Thursday, May 20, 2010

Where now for Union Terrace Gardens?

Whatever decision Aberdeen City Council took last night regarding the city square development, roughly half the city would have been angry.

I've not been at all involved in the controversy over the plans to create a new city square which have polarised the city, so I'm wary about writing about something I don't know a huge amount about, but here's how it looks to me.

On one side you have Sir Ian Wood pledging to give £50 million towards a plan to turn the picturesque Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen city centre into what supporters called a "chance to transform our city for the 21st century".

On the other, we have Peacock Visual Arts who already had funding and permission to build a new contemporary arts centre in the Gardens and who say that their future is now in doubt as a result.

I have to say, as a former resident of the city, that I feel that Union Terrace Gardens provided a welcome splash of green and life in a very grey city centre. Instinctively I feel that throwing masses of concrete at a green space in the name of development isn't always desirable unless there's a very good reason. From a brief look at the plans, I can't really see a compelling rationale for the development but I find the way in which the site is put together very dull so maybe an idea which has excited some people I know just hasn't been communicated very well. I don't see what the project will bring in terms of good quality secure long term jobs either. The other point, of course, is money - the whole thing costs £140 million and Sir Ian is only giving around a third of that. That means that another £90 million of presumably public money has to be found, in this climate.

Now that the Council has made its decision, what happens next? Well, I was pleased to see that there was no "na na na na na" stuff from Sir Ian who was very gracious in his remarks last night.

"The polarisation on this very important issue has not been healthy for our city and, now that a positive decision has been taken, every effort must be made to take account of the various concerns expressed and ensure that the project proceeds in a way that will have the optimum impact and benefit for the citizens of Aberdeen.

"Today is not about winners or losers, certainly not in the context of the present parties involved.

"I believe if we make the right decisions over the next few months, all of the parties, including those who might feel they have lost today, will be winners and certainly the citizens of Aberdeen should be the long-term winners."

I guess he is someone from the north east who's doing this because he cares about the city. It appears to me that someone has got to get all the interested parties talking to each other. Surely it can't be beyond the wit of those involved in the plans to find some way of funding Peacock's future and to deal with the concerns of those who are unhappy about the proposal.

As is no doubt clear, I know very little about this, but I'm happy to offer a guest post on this blog to anyone from either side of the argument - and I know good people on both sides of it - to explore positive ways of finding a solution that suits as many people as possible. Any takers?


Anonymous said...

I'm horrified that the council have decided to go ahead. The people of Aberdeen voted against Ian Woods plans for Union Terrace and this was ignored.
As a city in a huge amount of debt I'm concerned where the rest of the money is coming from. Aberdeen has suffered from cutbacks for the past few years. School closures, pool closures..the list goes on and on. The council cannot keep vital public services open but can find the money for their grand plans such as this and their new headquarters.
I thought a councils job was to serve their people, obviously I was wrong.

Misssy M said...

I have to echo what the anonymous commenter has said. This decision is a failure of democracy and a kick in the teeth to the people of Aberdeen who voted against Ian Wood's plans in a public consultation. Peacock had planning permission and funding in place-and their plans would cause minimal damage to the structure of the splendid gardens.

The council ignored the wishes of the people and the majority of people I've spoken to about this from friends to casual acquaintances (like my hairdresser and neighbours and workmates)are really very angry.

Oh they'll build a huge money pit of a folly but they are laying off City secondary school teachers. It beggars belief.


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