Residents set to have a say on future of city gardens

THE citizens of Aberdeen now seem certain to have a major say on the future of the controversial proposals to transform Union Terrace Gardens in the city centre.

But it will be up to a meeting of the full council next month to decide whether the authority will gauge public reaction to the divisive scheme through a referendum or an opinion poll.

Members of the council’s enterprise, planning and infrastructure committee had been expected to discuss the practicalities of holding a referendum on the plans to turn the Victorian gardens into a new focal point for the city centre, being spearheaded by oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood.

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Council officials had recommended that a “non-binding” public postal ballot, run by the council and costing £250,000, should be used to test public support for the scheme.

But Kate Dean, the Liberal Democrat chair of the committee, successfully moved that a report should also be submitted to a meeting of the full council on 14 December on an independently-conducted and “statistically significant” opinion poll before a final vote is taken on the way forward.

Next month’s meeting of the council is also expected to decide whether the results of the public vote should be binding on the council.

The decision to defer a vote on public consultation was taken after a delegation from the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens, the group formed to oppose the transformation scheme, was allowed to addressed the committee.

Mike Shepherd, the chairman of the group, told the committee that the 80-strong organisation regarded a binding public referendum as the only “valid” way of assessing public reaction to the project and to “restore faith in local democracy.”

He told the committee: “The result must be binding. An opinion poll will be vastly unpopular with the public.”