Several thousand Aberdonians have made their voices heard over the last few weeks – with a £150 million refresh of the Granite City on the line. But Alastair Gossip asks whether more weight should be placed on the views of the schoolchildren the city is being refreshed for…
More than 8,000 people took part in an online consultation which could shape the future of Union Street, the city centre and beach, and surrounding areas.
But now, community leaders have levelled criticism at the public poll for being too complicated – with calls for more to be done to involve Aberdeen youngsters in decision-making around the decades-long plan.
To gauge how important potential city improvements were to the public – and where they should be made – the council launched a points-based consultation, where voters could weight the projects which mattered most to them.
First drawn up in 2015, the city centre masterplan (CCMP) – now expanded to take in the seafront too – is described by council chiefs as a “living document”.
‘School children should have been given a voice’
But unlike the initial plan, before viral pandemics made access to schools more challenging and there was substantial consultation of the city’s future adults, this year the council has been accused of doing little to sound them out.
And Aberdeen City Centre Community Council chairman, Dustin Macdonald, claims it is an opportunity missed.
At a meeting this week, he said: “Schools have just finished and the number of emails parents and children get about lots of random things, there could have been something put out for children to have a say.
“There could have been something done to give them a voice – and there wasn’t.
“I would be happy if there was young person friendly version that I could show my children.
“I couldn’t do it with that one. If I sat that points simulator system in front of my kids they would look at me like I’m daft.
“It is too confusing.”
With the high street turmoil caused by the rise of internet shopping, the pandemic and the north-east’s unique economic climate based on the energy industry; now has been deemed the right time for a first “refresh” of the blueprint.
A £150m war chest has been put aside by the local authority to fund the transformation, which could include a new market development in the former BHS building, pedestrianisation of Union Street out in front of it, and improved walking and cycling links with the beach.
At the waterfront, there is the prospect of a new football stadium to keep the Dons within kicking distance of the city centre, renovations to the Beach Ballroom and a replacement Beach Leisure Centre.
And council leader Jenny Laing, at the meeting with Mr Macdonald, said: “We have obviously had difficulty because of Covid.
“To be fair to our school staff, the upturn in Covid cases in the city has significantly impacted our schools and a lot of our teams have had to deal with that in the run up to the holidays.
“In secondaries, they have also had to deal with assessments as there were no exams.”
She added: “In the last masterplan, there was a great deal of consultation with young people in schools, but because of the situation we are having to do things virtually and trying to get the consultation to as many groups as possible.
“We are trying to get Unesco child friendly status so it makes absolute sense that children help shape up those plans.
“This is a sort of stepping out on this process again but we are not rewriting the masterplan, we are just asking if the projects within it are still pertinent.
“But we have been doing work in our schools around some of these things.”
Now, we want to know what our readers think. How important is it that children are able to shape the masterplan? Let us know in our poll!
Claims masterplan shows ‘dearth of ideas’ for Aberdeen’s Covid recovery
Meanwhile, it was just not the consultation process that faced criticism – with another community chief criticising the substance of the blueprint too.
Old Aberdeen Community Council, chairman, Dewi Morgan, said: “It doesn’t feel like they are trying to sort out what the city centre is going to be for the next 20 years.
“Deciding the future of the city centre and the beach should include some big picture issues.
“While Dundee seems to be motoring ahead with some major redesign of themselves as a city, with the Eden Project coming there, we are talking about whether to have a few more trees or a few more pedestrian crossings.
“My concern is there seems to be a dearth of ideas on these sheets.”
City centre masterplan lead at the council, Marie Boulton, said: “Every city will tackle designing their city in their own way.
“Dundee appears to have set out to import large name attractions, we have decided on transforming buildings such as the Art Gallery which will be unique to Aberdeen and has attracted many awards both for the redesign and the community involvement.
“I am really excited as we are coming closer to the delivery of the transformed Union Terrace Gardens, which will create a green heart in the city centre.
“I have been encouraged by the thousands who have engaged in the consultation process and I continue to be eager to hear what the public think should be our priorities.
“We have huge ambition for Aberdeen, in terms of infrastructure but importantly the cultural offering and events which brings our city to life.
“We are on a journey which the consultation is part of, we will continue to engage with stakeholders as we move forward positively together.”