Oct 182013

With thanks to Kenneth Watt.

UTG displayThe Friends of Union Terrace Gardens held their AGM on Saturday Oct 12. The meeting celebrated the group’s achievements over the past year, and discussed plans being proposed for the future of the gardens.

Robin Mcintosh was re-elected as chair of the group which seeks to campaign and act to improve and preserve the city’s green heart.

The group discussed John Halliday’s proposals to raise the gardens and voted to reject the outline plans on the grounds that it would involve too much structural change as well as the possibility of a car park under the park.

Also on the agenda was a discussion with council leader Barney Crockett who reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to keeping UTG as a Victorian park. He took on board feedback from the group who continued to express an appetite for more council-supported investment and improvements.

Robin Mcintosh said:

“Today’s meeting allowed us reflect on our successes from the last year: hundreds of new plants; secured funding for new furniture; sound relationships with council gardeners as well as being taken seriously in decisions being taken about the park at administration level.”

“The group was unanimous in its rejection for Halliday’s plans and instead looked to develop further our own alternative vision for the Gardens. Councillor Crockett was keen to hear our views and provided an insight in to what the administration in considering about city centre regeneration.”

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Oct 172013

The controversy over Union Terrace Gardens has flared up again and, as per form, the usual agendas, fact-free PR and emotional twaddle is to the fore. So what’s going on? Mike Shepherd writes.

utgrailpicLet’s start with the John Halliday plans that have been so much in the local papers recently. John Halliday is a local architect and is the Halliday as in Halliday – Fraser – Munro, the company that drew up the original technical feasibility study for the City Garden Project.
They also created the plans for the Triple Kirks office block and the proposed Muse development on the St Nicholas House site.

John Halliday provided the plans pro bono as an illustration of what could be done with the gardens. They were not commissioned by anyone, e.g. the Council or Sir Ian Wood.

His focus has been on moving the railway station buildings to an area under and around Union Bridge. This would allow direct escalator / lift access to the station from Union Street via the north side of the bridge (and is actually not a bad idea).

He also envisages decking over the road and existing railway. The lower level of Union Terrace Gardens would be raised to accommodate access to the station from the HM Theatre side and to also include a station car park and taxi rank.

The Halliday plans drew fulsome praise from both Aberdeen Journals; the Evening Express in particular using the plans as a centrepiece for a “Let’s mend Aberdeen’s Broken Heart” campaign lasting several weeks.

The plans also drew support from an assortment of councillors and Alex Salmond. The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens (FoUTG) had been asked to comment by the Evening Express, although we told them we would reserve judgement until we found out more about the plans and had discussed them at our AGM, held last Saturday.

The Halliday plans achieved an amazing first in the UTG controversy: both the FoUTG and Sir Ian Wood were in agreement: Neither of us liked them.The Friends group rejected them as they meant building in the park (and once you concede the principle, when would this stop?)

Sir Ian Wood told the Evening Express on Wednesday that a car park would be the wrong use of space created by decking over the gardens. The billionaire seems to be envisaging a modified version of the original City Square Project; this description is from part of a press release that was reposted on Facebook:

“He does believe it is possible to cover the road and railway and then raise the gardens to the level of the existing arches on the west side and to the level of the raised decking over the road and railway and Belmont Street on the east.

“This would make them accessible and permeable from the adjacent streets and ensure the whole area becomes an integral part of the new city centre heart, with walk on access virtually all the way round. Some sloping topography would be respected with the level difference between Union Terrace and the arches with easy step access from Union Terrace and Rosemount Viaduct.

“The main visual features of the Victorian gardens could be maintained but as a more useable, accessible part of the city centre, helping regenerate Union Street and connecting north-south and east-west.

“For a city centre regeneration project to secure Wood Family Trust funds it must be truly transformational as described above, supported by the public and led by the City Council. If the council were to explore a development on this basis, they would be prepared to provide appropriate funding support. Hopefully a Government tax incremental financing (TIF) scheme might also be available.”

According to the Press and Journal, Sir Ian Wood was offering an ‘olive branch’ to the council in that a little dimple sitting on top of a subterranean structure could be styled as a ‘Victorian garden’.  This was in no doubt in response to Barney Crockett’s statement that whatever happens, a Victorian garden must remain in Union Terrace Gardens.

UTG Rowan

A rowan tree in Union Terrace Gardens. The rowan is believed by some to offer protection against malevolent beings.

