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Scrapped: Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Union Terrace Gardens binned


Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s controversial £140 million revamp abandoned by Aberdeen City Council

Aberdeen City Council today voted in favour of an amendment to divert funds from a tax increment financing levy towards other improvements in the city.

Known as the City Garden Project, supporters claimed the proposal would boost jobs in the city while detractors warned borrowing large sums to pay for the scheme could be risky.

Councillors were today set vote on whether to fund the project with a £92 million tax increment financing scheme which would see a levy placed on local businesses to pay for the project. Entrepreneur Ian Wood had donated £50million towards the scheme and a further £15million was expected to be raised from the private sector.

During the debate councillor Marie Boulton of Aberdeen’s Independent Alliance Group tabled a motion to scrap the City Garden Project and spend the money on a range of other regeneration schemes in the city. 22 councillors voted in favour of the amendment and 20 against following a mammoth day-long council meeting. One councillor abstained.

According to BBC North East Scotland there were angry scenes outside the council chamber with several high profile businessmen seen in heated exhanges with councillors who backed the amendment.

Commenting on the decision, Tom Smith, director of Aberdeen City Garden Trust, said: ‘Councillors have rejected the most significant opportunity to demonstrate leadership and confidence to transform and invest in our declining city centre.

‘Despite a world-class design and an internationally acclaimed design team on board, a robust business case, £70million in philanthropic donations and a majority in the public referendum, they have voted in favour of smaller-scale improvements. While these are worthwhile, they will not have the transformational effect or the significant long-term economic benefits of the City Garden Project.

‘Their decision today will be remembered by current and future generations. For those who voted in good faith in the referendum, businesses and outsiders, it will be very difficult for them to understand this decision which has little vision or ambition.’

Professor Alan Dunlop of the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen said: ‘I’m amazed at the rejection, I believed that big business involvement would swing it. I thought it was a project more suited to Tenerife than Aberdeen and poorly thought out but was happy as a Glaswegian to leave it to Aberdonians to agree.

‘My students at Scott Sutherland all supported it because the city is short of good contemporary architecture they were thankful that something architecturally interesting by a high profile practice looked like it would happen. They’ll be disappointed.

He added he thought it was ‘very sad’ Brisac Gonzalez’ previously consented Peacock Visual Arts project for the site had ‘also been scuppered’.

In a city-wide referendum earlier this year 45,301 votes were received in favour of the proposed overhaul and 41,175 against.

In May, Aberdeen’s newly elected council announced it was planning a vote on whether to proceed with the high-profile City Garden project, even though the proposed overhaul of the Victorian park had already received public backing in a city-wide referendum.

Supported by the city’s previous SNP/Liberal Democrat council, the announcement left the controversial scheme hanging in the balance just one year after an international contest for the site won by New York-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro was launched.

Diller Scofidio and Renfro with Keppie beat Foster and Partners with Vladimir Djurovic Landscape Architecture; Gareth Hoskins Architects with Snøhetta; Gustafson Porter with Niall McLaughlin Architects; Mecanoo Architecten with Cooper Cromar and West 8 urban with Archial to win the job in January.


Readers' comments (4)

  • Time to restore the Peacock Visual Arts Brisac Gonzalez project, I think.

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  • Industry Professional

    Let’s hope that as the Union Terrace Garden proposal has been rejected, a more holistic strategy and vision for Aberdeen and Shire emerges. Why not do something truly radical and move the station into Union Terrace Gardens with a new garden above allowing pedestrian only access at the level of Union Street and Union Terrace with vehicular access and some parking at the Denburn level. Visitors to the city would then be deposited in the heart of the city rather than on the side of a busy road with no clear link to Union Street and the rest of the city – what a wonderful first impression.

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  • I don't think anything should be done with the site that jeopardizes a more ambitious project in the future.
    The previous peacock art scheme was pretty limited in comparison.

    I think the proposed scheme may have been too 'futuristic looking' for many locals, but the basic idea of raising the gardens to street level and doubling their size is a good one.

    All those complaining about a concrete jungle obviously forgot about the existing dual carriageway and railway running through the site.

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  • Perhaps more realisable and believable would be a better description, David.

    Less ambitious perhaps but better suited to the topography of the gardens and the climate of Aberdeen, particularly in winter when the wind whips in from the North Sea?

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