The Future of Union Terrace Gardens Part 2

A few months ago I wrote a post discussing the options and my worries with the then upcoming vote upon the plans to build the new City Gardens Project in the centre of Aberdeen. I was against it and my points were measured and well received by many – it was, for a while, my most visited post on my blog. So thanks to anyone who dropped on by to read it; it was exciting and humbling to see so many people agree or disagree with what I was saying. Unfortunately the vote went against my view, and in favour of the project by a slim margin. I accepted defeat; defeat that was slim, and tarnished with the cheating of some campaigning, and the whole affair being incredibly poorly handled by all parties, for and against. I thought all was lost, and I was resigned to losing a wonderful part of the city. I even showed it to my parents by saying “This is going to be gone in a few years”.

Then came a chance to reclaim it - the Council Elections in the summer. In May, the Aberdeen City Council was voted out by a Labour-Conservative coalition council. I voted for the two parties in my area that were against the gardens and had voted against it in the past. In their manifestos it was clear that if they won they’d challenge the project and vote against it. After they won, they put into motion the wheels of democracy that had been enacted; they had pledged to overturn the vote of the city before, and had won, and as such it went to a vote.  Earlier this week the project was officially scrapped. Here’s an interesting point; the referendum on the project caused around 90’000 people to vote, the for camp winning by 5000 votes, a small but not impossible 5.5% percent of the total vote. Interestingly, in the main council elections only 54’739 voted. More people voted for a building project in the city centre than four years of governance on schools, roads, healthcare and everything else that powers the city. That’s a sad indictment of the state of local politics.

Side note: the referendum wasn't legally binding. Why is this important? Well - the SNP council put a referendum in without the legal responsiblities sorted out before the election, knowing it stood a chance of being defeated and overturned in the next session. That isn't exactly the cleverest way of doing a referendum - and the entire point of binding it legally to the result. This is an important point for the Scottish Independence referendum, and it is clear why it is so important.

Sir Ian Wood, the person who used to own the company I work for and who is stepping down as Chairman, had pledged £50 million of “his own money” to the project, subsequently withdrew his offer. Of course, he’s entitled to. That’s his right. What it does show is that it was a vanity project – if he really wanted to gift the city something great, he’d give the money to the city and let it decide what is done with it. Instead, if it’s not his plan he is not giving any of it. Fair enough – but he should stop pretending it was anything other than something he’d like to have built on his terms. This “legacy for Aberdeen” line is rather transparently a lie.

Many in the city are now complaining that the city lacks bravery and ambition. This is a legitimate charge, if the project was ambitious – see, there’s nothing about ambition or bravery when it’s to bulldoze a park and build something else there for an astronomical price. That’s not an ambitious project, it’s a plan to take away a wonderful space, and one that needs renovation, and build something the city doesn’t need. A small sum of money would allow for a lot of work to be done on the gardens and the surrounding areas without having years after years of construction work and, in the end, keep the whole point of the gardens – a green space amongst the grey granite.

I no longer live in Aberdeen, but I sill love Union Terrace Gardens. The upturn of the vote was democracy in action – just more people were interested in the single vote rather than the long term government. And that’s sad. This saga is by no means over, and I’ll probably post more thoughts on it in the future.