If all the noise and breast-beating in the Aberdeen Journals were to be taken literally, the John Halliday and Sir Ian Wood plans are ostensibly the only show in town.

Less stridently mentioned are FoUTG’s modest plans to restore the park and the fact that Aberdeen Council are also working on a plan for the city centre that includes Union Terrace Gardens.

We don’t know much about these plans. They will be made public at the end of the month.


Suffice to say from what Barney Crockett mentioned at the Friends AGM, Robert Gordon’s University seem to have been involved in some shape of form.

Barney also repeated his statement that a Victorian garden will be present but was careful not to reveal too much detail and hinted that there could be some changes in the gardens.

It also sounds as if the idea of creating access to the railway station down from the north side of Union Bridge is in favour. It looks as if the council intends to try and build a consensus on their scheme with extensive consultation with interested parties. This is planned to include both FoUTG and Sir Ian Wood.

It remains to be seen what will happen in the current, somewhat heated, situation. The pressure is building up on the council administration.

Sir Ian Wood is making a last ditch attempt to save a version of his city square project. He is being aided in this by the one-sided support of the Aberdeen Journals, the P&J in particular being largely vociferous in his favour.

The Conservative councillors, who share the city administration with Labour and the independents, want to see what they refer to as the “transformation” of the gardens and not just round the edges either.

UTG train - Credit: Mike ShepherdOn the other hand, the Labour Group have the good will of many in the city over the act of ditching the business plan for the City Garden Project last year. They will not want to lose this.

Another factor is that council budgets are under severe pressure, not the least because the council have to find £75 million to fund the bypass. More cuts are likely in the medium to long term and it’s obvious to the dispassionate observer that an expensive city centre construction project should not be anywhere near the council’s top priority for expenditure.

A rational solution is to spend some money on improving the gardens but not a great deal. They don’t really need many millions spent on them to bring about a city centre heart that everybody can be proud of.

Unfortunately logic and reason on most things UTG flew out the window years ago. Here’s hoping common sense returns before long.

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Oct 112013

UTG FlowersThe Friends of Union Terrace Gardens (FOUTG) AGM will be held in the Belmont Cinema on Saturday 12 October. The session starts at 10.30am, although you are well advised to be there from 10am. Mike Shepherd writes.

Apart from the usual formalities, we will have two special sessions.
First of all, we will discuss in open forum the John Halliday proposal for the Denburn and will be canvassing opinion on this. At first glance, this looks like the Millennium Scheme, which would have decked over the road and railway, leaving the Gardens relatively intact.

It has been getting favourable responses from the usual commentators such as Aberdeen Journals.

FOUTG however, has unearthed more details which we will share. The feedback on this will be made public.

Secondly, we will be joined by Barney Crockett, leader of the Aberdeen City Council administration, offering the chance for members to ask Barney questions on the administration’s stance on the Gardens. Barney has gone on public record as saying that whatever happens to the city centre, the park will remain as Victorian gardens.

This AGM marks a transition in the focus of the Friends group. We do hope that our campaigning days are over and we now move forward as a stakeholder in the Gardens’ future, aiming to attract funds for the park and helping to encourage its full use.

Various initiatives in this regard will be announced by chairperson Robin McIntosh at the AGM.

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Oct 182012

By Mike Shepherd.

The City Garden Project is effectively dead and although Sir Ian Wood has left his offer of £50 million investment on the table for another year, his project is now unlikely to go ahead.

The final blow came with the publication of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request that showed that politicians in the Scottish government had tampered with the rankings of TIF (Tax Increment Funding) applications made by Scottish councils.

The Aberdeen TIF was ranked a lowly tenth out of sixteen, but was then moved into the top six – a placing that would qualify the project for government sanction.

This furtive move has finally destroyed whatever credibility was left for the City Garden as a TIF project and the FOI documents also reveal the Aberdeen business case as dubious.

So, while it is unlikely that there will be any future attempt to bulldoze through a City Garden Project TIF, if there is, it will be shouted down as foul play.

Additionally, councils elsewhere in Scotland are hacked off with the Scottish government as the TIF ranking process was supposed to be objective – as befits a process allocating multi-million pound infrastructure spending in Scotland – but wasn’t.

The message is clear – Union Terrace Gardens have been saved!

There is an unreal air about this as I’m not sure many people really believe that the park has survived, yet it has.  There are several factors that have led to a lack of belief, let alone euphoria, on the issue.

