New civic centre for the Granite City

The first outline designs for the creation of a new city centre for Aberdeen have been unveiled today. The plans in today’s Press and Journal reveal a six-acre civic space, at the level of Union Street and Union Terrace, built over the Denburn Valley and Union Terrace Gardens.

Comparisons are made between the vision presented in the proposal and the bold decision by Aberdeen’s historical leaders to build a huge viaduct over the Denburn Valley to open the area to the west for expansion. That bold vision was outlined at the very end of the 18th century.

Two centuries later this plan is an equally bold vision to put Aberdeen firmly on the map with a city centre of which the city can be really proud. The six-acre civic space linking Union Street, Union Terrace, Belmont Street and Rosemount Viaduct would be a focus for the city as it aims to keep its role as one of the world’s premier energy centres.

Union Terrace

The proposal is not new. The plans first emerged in the 1980s, then were dusted off as a proposal for the Millennium.

What makes it more likely that it will be “third time lucky” is that Sir Ian Wood, whose Wood Group family business is now a global player in the oil and gas industry, has pledged £50 million to turn this dream into a reality. The total cost of the plans, which include a covered concourse below the six-acre civic space on the surface plus two levels of car parking, is estimated at around £150 million.

As well as providing direct walkways from Union Street to Rosemount, Union Terrace to Broad Street, the civic area would include a plaza next to Union Street that could hold 10,000 people. A performance area and an arts complex. This is envisaged at the North West corner where it would include the proposed visual arts centre, beside the Central Library, His Majesty’s Theatre and Aberdeen Art Gallery.

The covered concourse would also link, under Union Street, with the Mall Trinity, Windmill Brae, The Green, the rail station and the Union Square development. Visitors to Aberdeen would be able to walk straight from the station to His Majesty’s Theatre without ever emerging from cover. The concourse, it is envisaged, could open up the arches on Union Terrace to provide under cover civic space, galleries and restaurants.

This is a bold new vision for the city. Let’s hope that – third time round – our councils, civic leaders, citizens and the Scottish Government all embrace it as a positive development that will really put Aberdeen on the map.

All being well, in 2014, I hope to be standing in a huge sunlit square alongside tends of thousands of other Aberdonians, admiring the marvellous cityscape of the Granite City from a new perspective.
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