Aberdeen failing to develop as a “world class” city

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Political differences and a lost sense of vision and ambition are standing in the way of the development of Aberdeen as a vibrant, attractive and prosperous “world class” city,

The oil capital of Europe may be one of the wealthiest cities in the UK. But there is a collective failure to develop the city as a dynamic, creative, contemporary city, a panel of experts have claimed.

The team, brought together by Ferdinand von Prondzynski, the Principal of Robert Gordon University, claim that a tendency to preserve poor quality, unloved and unused buildings has blighted the development of the city centre while other Scottish cities have successfully developed their urban heartlands.

If Aberdeen is serious in its aspirations to be a world class metropolis then decision makers should be brave enough to consult on plans for a European-style transport system for the Granite City with a tram network at its heart.

The ten strong group of architectural, retail and tourism experts was brought together by Prof von Prondzynski following the city council’s controversial decision to abandon £140 million plans for the transformation of Union Terrace Gardens, championed by oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood

Professor von Prondzynski, who had supported the gardens redevelopment scheme said: “We believe that the interest and passion aroused by the City Gardens project on both sides can be harnessed to prompt a debate and action to secure a better future for Aberdeen.

“RGU’s main objective is to ensure that Aberdeen rediscovers a sense of vision and ambition. Without this vision, the city could lose its own sense of purpose, and could suffer from a sense of drift. It is my hope that we can help to stimulate not just debate but action.”

The report - “Regenerating Aberdeen” - claims that the Union Street area has become a predominantly retail quarter by day and a “leisure ghetto” by night.

It states: “For too many it has become unattractive, even threatening. There has been a tendency to preserve all buildings even when this has led to them being left unused for lengthy periods of time. Those buildings that are of poor quality, are unloved and have declining use should be replaced by something relevant to the contemporary city.”

And it continues: “As Aberdeen is one of the wealthiest cities in the UK per capita, the argument that collectively its people have not continued to develop the city as a dynamic, creative, contemporary city can be compellingly made. Some may claim that the city conveys the Doric identity of modesty and parsimony, but strengthening the identity of Aberdeen as an internationally important city must transcend any such parochial perspectives.

“While Aberdeen may offer a pleasant urban environment, it is not necessarily, or not yet, a great city or a world-class city.”

And they add: “To its detriment, the city has suffered from a polarisation of opinion and debate on a number of issues that has denied opportunity for deeper discussion and analysis of possible alternatives that lie between the extremes. Visionary leadership and governance are pre-requisites for success and, as can be demonstrated by the histories of many cities, so too is the need for political commitment to the long-term scenarios that urban regeneration present.

“This has obvious consequences for planning a sustainable future for the city and the region. So too does the marginal nature of Aberdeen’s political landscape, where tactical political positioning can influence commitment to the kind of radical ideas and long-term visions that contemporary conditions demand.”

Tom Smith, chairman of the local economic forum ACSEF, welcomed the report. He said: “It is absolutely vital that we have a city centre commensurate with the success and prosperity of our region, a vibrant hub which attracts residents, visitors, business and investment, restores civic pride and enhances our quality of life. We still believe that transformation rather than incremental improvements are necessary to addressing the problems facing our city centre.”