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Rebecca Buchan: Aberdeen council should focus more on building confidence and less on bungled quick wins

Could Union Terrace Gardens soon compare to Madrid's El Retiro Park? Photo by DC Thomson and Alex Segre/Shutterstock
Could Union Terrace Gardens soon compare to Madrid's El Retiro Park? Photo by DC Thomson and Alex Segre/Shutterstock

This week I have been watching the goings-on in Aberdeen from afar.

While in El Retiro Park, in Madrid, I sat and followed the blow-by-blow account of the “soft opening”, or not, of Union Terrace Gardens.

I am not going to lie, I have been wondering for weeks why Aberdeen City Council seemed intent on going ahead, when it had been clear for all to see that the park was far from ready.

So, it was no surprise to me, really, when it was called off. What did surprise me, however, was that it took until the 11th hour to make this decision.

I am aware of the supply chain issues being quoted as being to blame, but, come on, seriously, are we to believe it was even close to being ready to reveal to anyone?

Did someone say ‘imminent local election’?

As I was reading about how the drama unfolded, my surroundings struck me.

During our week in the city, we spent hours in that park, which is beautifully maintained, well used and a hub of activity. Exercise classes, cafes, picnics, sunbathers, tourists, school kids, you name it – it was buzzing.

And it is certainly something the people of Madrid should be proud of.

Now, I am aware that Spain tends to have better weather than Scotland, but the experience did give me a sense of excitement about what is to come after the completion of UTG.

Our woman in Madrid – Rebecca Buchan pictured in El Retiro Park, Spain.

But, would I have been excited as a member of the public had they opened it in its current state? No.

There is likely to be disappointment that the project is taking longer than expected to complete. However, it’s been a tough old few years, and I reckon the public can let the council off with a bit of delay, given extreme weather, Covid and supply chain delays.

So, why such a push to reveal something half-baked? Surely it only dampens confidence to see a muddy building site with a few spruced up statues?

Ah, of course – the imminent election might have a little something to do with it.

Past pledges have been delivered on

We do know that Aberdeen Labour like to remind everyone how much they have made happen.

And, really, they can confidently say that they actually have. Last week, The Press and Journal pulled together a report card of the party’s promises from their 2017 manifesto, and it would appear they didn’t do too badly. Seven of their pledges were delivered, three were on the fence and five were not met.

The attempt at reopening UTG seemed little more than desperate during a time when, if the council believed in their policies, their record should speak for itself

But, given they weren’t ruling by majority it doesn’t seem all that disappointing to me.

Last week, we also revealed how a revived city centre could look under the council’s current masterplan and, again, the council’s plans don’t look all that shabby. It’s certainly something which I believe, if delivered, would increase the sense of pride in the city, and indeed confidence in any ruling administration.

Time to build confidence in the council

The attempt at reopening UTG seemed little more than desperate during a time when, if the council believed in their policies, their record should speak for itself. I can also only assume the failure to open the park on time has done nothing more than strengthen the argument of those who do not believe in the redevelopment.

This is a massive infrastructure project which is hoped will transform the city. Our local politicians need to stop and think about how we win the confidence of the people and not focus on how they think they can boost their egos.

We are all aware that the plans to redevelop the old BHS store into a continental market were backed under the Conservative, Labour and independent administration, but they weren’t about to go and cut a red ribbon on a demolition site, were they? So, I am not sure why, given how far away it is from being ready, opening UTG was even considered.

Whoever comes out on top after the election this week needs to do a lot of work to build people’s confidence in the council.

This time next year, I hope to be back sunning myself in a city centre park, catching up on all the latest local news, just this time it might be a little closer to home?


Rebecca Buchan is City and Shire Team Leader for The Press & Journal and Evening Express

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