The relentless juggernaut of the City Garden Project has been rolling for almost four years, supported by the rich and powerful, together with local and national governments and the Aberdeen press.  So the fact that it appears to have just ‘evaporated’ overnight seems incredible, but that’s exactly what has happened.

The August 22nd council vote rejected the City Garden Project and the current council administration are determined to stick to the decision.

This is the power of participative democracy in action.  An interest group tried to boss through the project by all means possible and met up with the checks and balances of a democracy that we should all be extremely thankful for.

We now move forward with a future for Union Terrace Gardens. The status quo is not an option.

The Gardens need tender loving care to restore them to their former glory and to get them back to a fully functioning park.  It won’t take much to kick this off, but it does need to be done.

This was the theme at the AGM of the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens held in the Belmont Cinema last Saturday.

The AGM marked a pivotal moment for the Friends group as it signifies the transition from a campaign phase to one where we can adopt a protective and proactive role for Union Terrace Gardens.  This role will be similar to that adopted by the Friends of Duthie Park in which the council manage the day to day running of Duthie Park while the Friends act to raise funds – they have raised several million pounds – and make improvements to the park.

In my last speech as chairman I announced that we have been asked by the council administration to make a proposal outlining what we would like to see happen in the park.  This would be much more than a wish list.  We would intend the programme to advise on the improvements and features that the park needs, together with indicative costs and a strategy for fund raising.

We held a general discussion amongst our membership as to what they thought was needed to improve the park and, unsurprisingly, better toilets and easier access came top of the list with everything else being open to further discussion.

I did not stand for re-election as Chair as I felt that someone with a less divisive reputation needs to take the group forward in its new role.  I also need a break, as the past few years have been somewhat hectic, although I will stay on the committee.

We have a new chairwoman, Robin McIntosh, who is the perfect choice as she is an expert on facilitation skills.  Skills that she will get the chance to use to best advantage before long.

In her closing message at the AGM Robin said:

“We want to make it clear that the future of the Gardens is in the community’s hands, that the decisions we are going to make will be to please the people.  These are exciting times for Friends of UTG and I am looking forward to a year of progress; big and small.  The city centre’s green heart deserves to be loved and used, and we are going to help to do this.”

The people of Aberdeen have saved Union Terrace Gardens.  This is only the beginning.  We can now go forward and restore our park to its full glory.  A park that is the pride of Aberdeen!

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Dec 092011

The Council will be voting on Wednesday on proceeding with either a referendum or an opinion poll in an attempt to resolve the controversy over the fate of Union Terrace Gardens. Mike Shepherd reports that the outcome of the issue on a referendum question has already turned into a total mess.

One of the issues that has been recognised is the need to ensure that the wording of any question asked is fair and acceptable to both sides.

On this basis, both the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens and the Aberdeen City Garden Trust were asked to concur on a suitable question for councillors to agree on at the full Council meeting on the 14th of December.

In practice, this would involve a council officials acting as a mediator.

In good faith, I submitted a group suggestion for the question to the Council as follows:

You are being to ask to choose between either retaining Union Terrace Gardens or replacing them with the proposed City Garden Project design

Which option do you support?

A) Retaining Union Terrace Gardens
B) Building the City Garden Project

Very simple, clear and nothing controversial, you would have thought.

The Council Officer replied with this:

“For your information, based on the responses I have received, the proposed question that I will now be recommending to Council on 14 December (subject to final, last minute consultation with other Council Officers), is as follows:

You are being to ask to choose between either retaining Union Terrace Gardens or replacing them with the proposed City Garden Project design (please read the voter information pack to make sure you understand what is meant by “retaining Union Terrace Gardens ” and “the proposed City Garden Project”).

Which option do you support? (please place a cross in the appropriate box)

A) Retaining Union Terrace Gardens
B) Building the City Garden Project

“I feel that this is a reasonable compromise and trust the FOUTG agree that this represents a fair and balanced position. Kind regards, Gerry Brough.”

I agreed to this. So what happens next?

The Aberdeen City Garden Trust left it to the last possible moment to object to this, allowing no time to be made for any compromise. This was at about 5pm on Monday night this week, when the final wording was needed for the Council report first thing Tuesday.

