Aberdeen's Union Terrace Gardens plan: 'Concrete has won but we fight on'

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SUPPORTERS of a controversial regeneration plan are to launch a "hearts and minds" campaign to convince critics that Aberdeen's Union Terrace Gardens will create green space in the city.

Their strategy is to "dispel the myth" that a large concrete raised civic square is envisaged above the historic Victorian gardens and that instead a mini "Central Park" will be created in the heart of the city.

Annie Lennox, the Aberdeen-born rock star who has been a leading critic of Sir Ian Wood's transformational vision for the gardens, echoed the feelings of many opponents of the scheme when she posted her latest blog yesterday on her website, following Aberdeen City Council's decision to back the oil tycoon's proposals.

Lennox, who has attacked the scheme as civic vandalism, declared on her website: "Concrete wins out. Something told me that this was already a done deal – no surprises really."

But both Sir Ian and Tom Smith, chairman of the local economic forum ACSEF, claimed the proposals now being developed would lead to the creation of an enhanced green space in the centre of the city.

Sixteen months ago, when Sir Ian first announced his philanthropic 50 million donation towards the project, he said his aim was to transform the five-acre site into a square that would be a combination of a grand Italian piazza and a miniature version of New York's Central Park.

He said: "I actually used the words a 'mini Central Park.' It was never setting out to be concreted. But the initial diagrams and designs produced showed a big concrete base.

"There has been this continuous myth that this is a big flat concrete square that is going to possibly involve retail and shops. It has never ever been that."

Sir Ian insisted: "First of all, you can't have it flat because of the natural topography and, secondly, the square is going to be subdivided into two or three different sections.

"And thirdly, at least half of it is going to be green."

But he admitted: "We have a lot more work to do to get a lot of the citizens on side."

Mr Smith, the chairman of the forum which has championed Sir Ian's vision since the radical scheme was first announced, said the word "square " might even be dropped from the proposals as they developed.

He told The Scotsman: "I think a lot of the people who voted 'no' to the consultation voted no for concrete, a square and retail. It is never going to be that. It's about a garden. It's about a whole new civic space."

Mr Smith added: "I think the term 'city centre garden' is a more accurate term. There are a number of things we have learned through the consultation process and one is to get the right label for this. This is about gardens. This is about civic space. I think we will be dropping that 'square' word."

John Stewart, the leader of the city council, who led the move to back Sir Ian's proposals at Wednesday's marathon meeting of the authority, admitted he had been "appalled" by the early concept drawings for the project. They had created a "rod for the back" of those supporting the visionary scheme.

But he continued: "I genuinely believe, if we can raise the garden space to something approaching street level, we will make those gardens more accessible. It will create that space, aside from Union Street, where we can get a caf culture. The garden space can incorporate all sorts of things, but I am quite clear I am no longer talking about a civic square but a city centre garden.

"With good leadership, better design and more detailed design, people can be won over."