Aberdeen’s controversial Marischal Square development has been branded as “about as popular as a visit by King Herod to the Bethlehem nursery”.
In a heated late night debate, MSPs from a number of parties agreed it was “regrettable” that Aberdonians “feel that their voices have been ignored” over the £107 million development.
Aberdeen Central representative Kevin Stewart had called the debate amid fears the project will saddle taxpayers with debt and not be viable.
Both the city council and developers Muse last night insisted Marischal Square will be a success.
But Mr Stewart accused the local authority of ignoring the views of local residents, quoting supporters of the Reject Marischal Square Development campaign during his speech.
He said: “The Labour-led council has pushed on with this scheme that is about as popular as a visit by King Herod to the Bethlehem nursery.
“A contributor to the Reject Marischal Square Development campaign Facebook site talks for many when he says that when the old St Nicholas’ House was demolished, we could finally Provost Skene’s House and Marischal College in all their glory.
“The people of Aberdeen are crying out for this to be an open space, a civic square, but those who are meant to represent them are not listening.”
Mr Stewart also pointed to claims that Aberdeen City Council does not have a business plan in place for the development.
He said: “There is no business plan at this time.
“And yet, according to the campaigners, Aberdeen taxpayers will be underwriting the risk of under occupancy of the development by guaranteeing £175 million to Aviva shareholders over 35 years.
“It has been said by a great number of folk that Aberdeen City Council are willing to take on a risk that a multi-national insurance company is not prepared to underwrite.”
But Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald accused Mr Stewart of hypocrisy, claiming that Aberdeen City Council was only following advice he had issued.
Mr Macdonald said: “It is worth noting the report last week of this parliament’s Local Government and Regeneration Committee – chaired by Kevin Stewart – which said local councils should work with pension funds to invest in infrastructure.
“Mr Stewart and his colleagues urged councils to take a less cautious approach – they said that ‘without some degree of risk-taking, innovation will not happen’.
“Audit Scotland has looked at the innovative financing of Marischal Square.
“They conclude that the risks have been well understood and managed, and advise the council to ‘continue to manage its financial exposure to mitigate these risks accordingly’.
“I hope the council will do so, but also heed the advice of Mr Stewart’s committee not to be risk averse.”
Aberdeen City Council’s finance convener, Councillor Willie Young, said the “additional income” from the development “could help protect frontline services for years to come”.
He added: “When you put that in the context of what is widely expected to be a reduced funding settlement from the Scottish Government next week, we find it disappointing that democratic decisions made by this council are again being called into question.”
Steve Turner, Muse Developments’ Regional Director Scotland, said there was “a high level of interest” around the development.