Sandy Clark: Vote against garden project is a vote against Aberdeen
TOMORROW, Aberdeen City Council will vote on whether or not to proceed with a transformation of the city’s heart made possible by Sir Ian Wood’s £50 million donation.
Despite a majority in a referendum, the fate of the project to raze the under-used and inaccessible Union Terrace Gardens and create an attractive urban park hangs in the balance.
Outsiders are wondering why this has become a political issue. Other cities would jump at the chance to secure a major regeneration project paid for by philanthropic donations and new business rates. Seven business leaders pledged to raise £15m more.
This is modern-day philanthropy, with business trying to deliver a more enlightened approach to city centre redevelopment. There are examples of visionary local politicians across Europe who have transformed their city centres. However, examples of a business community that is as willing as ours to financially back its city are few and far between.
Yet Labour has cast business as the villain of this piece. Other councils would embrace a business community willing to stump up £70m for a civic project in which they have no direct financial gain.
Forty years of oil have brought tremendous economic benefits to Aberdeen, but this has had little impact on the city centre. Most developments have been on the outskirts and recent city centre ones have only happened in times of high oil price and economic activity.
Aberdeen isn’t seeking to replicate the investment patterns of the past 40 years, driven by the need for major onshore infrastructure to support offshore activity. Over the next 25 years, it needs to create a vibrant place which will help anchor a global energy industry and attract new, high-value investment in energy and other sectors.
The solution is within our grasp. We have a world-class design, an internationally acclaimed design team, a compelling business case and £70m of private sector donations. A vote against this will be a vote of no confidence in our city and its businesses to grow and repay the investment in its regeneration.
• Sandy Clark is European director for growth at Amec.