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All part of the masterplan: The scheme to revive Aberdeen city centre

Plans for a pedestrianised Union Street.
Plans for a pedestrianised Union Street.

Hopes have been pinned on a £150 million spend in Aberdeen, for projects that are hoped to draw residents and visitors back to the Granite City after Covid.

There have been countless headlines about the council’s multi-million-pound refresh of the city centre masterplan… but what is it they are looking to update?

Aberdeen has rarely been more divided than when debate split residents over the future of Union Terrace Gardens (UTG).

First there were plans for an arts centre, then millions were pledged from Sir Ian Wood to transform the park followed by a local referendum and a dramatic political vow to scrap that vote’s backing for the oil tycoon’s visions.

All of this was important in understanding the reason for council chiefs going back to the drawing board.

Soon expected to reopen to the public after a £28m facelift as part of the city centre masterplan, UTG is one of the last big ticket items on a list devised in the aftermath of the raging debate on its future.

The first iteration of the masterplan was agreed in June 2015, mapping out where the council would invest – and why.

Publication of the city centre blueprint had followed months of public consultation by the council and their consultants on the plan, BDP.

Key projects – such as the refurbishment of the art gallery, Provost Skene’s House and the Music Hall, as well as pedestrianisation of Broad Street and the construction of Marischal Square – were included.

But so too were lofty aspirations, as it was hoped 50 projects in the city would bring tourists back and entice people to make Aberdeen their home.

More weight was given to encouraging arts and culture, technology, local produce and unique Granite City offerings too.

Marie’s masterplan: UTG debate showed need to understand what Aberdeen public wanted for the city centre

City centre masterplan spokeswoman, Councillor Marie Boulton, told us in May: “What became very apparent to me was there was absolutely a need to do something to upgrade UTG and the heart of our city.

Councillor Marie Boulton and former council finance convener Willie Young at a public exhibition on the masterplan in 2015.
Councillor Marie Boulton and former council finance convener Willie Young at a public exhibition on the masterplan in 2015.

“We were already looking at the city as a whole and thinking, ‘do we actually understand what the city centre needs?’ – rather than just doing things and asking if it were the right intervention.

“We were on a journey with the art gallery and one or two other things and because of the polarised view on the gardens, I put forward a vote that we did not move forward with the generous Sir Ian offer and take a step back and create a city centre masterplan.

“Regardless of whether people felt one way or the other, it was clear some form of intervention was needed.

“In the round it was the catalyst for change in the city centre, and now we are on a final part of the journey for UTG.

“When we went out to the public asking what they felt was important for the city centre, it was a blank piece of paper.

“We tried to build the masterplan was built on an understanding of what people wanted and a vision for the future.”

A decades-long vision already needing adjustment

It was a 25-year plan, which was originally hoped to draw in £1 billion, mainly from the private sector, and create thousands of jobs.

In March, the council administration put £150m aside to refresh the masterplan, setting sights on big spends at the beach and in the city centre to change Aberdonian fortunes in light of Covid and the move away from oil and gas.

By May, multi-million-pound plans for a new market on the former BHS site in Union Street, along with permanent pedestrianisation of part of the Granite Mile, had also emerged.

Yesterday, councillors voted to progress with detailed plans for the city centre and Aberdeen beach – admitting they could put public money into a joint venture football stadium at the seafront.

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