By Martin Kelly
The ruling Labour group at Aberdeen City Council are today facing calls to resign after business leaders and opposition parties rounded on a decision to throw out a redevelopment project and with it £55 million in private investment.
SNP Group Leader Callum McCaig has said that comments from business leaders have laid bare the extent of the damage caused to Aberdeen’s reputation to such an extent that the Labour-led group’s position is now untenable.
Mr McCaig has today called on the Labour-led administration to resign, in the wake of a massive backlash against its decision to abandon the Union Terrace Gardens project.
Critics claim the decision by the Labour led council to scrap the 140million-pound project – which had already been approved via referendum by the people of Aberdeen – has cost the City at least £55million and has damaged the City’s reputation.
In today’s Press & Journal, Tom Smith, Director of Aberdeen City Garden Trust said: “It will be very difficult for those who voted in good faith in the referendum, business and outsiders to understand this decision which has little vision or ambition.”
Bill Duguid, managing partner at Ryden said it would be “a missed opportunity of calamitous proportions to allow this to pass by.”
Mike Bowyer, Institute of Directors: “The eyes of the country are upon us, and there will be damage to our reputation if Aberdeen rejects this proposal.”
In addition, the Council will now have to reapply for Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) funding from the Scottish Government on a much less attractive project – despite the Labour administration previously saying that TIF was “too risky”.
Speaking to BBC Scotland, businessman Stewart Milne said: “I think it sends out a horrendous signal for the North East, that we’ve no courage here, we’ve no vision, there’s no leadership in the Council … today’s decision in my mind sets us back ten or fifteen years.”
Mr Milne also rounded on the Labour led council after the Labour group threw out separate plans that would have allowed Aberdeen FC to re-locate to another stadium.
He said: “As was made crystal clear, the Calder Park development has been designed as part of the master planning exercise to be completely integral with the new AFC stadium at Loirston, and this decision has effectively also killed off that development.”
Commenting, Mr McCaig said:
“This shambolic administration have been in power for only a matter of months but they have already turned the City Council into a national – and international – laughing stock.
“But there is absolutely nothing funny about the consequences for the local economy. Stewart Milne is absolutely right when he says that this decision has set Aberdeen back ten or fifteen years.
“Labour may have won the most Councillors in Aberdeen in May, but let’s not forget they didn’t win the most first preference votes. By any measure, they had absolutely no mandate to overturn this democratic decision.
“Labour campaigned in the referendum – so they accepted that it was a legitimate democratic process. For them to now try and claim that it was rigged is frankly pathetic.
“I’ve spoken to people who were against the proposal but respect the fact that the majority of people are in favour of it, and thought that the project should go ahead.
“Barney Crockett – who has bizarrely compared himself to Winston Churchill – has cost this City at least £55million in lost investment, and has sent out an absolutely terrible message to potential investors looking for certainty in difficult economic conditions.
“We had a huge opportunity to transform the City Centre – but Labour put their own cheap political point-scoring ahead of everything else. Their complete lack of vision for the City has been exposed, as has their inability to lead the council responsibly. They even hid behind Independent Councillors for this vote. That’s not leadership – that’s cowardice.
“Having lost the faith of the public and the business community – and ridden roughshod over the will of the people – Labour’s position is now completely untenable and it’s time for them to do the decent thing – move over and allow a fresh administration to try and rebuild some of the dreadful damage they have inflicted on the city.”
Sir Ian Wood, who had pledged £55 million of his own money said: “The key losers are Aberdeen’s present and future citizens, and I honestly believe future generations, looking back on Aberdeen’s oil era, will wonder why on earth, after years of under-investment in our city centre – parts of which are clearly in decline – our city council failed to grasp the opportunity to do something transformational and enhance their legacy.
“It’s frankly hard to believe that, following the positive referendum, our council have turned down an investment of £182million not available for other projects, with no impact on Aberdeen City Council’s budget and with no impact on the council tax payer.”