Money or your Arts: £50 million pound Aberdeen pledge caught up in confused messages

Local businessman announces a massive financial pledge to the city... but the plan threatens a major development that already had the go-ahead

Feature by Jaco Justice | 14 Nov 2008

Major doubts have arisen regarding the Peacock Visual Arts led campaign to bring a centre for contemporary arts to Aberdeen.

The recent completion of planning and financial details for the new Peacock centre, along with confirmation of funding, was big news for the city, and outlined the development of a major £13 million development on Union Terrace Gardens.

However, an announcement made by energy services tycoon Sir Ian Wood on Remembrance Day has presented the city with an era-defining dilemma, and one that could mean the city losing out on an inspiring, cultural hub.

On Tuesday 11 November Sir Ian, flanked by First Minister Alex Salmond, launched a feasibility study into the possibility of his “vision” of totally transforming the Union Terrace Gardens and surrounding centre into a giant States-style plaza, bereft of the trees and foliage that currently reside there.

The Wood Group Chairman, one of Scotland’s richest men, has pledged £50 million of his own resources to bring a “civic heart” back to Aberdeen City over a massive 8 acre site that would see the lush, sunken gardens destroyed and brought back up to street level – by way of concrete. As yet the contents, timescale (early guesstimates at 5 years) and cost of the project are completely unclear apart from glimpses towards past proposals by Aberdeen Beyond – the Sir Ian led group who have failed with such grand schemes in this location before.

What is clear is that for the city to receive the massive philanthropic gesture the people would have to agree on Sir Ian’s colossal plan ONLY in this location AND match him pound for pound.

The final twist in this bizarrely timed declaration is that the study is to be funded by Scottish Enterprise – one of the very organisations who have supported Peacock Visual Arts in their efforts to bring a world-class arts and creative headquarters to the North-east. And because of the time restraints such funding allocations are bound by it is unclear, at present, as to whether Peacock can afford to wait until the end of Sir Ian’s study.

Peacock have been assured that their facilities could be accommodated within the grander scheme; but after years of planning and fund-raising, and amidst doubts expressed towards Sir Ian’s proposal, it could well end up being the people of Aberdeen who lose out, yet again.