I popped in to the shops briefly and decided to make the most of the gorgeous weather and have lunch in the city centre's most beautiful area, Union Terrace Gardens.
In the fifteen minutes or so that I sat there, I counted 39 other people on a Monday lunchtime using this apparently 'neglected' public park. People were eating, chatting, reading or walking their dogs. All the seats on the grassy area were full, as were many of the other benches.
If you don't live in Aberdeen/shire you probably don't know that this, the only green space in the city centre, is under the very serious threat of complete annihilation. Sir Ian Wood, a local businessman in the oil industry, pledged £50 million to the city on the condition that it is used to realise his dream of this historic green space being obliterated and replaced with a city square at street level.
He has the backing of ACSEF, Aberdeen City & Shire Economic Future. They believe that the City Square will safeguard the future of the city. Apparently it will encourage investment in Aberdeen, with businesses flocking to relocate here. They haven't said exactly how this will happen. I attended a public debate at which they were repeatedly asked "HOW?" but no answer was forthcoming.
There followed the most appallingly flawed and biased public consultation by ASCEF. This completely disregarded the existing plans for a superb contemporary arts centre which would have rejuvinated the gardens without destroying them. This project by Peacock Visual Arts had already received full planning consent and had raised most of the money required.
|The Peacock Visual Arts plan|
Add in to the mix a whole muddle over exactly what money has been used to finance ACSEF's work on this fiasco to date, a lot of unanswered questions about exactly what will be included in the square, a shortfall of £85 million in the budget, concerns voiced by the Royal Institute of Architects in Scotland etc etc and you can see why this has caused a real stir in the area.
To add insult to injury ASCEF have said that they are applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund to help finance the project. It's a HERITAGE fund. It wasn't set up to finance projects whose aim is to destroy the heritage of an area. Victorian gardens, mature trees - let's replace them with a concrete structure, add a garden on top and call it heritage - I don't think so. If you feel that this would be an inappropriate use of Heritage Lottery funding you can email them at Scotland@hlf.org.uk
Finally, here is the view from the bench where I ate my lunch.
This is what's planned
The full plans are available on the council's website and comments are invited. http://planning.aberdeencity.gov.uk/docs/planningdocuments.asp?appnumber=110303
Of course these offices will need car parking space, which just happens to be one of the proposals for what is now the gardens. Oh, and coincidentally Stewart Milne is a member of the ACSEF board...
It'll all be covered over with a new garden of course, which is why they have renamed it the City Garden Project. That makes everything allright, doesn't it?