Union Terrace Gardens rejuvenation in Aberdeen: No walk in the park

By Ken Banks
BBC Scotland North East reporter

image captionUnion Terrace Gardens is in the heart of Aberdeen

The transformation of Aberdeen's iconic Union Terrace Gardens is getting under way, but reaching this milestone has been no walk in the park. The BBC Scotland news website looks back at the history of the saga.

The rejuvenation of Aberdeen's historic Union Terrace Gardens is beginning.

The sunken gardens originally opened in 1879.

Back in 2007 - with His Majesty's Theatre (HMT) and Aberdeen Art Gallery both nearby - the council backed plans to breathe new life into the gardens with an arts centre, in the hope of creating a thriving cultural quarter.

However, that was just the start of a saga which is only now drawing to a close.

Construction work on the iconic Victorian gardens is only now officially starting.

The initial 2007 arts centre plans were from Peacock Visual Arts.

However, the following year, that plan was put in jeopardy when one of Scotland's richest businessmen pledged up to £50m towards creating a "new heart" of Aberdeen's city centre.

Arts centre abandoned

Sir Ian Wood was backing a proposal to develop a new street level city-centre square on the site of UTG.

The plan to raise Union Terrace Gardens was backed by councillors in 2010.

This decision was despite a public consultation in which 55% of respondents said they did not want the new square.

image captionThe Granite Web design in 2012 was aimed at transforming the city centre

Those initial Peacock plans were then abandoned as a result.

An international design competition for the City Garden Project was officially launched, and the winner - Granite Web - was selected in 2012.

In March that year, voters then backed the City Garden Project after a referendum on the issue.

People were asked if they wanted to retain the gardens or back the £140m redevelopment.

image captionThe sunken Victorian gardens opened in 1879

There were 45,301 votes in favour of the project, with 41,175 people opposed to the plans.

The crucial moment came on 22 August 2012 when councillors debated and rejected the proposals.

Fresh plans

Improvements to Union Terrace Gardens, and landmark buildings, were instead proposed.

Sir Ian's £50m offer was taken off the table.

He said he was dismayed at the opportunity the project offered being rejected.

image copyrightLDA Design
image captionNew plans were revealed in 2016

Those £25m proposals were approved in 2018.

They included new walkways, an amphitheatre, a play area, cafe, and refurbished toilets.

Aberdeen City Council's opposition SNP group later called for the redevelopment to be scrapped due to cost increases and the council's "financial situation" .

Due to an extended tendering process, a contractor was not appointed until earlier this year.

The regeneration of UTG is now expected to finally be completed in the summer of 2021, but it is said to be weather dependent.

It is hoped it can help recapture some of the former glories of the heart of Aberdeen city centre.

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