Can new city centre plan achieve consensus?

by Ken McEwen, Ken McEwen Public Relations

Just when it seemed that the plans for a transformation of Aberdeen city centre were about to disappear, along with Sir Ian Wood’s incredibly generous potential donation of £50 million to the scheme, along comes a new plan from Aberdeen architect John Halliday of Halliday Fraser Munro.

Union Terrace Gardens new plan

This latest proposal might have sufficient innovation to attract supporters of the Granite Web, while retaining enough of the Victorian gardens to satisfy those who want to retain the Victorian gardens. Whether it will achieve enough to gain the support of Sir Ian Wood, time will tell.

John Halliday’s plans centre round providing an access under Union Street to the rail station, so that passengers arriving in Aberdeen will be whisked by walkway and escalators to make a grand entrance right in the centre of Aberdeen, beside the King Edward VII statue.

This was always one of the most appealing features of the City Garden Project as it provided the much needed linkage between the station and Union Square with the traditional heart of the city on Union Street, while also delivering visitors right into the heart of the city.

Another welcome feature is that the unsightly railway line and dual carriageway are covered over, which would not only improve the view from Union Street, but also cut the traffic noise.

The area over the railway and road are landscaped and include small courtyards linking to Belmont Street, something that would hopefully encourage cafe culture.

The existing gardens would remain little changed, although the architect says the base level would have to be raised slightly to allow access. Increasing footfall in the sunken gardens (one of the big problems with the existing gardens) would be improved by installing lifts or escalators.

So – while arguably not as radical or creative as the Granite Web – this new proposal ticks many of the boxes that the City Garden Project set out to accomplish:

  • It provides linkage with the station (and Union Square?) with passengers exiting directly in the city centre.
  • It removes the eyesore of railway and road.
  • It doubles the public space and opens up Belmont Street through small courtyards.
  • It provides public space in the very centre of Aberdeen for events and markets.
  • At lease parts of the expanded gardens will be raised sufficiently to get more sunlight in winter.

One of the things it does not is allow reasonably level pedestrian walkways across the site (from Union Terrace, direct to Belmont Sreet, for example. It also doesn’t have that superb outdoor arena.

But, it is a compromise that could satisfy most of the wishes of both sides in what had became such a polarised subject,.

I just hope it lets us get ahead with transforming and regenerating our city centre.
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