Union Terrace Gardens: Rejecting revamp 'would be strange'

Those for and against plans to redevelop Aberdeen's Union Terrace Gardens take part in a debate hosted by BBC Scotland's Steven Duff

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Rejecting controversial plans to transform Aberdeen city centre would be "extraordinarily strange", according to oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood.

Sir Ian, who has pledged tens of millions of pounds towards the Union Terrace Gardens revamp scheme, was speaking on a BBC debate in the city.

Campaigners opposed to the project say the gardens are part of the city's heritage and should not be destroyed.

A referendum is asking members of the public whether they support the scheme.

Residents have until the start of March to decide on the plans to raise the gardens and cover over the existing dual carriageway and railway.

Sir Ian is providing £50m of his own money for the £140m project, with a further £35m from the Wood Family Trust if costs overrun.

Mike Shepherd, of the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens, opposes the plans and said the gardens were not the cause of Union Street's problems.

Granite Web Granite Web was chosen as the winning design to be put to the vote

Mr Shepherd said three years of disruption in the city centre would be more likely to "kill the patient" than cure it.

"It's a proud park in a great city," he added. "Do not destroy it."

Sir Ian said Aberdeen badly needed a major city regeneration.

He told the debate that the Granite Web proposal would have a significant beneficial impact on Union Street and revitalise the city centre.

"If we are to attract new industry we have to be competitive and the one blemish we have right now is a declining city centre," he said.

"It will play an important role in terms of Aberdeen being able to cross the bridge from oil into a world energy city and that should be our ambition."

Changing city

Lewis MacDonald MSP reacted strongly to claims from one of Sir Ian's supporters that he had no vision and was only out to stop things happening.

The Labour MSP said: "The approach that says there is only one vision and only one solution is exactly what the problem is here.

"Everyone in this room wants to improve our city but the arrogance of those who say that we and we alone know how to do it and you either go down our route or you're not going down a route at all - that I think is a mistake."

A financing method for the project known as TIF - tax incremental financing - has proved controversial in Aberdeen.

City council leader Callum McCaig said the entire point was that TIF is designed to pay for itself and requires nothing up front from the city council.

He added: "I would ask people when they're making their mind up on this. Try and think of Aberdeen how others see it and not how they remember it 40 years ago because it's not like that anymore."

The referendum ballot closes on 1 March, with the result due the following day.

The Scottish government must see a finalised business case for the project before it can proceed.

The Union Terrace Gardens debate will be on BBC Radio Scotland FM in the north-east just after 17:00 on Friday.

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