ABERDEEN City Council last night scrapped plans for the controversial transformation of Union Terrace Gardens – despite a warning by business leaders that the decision will send out a signal that Europe’s oil capital lacks vision and ambition.
After listening for more than four hours to a series of impassioned pleas from delegations, speaking both for and against the divisive scheme, the leaders of the Labour and Independent Alliance groups on the council joined forces in driving through a motion which effectively left the £140 million scheme, championed by oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood, in ruins.
The decision - taken by a narrow two vote majority - sparked a furious outcry in the local business community. One prominent business figure declared: “Will the last person leaving Aberdeen turn out the lights - because that’s what this shocking decision means for our city.”
Sir Ian first announced his plans to invest £50m of his fortune in the creation of a new city centre square in November, 2008 and 52 per cent of the 86,568 Aberdeen residents who voted in a public referendum on the “Granite Web” design earlier this year backed the scheme.
The billionaire businessman said last night: “Along with the majority of Aberdeen citizens who voted for the ambitious regeneration programme of our city centre, I am obviously very disappointed and dismayed by this outcome. The key losers are Aberdeen’s present and future citizens, and I honestly believe future generations, looking back on Aberdeen’s oil era, will wonder why on earth, after years of under investment in our city centre - parts of which are clearly in decline - our city council failed to grasp the opportunity to do something really transformational and enhance their legacy.” He continued: “It’s frankly hard to believe that, following the positive referendum, our council have turned down an investment of £182m not available for other projects, with no impact on Aberdeen City Council’s budget and with no impact on the council tax payer. The Labour Party and the council have effectively side lined the views of the ordinary citizens of Aberdeen, and I sincerely regret that our City Council have let them down so badly.
“We should also be very concerned about the message this sends outside Aberdeen nationally and internationally about our lack of vision and confidence to invest for the future.”
He added: “Wood Family Trust have now no alternative but to withdraw its offer to significantly support the project.”
Tom Smith, director of the Aberdeen City Garden Trust, said: “Councillors have rejected the most significant opportunity to demonstrate leadership and confidence to transform and invest in our declining city centre.
“Despite a world-class
design and an internationally
acclaimed design team on board, a robust business case, £70m in philanthropic donations and a majority in the public referendum, they have voted in favour of smaller-scale improvements.
“Their decision will be remembered by current and future generations. For those who voted in good faith in the referendum it will be very difficult for them to understand this
decision which has little vision or ambition.”
Barney Crockett, the leader of the Labour Group, said after the meeting that it had been a “very very difficult decision” for the council which now faced a “major job of rebuilding relationships.” But he continued: “In the circumstances that councillors were faced with it was best decision we could make.”