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Granite-gate: Concerns after UTG-like masonry is put up for sale on Facebook

Balustrades for sale on Facebook Marketplace have led to ire from Aberdonians, concerned the pieces could be linked to Union Terrace Gardens.
Balustrades for sale on Facebook Marketplace have led to ire from Aberdonians, concerned the pieces could be linked to Union Terrace Gardens.

Concerns have been raised that masonry from Union Terrace Gardens is being flogged on the cheap online – with council bosses scrambled into action to track it down before it is potentially sold.

The alarm was raised on Sunday night after an advert for 22 balustrades – of similar size to those surrounding the Victorian park in Aberdeen – appeared online.

Initially they were listed as coming from Aberdeen with the seller suggesting they “may even be granite”, but the description was later changed to “cast concrete”.

A number of councillors have publicly made their concerns known and tasked council chiefs with investigating the job lot, believed to be in the Carnoustie area.

They were being sold on Facebook Marketplace for only £500.

Aberdeen Journals approached the seller to ask where the masonry was from.

She said: “I can assure you that they are not (from Union Terrace Gardens).

“We have had them a very, very long time.”

It comes amid an unfolding scandal in Aberdeen in the past month, as it emerged granite from Union Terrace Gardens (UTG) had been left at unauthorised and insecure sites as it was removed during a £28 million refurbishment.

When informed they closely resembled the park’s fixtures, she added: “Oh my God no. I have had them over 20 years.”

However their appearance online so soon after the steps were found in a Cults garden, Aberdeen residents were quick to assume these were connected.

Similarities to the balustrades near Union Bridge seen in Google Maps images were highlighted.

But a side-by-side comparison appears to show differences in the level of detail, with extra flourishes on the UTG pieces.

The balustrades in Union Terrace, photographed during a visit to the gardens by councillors in 2018.
The balustrades in Union Terrace, photographed during a visit to the gardens by councillors in 2018.

The seller’s listing has since been removed.

Last month, ‘Granite-gate’ led top council brass to launch an internal audit of heritage materials such as granite, streetlights and the heraldic shields and railings from the nearby pocket park in Rosemount Viaduct.

Police have also been called in to investigate the removal of items from the city centre building site.

Demand for action from council bosses to stop UTG heritage being sold

And so, when the balustrades appeared online, alarm bells began to ring.

Councillor Ian Yuill was among the first to react – having led calls for the audit.

The Liberal Democrat group leader said: “When I say this online I immediately drew it to the attention of a senior council manager.

“I have no way of knowing whether content of the online post is genuine or not. The items in the photo do though look like they might be part of the balustrade that surrounds Union Terraced Gardens at street level.

“Given what has already happened, it is vital that this latest incident is investigated as a matter of urgency. It also emphasises the need for the audit of Union Terrace Gardens granite to be completed as soon as possible.”

SNP councillor Michael Hutchison also took the concerns to council chief executive Angela Scott and resources director Steve Whyte.

He told us: “These balustrades bear a striking resemblance to ones that surrounded Union Terrace Gardens.

“Given what has already happened with the granite steps, people are rightfully concerned about our city’s heritage.

“I have asked that this be looked into urgently and I hope that the reassurances people want are forthcoming.”

Aberdeen Journals has since asked the local authority if any of the balustrades surrounding UTG are cast concrete, instead of granite.

Last summer, heritage watchdog Historic Environment Scotland praised the local authority’s plans to retain more of the Union Street bottle balustrades in the design of a new pavilion at that end of the park.

Granite-gate: Shock as UTG masonry found in private garden

It comes only weeks after this newspaper found dozens of granite slabs, and one of UTG’s recognisable globe lights, in the garden of prominent businessman Mike Wilson.

Granite from Union Terrace Gardens was left in a private gardens in Cults.
Granite from Union Terrace Gardens was left in a private gardens in Cults.

Builder Graham Cheyne, hired for masonry work by main contractor Balfour Beatty, later admitted leaving the rock in Mr Wilson’s Cults driveway in the rush to get finished on a Friday afternoon.

He said he had done so without prior consultation with the homeowner.

Worryingly, concerns have also been raised some of the granite – which is expected to be reused within the new UTG layout due to its historical significance – may have been taken to an Aberdeenshire quarry to be chipped.

Questions remain over the whereabouts of the thousands of other granite pieces still to be accounted for – with councillors having to wait until the end of September for answers.

Balfour Beatty bosses later apologised for “any inconvenience or concern caused” by the materials being left “at an unapproved location”.

In response to the public concern at the latest find, an Aberdeen City Council spokeswoman said: “The meeting of full council on June 21 instructed officers to bring a report to a future meeting of audit committee with a full audit of all the downtakings from Union Terrace Gardens which would include all the balustrades within the gardens.

“This audit will cover the items posted on social media that were passed to officers over the weekend and is therefore already being investigated.

“As a precaution Police Scotland were updated.”

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