Opponents of Aberdeen’s controversial Marischal Square centre still believe it can be stopped – but council chiefs warned that pulling out now would “bankrupt the city”.
The objectors made the claim despite the super-structure of the £107million building beginning to rise from the ground at Broad Street.
Leading critic Bill Skidmore insisted last night that there was enough “momentum” to scrap the scheme, as he revealed he was hiring lawyers to pore over the detail of the deal.
And he believes that the election of two new opposition SNP councillors on Friday could help “turn the tide” at the council chambers.
But Labour’s Willie Young, the local authority’s finance convener, warned that cancelling the contract at this late stage would “bankrupt the city” and leave Aberdeen with “outrageous reputational damage” for future developments.
Developer Muse has insisted that Marischal Square will be a “world-class” retail and office centre, but protesters say it will block the view of the historic Marischal College and Provost Skene’s House.
Councillors voted by 22-21 to continue with the project in March, with the opposition SNP members voting against.
The council sold the former St Nicholas House site to Aviva for £10million and will lease Marischal Square for £5million per year for 35 years when it is completed in 2017. It can then buy the site back for £1 at the end of the period.
The authority’s handling of the deal has been cleared by spending watchdog Audit Scotland – but its report was branded a “whitewash” by critics of Marischal Square.
Mr Skidmore is now taking on a number of initiatives, including complaining to the Accounts Commission about the report, and hiring solicitors to investigate the sale of Common Good Land.
He added that the election of SNP councillors Alex Nicol and Michael Hutchison on Friday may persuade others in the administration to “change their minds”.
The Nationalists victory left the ruling Labour-Independent-Conservative alliance with a majority of just one seat at the Town House.
Mr Skidmore said: “Even if it gets built we will still oppose this development.
“There are too many unanswered questions and too many people are opposed to it.
“It’s all well and good telling protestors to ‘move on’ but people who don’t want to see this won’t change their minds.
“I think there is enough momentum that it could still be stopped.”
But Mr Young hit back, warning of ruin for the Granite City if the developers were told to leave.
He said: “Think of the reputational damage to the city of pulling out now – there wouldn’t be a contractor in the country who would work with the council again.
“Instead of protesting, people should be thanking us for what we’re bringing to the city for future generations.
“The consequences of cancelling the contract now would be bankrupting the city.”
In January, Mr Young came under fire for suggesting that pulling out of the development could have cost the authority £100million in cancellation fees.
But the council said later that there would be no financial penalty.
SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central Kevin Stewart said the election of the new Nationalist members was in part due to public frustrations with the Marischal Square project.
He said: “The administration needs to sit up and take notice of the results on Friday.
“They should recognise that Marischal Square is one of the issues that ensured that SNP members were elected.
“I hope they will rethink their stance on Marischal Square.”
But Conservative councillor Ross Thomson, who was alone among administration members in voting against the project, warned that protestors “had to be realistic”.
He said: “I support a lot of what the reject groups have done in putting the council under scrutiny and demanding answers on the plan. They should carry on asking for answers about how this deal came about.
“I think ultimately the people of Aberdeen will get the final say on the development at the council elections in 2017.”