City centre investment depends on garden vote

by Ken McEwen, Ken McEwen Public Relations

I only discovered last week that the City Garden referendum in Aberdeen has much wider implications than simply the decision between retaining the existing Union Terrace Gardens or creating a new City Garden spanning the Denburn Valley.

The vote – for which voting packs will shortly be dropping through letterboxes in Aberdeen – will actually decide the fate of a package of £182 million investment in city centre projects.

The projects that hinge on the vote are:
  • The proposed City Garden itself.
  • Redevelopment of the St Nicholas House site.
  • Redevelopment of North Denburn.
  • Development of the new public realm (a city-centre walking route in everyday language).
  • A substantial extension and improvement of Aberdeen Art Gallery.

City Garden

Although it may seem a little illogical on the surface, the reason that these projects have been linked together is that they all form part of the TIF funding package which the Scottish Government has indicated it will approve, if the people of Aberdeen vote in favour.

Although some people have tried to suggest otherwise, this is an ‘all or nothing’ package.

If the vote this month goes against the City Garden, then the whole TIF package is doomed and there is currently no ‘Plan B’ to find funding for these projects.

So if you think you can vote ‘no’ for the City Garden and, somehow, funding will be found to refurbish the existing gardens, clear the St Nicholas House site, or progress any of the other projects above, think again.

In the words of Aberdeen City Council: “There is no intention to produce business cases for any other option, since it became apparent at an early stage that all other alternatives were non-viable as possible TIF business cases.”

Personally, I have been enthusiastic about creating a new, enlarged garden on this site, ever since the idea first surfaced in the 1980s.

This is an underused space right in the heart of our city. What’s more, the view from Union Bridge is blighted by the railway, the dual carriageway and the untidy slopes at the back of buildings on Belmont Street.

How much better to:
  • cover the railway and road
  • double the garden space
  • provide much improved pedestrian routes in our city centre
  • create an arena for outdoor concerts, Hogmanay celebrations and other civic events.
  • create a cafe area at the back of Belmont Street where we can appreciate the glorious granite architecture all round.
  • enjoy a new arts centre and exhibition space in the heart of our city
  • and open up the potential for a pedestrian link under Union Bridge to the station and Union Square.

The City Gardens is a bold statement.

Like the development of Union Street and the Granite City in the 19th Century, the Granite Web will really put Aberdeen on the map and help to secure a vibrant future for the city.

  • In the interests of transparency, my business has no professional remit for any of the projects listed.
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