Think of a number – higher : Union Terrace Gardens V Concrete Walkways

The battle has been hiked up over the proposed removal of Union Terrace Gardens following a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers which is being presented to Aberdeen City Council.

Anyone who has ever drawn up a proposal for funding knows this is an exercise in exaggeration. The number of benefits are exaggerated. The number of jobs likely to be created are exaggerated. The positive impacts are exaggerated.

From Archaeolink to the Olympics.

Think Olympics here. There are lots of huge claims for the impact the Olympics will have on the UK. We know this is pure optimistic speculation based on nothing and the need to have public approval for such huge public expenditure.

From Olympics to small schemes funded by public bodies – creative fiction is employed.

We are told by a Gerry Brough who is said to be a project director that the concrete web development which will replace Union Terrace Gardens will create 3000 industry jobs, 2300 business jobs, 470 retail and leisure jobs and 180 in culture and the arts.

This is preposterous.

Naturally there are no details. The Council presumably will be given these. But whatever the figures the people of Aberdeen know that the numbers have been plucked out of the air.

• Any shops built into the concrete web will draw customers away from existing shops in the city. Just look at the impact of the city’s many malls on Union Street.

• Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire have the highest employment rates in the country.

• Only someone who is unfamiliar with this area could possible believe that anything like 180 jobs will be created in culture and arts in Aberdeen. People involved in culture and the arts in Aberdeen have been fighting for decades for expansion of provision and this will not change – especially over the next years when the recession will be continuing to make its impact on public spending.

• Sticking with culture, can only someone with a vivid imagination could possibly conjure up the figure of 3000 industry and 2300 business jobs.


Perhaps Gerry Brough was not in Aberdeen when it attracted so many oil and gas companies because of its park – joke! No, because of the facilities and situation for the exploitation of the north sea. No-one hesitated to come because they thought – oh, we might want a shop sunk under an immense web of concrete before we decide to make zillions from oil and gas extraction. Not even briefly.

• Employers are attracted to Aberdeen because it has a flexible, educated and reliable workforce (NB employment levels are high here).

Aberdeen has loads in its favour as centre for setting up business – apart from the workforce it has a beautiful coast, mountains and historical associations which go a long way to satisfy people moving into the area. People don’t move for shops or concrete walkways.

(I suppose the NY architects are aware of the impact of ice and frost on raised walkways in this part of the world? Possibility of being closed off for H & S during the winter months?)

He (Brough) added: “Without major investment in the city centre, investors may come to regard Aberdeen as a complacent and backward-looking city that is, consequently, unworthy of further investment.”

Is that what you think of Aberdeen Mr Brough? I’m surprised we’ve detained you.

‘Colin Crosby, director of Aberdeen City Gardens Trust (ACGT), said: “Essentially this means that for every £1 we invest today in the scheme, Aberdeen will on average secure a return on investment of £1.32 year on year.’

Speculation. You have no idea.

‘Campaign group Friends of Union Terrace Gardens have criticised one of Mr Brough’s recommendations to councillors – to set aside up to £300,000 from the council’s contingency budget to cover all council costs associated with drafting and negotiating legal agreements.
Chairman Mike Shepherd said: “Next week’s council meeting is absurd. Councillors are being asked to approve the final City Garden design without the full facts.
“There isn’t even any discussion of what happens if costs massively over-run. They are being sold a ‘vision’, but it’s a blurry vision and the City Garden juggernaut is heading alarmingly towards the cliff-edge. Put the brakes on now before it’s too late.
“They told us no council money would be spent on this project and now councillors are being asked to allocate up to £300,000 of public money for legal fees. At a time when our amenities and services are being drastically cut, this is a shocking abuse of council funds. It is time to call a halt to this wasteful project.”
The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens said they will request to make a deputation at the meeting.’ (STV News report 19 Jan 2012)

People ought to be aware that the people pushing the UTG project will do and say anything to get a vote in its favour.

And I mean anything.

I hope ACC has the interests of its citizens in mind and scrutinises figures lobbed around by officials.

Do you do that Councillors?

Have you always been told the truth by officials or do they sometimes appear massaged?

Are you up to the job or just a sad disappointment to the people you represent?

12 Comments to “Think of a number – higher : Union Terrace Gardens V Concrete Walkways”

  1. “Union Terrace Gardens will create 3000 industry jobs, 2300 business jobs, 470 retail and leisure jobs and 180 in culture and the arts”

    These figures make me want to vomit. And they’re being pumped out in the papers / radio like it’s gospel. I’d love to see a comparison on somewhere like Union Square, and find out how many jobs that place has created. Surely someone somewhere has to hold accountability and justify where such bold estimates are coming from.

    I really, really, really hope that all ACSEF, related councilors, tycoons, and public-figure puppets (speaking out pro-web) come out looking like the greedy, mising, land-snatchers they are.

