Aberdeen: £20m to kick-start Union Terrace project

The scheme will go ahead with or without the money tabled by tycoon Sir Ian Wood. Picture: Jane Barlow
The scheme will go ahead with or without the money tabled by tycoon Sir Ian Wood. Picture: Jane Barlow
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ABERDEEN City Council’s Labour-led administration today announced plans to invest £20 million of council taxpayers’ money to finally “kick start” the transformation of the city’s Union Terrace Gardens.

And they vowed to go ahead with a scheme to regenerate the sunken Victorian park - the most divisive project in the city for a generation - with or without the £50 million offer tabled by oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood.

Last week Sir Ian told the city council that he would be willing to work with them on a revised scheme in which the “main visual features” of the Victorian gardens could be maintained - provided the design concept was truly transformational.

But today, in a new twist in the long running saga, the Labour-led administration announced that they are determined to bring forward fresh plans for a council-led scheme within six months, using proposals unveiled in August by local architect John Halliday to redesign the historic park as the basis for the long awaited regeneration of Union Terrace Gardens

Councillor Willie Young, the council’s finance convener, declared: “To kick start the redevelopment of Union Terrace Gardens, along the lines of the Halliday proposal , the council are going to find £20 million.

“It will be our contribution to regenerate the gardens. And if we actually want to be the ones who control it and move it forward we need to show the public and private sector that we are serious about city centre regeneration.”

He continued: “Sir Ian has said he is interested in perhaps putting in £50 million. But what we are also saying to the private sector is that we are going to do something - regardless of whether Sir Ian puts his money in or not.

“We are determined to press ahead with the redevelopment of Union Terrace Gardens, with or without Sir Ian’s money. The ball is back in his court now and he needs to step up to the mark - or let us just get on with it. Either way we will do something.”

Councillor Young said the proposals for Union Terrace Gardens would form a key part of the council’s overall proposals for the generation of the city centre to be unveiled at the end of the month.

The council is planning to establish a city centre regeneration board to drive the proposals forward. And Councillor Young said: “We are already speaking to various people about how we can bring that forward and I think Sir Ian, or one of his representatives, should come on board if they are really serious about city centre regeneration.”

And he stressed: “We are willing to compromise. Like everything else there has to be compromise, both from our point of view and from his (Sir Ian’s) point of view. All of us aren’t going to get everything we particularly want.

“We are putting in our money and now it’s up to to the private sector to put in their money. They are the ones who say they will have the most to gain from city centre regeneration.But I think that between us all we can start to get round the table and do some serious work.

“Everybody is agreed that there is a need to regenerate the city centre. It’s a matter of how we go about doing that. I hope we can get a good compromise and move forward.”

The proposals unveiled by John Halliday, of Halliday Fraser Munro architects, would see much of the Victorian gardens retained. The Denburn dual carriageway and Aberdeen to Inverness railway line would be covered over to allow the construction of a new civic square with a new train station entrance on Union Bridge.

Sir Ian, in a letter to the council last week, indicated that he would willing to invest in a redevelopment scheme, provided the council were to look at amending the Halliday plan to include raising the west side and Union Street end of the gardens.

He said in a letter to Valerie Watts, the council’s chief executive: “In line with the layout proposed in Mr Halliday’s conceptual plan, the kind of transformational proposals that would achieve this is to cover the roadway and railway and then raise the gardens significantly to the level of the existing arches on the west side and to the level of the raised decking over the roadway and railway, and Belmont Street, on the east, which would make them accessible and permeable from the adjacent streets and establish this as an integral part of the new city heart, with walk on access virtually all the way round.

“The main visual features of the traditional Victorian gardens could also be maintained, but it has to meet the concept of the integrated hearty to the city.”

Sir Ian declined to comment.