Ambitious proposals to “reinvent” Aberdeen’s beach and city centre have been backed – as last night council bosses laughed off criticism of their financial planning.
Councillors agreed their budget for the coming year, clashing on how to cut £30.4m from the budget for the day-to-day services, as well as on the grand “refresh” of their masterplan to revitalise the Granite City.
The Conservative, Aberdeen Labour and independent administration passed their budgets, which included proposals that could involve partially bankrolling a replacement stadium for Aberdeen FC at the seafront, a revamp of the Beach Ballroom and a replacement Beach Leisure Centre.
Tory council co-leader Douglas Lumsden said the waterfront was “a jewel for the city” and pointed to the need for investment as the city recovered from the pandemic.
“City centre footfall for the first six weeks of this year was around 800,000 compared with over 3.3 million in the first six weeks of 2020 prior to the pandemic,” he said.
“Following on from this we have seen notices of redundancies rise, universal credit applications double and unemployment rates rise.
“We have also seen how governments across the globe have used all the fiscal levers at their disposal to protect society against the ravages of the pandemic.
“Now we have an opportunity to do the same.”
Opponents in the SNP and Liberal Democrats had rubbished the “fag packet” plans for a “golden goose”, instead looking to commit millions to improving the city’s schools.
SNP group leader Alex Nicoll said: “What we need is actual proposals for some kind of detail on what these projects might be and what they would potentially cost.
“I can’t agree simply putting figures over a five-year period that add up to £150m makes sense.”
Lib Dem Martin Greig told members: “It’s vague and currently unsound – and it’s not clear whether this is intended to be some kind of revenue generating proposal because the concern is this administration has a very poor record in that area.
“Marischal Square is not the golden goose the administration regrettably thought it would be, and the council should not be risking public funds thinking it can act like a private business.”
Indicative costs – and which projects might actually go ahead – are expected to come back to councillors in May.
Opponents had rubbished the ambitious proposals further after Mr Lumsden said the council might look to borrow money to fund the scheme – despite being expected to near £1.3 billion in debt by next March.
Last night, his co-leader Jenny Laing said: “We have heard a lot about how much is being spent, that we’re perilously in debt – it surprises me given both the Liberal Democrats and the SNP budgets would have increased capital spend.
“So if we are so terrified of capital spend, why on earth increase it?
“I’m not quite sure the opposition realise the city centre masterplan is a 25-year document which they all signed up to in 2015, agreeing to put a sum of money into it without knowing what they were financing.
“It’s about intention and ambition.”