What now for Aberdeen city centre?

Unless you have been taking a spin in Curiosity on the surface of Mars, if you have any interest in Aberdeen you will know that Aberdeen’s councillors have voted not to proceed with the Aberdeen City Gardens Project and the £182 million package of city centre funding that went with it.

As you would expect from a glance at the referendum result, that has pleased almost half the population and enraged the other half.

Aberdeen City Garden

The fact that Labour’s councillors (elected with 16,264 votes) have overturned the will of the majority (with 45,301 votes) who voted for the City Garden Project in the referendum earlier this year, was bound to result in accusations that democracy has been overturned.

That the Labour group should vote out the plans is no surprise.

Having stood for election on the basis that they would kill off the City Garden Project, they were committed to their electors to carry this through. Labour’s leader says that is democracy. The City Garden Project proponents respond that the referendum was democracy and that the council should respect the will of the people.

There cannot be two winners in this argument.

To compound their popularity the council went on to turn down the proposed Aberdeen Football Club development at Loirston at the same meeting.

So, inevitably, there are calls – including a public petition – for the administration to resign.

While there was no surprise in Labour’s vote to kill off the City Garden Project, there was surprise in the manner by which it was done.

Rather than a straight vote against the project, the Labour group and the independents voted for an alternative proposal put forward by deputy council leader Marie Boulton.

I would love to give you the detail of this alternative plan. But I can’t.

Why? Well, because there is no detail. It is rather vague and revolves around improving key buildings in the city centre, improving Union Street and carrying out improvements on the existing Union Terrace Gardens.

This alternative plan would, of course, not attract the £50 million donation from Sir Ian Wood. So funding would be needed and it was ironic to hear that the councillors had been pressing the Scottish Futures representative about the possibilities of TIF funding. Ironic because TIF funding was one of the main evils bandied about by City Garden Project opponents in the lead up to the vote.

TIF seems unlikely as approval for one project cannot be switched to another and no new TIF applications are apparently being accepted at the moment.

So with precious little detail on the alternative proposal and no funding in place, the pressure is on the council administration to find an answer to the question “What now?”.

And for those who had set their hearts on a major transformational city centre improvement, it had better be really good.

Over to you, councillors.
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