Aberdeen finally rejects Sir Ian’s £50 million gift

Sir Ian Wood hoped for a plan for Union Street by December. Picture: Jane Barlow
Sir Ian Wood hoped for a plan for Union Street by December. Picture: Jane Barlow
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ABERDEEN City Council yesterday finally drew a “line in the sand” and rejected the offer of a £50 million gift from oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood to help transform the heart of the city centre.

At a meeting of the full ­council, councillors agreed to inform the Wood Family Trust that the authority would be unable to meet an end-of-the-year deadline set by Sir Ian.

The council ignored an 11th- hour plea by First Minister Alex Salmond to get off their “high horse” and accept Sir Ian’s offer.

The authority will now seek a new materplan through its recently formed city regeneration board to ­transform the Union Street area of Europe’s oil capital.

In October, Sir Ian put his £50m offer for the redevelopment of the city centre back on the table – a year after the controversial £140m scheme to transform the Victorian Union Terrace Gardens was thrown out by the Labour-led coalition. The billionaire businessman pledged he would still deliver on his donation towards the regeneration of Europe’s oil capital as long as there was a plan in place.

But leaders of the Labour-dominated administration claimed the “strings” attached to Sir Ian’s offer meant it would be impossible for the council to meet his demands before 31 December. Councillor Marie Boulton, the chair of the regeneration board, said after the meeting yesterday that it was time to “draw a line in the sand” over the affair.

“I want to be very clear that this council is not rejecting the generous offer made by the Wood Family Trust, but we are unfortunately unable to meet the deadline set,” she said.

“This is not to say we don’t want to work with them, quite the reverse in fact, but we have to give an honest answer. We are not in a position to give any clarity on the design at this stage.”

Sir Ian said earlier this week: “It is clear there is no hope that the more ambitious transformational project which Wood Family Trust would be prepared to help fund will be supported by the administration.

“The trust continues to believe the transformational project is very important for Aberdeen’s long-term economy and sincerely regrets that, following the positive referendum and availability of significant government funds, the trust’s offer has not been accepted.” Before the council meeting, Mr Salmond had appealed to the council to take advantage of Sir Ian’s offer.

He said: “I cannot believe any council in the world that I know of would have snubbed an offer of such generosity, particularly when there was a majority vote in favour in a referendum.

“So it is not only irrational, it defies democratic logic. But not to find a way to come to terms and to take that generous donation seems to me a great tragedy for the citizens of Aberdeen.”

He continued: “I would appeal at the last minute to the council to get off its high horse and recognise just how dumbfounded people will be if the end result is this money is not accessed.”

It was also revealed yesterday that Tom Smith, one of the city’s most prominent business leaders and head of the local economic forum ACSEF, had resigned from the regeneration board in protest at the Labour council’s stance.