So, three years after they killed off the City Garden Project – saying that they would bring forward something better – Aberdeen City Council are today discussing the Aberdeen City Centre Masterplan
But, what should have been a positive debate about the future framework for our city centre development has been mired in controversy.
The plan has not got off to the best of starts. The first element of the plan due to be implement is the Marischal Square development.
It was hinted pretty strongly, that a civic square (originally proposed in the Bon Accord Quarter plan of 2006
) would be part of the “something better” we were promised after the current administration in the Town House axed the City Garden Project.
The demolition of the hated St Nicholas House fuelled our anticipation of an open square from which to enjoy the magnificent granite facade of Marischal College.
We now know the reality does not match the vision. Marischal Square exists in name only. The reality is that Marischal College is to be overshadowed by the type of glass, steel and concrete development that can be seen in almost any city around the world.
At Union Terrace Gardens the “something better” is a redevelopment to include a new amphitheatre and a pedestrian bridge above the gardens from Union Terrace to Belmont Street.
The plans do not envisage covering over the unsightly railway and dual carriageway, one of Sir Ian Wood’s conditions for his incredibly generous £50 million donation to the City Garden Project. Having told him that his money was not needed, it is indeed surprising that we now hear the council hopes to meet with Sir Ian to see if he will put his donation back on the table for the new masterplan.
This all suggests that the financing of the Aberdeen City Centre Masterplan is already becoming an issue. That fits the pattern of recent years in the city. We seem to be reasonably good at coming up with visions, but not good at implementing them.
These are just a few of the visions I recall:
- The original 1980s proposal to remodel Union Terrace Gardens and cover the railway and Denburn Road
- Aberdeen Beyond 2000
- The Bon Accord Quarter Masterplan in 2006
- The City Garden Project – along with its associated Woolmanhill and Art Gallery plans in 2012.
None of them actually happened.
This inability to get ambitious plans off paper and onto the ground has not always afflicted our city. For ample evidence of that we only have to look at the city’s history.
In the closing years of the 18th Century, Aberdeen came up with an expansion plan that eclipses anything since in terms of its ambition and boldness.
The top was lopped off St Katherine’s Hill and a grand viaduct was built striding west over the Denburn Valley. That viaduct is now known as Union Street and it triggered a massive expansion of the Granite City, creating the City of Aberdeen as we now know it.
What happened to the vision and dynamism that made that incredible transformation happen?