    XZibit would be proud. “Yo dawg, we herd u like gardens, so we’re filling your massive, historic garden with concrete and putting a little garden on the top”

  2. Thanks Judy and Aberpedro for your useful remarks.

    Ian Wood’s hijacking of the redevelopment of Union Terrace Gardens has certainly created much ill-feeling in Aberdeen. He did see that something had to be done about Aberdeen city centre which has been left to deteriorate for decades – so it’s not just one or two political groups to blame – they all are.

    I find it strange and depressing that the quality of officials within the council is so poor that none was able to propose how to halt the deterioration of the city centre and go for public funds to carry out the necessary changes. These dullards are still sitting pretty waiting to pick up their pensions.

    It took an initiative from Peacock to get the ball rolling and then Wood jumped in and scuppered that adventurous and architecturally dynamic proposal.

    I think Judy that more independents could better represent the opinions of the people of Aberdeen. Certainly when councillors trot out the Party line it seldom matches with the general view of the voters who put them there.

    • You are absolutely right about more independents cracking open the party lines trotted out by the usual suspects from left, right and centre. What spurred us to action was the discovery, over a relatively minor issue, that elected members seems to just waive through everything suggested by the officers, partly through the desire for a quiet life, and partly because they had few original ideas of their own, being so much in thrall to their respective national parties. One councillor actually told me that they had to do what the officers said!

      However, you’ll probably find that the officers are not so much poor at their jobs as restricted, and positively dis-encouraged to come up with any decent original ideas. Sure, there will be dross amongst them, but most will do a decent job once they are properly directed by their elected masters taking the time and trouble to examine and consult on their proposals properly, and some are really brilliant once they are given a suitable brief.

      Our local ‘party’, Devizes Guardians, found that once we had councillors actually elected, it was astonishing how many national parties’ members and the officers suddenly found they agreed with us all along, but had been too pusillanimous to say or do anything about it.

      Our key issue was the removal of some old trees in our medieval market place, against the express wishes of citizens – not so far removed from the UTG issue – but of course, that was only the tip of the iceberg, and we quickly became aware of the underlying ongoing problems.

      Much of this is long-term stuff, but if there is a election, including any by-election, in the offing, you could scare the pants off the current bunch by putting up a candidate/s making UTG their central issue, and giving them a real run for their money. If you or anyone else thinks they could start an Aberdeen version of the Guardians, I’d be happy to help with info on how we did it, although I do realise that there is a huge difference between a small Wiltshire market town and my home city!

  3. I’m an Aberdonian born and bred, although I no longer live there. I take a close interest in Aberdeen’s affairs and am very concerned about the proposals re UTG.

    It seems to me that standards at ACC appears to have gone downhill considerably in the last 20 years or so. But I suppose we get the politicians we deserve. Who voted the current bunch into office, and what was the turnout? I bet it was low, as local elections usually are, and those who didn’t go and vote can’t really complain about the uselessness of the incumbents!

    There is a way to counter this; but it’s a long haul. Get local independent candidates to stand for the next TC election. Rally those who are fed-up with the current national party political system; pick up on local issues, such at UTG, and give them a fight by setting the agenda for discussion.

    Sounds pie-in-the-sky? Well, ten years ago, we started doing it here in Wiltshire, and it has worked. Our small market town is represented by local genuinely independent councillors, and we have real community support. National party local politicians have had to address our agenda to keep in the game.

    Small beer, but there’s no reason why a group of committed citizens can’t take this type of action in a larger community. Go on Aberdeen. Use democracy to fight back.

  4. ACC were and are hopeless at maintaining anything. Look at the state of Hazlehead and Duthie parks , never mind the wanton neglect of UTG. Anything that does replace UTG will be an eyesore within 10 yrs.

    I agree that The Sir Ian Wood Donation is generous but I suspect the motive behind it and all I see is a tax avoidance scheme which of course is perfectly legitimate. However as some have said the money could be better spent. ….The Sir Ian Wood Foundation for Research into Sustainable Energy!Not enough thought has gone into what to the Wood millions can do. The need to unload it within certain time constraints has strangled initiative!

    UTG would look really good with a decent makeover. I am for covering over the rail way line and having Belmont Steet incorporated in such design . werll off to request Big Yellow Taxi on Northsound….”take paradise and put up a parking lot”!

  5. Well no guesses whose side I’m on – the right side obviously!

    Sometimes UTG does look a bit dreich Bitwize but whose fault is that? The Council’s that’s whose.

    Aberdeen City Council cuts the grass, transplants the pansies or whatever to create the impressive floral coat of arms but little more.

    They could have, still could, improve access by introducing paths from street level.

    They could resurrect the giant draughts – always a crowd puller.

    They could reopen the wonderful lavatories and employ people to look after them – all at a miniscule fraction of what will be spent on the thousands of tons of concrete which will go into the making of this truly hideous walkway web.

    Unless the Council is preparing to employ ‘mannies’ to guard the web the glue sniffers and the tramps (whoever they might be) – take it we’re not talking some weemen Councillors here? will still be hanging around. Looks like there’ll be plenty nooks and crannies for them.

