites such as GetMeIn, owned by box office firm Ticketmaster, were advertising premium tickets for sale for UB40 — which have a face value of £55 — for up to £268.06 including fees. It is not illegal to resell tickets but LACD are urging people to ensure they are paying the standard price for their ticket. A spokesperson said: "Following recent press articles in relation to ticket touts, Leisure & Culture Dundee would strongly advise members of the public to purchase tickets for the UB40 Concert and the Olly Murs Concert at Slessor Gardens from Dundee City Box Office direct. "A supply of tickets for both concerts are still available at the best price, with minimal booking fees." Thousands of fans are set to descend on the city centre on Saturday May 20 for UB40, the first act to perform at the city's new outdoor public space, with Little Mix set to hit Dundee on June 29 and Olly Murs on July 20. The council recently released details of temporary road measures for the concert, with many streets surrounding the venue set to be closed off entirely. Drivers approaching the Tay Road Bridge from Riverside Drive will be diverted up South Marketgait and forced to complete journeys around the city centre before reaching the bridge. The diversions will be in place from 2.30pm until midnight on the day of the concert. Earl Grey Place East and West, South Crichton Street and South Castle Street will all be closed from Wednesday May 17 until 6pm on Sunday May 21 to allow the stage to be set up and then cleared. Castle Street South and Dock Street, between Whitehall Crescent and Commercial Street, will be closed on the day of the concert.  


50,000-year-old caveman brought back to life by Dundee researcher

May 12 2018

A Dundee researcher has helped bring a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal back to life for a major BBC TV show. Dr Christopher Rynn, who is an expert in facial reconstruction at Dundee University, will feature in Neanderthals: Meet Your Ancestors, due to be aired for the first time tomorrow. Viewers will see Dr Rynn reconstruct the face of an ancient skull fossil found in Iraq. Taking clues from the bone structure, he has used his expertise to recreate the features of the caveman, named Ned, who has not been seen for more than 50,000 years. Also featured in the programme is Hollywood star Andy Serkis, whose company, the Imaginarium, has used the image to create the first scientifically accurate, 3D working avatar of a Neanderthal. With the help of cutting-edge CGI technology, the show’s producers were also able to reconstruct a Neanderthal hunt. The same technology helped Serkis star as Gollum in Lord of the Rings and Caesar in Planet of the Apes. The hunters' voices have also been modelled — 40,000 years after they died out. And to test how well Neanderthals would blend in to modern society, the show's makers put Ned among commuters on a busy tube train. Dr Rynn, who works in the university’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, said he had been "bursting" to tell friends and family that his work would feature on TV. He said: “Having reconstructed Ned’s face, I am as excited as anyone to see how he looks in the final show and to see what the producers have done with him. “I have been bursting to tell people about this since the filming took place almost a year ago but was sworn to secrecy so I’m relieved I can finally talk about the show." Dr Rynn said Ned's skull had actually helped to shine a greater light on the behaviour of Neanderthals. He said: “I was working from a plastic cast of Ned’s skull, which tells a story in itself. "Ned was in his 30s when he died, but the skull shows he had received a severe head injury when he was in his teens. "The severity and location of the injury means he would likely have been blind and deaf on the left side, while the withered nature of the right side of his skeleton means he would have been quite severely disabled. “Despite this, he lived for another 20 years after his injury and was found with other members of his family. "He would have been unable to care for himself so this provided the first evidence that Neanderthals looked after each other.” Last year, Dr Rynn also helped to recreate the face of a Pictish man brutally murdered in fifth century Scotland. The first of the two-part series will be broadcast on BBC2 on Sunday May 13 at 8pm with the second aired at the same time next week.


Shock £300,000 tax bill for new Dundee community centre

March 13 2018

A new Dundee community centre is set to be hit with a shock £300,000 annual tax bill. The charge facing the new Menzieshill Community Centre was revealed last night after a £9 million tender was waved through by councillors at the council's city development committee meeting. The centre, which will cost £13.2 million in total, will be subject to the eye-watering bill after the Scottish Government introduced a new policy on business rates affecting newly-built facilities run by “arm’s-length external organisations” (ALEOs). The policy previously sparked controversy after it was revealed Dundee's new £32 million Regional Performance Centre for Sport (RPCS) could be hit with a £750,000 yearly tax bill. However, following discussions with the council, the Scottish Government announced it would be exempt from the charge, due to "exceptional circumstances". Labour councillor for Lochee Michael Marra, said the Menzieshill finances showed Dundee would still feel the impact of the controversial tax policy. He said: "These long-promised facilities will now be burdened by an eye-watering tax of £300,000 a year. "That means the people of Menzieshill will have the most expensive facility in the region. "That will undoubtedly put pressure on the costs of staffing for the lifetime of the facility, or for as long as this ludicrous Scottish Government policy survives." Liberal Democrat councillor Ballie Fraser Macpherson said Dundee would soon be just one of many council areas dealing with additional costs due to the policy. He suggested all projects under current ALEOs such as Leisure & Culture Dundee (which will run the Menzieshill Community Centre), should be exempt from the new tax bill. The news comes after residents of Mill O' Mains were told by the council that there was no money to rebuild their fire-ravaged community pavilion. The local authority was asked to pay around £1 million before insurers would meet the rest of the replacement costs – money it says it does not have. Councillor Marra added: "It is my strong belief that community facilities in Mill o’Mains are the first casualty of this new tax. "The decision has clearly been made not to replace the facility which was tragically lost to a fire. "This tax means that any replacement facility would be wildly expensive for the council. "The Mill o’Mains community has been denied a replacement by the Scottish Government tax. "Dundee is first to feel the impact."