Aberdeen needs a plan to recover

by Ken McEwen, Ken McEwen Public Relations

I have made no secret of my support for the Aberdeen City Garden Project. I saw it as transformational for the city. Something that our forward-thinking forebears (who boldly built the viaduct that is Union Street to create the modern city we know) would have been proud of.

My support was not from a narrow business viewpoint, but as a proud adopted Aberdonian who wanted to see much better use made of the abyss between Union Terrace and Belmont Street and also to cover over and cap on the noise from the Denburn dual carriageway.

Union Terrace Aberdeen
The unsightly dual carriageway blights the view from Union Bridge

Like thousands of other supporters I was frustrated, angry and shocked that Aberdeen City Council, led by the Labour party (who amassed 16,264 votes at the election) saw fit to overturn the democratic will of 45,301 voters who voted for the Granite Web City Garden Proposal in the referendum earlier this year.

Against that background it will come as no surprise that I would we delighted if there were some way that the plan could be resurrected.

But, that seems unlikely. In which case the city must put the project behind us, learn from it and move on.

That means we need a real alternative strategy to regenerate our city centre. Not just a vague list of important city buildings, a sweeping statement about improving Union Street and doing up the existing gardens, a real plan with actions and timescales. There have been too many proposals in this city in the past that have begun and ended with just fine words.

Aberdeen is a world city in the energy industry (number two to Houston in upstream oil and gas, we’re told) and we should demonstrate ambition and drive to match that role.

The problem, of course, is funding. In the midst of a worldwide recession, where will the money come from? The FIT opportunity appears to have died with the City Garden Project, in that the funding is not transferrable to a new project.

One point made by the Labour group that was, to my mind, spot on was that any plan needs to build consensus.

As a PR practitioner, I have sought to achieve consensus in the past in our PR campaigns. The Save Camphill campaign is a classic example, where we established a stance that all political parties and people from all sectors of our community were able to unite behind.

What I would like to see is all sectors of the community sitting down with the council to build a plan that gains the respect and support of all.

If we are to repair the damage done to the reputation of Aberdeen by this week’s council decisions, that needs to happen sooner, rather than later.

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