“Dear Mike,

“Further to my earlier note, I can confirm that ACGT have replied this afternoon asking for some changes to be made to the proposed question, so that it reads as follows:

You are being asked to choose between either retaining Union Terrace Gardens or replacing them with the proposed City Garden Project design which includes Union Terrace Gardens and the covering of the adjacent dual carriageway and railway line.
[please read the voter information pack to make sure you understand what is meant by retaining Union Terrace Gardens and the proposed City Garden Project]

Which option do you support ? (please place a cross in the appropriate box)

A) The proposed City Garden Project
B) Retaining Union Terrace Gardens

“ACGT feel that the previous suggested compromise question makes it appear that the City Garden Project is restricted to Union Terrace gardens, when in fact UTG is only part of the City Garden Project development area.

“They also feel that since retention of the gardens is placed at the beginning of the introductory paragraph, it is only fair that the option for supporting the proposed City Garden project should be the first option on the ballot paper.

“Can you please indicate whether these changes are acceptable to FOUTG.

“Regards, Gerry Brough”

I replied that the proposed wording was highly ambiguous, confusing and gives far more wordage to one side than the other. The Council official then decided that as the two sides could not agree on the referendum question, the councillors should decide at the full Council meeting next Wednesday instead.

“Since it was not possible to obtain complete agreement prior to the submission of this Council paper, Council are therefore asked to take a view as to whether they would prefer to endorse the question in 5.3 d), 5.3 e) or 5.3 f) or, indeed, whether they wish to propose a further compromise between these three positions.”

I complained bitterly about this as what had happened here was highly irregular.


“We participated in good faith last week. The ACGT only replied last night, too late. This has stalled the process of mediation as recommended by councillors. This is unacceptable.

“We are not at fault and should not be penalised for this. We insist that our question should stand. This does not bode well for a fairly conducted referendum and we may have to reconsider our options. – Mike”

I received this reply from Mr Brough (this is the last bit of the email):

“Nobody is being penalised.

“As you can see from the attached 5.3 that I sent to you, the process for determining the question is set out clearly up to the final submission received before the paper needed to be submitted. Council members are then being asked to either choose between these latest proposals, or come up with an alternative of their own that they consider to be fair and balanced for both parties.

“I understand your desire to undermine process, as a means of campaigning against any development of UTG. However, in this case, I believe that you are stretching a point to suggest that you have been in any way treated unfairly

“Also, although you “insist” that the FOUTG question should stand, FOUTG need to accept the fact that any referendum will be run by the City Council and that it is ultimately for the Counting Officer to decide, after consultation with Campaign Groups, on a suggested question.

“At a statutory referendum, the question is set by parliament, through consultation and, although there are no rules for the Council to follow, best practice suggests this should be done by the Counting Officer. This is the view expressed by the Electoral Commission.

“The Council are therefore putting in place a process to test various proposed options in advance of the Council Meeting, so that both Council and the Counting Officer can have some comfort concerning the appropriateness of the question.

“Regards, Gerry”

I now have a series of meetings with Councillors and the Council Executive to discuss what has happened. I will make it clear that the ongoing participation in a referendum depends on both sides being treated fairly. However, this is not a good start.

STOP PRESS – Council seeks views of the public re referendum question.
Consultation closes Monday 12th December.


Nov 172011

 By Mike Shepherd.

On Tuesday a Council committee voted to defer a decision on a referendum for the City Garden Project to the full Council meeting on the 14th December.

Although an amendment was introduced to propose an opinion poll as an alternative, a vote for a referendum looks more likely.

If such a referendum was to happen it would be held either two months before or two months after the local council elections on May 3rd.

This is one of many setbacks to have affected the City Garden Project (CGP). Here is a summary of the problems facing the scheme:

The City Garden Project is way behind schedule:  It is almost exactly three years since Sir Ian Wood announced his Civic Square proposal at His Majesty’s Theatre on the 11th November 2008. Although we are close to seeing a final design, the project is nowhere near planning submission and funding is very uncertain.

The vote on Tuesday looks to introduce further delays. It also probably shunts the planning decision well into the next Council, when at least one of the proponents of the scheme, John Stewart, will not be on the Council any more, having announced that he will stand down.

The City Garden Project is unpopular: This statement gets vigorously challenged by supporters of the CGP, yet it is clearly the case. The consultation held two years ago saw a ‘no’ vote for the CGP, and various online polls have shown a consistent numerical advantage to those wanting to keep the existing Gardens. The probability is that a referendum would reject the CGP.

