I was at home in my native Aberdeen for a long weekend and arrived just as it was announced the council would not be going ahead with the controversial City Gardens Project at Union Terrace Gardens. If you’re not from the North-east you may not understand the massive hooha this has caused. After almost every song on the local radio station, it was mentioned. We had a family and friends gathering and it was one of the first topics for discussion. The Press & Journal ran page after page of reaction and the Evening Express’ front page was an open letter to the council.
Local businessman Sir Ian Wood pledged £50m to help transform Union Terrace Gardens, currently below street level and not somewhere I would venture down to, into a modern area on street level. The other money was set to come from other donations and through TIF funding.
There soon became a divide between the for and against camps – with members of the same families falling out about it over dinner tables throughout the North-east. Arguments ranged from ‘we like it as it is’ and ‘it costs too much’ through to ‘now is the time to use our oil money for the future’ and ‘the city centre is dying and drastic action must be taken’.
It was so contentious a referendum was held and the Aberdeen public voted yes to build an ambitious new garden area. But last week councillors came together (there’s a new administration been voted in since the referendum) and the project was voted out. Donald Trump called the decision “small-minded” (bearing in mind his issues with Aberdeenshire Council over his Menie golf development) and the Scottish Government has urged a rethink.
On social media, I saw only outrage from friends at the decision and have seen many shares for a petition to sack the administration’s leader Barney Crockett. What seemed to bother a lot of people was that the referendum decision was ignored. The council says it still wants to make changes to the gardens but on a smaller scale.
I think the council is going to have to work hard to rebuild its relationship with the Aberdeen electorate and sections of the business community. It may have succeeded in having the City Gardens Project scrapped but the legacy will live on and there is a big job on the hands of the council to improve its reputation with those, and there is a big, vocal group of them, who are unhappy with the decision.
And don’t get me started on what everyone had to say about the Aberdeen Football Club new site. It certainly was a weekend of news and views in the Granite City!