Sir Ian Wood has reissued his pledge of £50m towards the redevelopment of Aberdeen’s city centre.
The oil tycoon says he will deliver on his offer towards the regeneration of Europe’s oil capital provided Aberdeen City Council comes up with a new project to transform the heart of the city by the end of the year.
Twelve months ago the billionaire businessman announced that he had formally withdrawn the £50 million donation he first offered almost five years ago to help bankroll a controversial £140 million scheme to transform Union Terrace Gardens after the divisive scheme had been scuppered by the Labour-led coalition administration.
Sir Ian said last August he would be prepared to look afresh at his funding offer within the next 12 months – provided the council was prepared to reverse its decision and pledge its support for the city garden “Granite Web” project.
That deadline is due to expire today. But Sir Ian yesterday announced that, with no progress made over the last year, the £50 million offer from Wood Family Trust (WFT) would finally be taken off the table unless there is a transformational project to regenerate the city centre under serious consideration by the end of the year.
He said: “We need to have a competitive, attractive, culturally vibrant city with excellent connectivity and quality of life,” he said. “I do passionately believe that the city centre badly needs significant intervention.”
But Sir Ian warned that the Labour-led council administration appeared to be “sleep walking” into an era when the Granite City will no longer be able to benefit from the riches of North Sea oil.
And he declared: “I see no sign of our present Administration even acknowledging this challenge, let alone facing up to it.”
Sir Ian said: “Regrettably, there has been no change since last year and no progress on city centre redevelopment. WFT has to move on, and we’re now looking at other sizeable projects in the UK and overseas. We still strongly believe that Aberdeen city centre badly needs transformational development if we are to become a significant World Energy City and we will therefore try and keep funds available until the year end to see if the City Council can come up with a project that will truly impact Aberdeen’s medium term economic future.”
He stressed: “To achieve this, the project must have a positive impact on Aberdeen and its people, create a new heart which is integral to the city centre fully connecting its current disparate elements including Union Square and be the catalyst for restoring and revitalising Union Street and the surrounding areas, creating a safe place for relaxation, culture and recreation for all those who live and work here. “
Sir Ian continued: “I remain deeply saddened and dismayed that Aberdeen could lose the City Garden Project whose design would have created a better connected, more attractive, greener, safer city centre with a civic space and gardens containing new, world class facilities for arts, culture and entertainment. I do passionately believe that the city centre badly needs significant intervention.
“Over the past 20 years, successive Westminster and Scottish Governments have invested significantly in Scotland’s three other major cities, but Aberdeen has faced prolonged under-investment which has led to the decline of its city centre.”
Councillor Barney Crockett, the leader of the city council, insisted the City Garden Project was “dead” but explained that details of the administration’s own proposals for the transformation of the city centre would appear in the Strategic Infrastructure Plan which will go to council in October.
He said: “We hope they will unite the people of Aberdeen. This administration has always said city centre regeneration is one their priorities.
“Do we want to work with businesses? Absolutely, but it will have to be council led. If Sir Ian is happy on that basis we’re happy to work with him.”