Union Terrace Gardens Debate Banks on Compromise

Public Consultation On The City Square Project To Be Completed This Week

Feature by Jaco Justice | 04 Mar 2010

The dust certainly hasn’t settled after the much welcomed public debate on the future of Union Terrace Gardens - held on Thursday 18th February and chaired  by Frank Doran MP. The two competing parties, ACESF and Peacock Visual Arts, finally presented their city-centre development cases face to face and in front of a packed Citadel on Castlegate, but there has been further public confusion with suggested manipulation of support in the aftermath.

A joint statement from Aberdeen Grampian Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Oil and Gas UK and the CBI announced “5000 firms supportive” of the ACSEF-led City Square Project to raise Union Terrace Gardens to street level. It subsequently emerged that the FSB hadn’t carried out any polling or consultation with any of its members. This has led to many of these businesses to openly cancel their membership with the FSB.

Despite the strong case outlined at the debate, from professional and public opinion alike, for a compromise between The City Square Project and PVA’s Northern Light there is unlikely to be a breakthrough from Sir Ian Wood’s ACSEF camp as he re-affirmed his £50 million financial pledge is only on condition of his own “transformational” agenda. Peacock Visual Arts had their architects, Brisac Gonzalez, draw up new plans that could see the level of ACSEF’s ambition jointly reached but Wood stated he had “aesthetic problems” with these schemes because, in his opinion, those concepts to cover Denburn’s dual carriage-way and rail-line would, along with the PVA building as planned, increase the bowl and banking effect of the historic gardens. “How can we touch the flowers?”, he  proclaimed to the vast bemusement of the audience.

Architect Edgar Gonzalez – in attendance himself – attempted to prove this was not the case and reminded those gathered that the “topography was part of the city's urban heritage” and a success can be made of Aberdeen with a "little dusting and creative marketing". In his opinion there isn't the "cultural and leisure density" surrounding UTG to merit ACSEF's huge piazza, which incidentally would be "definitely bigger than Moscow's Red Square." Dr David McClean, Head of School at The Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and Built Environment, also explained that the buildings surrounding UTG had been specifically constructed to their heights as a response to the unique depth of the gardens. Indeed the terrain's aspect importance was subsequently echoed by Architecture and Design Scotland’s concerns that a potentially large amount of unusable space would be created by City Square Project’s proposed underground concourse, adding that ACSEF have failed to recognise the importance of the gardens to the city and its inhabitants.

Finally there were calls, yet again, for Sir Ian Wood to consider the soon-to-be demolished site of St Nicholas House as a location for the civic square. One resident also pointed out that in the entire history of the oil sector’s involvement in Aberdeen (since 1975) “there’s not one building that will survive after they go.” It should be clarified that Sir Ian Wood’s vision, since he announced his ambitious city-centre intentions in 2008, is to address these supposed oil-industry civic investment failings and make sure there is the energy-boom legacy for the future generations of Aberdeen.

Public consultation on the City Square Project will formally end this week. The petition to save Union Terrace Gardens will also conclude on 5th March. An album of local musicians' music has also been produced to help promote awareness on the importance of making your voice heard in this generational-changing time for Aberdeen.