The Design Exhibition failed to create any buzz in the city: The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens canvassed opinion outside the exhibition while it lasted. About half of those we talked to were unhappy about the designs. Many spoiled their votes.( by attempting to vote for the non-existent ‘option 7’.) Of those that voted, a common vote was for a design that appeared to preserve the Gardens (it doesn’t), although they reported they did this without much enthusiasm.

The land issue is a headache for the Council lawyers: Union Terrace Gardens lies on Common Good land and any land transaction, i.e. assigning a long term lease to a limited company or trust, would probably require an application to a court of session to apply for a change in status of the property.

The Council lawyers are well aware of the legal pitfalls that could ensue over the details of a property transaction (as witness the pending court case between Aberdeen Council and the Stewart Milne Group).

it involves the allocation of scarce public money using non-economic criteria

Currently,Union Terrace Gardens has negligible value as it is zoned as public open green space in the local plan.  However, should this status change at a later date and the property is re-zoned as commercial space, the land value will be in the tens of millions as prime down-town real estate.

The lawyers will have to be especially careful on this issue, particularly where a long term free-hold lease could potentially be assigned to a limited company.

Funding the City Garden Project is a big problem:  To date only £55M of private money has been pledged for a project nominally costing £140M. The CGP are pushing the Council to underwrite a loan of £70M through Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) to help part fund the scheme.

Aberdeen Council’s business case was so feeble it didn’t even rank in the top six schemes assessed for recommendation by the Scottish Futures Trust. Even so, the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, Alex Neil, has told Aberdeen Council that their TIF application may still be considered. However, the TIF would be awarded on a ‘geographical’ basis rather than an ostensibly ‘economic’ basis.

This can be criticised as very poor Government practice; it involves the allocation of scarce public money using non-economic criteria. It also begs the question that if the business case doesn’t stack up, why is the debt-ridden Aberdeen Council under consideration to be allowed to borrow money for it?

Questions are being asked in Holyrood about Aberdeen’s TIF funding. This is from an article by Steven Vass in last weekend’s Sunday Herald:

“First Minister Alex Salmond’s decision to permit Aberdeen’s £70M borrowing plan for redesigning the city centre will come under renewed fire when he is forced to answer questions in the Scottish Parliament this week.

“Lewis MacDonald, the Aberdeen MSP and long-time opponent of the scheme, said there was a “scandal lurking under the surface” around the permission. He has tabled a series of parliamentary questions demanding answers to speculation the Government’s approval overruled the economic advice of specialists at the Scottish Futures Trust, who were supposed to decide which projects would go ahead.”

Another potential show-stopper is that last year the Council decreed that borrowing money through a TIF scheme must present ‘zero risk’ to the Councils finances.  The only realistic way this could happen is if an organisation or individual was prepared to underwrite the Council loan.

This would be a major commitment to say the least, as it would involve underwriting £70M for a 25 to 30 year period. Perhaps Sir Ian Wood is willing to do this, but even for him or his family trust, it would involve a significant allocation of capital resources over a long term period.

Add to this the question of cost over-run. One architect told me this week that with the massive rock excavation operation involved and the difficulties of building over the railway line, there was no way of this project coming in on budget. Yet, very little has been said about what would happen if the costs do over-run massively.

The problems are stacking up for the City Garden Project and even three years later they are not much closer to being resolved. The patient is looking sickly and the prognosis is not good.

Jun 102011

By Mike Shepherd.

On Saturday 11th June, the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens are organising a Big Picnic in our beloved park  from 1 – 5pm.

You are cordially invited, nay encouraged to come along to the gardens and join in the festivities. A fun day is guaranteed for all.

It’s going to be great with lots of music, busking, stalls, art and  surprises. If you support the retention and improvement of our beautiful city centre park, please come along, tell your friends, family and neighbours.

The gardens are a public amenity to be used by all and we want to celebrate this unique green space in the heart of our granite city. We want to show the world that this is our park; a valued part of our heritage and most definitely not a development opportunity for an exclusive clique of businessmen and politicians.

This is Big Picnic number two and follows on from a similar event last year, an event that marked the formation of the Friends campaign group; a year which has seen our campaign on the up and up with constant pressure against those that control the levers of power and the media. The cracks are showing with talk of a public referendum and including keeping the Gardens as an option in the design competition.

They know that Sir Ian Wood’s scheme is vastly unpopular with the public and the politicians are desperately looking for wriggle room in the face of this.

We shall not relent.  These are our gardens and we are keeping them.

