I voted today in a referendum organised by our local council (Aberdeen City) to help determine the future of a green space in the heart of our city – Union Terrace Gardens.
Anyone in the North East of Scotland will know what this is all about but for anyone else here is a brief summary.
A local businessman has offered £50 million to transform these Victorian gardens into a new civic space that will include various facilities, link parts of the city centre currently separated by the gardens (they are in a deep valley), and hide an unsightly dual carriageway road and railway that run alongside the gardens. A preferred option has been chosen after a period of public consultation. It is currently estimated that this would cost up to £140 million, the remainder coming from an anonymous donation of £5 million, £15 million from the private sector, and up to £70 million from a TIF (see below).
The proposal has sparked major local controversy, with strong lobbies both in favour of the scheme and of retaining the gardens.
In one way, the issue is fundamentally simple – keep or redevelop the gardens.
But as so often happens with these things there are innumerable complications lurking in the wings, from what could be described as opposing political ideologies for the future of the city through what the council has or hasn’t done with this major civic asset over the years, to concerns about the TIF – and much more besides.
This is not the place to reprise all the arguments. A Google search on ‘Union Terrace Gardens’ today threw up 1,940,000 hits and anyone who doesn’t know the ins and outs of the controversy can immerse themselves for ever in everything to do with the subject.
Anyhow, all this is a preamble to saying I have voted, reluctantly, against the proposal.
Reluctantly because I think it is magnificent that someone is willing to donate £50 million to help ensure the future of the city they were born and brought up in.
Reluctantly because the heart of any city needs constant rejuvenation and the gardens in particular need a lot of TLC.
But I just can’t see it working, from the design chosen to the money needed to make it work. I’ve seen too many architects’ drawings over the years that turned out to be triumphs of optimism over reality.
Well, voting closes on 1 March and who am I tell fellow Aberdonians how to cast their ballot?
I do know that come 2 March a significant proportion of the population of this city will see the result – whatever it is – as either a tragedy or a triumph.
TLC – tender loving care