By Andrew Barr
The Labour led coalition in Aberdeen City Council is set to determine the fate of the Union Terrace Gardens redevelopment plans on Wednesday.
A city-wide referendum on the proposals was held in March with a clear majority of locals supporting the renovation of the Gardens.
In April, Labour pledged to axe the development regardless of public opinion, a move described as “an insult to democracy” by Aberdonian SNP MSP Kevin Stewart.
The result of the council vote is said to be on a knife edge with Labour, who emerged the largest party after may’s local elections, oppposed to the development but their Conservative partners in favour. The SNP group also back the move whilst the Lib Dems are said to be split.
Groups on both sides of the debate, including Sir Ian Wood who has pledged £50m of his own money to the redevelopment, have issued last minute pleas to members of the council.
Sir Ian said: “My driving force is the medium to long term employment and economic prospects for Aberdeen and I really believe, and no one can ever say this will do it, but we need to affect the number of infrastructure additions and improvements if we are really going to be competitive and win new industry for Aberdeen in the future.
“Otherwise the council in 25-30 years’ time will be talking all the time about unemployment.
“If it is a ‘no’ I won’t regret having done it because it’s so important and so important for Aberdeen that not to have tried to do it would be a failure.”
Seven business leaders have pledged a further £15m to the project. Supporters of the plans say that the new Gardens will aid the regeneration of the whole Aberdeen city centre.
The enormous oil wealth of the North Sea has brought development to the outskirts of the city whilst the centre and remained relatively untouched.
Redevelopment plans aim to create a modern ‘Granite Web’ which, according to the head of the City Garden Project management board John Stewart, could become Aberdeen’s answer to the Eden Project.
However, a new proposal submitted at the eleventh hour by the Independent Alliance Group suggests that an investment should be made within the current layout, and that money should be diverted to aid landmark buildings in the city centre rather than to a total redevelopment of the Gardens.
Sandy Clark, the European director for growth at AMEC said that change was necessary for the Gardens.
She said: “I have been in the oil industry all my life. I have a mother who has never been in the oil industry and she’s an absolute passionate supporter of the new city gardens project. She can’t get down in its current state, it needs to be changed.
“We need to attract the best people to sustain this business in the long term – the oil will not be here forever. We need to attract the key people to live in Aberdeen.”
Writing in the Scotsman today, Clark added: “The solution is within our grasp. We have a world-class design, an internationally acclaimed design team, a compelling business case and £70m of private sector donations. A vote against this will be a vote of no confidence in our city and its businesses to grow and repay the investment in its regeneration.”