Tayside and Central Scotland

Dundee waterfront 'changing forever'

The River Tay has played an important role in Dundee's history for hundreds of years.

It was here the ships bringing jute for the city's mills would anchor. It was here the whaling vessels were built, and of course it was here Captain Scott's ship Discovery was constructed - the expertise of the men who built the whaling boats being put to good use.

But as the city developed in the 20th Century its centre and its waterfront grew further apart. The roads taking traffic on and off the Tay Bridge cut a gash between the two.

Anyone wanting to reach the river had to navigate through ugly overhead walkways.

Now, the self-styled city of discovery is re-discovering its waterfront, but at a cost - £1bn will have been spent by 2030.

Over that time buildings which have become a familiar sight in the city will be gone, roads re-routed, new civic spaces created and new offices built, all in an effort to re-vitalise an economy which has suffered badly over the last 20 years.

'Jewel in crown'

Work has already been going on for several years but 2012 will see some of the most visible changes taking place. Tayside House, former home to Dundee City Council, and a tower block regarded by many as an eyesore will be torn down.

Next to the river and standing alongside the RSS Discovery, the Olympia Leisure centre will similarly be reduced to rubble.

The site vacated by the Olympia is to be occupied by the "V&A at Dundee", housed in an iconic £45m building designed by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma which will thrust out into the Tay.

The V&A is regarded as the jewel in the crown of the Dundee waterfront regeneration. It's due to open in 2015, a centre for contemporary design which will place Dundee firmly on the international cultural map.

'Massive difference'

Three years before it opens there are already some signs of the V&A effect. Take a walk down Union Street, one of the main thoroughfares that lead visitors from the city centre to the attraction and you will find a new café.

Proprietor Susan Westwood already has an establishment on the other side of the Tay in St Andrews. She has opened in Dundee, attracted by amongst other things the number of visitors it is anticipated the the V&A will bring.

She said: "The work that the council have been doing on the waterfront and on this area in general had a big impact on our decision.

"We had a look at the plans, saw what they had in mind and it's obviously going to make a massive difference to this part of Dundee."

The Dundee waterfront project is characterised by big numbers. But not everyone is convinced it will bring the economic spin-off that's been promised.

Architect and academic Sarah Glynn has examined regeneration projects both here and abroad. She has seen many other cities turn to their waterfronts for economic salvation, hoping new build will bring new businesses and new jobs. She fears Dundee may have left it too late.

"I think economically it's been designed for an economy that we had in the 80s and 90s which we now no longer have. Who are these businesses who are going to come?" she asks.

"Even in the 80s and 90s, it would be doubtful if it would bring many good jobs for the people in Dundee. They might be cleaning the offices but it was designed to attract people in from elsewhere."

New jobs

Such scepticism is not often heard when the waterfront is discussed and it is rejected by those who are overseeing the massive civic project.

Mike Galloway, director of city development at Dundee City Council, says their forecast for the new jobs it will bring is conservative.

"We're talking about 9000 jobs in total that will be spread out throughout the wider Dundee and Tayside area so that everyone will benefit," he insists.

"The fact that we're creating a really positive, attractive front door into the city will bring tourists, will bring investment, so it will have an impact on everybody, not just the people in the waterfront itself."

Back down at the waterfront the diggers are busy shifting piles of earth, they'll be even busier in the coming months. Whatever results from their efforts and those of the architects, engineers and planners, Dundee waterfront will be changed for ever.

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