Oct 222010

By Dave Guthrie.

As the public purse-strings draw tighter, local government has been looking at alternative financing to carry through development and redevelopment projects. After many years of borrowing and spending beyond their means, the obvious – perhaps the only – source remaining is the private sector.

Last year Oxford Economics, in a report on Aberdeen, said that during the economic downturn opportunities would present themselves with quality resources being available to businesses and organisations much cheaper than at the city’s economic peak in 2007 and that a lower cost-base could be achieved without trade-off against quality of location or accommodation.

By definition the private sector – business and commercial interests – exist to make a profit, expand and pay dividends to shareholders. There can be public benefits – increased employment etc. – but these are essentially by-products. Any public/private partnership will therefore involve some compromise on both sides. Aberdeen City Council has been exploring several innovative funding mechanisms with the aim of carrying through their City Masterplan.

The three main ones are:

Tax Incremental Funding [TIF],

The City Development Company [CDC],

and the Business Improvement District [BID].


This is a financial model pioneered and now widely used in the US. It allows a local authority to borrow money for specific infrastructure developments. The loan is secured against expected tax revenue increases resulting from the development. [new businesses attracted to the area, higher taxes etc.] allowing repayment over a 10 to 20 year period. The Scottish Government has sent out encouraging signals about this scheme and in January of this year Edinburgh City Council’s proposal to borrow £84m for the redevelopment of Leith Port was approved. Glasgow City Council and North Lanarkshire Council have similar plans in the pipeline. As does Aberdeen City Council.

Borrowing against future unknown tax revenues is not without its risks, however. Responsibility for any shortfall would be an important issue and councils are likely to choose partnership with a commercial developer thus sharing the risk. Another danger is that a TIF-supported development may not actually produce increased tax revenue, just move it from one area to another. In the US, TIF projects compete with one another. [In Chicago there are now 500 such schemes].

So, TIF is a tried and tested model for kick-starting large development schemes but like other funding models it is complex and not without its dangers.


A City Development Company is a mechanism which allows local authorities to use their assets to attract long-term investment from the private sector to finance regeneration projects. Also known as a Local Asset Based Vehicle [LABV], it provides a route whereby public and private sectors pool land, finance, expertise and powers and allocate risks and returns from targeted projects

An Aberdeen CDC [AC/DC?] would seek to identify and ‘remediate’ pockets of ‘market failure’ within the city, capturing value for targeted beneficiaries. Suggested examples so far include; Union Terrace Gardens, Bon Accord Baths, Denburn Health Centre and Park, St Nicholas House, Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, Chapel Street Car Park, Summerhill Education Centre, Granitehill and Greenferns. The City Council would be encouraged to ‘leverage’ these assets through the CDC in partnership with the private sector.


Aberdeen Business Improvement District is a proposal being implemented by Aberdeen City Centre Association in partnership with the City Council. Funded jointly by a compulsory levy on businesses within the area supplemented by the local authority, the BID aims to provide a more vibrant and viable town centre and encourage more input from business managers and owners towards regeneration of the area.

The area covered by BID is likely to include Union Street and most of the city centre from Union Square and Guild Street in the south to John Street in the North.

Oct 082010

A Tale Of  Two Cities

By Ahayma Dootz.

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times.

Or, anyway, it rained in the morning
but the sun came out in the afternoon.

In the morning the scene was set
in the city council chambers
where those in the public gallery witnessed
an uncertain, ill-informed, indecisive,
fragmented council debate

on the future of a rare green space
in the city centre. Yes, UTG.

If Union Terrace Gardens were a blank canvas
there would be few problems
but they’re not.

They now come encumbered
with politics, economics, sentiment,
prestige [both civic and personal],
futures, pasts
— they are no longer a park;

they are an Issue.

Up in the gallery,
we were no less guilty of having UTG in our minds
as a disembodied ‘thing’
equally weighted down
with hopes, fears and desires,

as we watched the debate below.

Later, in the afternoon,
in the sunlight,
some of us walked
through the real Gardens

and there were children digging,
planting, laughing, playing,
getting earth under their nails,
on their faces, clothes, everywhere

as grownups stood back
and tried to capture some fragment of their pleasure
with cameras.

Or, anyway, it rained in the morning
but in the afternoon the sun came out.

Sep 242010

Thanks to Mike Shepherd. Introduction by Dave Guthrie.

Few local issues have caused as much controversy as the role of Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen’s city centre. Everyone has an opinion.

As far back as 1952 there were plans to extend the gardens by covering over the railway line and Denburn Road. Continue reading »

Sep 032010

By Dave Guthrie.

On a quiet Saturday evening a couple of weekends ago a celebration took place in Union Terrace Gardens.
As evening fell, small groups of people began arriving with picnic blankets, candles, lanterns and glow lamps to take part in ‘Unplugged in the Park’, a low-key event loosely organised by Friends of UTG.

Amidst a sea of shimmering lights the audience were treated to storytelling, poetry, some amateur dramatics ( rather wittily entitled ‘Trees Not Wood!’ ), some fine music and African drumming.

The first lantern-balloon, released perhaps too soon, rose slowly in the still night air and there was some apprehension as it hovered close to the trees and HMT but there was a collective sigh of relief – and a few cheers – as it caught the breeze and seemed to head decisively in the direction of St Nicholas House.

Later launchings were trouble free.

A couple of bobbies strolled through the Gardens, no doubt grateful for a few minute’s respite from the street-level intensity of a city-centre Saturday night, as everyone enjoyed the entertainment and the spectacle.

Perhaps the only sour note rose from the two under-maintained port-a-loos standing in for the Grade ‘B’ listed Victorian facilities which have been allowed to fall into a sad state of disrepair.

The weather was kind, with the showers not arriving until most of the crowd had quietly dispersed and the clean-up operation was well under way.

Once again, the Gardens had provided an oasis of calm in the city centre which people could enjoy fully with the minimum of fuss.

Aug 202010

By Dave Guthrie.

Great, gallus, glaikit, glutt’nous beastie
Man wisnae pit on earth tae feed ye,
Nor wake tae hear yer raucous screechin,
afore day’s brakkin.

I unnerstan yer satisfaction,
yer honest, natural reaction,
that bin-bags are a great attraction,
tae easy snackin, Continue reading »