Dozens of protected trees in an historic Aberdeen park face being chopped down.
Initial work began earlier this year on city council’s £28.3 million Union Terrace Gardens project.
They hope to create community gardens, water features, a suspended ‘halo’ lighting feature and introduce vibrant shops and cafes to the arches.
London Olympic park designers LDA submitted the plans for the overhaul, with Balfour Beattie appointed as the main contractor, and its hoped the park will reopen in summer 2021.
But new planning documents submitted reveal that workers are now looking to remove 46 trees – including hollies, English oaks, sycamores, rowans and a Himalayan Birch.
The documents say their removal is required “to facilitate the redevelopment of Union Terrace Gardens”.
The trees are ‘scheduled’ due to their location within a conservation area meaning that planning permission is required to set aside that protection and fell them.
The city has already lost a number of its mature trees due to the spread of deadly Dutch Elm disease, which claimed one of UTG’s elms in 2016.
Midstocket and Rosemount councillor Bill Cormie, a former city gardener, said the loss of more would be “very sad”.
He said: “46 mature trees going in the heart of the city centre will be a huge loss and will sadly deprive the place of any natural greenery.
“We will have to see what they are replaced with as part of the project. It will be very sad to see them go.”
Dustin Macdonald, chairman of the City Centre Community Centre, said: “While it is sad to see any old trees get taken away, we hope that they will be replaced.
“This could also help limit the spread of Dutch Elm disease, which I know has been a problem there.”
An Aberdeen City Council spokesman said: “The requirement to remove 46 trees to deliver the Union Terrace Gardens design was identified in the detailed planning application approved by Aberdeen City Council in March 2018.
“The removal of the trees will increase the amenity of the gardens by facilitating the formation of walkways that are accessible by wheelchairs, prams and push chairs.
“There will be significant new tree planting, which will increase both the overall number and variety of species within Union Terrace Gardens.”
The first part of the UTG scheme will be erecting a permanent safety barrier at Union Terrace bridge.
Council co-leader Douglas Lumsden said: “Union Terrace Gardens is one of the places the council does own and can make a difference.
“We are hoping to revitalise this part of the city and that will then have a knock-on impact on Union Street and beyond.
“Our plan is to create a space people can go to and really enjoy.
“There will be space for cafes, the lighting will be vastly improved and when you combine that with things like the art gallery and theatre we will make a very attractive area that people will go to.”
Prior to constitutional squabbles about Brexit and Scottish independence, the sunken Victorian park was one of the most contentious political issues in the city.
In 2012, the incoming Labour-led administration abandoned fully-funded £50 million plans put forward by businessman Sir Ian Wood that would have raised the gardens to street level.
The billionaire’s scheme had been narrowly backed in a public referendum but the Labour opposition at the time pledged they would scrap the scheme if elected.
The party subsequently won an additional seven seats to become the largest group on the council, with 17 elected members.
Council leaders said a new multi-million-pound scheme for the gardens would be developed.
But the city’s residents had to wait until 2016 to see the designs, produced by celebrated architects LDA, featuring new lighting, a transformation of the Victorian arches and communal growing spaces.
It was backed by councillors in principle, though each individual design element will be subject to separate planning applications.
The first element of the work will be erecting new, glass safety barriers around the gardens following widespread concerns for safety there.
Though work is just beginning, there have already been further concerns raised over over the rising cost of the project.
Latest council documents indicate the revamp has a gross budget of £28.3 million – well above the £17 million estimate when the project was first unveiled in 2016.