Come along on Saturday and make merry.

Giving Away Union Terrace Gardens

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Mar 182011

By Mike Shepherd.

On April 27th, Councillors will be asked to vote to transfer the lease for Union Terrace Gardens to a third party body, either a limited company or a trust.

If the vote is passed, the Council will still nominally own the park, however control of the property will effectively be transferred by this action.

The public will not be aware of this coming up unless they have the skill and patience to dig through the multitude of reports on the Council website and find the appropriate report where this is mentioned. Even then, a subsequent report has only been issued to Councillors.

This came out on the 23rd February and includes a timetable for the City Square Project, the highly-controversial proposal to replace the city centre park with a three storey building and a roof garden. The relevant item concerns the full Council meeting on the 27th April as detailed below. Note that SPV is an acronym for Special Purpose Vehicle, essentially the limited company that will be designated to take the project through to planning permission and beyond.

“Paper to Council seeking approval of the SPV project business plan, approval to lease Council land to the SPV and permission for the SPV to take the project forward, subject to approval of the final detailed design scheme.”

In the next column is the following:

“ACGT will produce a business plan for the operation of the SPV up to the point where planning consent is obtained.”

This is a key sentence; the ACGT referred to here is the Aberdeen City Gardens Trust, a limited company formed in January this year.  Thus it looks as if there is some link between the SPV referred to in the timetable and the Aberdeen City Gardens Trust.

this is an attempt to force the issue on the City Square Project well in advance of planning permission being sought.

Who exactly are the Aberdeen City Gardens Trust? This is a good question as you will find very little in the media about the company. My understanding is that the trust has been formed by the businessmen involved in funding the project as a means of finding extra private funds to finance it and to take on key tasks such as managing the design competition.

Additional information comes from the articles of association for the trust which can be purchased from the Companies House website. These mention two board members, businessman Tom Smith who is also Chairman of ACSEF and Colin Crosby who is President of the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce. It is not known who else is on the board. However, it is clear that there is as yet no council involvement. The articles mention that the Council have the option at any time to become a special member of the group.

The objects of the company are stated and are as follows:

The urban regeneration of Union Terrace Gardens and the Denburn Valley (the Gardens Site) to create a new civic space and gardens with the aim of creating jobs, investment and improving the quality of life for the citizens of Aberdeen. The civic space and gardens shall:

  • Include at least 5 acres of city square and gardens;
  • Provide improved accessibility to green space by allowing walk on, walk off street level access from all four sides;
  • Create at least 2.5 acres of all-weather covered space beneath the square and gardens at concourse level;
  • Incorporate key aspects of the heritage of the current gardens, including the arches, viaduct and Union Street Bridge at concourse level;
  • Cover the road and railway; and provide easy access to public transport;
  • To promote, operate and maintain the new civic space and gardens for the benefit of the citizens of Aberdeen.


Elsewhere within the articles we read of the powers of the trust. Two of these powers are of note:

– to purchase, take on lease, hire, or otherwise acquire, any property or rights which are suitable for the company’s activities;

– to sell, let, hire out, license, or otherwise dispose of, all or any part of the propertyand rights of the company;

A Press and Journal article provides extra information about the limited company. It has recieved more than £400,000 from Sir Ian Wood’s family trust and has received a grant of £375,000 from Scottish Enterprise through funding available for major infrastructure projects (note that this £375,000 did not come from the Peacock grant as mistakenly reported in a previous P&J article). The company will also be responsible for managing the international design competition which is intended to produce designs for the proposed city square in August.


There are many issues involved; some of these are discussed here:

Control of the Property: If the vote is passed on the 27th April, Councillors will be approving to transfer control of Union Terrace Gardens to an SPV, likely to be a limited company / trust (possibly the City Gardens Trust). I have been told by the Council executive that the likely term of the lease will be 125 years. The Council will nominally own the property although a long term lease will in practice hand over total operational control to the SPV.

The vote to approve transferring the lease in April looks to be premature. The final design is not due to be approved until December this year and planning permission will not be sought until May 2012. By contrast Peacock Visual Arts were given planning permission for their arts centre in the Gardens and only then did the question of transferring the lease arise (they were never granted it). My opinion is that this is an attempt to force the issue on the City Square Project well in advance of planning permission being sought.

