At our IoD Aberdeen lunch yesterday, three business leaders involved in Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future presented their vision for the future development of the region. Tom Smith, Chairman of ACSEF, said that Aberdeen had to secure the position as eastern hemisphere energy centre, matching the role that Houston provides in the USA.
Sir Ian Wood, who has built his family business into a global oil and gas services company, said that role is definitely within the region’s grasp, but underlined the importance of people recognising it is achievable.
To support the achievement of this goal the panel believed there were two priorities:
- To improve transport links – road, air and rail, including more strategic international connections.
- To regenerate and improve the civic environment of Aberdeen city centre.
The champion of the latter objective is Sir Ian Wood. He pointed to the amazing vision and engineering that created Union Street, as a granite viaduct up to 30 feet above the Denburn valley, two hundred years ago.
He compared that with the vision that had been projected in the 1980s and again for the Millennium, to provide a civic centre for Aberdeen by raising Union Terrace Gardens to street level.
Recently Sir Ian has rekindled interest in this vision with the offer to personally fund £50 million of the project cost.The proposed development would cover the unattractive railway and dual carriageway and transform the area into a 21st century civic plaza
Dave Blackwood, ACSEF Board member, then presented some of the current thoughts.
Concepts were being developed but the plan would be to raise Union Terrace Gardens to street level, building over the railway line and the Denburn dual carriageway. Built into the valley would be two levels of car parking with potential for an undercover all-weather public space one level down from street level.
At street level the proposal would open up the whole area, which is currently underutilised because of the access difficulties. The new surface area would create a huge area of city centre public space, which could be landscaped to create civic squares, performance area and pedestrian linkages between Union Terrace and Belmont Street, Union Street and Rosemount Viaduct.
Dave Blackwood pointed out that this civic area would provide a place to linger and admire what is an area with some outstanding architecture. Currently the sunny east side of the Denburn Valley is the backs of buildings on Belmont Street. It could be transformed into street cafes on the periphery of the new civic plaza.
The proposed development provides a potential solution as to how to link Union Square and Aberdeen Station to Union Street. Pedestrian traffic from the Guild Street area would be directed under Union Bridge. Once on the north side of Union Street, an escalator or lift would take people right into this dramatic new city centre. By adding parking spaces for tour buses, the city could also benefit from additional trade that it currently misses.
The presentation was a fascinating insight into the potential future for Aberdeen. It certainly fired the imagination.
Just as the visionary city fathers who proposed Union Street were the architects of Victorian prosperity for Aberdeen, so this development would be a catalyst to a regeneration of Europe’s Energy Capital.
What we need to do is to ensure that this time it actually happens. To achieve that the government have to be persuaded that Aberdeen – too long at the back of the investment queue – needs support to help support our aim to build a future for the country’s oil and gas industry. The amounts required are not huge. Early estimates have suggested about £150 million, of which £50 million is already promised.
Aberdeen missed out on the previous occasions. Don’t let it happen again.