Union Terrace Gardens: finding the middle ground

Big news from Aberdeen, where the plug has been pulled on the £140m City Garden Project, which would have completely reshaped the town's Union Terrace Gardens.

His Majesty's Theatre and the Rosemount Viaduct, as viewed from Union Terrace Gardens.

Whether you supported Ian Wood's plans or not, you have to agree that the whole process has been a farce and a shambles.  First one group was given planning permission to modify the gardens, then Mr Wood stepped in with a different scheme, which was initially rejected by the public, then approved by the council, who rejected the public vote and commissioned another, which approved the scheme, only for a new council vote to reject it again, once and for all.  Democracy at its very best!

Unsurprisingly, some people are happy with the decision and others are most definitely not.  The debate will almost certainly continue for quite a while.

I'm pretty much in the middle.  I was vaguely in favour of the Granite Web idea, but the financial burden always seemed problematical.  If Mr Wood was happy to donate £50m, why couldn't the scheme be a £50m project?  Why did it necessitate the already debt-stricken council taking on another £70-£90m of PFI-style funding?

Robert Burns gazes down upon Union Terrace.

That said, something bold and brave would have made the UTG a focal point of the city centre.  It's a grand little park in a lovely natural river valley, but it has been maltreated and allowed to fall into decline.  The Den Burn is a neglected yet critical part of Aberdeen's geography and history: it should be celebrated.  Money needs to be spent to make its valley more accessible and more attractive.

This does not require the topography to be steamrollered, though.  A middle ground can be found, literally as well as metaphorically.  Persuade Mr Wood to invest his money in a different way, in a scheme that isn't quite so pricy, but which enables exciting changes to be made.  Hide the dual carriageway and the railway line, bring the burn back to the surface, spruce the gardens up.

Right now though, I worry if anything will happen at all.  Union Terrace Gardens don't need a total overhaul, but neither can they benefit from total inaction.  Aberdeen's political leaders need to make a far-sighted decision and, for once, actually stick to it.

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