Sir Ian Wood's city centre plan

Sir Ian Wood has pledged £50 million to re-kindle interest in the plan to create a new civic square at street level in Union Terrace Gardens.

The idea is not new. The proposal to raise Union Terrace Gardens to the level of the surrounding streets was first proposed in the 1980s. The intention was to put a massive car park under cover, with open public spaces at street level above. The plans resurfaced in time to go forward as a potential millennium project, but once again without success.

The one outcome of these two proposals was that the foundations for the proposed car park were incorporated in the Denburn dual carriageway project.

Denburn dual carriageway
The proposal is to build over the Denburn dual carriageway and Union Terrace Gardens, bringin it up to the level of the surrounding streets.

Sir Ian’s vision is to develop a new square on the five-acre site. He envisages it would serve as a “hub and focal point” for Aberdeen City Centre, also improving the connectivity in the area. His offer of funding is based on the full project to raise the gardens to street level, covering over the railway and the Denburn dual carriageway.

Denburn dual carriageway

Building a new civic open space above the railway and dual carriageway would do much to enhance the city centre.

Over the years there are many potential benefits put forward for the proposal:

  • Create a public open space right in the heart of Aberdeen.
  • Encourage people to make better use of the area, compared to the current less-accessible gardens.
  • Provide performance areas and civic square at street level in the city centre.
  • Link Union Street, Union Terrace, Schoolhill and Belmont Street with pedestrian walk ways.
  • Provide a large underground car park encouraging shoppers and visitors into the city centre.
  • Link the station and Union Square, under Union Bridge, to escalators and elevators up to Union Street.
  • Offer parking for tour buses in the city centre, bringing visitors into the centre.

Of course any major project will be controversial.

  • Some believe that the plan would obscure the Denburn Valley, which played such an important part in the development of the modern city.
  • Others are concerned that it would change the character of the park.

But there has also been much publicity about how the plan could scupper the ambitious Peacock Visual Arts project for a new arts centre proposed for the existing gardens.

While it would be a shame for that project to founder completely as a result of Sir Ian Wood’s ambitious plans, this is too big a project to abandon without examining how the two developments could not only co-exist but complement each other.

But, for Peacock, time is of the essence. Making a quick decision though is likely to be difficult, especially given the huge financial problems facing Aberdeen City Council.

Aberdeen needs bold new initiatives like this to take confidently into the 21st Century. It would be a shame if Sir Ian’s generous offer were not be used to make it third time luck for the Union Terrace project.
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