Public should have final say on gardens plans, says new MSP

ONE of Scotland's newest MSPs has sparked outrage by calling for Aberdeen's public to have the final say on controversial plans for the redevelopment of the city's Union Terrace Gardens.

Kevin Stewart, the former leader of the council's SNP group who is now the MSP for Aberdeen Central, has tabled a motion for the next meeting of the city council in which he is demanding a referendum on plans for the 140 million transformation of the Victorian gardens in the heart of the city.

Mr Stewart - who is still an SNP councillor - said the public vote was needed to end the row over the future of the gardens and the polarisation of views about the controversial scheme, first proposed by oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood.

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But opposition councillors condemned the move, claiming the SNP was attempting to wriggle out of taking a decision on the project.

Willie Young, secretary of the Labour group, said the council should show leadership by taking the final decision.

"There is no need for a referendum," he said. "We have been elected as local councillors and one of our duties is to take difficult and hard decisions.

"We can't keep running to the public for a vote every time the SNP are in disarray over an issue.

"Once again this shows a complete lack of leadership in the administration, something we have been used to over the last five years. It is absolute nonsense

"Our position remains unchanged. The scheme is unwanted and unnecessary."

John Stewart, the Liberal Democrat leader of the joint SNP and Lib Dem administration, joined in the condemnation of the proposal, and claimed the referendum would cost 250,000.

"There is no money currently budgeted within the project from Sir Ian Wood or Scottish Enterprise," he said. "There is no money available.

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"Cllr Stewart is an MSP and I suggest that he should go to the Scottish Government and ask for 250,000, although I think the Scottish Government probably have better things to spend that money on."

Mr Stewart defended his proposal. He said: "I would like to see a referendum on the chosen design against no change.

"I think such a vote is the best way of dealing with the issue so all Aberdonians can have a say. The situation has become so polarised now that I think this is the right thing to do.

"And, as far as I am concerned, the referendum should be the final word on the project. If the public voted one particular way then I think the council should be bound by that."

He said the city council should not bankroll the vote. "As part of my motion I have suggested that officers look at trying to source funding from elsewhere. It could be the Wood Family Trust, Scottish Enterprise or the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens."

A spokeswoman for Sir Ian Wood said: "Sir Ian has always been very clear that the project must have the support of the council and the general support of the Aberdeen public if it is to go forward."

A spokeswoman for the City Garden Project management board, which is spearheading the project, said: "The project is currently going through the process agreed at the council meeting in May 2010. This involves an international design competition … once these designs are on show Aberdeen can voice its opinion."