    No-one, no-one is saying don’t do something to improve UTG. We are saying don’t let big bucks businessmen dictate what they want at the expense of the city’s heritage. If you don’t value heritage then fair enough, there are people who do, thank goodness.

    If the Council took any pride in this city- successive Councils – there would be concerts and seating available in the park, interesting areas for kids to play, think the boat at Fittie, the engine at Seaton Park. Such things would cost next to nothing and bring in families. More seats as well and it could have allowed stalls to use the arches – there were food people who wanted to do this.

    The Council wasn’t/isn’t interested/lacks officials with a modicum of inventiveness/imagination/nous.

    Preserve and improve. Do not destroy. And do not say ‘how high?’ when a rich bloke says jump.

  6. What a depressing comment, Bitwize. The small but dedicated team of gardeners would be horrified to hear your description. I defend Union Terrace Gardens and I use it. Rarely see tramps there to be honest – they tend to hang out in Belmont Street. Even now, after years of under-investment, the Gardens are a calm, reflective green space, sheltered from the winds that can make Union Street so uninviting.

    As the founder of four start-up technology companies, I strongly object to being characterised as backward minded. I go to the Gardens and I see a great space that could be even greater with modest amounts of investment. Compare this to the ruinously expensive and ill thought out concrete jungle that’s being proposed, and it’s a no brainer as far as I’m concerned. Absolutely, let’s go forward and not backward; let’s invest in what we have, make more of our fantastic historic green space and sympathetically restore Union Terrace Gardens.

  7. UTG is a tawdry depressing space , indicative of poor planning and signifiying everything that is appalling and unpleasant and uniinspiring about Aberdeen City Centre. Aberdenonians for their part seem to want to defend something they never use , just for the sake of resisting change. I, as someone who remains proudly unfettered by Doric conservatism and backward mindedness say; Build the park , it looks impressive , and a million times better than the cheezey excuse for a civic space that is currently there, unless you are a gluesniffer, a tramp , or need to relieve yourself on the sly when in town (UTG is a toilet ). Forward not backward Aberdeen.

  8. Thanks for reading the blog AD. Don’t give up caring. That’s what happens. People get worn down. We have to care about that one interest group is exploiting its considerable influence to threaten one of the city’s most iconic areas and using unsubstantiated statistics to catch the headlines.

    There are so many ways the business community made rich through the energy sector in Aberdeen could have been supporting the city’s infrastructure over the past 30 years and chose not to put anything back into the area. They can now – but at the cost of part of the city’s heritage?

  9. Not for or against the plans-I have given up caring-and agree with a lot of what you have said. My only comment here is that business leaders in Aberdeen have been complaining for some time that the current city center is poor for entertaining visitors, and they often head oit of the city for this. Maybe, with the right amenities, the center of the city could become a hot spot for these guys who have huge budgets to spend?

    • With all due respect AD, can you really imagine business leaders taking visitors to a park to entertain them? “Hey guys, did you see that fantastic dull grey concrete web in the middle of the city on your way in? How about we go and have a wee stroll while we talk over the details of the deal? No? Really? Wow, I was sure you’d be up for it.”

      Anyway, my main problem with the project is how it was started in the first place, and it’ll forever taint my view of it if it actually gets redeveloped. Ian Wood is using his £50 million to effectively buy the right to dictate how a public space is used. Why should he? What gives him the right to do that? If he’s such a generous man, say to the council “here, I’ll give you £50 million towards any project of your choosing that will help the city I love.” We could have had a public consultation on how we think the city could be improved and spent a fraction of what has already been spent on this venture, and you can bet people would have come up with some cracking ideas as well. It’s a lose-lose situation: if the public vote for it in the referendum, we’re replacing a nice garden with an eyesore; if the public don’t back it, all that money that has been wasted on the project so far has been for nothing.

      The whole thing has been a shambles. Why bother giving the public the chance to choose their favourite design if they were just going to let some panel of judges decide anyway? That was a stupid thing to do, because now people are even more annoyed that they’ve ignored our choice. If the other design had won, I was tempted to vote for it; but there’s no way I’m voting for that concrete carbuncle that will look filthy and out-of-date long before the oil even comes close to running out. Good point about the walkways in winter, and as many folk have mentioned, what about all the railings that will be required that aren’t in the design pictures? Surely architects know that you need these things when drawing up their designs?

      I get the bus from outside the old Sports Direct every day after work. It’s quite depressing that such a prominent shop site is lying there completely empty – to think that it used to be a massively busy music and DVD shop just a few years ago. That’s far more of a blight on the city than UTG. Why don’t ACC concentrate on trying to get someone taking that lease up?

      • Sorry for the delay in getting your comment on. Any future comments should appear immediately on my blog site.

        I agree the idea of a park as a business attraction is ludicrous. You are spot on about someone, anyone pushing in and trying (and possibly succeeding) in calling the shots. Reminds me of the scoundrel in What a Wonderful Life who might have destroyed the town had James Stewart taken the wrong decision.

        The web is a concept which is not fully detailed in the drawing. It certainly won’t look streamlined and so ’70s. Bet Ian Wood still has his flares somewhere.

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