by Ken McEwen, Ken McEwen Public Relations
Eleven months after Aberdeen City Council administration voted against the Aberdeen City Garden Project, the council’s deputy leader Marie Boulton has suggested winding the clock back and reviving the Peacock arts centre plan for Union Terrace Gardens.
It appears this wasn’t the result of 11 months of planning as one local newspaper revealed that Peacock had not even been approached before the idea was floated. Rather, it would appear to be one of a number of apparently off-the-cuff ideas that have been made public over recent months.
There’s nothing wrong with coming up with new ideas and indulging in lateral thinking. It’s very praiseworthy in fact.
But, when a council official goes public with such ideas, it is reasonable to assume there is some substance behind the proposal. For example, there is a consensus from the parties involved to, at least, explore it further and the there are some initial thoughts on feasibility and budget.
I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of an Arts Centre eating up space in what is, already, a rather restricted public park. Should Union Terrace Gardens not either be restored to its Victorian glory (like the Duthie Park), or make way for something that can make better use of the area between Union Terrace and Belmont Street.
Former Leopard Magazine managing editor Diane Morgan came up with what seems like an excellent suggestion.
Rather than compromise Union Terrace Gardens, could the council not put together a funding package to take over Woolmanhill with its imposing dome and landscaped grounds as an arts facility and offer space to Peacock. It is nice and near the art gallery and in the part of town that already has the Art Gallery, the Central Library and His Majesty’s Theatre.
It could be a real asset to Aberdeen’s cultural offering.
Diane went on to suggest making more use of the archway behind the theatre to provide easier access to Union Terrace Gardens. Promoting and signposting this would surely encourage greater use of the gardens. But, to really make better use of the gardens, what you really need is passing pedestrian traffic.
This is what the City Garden was all about. The Granite Web connected the station, with the theatre, Union Street with Rosemount Viaduct, Union Terrace with Belmont Street. That way pedestrians would be criss-crossing the gardens all the time, bringing the area to life.
If the City Garden really is dead, is there not a way to create that pedestrian flow in the current gardens?
Diane Morgan’s suggestion would restore direct access to the lower level of the gardens from the north side. If we then took the City Garden plan to link under Union Bridge to the station and Union Square, you would provide pedestrian access from the south. Adding escalators and lifts to Union Street and Rosemount Viaduct would help fulfil the benefit of better linkage between the city centre and Union Square.
If you then covered over the railway and Denburn dual carriageway, you would be able to extend the gardens across to Belmont Street and provide a pedestrian route from Union Terrace to Belmont Street. Covering the railway and road would also make the gardens more attractive and quieter.
While we are at it, why not raise the gardens to street level and unlock the £192 million funding package… But, then, that would be winding the clock back to the City Garden Project!