December decision for Aberdeen Art Gallery plans

CONTROVERSIAL plans for the redevelopment and extension of Aberdeen Art Gallery have been referred to a full meeting of the council.

How the revamped Aberdeen Art Gallery will look. Picture: Contributed
How the revamped Aberdeen Art Gallery will look. Picture: Contributed

Planning officials had recommended that the £30 million transformation of the A-listed building be approved at today’s meeting of the Planning Development Management Committee. But the committee voted instead to leave the final decision to a meeting of the council scheduled for 18 December.

The proposals for the council-owned building include plans to demolish the gallery’s historic main marble staircase, together with a new rooftop gallery extension, roof terraces, the demolition of the staff wing and an extension to the balcony of the adjoining war memorial.

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The council plans to strip out the entrance lobby on the ground floor and the marble staircase leading to the first floor and to install a new principal stairway rising through three floors.

The proposals, however, have attracted fierce opposition from leading members of the city’s arts community. Eric Auld, one of the city’s best known painters, has branded the proposals for the interior alteration to the art gallery as “tantamount to vandalism.”

And Diane Morgan, a leading local author and historian, has condemned the plans as a “waste of public money.”

The Art Gallery was designed by Marshall Mackenzie and opened in 1885. It was extended in 1905 in association with the newly-established Gray’s School of Art. Further development took place with the addition of the city’s War Memorial and the Cowdray Hall, opened by King George and Queen Mary in 1926.

At the same meeting the committee approved proposals by developers Tip Top Properties to transform the city centre site which once housed one of Aberdeen’s best loved stores into a nine-storey hotel with a rooftop restaurant.

The hotel is planned for the site of the former Bruce Miller’s music shop in Union Street, which has been vacant since 2011, and The Howff basement bar.

Structures at the rear of the existing building are to be demolished and the new development will provide some ,000 square metres floor space of accommodation.

A city council spokeswoman said: “The new hotel will provide 100 jobs – 20 full-time and 80 part-time - and help stimulate the regeneration of the West End of the city centre. Hotel occupancy rates in Aberdeen are among the highest in the UK, but a shortage of rooms at the higher end of the market means that visitors are often forced to seek accommodation outwith the city.

“Aberdeen’s hotel guests account for three-quarters of all visitors to the city and spend twice as much as other leisure visitors.” Councillor Ramsay Milne, the committee’s convener, said: “The whole area will be improved by this hotel and it’s essential that we do what we can to improve and regenerate the west end of the city centre. This is an important development, not only for the regeneration of the city centre, but also for business and employment in Aberdeen, and to ensure that the city remains an attractive destination for business and leisure tourists who are so important to the economy.

“We do not have enough hotel rooms in Aberdeen – and that’s not just on occasions when the whole oil industry comes to Aberdeen. It’s an issue on a regular basis and that is reflected in the prices.

“The prices of hotels in Aberdeen are very, very high because the demand for rooms is so high. This has an impact on business and the local economy. We are losing business to other places because of a lack of hotel rooms.”