Implications for the Design Competition: We are told by the P&J that the City Gardens Trust will run the design competition. This does appear to limit the scope of the competition however. The stated objectives of the Trust are exactly in line with Sir Ian Wood’s strict conditions for the City Square Project, that is – walk on, walk off street level access from all four sides.

This precludes any options that consider decking over the railway line and road but keeping the Gardens substantially intact; or improving the existing Gardens only.  There are plans later this year for an item which the timetable describes as:

“short-listed design proposals subjected to public scrutiny.”

The word consultation has not been used here, although this is what the item appears to allude to. It has already been stated in a Council meeting that option to keep the gardens substantially as they are will not be included at this stage.  Thus the public will only be asked to ‘scrutinise’ between modern designs for Aberdeen city centre.

The Involvement of Scottish Enterprise: It is poignant that the Scottish Government body, Scottish Enterprise have given a £375,000 grant to the City Gardens Trust when they also funded the public consultation where the public said no to the project with a sizable majority (1,270).

There are many in Aberdeen that are appalled at the loss of heritage should Union Terrace Gardens be built over with and a modern city square put in its place.  Now it also looks as if public control of the property will be transferred from the Council to a third party organisation about which not a great deal is known. If like me, you are appalled at what has been proposed and the way it is being done, write to your councillors and let them know what you think.

They can be contacted through the website:  www.writetothem.com

Please also consider joining the campaign group the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens on www.friendsofutg.org

Dec 102010

By Vicky Rider.

The end of another year approaches – the end of a bad year for democracy in Aberdeen and a year in which we have seen proposals for our city which many citizens find very hard to stomach. One proposal in particular would see the complete destruction of Union Terrace Gardens.

Sir Ian Wood made the city of Aberdeen an offer that our council simply couldn’t refuse; £50 million towards the cost (estimated by some to be well over £300 million in total) of building a “City Square” over Union Terrace Gardens. His parameters include raising the area to street level and connecting it with Denburn and Belmont Street. A public consultation ensued, plagued by problems with online voting. The results clearly indicated the people of Aberdeen did not want the City Square and the project lost the vote; 45% for the Square to 55% against.

However, after a fraught council meeting attended by many concerned citizens and a final vote resulting  in a stalemate (largely due to many abstentions from councilors who were perceived to have a vested interest in saving UTG), the lord provosts deciding vote decided the fate of the gardens. Past convention has dictated that a deciding vote from the LP should uphold the status quo of the current situation, however on this occasion he chose to move the City Square project forward.

His decision not only shocked the city but also destroyed Peacock Visual Arts plans for a new art centre that was to be built under the arches of UTG. Peacock had already secured planning permission and a huge majority of the funding needed to complete this project and although there were mixed feeling among UTG supporters about whether the art centre was a good idea, it would have preserved most of the gardens and provided much needed facilities including disabled access.

do your Christmas shopping AND help save Union Terrace Gardens at the same time?

The council now plans to borrow at least £200 million to complete the City Square project at a time when they are considering canceling music tuition for the city’s children and discussing closing parks and libraries.

They spent £300,000 on a public consultation that was ignored and nearly £500,000 funding Acsef (Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future – the “public-private partnership” driving forward the development at UTG).  This “public-private” body has yet to receive any private funding.

Friends of Union Terrace Gardens formed to fight this proposal and are determined that Union Terrace Gardens will be preserved, improved and loved again.

They have already recruited volunteers to clean and repaint the arches, started getting the lights fixed and begun to investigate the possibility of reopening the beautiful Victorian toilets and installing proper disabled access. They have held many successful events including mass picnics, evenings of acoustic music and a car boot sale.

Now, this hard-working group is holding a festive get together in the gardens on the 18th of December at 1.30pm with mince pies, lucky dips for the kids, a brass band and carol singing, take a break from the Christmas shopping and enjoy some festive fun!

Do you want to do your Christmas shopping AND help save Union Terrace Gardens at the same time?

FoUTG have LOTS of goodies for sale this Christmas; bags, calendars, calendar posters, car stickers, T-shirts, hoodies and more.

There will also be a  stall in the Trinity Centre on the 20th of December so put it in your calendar and get some Christmas gifts!

For an order form and more info; http://friendsofutg.org/contactus or email Saveutg@gmail.com.

You can join  FoUTG at http://friendsofutg.org/home/86 or by writing to FoUTG, PO Box 10507, Aberdeen.

FoUTG would like to wish all it’s supporters and those helping with the campaign a very Happy Christmas and a great New Year.