Aberdeen City Council’s finance chief has claimed ambitious plans for the revamping of Union Terrace Gardens could bring a multi-million-pound private sector boost to the city.
The council has earmarked £17million from their £33million masterplan fund for the works, which include shops and gallery units fitted into the Victorian park’s arches and which could see the construction of a bridge spanning the gardens from Belmont Street to Union Terrace.
An amphitheatre for public events would also be installed and the search has started for specialists to produce detailed designs.
Last night, finance convener Willie Young confirmed there had already been private sector interest in the plans and council chiefs would be seeking more once the designs were drafted.
He said: “I’m glad we have taken this step because, hopefully, it will mean people will realise these plans are actually going to happen.
“After procurement, we will be speaking with the private sector, and we have already had some interest.
“There are big commercial opportunities here – and commercial opportunities mean money. I’m sure there is plenty of interest in that.
“These plans, and especially the shops, could bring a lot of jobs and interest to the city centre.”
Dominic Fairley, chair of Aberdeen Civic Society, responded that he hoped planners would be “sympathetic” to the history of the famous sunken gardens.
He said: “We are happy to see something happening as long as the existing heritage is retained as much as possible.
“There is concern that something could be done to change the function of the gardens.
“I’m not particularly keen on the amphitheatre plan if it was just for private gain, but we would have to scrutinise it more before coming to an official position.”
Gary Craig, chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired, added: “It has always been our hope for Union Terrace Gardens to be further utilised as a civic space.
“Plans are at an early stage, but we are looking forward to working with and supporting the council as we work towards improving and revitalising the city centre.”
Last night, Aberdeen South MP, and former council leader, Callum McCaig, warmly backed the development.
He said: “I think it’s welcome we are finally seeing some action taken on this.
“The masterplan proposal was one I have supported and continue to do, so I welcome this progress and hope the momentum continues.”
North-east MSP, Ross Thomson, echoed that view in stating: “After all the years of controversy over this historic Victorian park in the heart of the city centre, I’m sure the majority of residents will be very pleased to hear that progress is being made on redevelopment plans.”
Russell Borthwick, chief executive at Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said: “While it’s important the people of Aberdeen have a chance to help shape and buy into the vision, we would also say the clock is ticking.
“Aberdeen’s city centre masterplan heralds the vision that will help write the next chapter in Aberdeen’s success story.
“It will only be delivered if we are prepared to make bold and brave decisions and then allow the partners to get a move on with creating the legacy we want for future generations”
Union Terrace Gardens has been at the centre of controversy since 2008 when north-east entrepreneur Sir Ian Wood pledged £50million to create a new, raised civic space.
Opponents fought the plans and formed the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens campaign group, which continues to work to improve the area.
The City Gardens Project was abandoned in 2012, despite winning the backing of 52% of the public in a referendum, after the council and its newly elected Labour-led administration supported an alternative proposal to regenerate the area.
A spokeswoman for Sir Ian declined to comment on the proposals.