I have been following the progress of Sir Ian Wood’s plans for a philanthropic legacy in Aberdeen with some interest. Wood, who turned his family shipbuilding business into one of Scotland’s biggest fabrication and engineering firms, is seeking to raise Union Terrace Gardens, covering the duel carriageway and railway which pass through the city centre and creating a new plaza which would stretch from the front of the Trinity Centre to His Majesty’s Theater and from the Cally Hotel to rear of Belmont Street.
Like the other major development in Aberdeenshire – Trump’s golf course – the raising of Union Terrace Gardens seems to be somewhat divisive, with local campaigns both for and against the plan. There are also alternative proposals involving public funding and the retention of the gardens.
My personal feeling is that raising the gardens to create a plaza is attacking a nut with a sledge-hammer. The gardens are not an unpleasant area, but the large trees and looming buildings around the area have a detrimental effect, resulting in the gardens being in shade for much of the time. While there is noise from the duel carriageway, it is barely noticeable in addition to the traffic on Union Terrace, Union Street and Rosemount Viaduct. I am hopeful that a third scheme may emerge which seeks to preserve the gardens as much as possible while improving the facilities in the area.
What Aberdeen does not need is another concrete plaza. It already has several – there is a crowded and untidy plaza outside the St. Nicholas Centre, a second plaza on top of the centre which is popular with skateboarders and underage drinkers, a large and seldom used square at the top of Union Street around the Merkat Cross and the utterly depressing plaza in front of the new Union Square shopping centre.
Even with the retention of the century old trees and the addition of a water feature, the raised gardens look to be dismal, dreich and depressing. It does not look like somewhere I’d particularly like to spend time on a summer’s day, unlike Princess Street Gardens or Glasgow Green.
Aberdeen City Council needs to reconsider the fact 55% of respondents in the consultation into the Gardens opposed the plan. It needs to look into what people genuinely want there and what would genuinely be of benifit to the city as a whole. A new plaza does not look to benifit the city.
Sir Ian would also be wise to consider what the people of Aberdeen want. While his generosity cannot be mistaken, it seems he is seeking to leave Aberdeen with the sort of legacy project which maintain the McEwan and Younger names in Edinburgh. If that is truly what he wants, he would wise to put his money towards something which the people of Aberdeen truly want and something which will stand for the ages rather become an ugly embarrassment in less then a generation. Perhaps a complete revamp of the gardens with additional funds for the Winter Gardens in Duthie Park?