Page last updated at 11:37 GMT, Thursday, 20 May 2010 12:37 UK

Councillors back Aberdeen Union Terrace Gardens plan

Image of Union Terrace Gardens plan
The proposals for Union Terrace Gardens have divided opinion in Aberdeen

Aberdeen's controversial plan to raise Union Terrace Gardens and create a civic square has been backed.

Councillors voted to back the scheme, which involves a £50m donation from the oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood. An anonymous businessman had also pledged £5m.

It means detailed plans will now be taken to the next stage.

The decision follows a public consultation in which 55% of respondents said they did not want the new square.

Sir Ian Wood said the long-term winners would be the people of Aberdeen.

"I am pleased that Aberdeen City Council has been visionary and far sighted in taking what must have been a very difficult decision on backing the proposal for transformational change in our city centre," he said.

"Many important issues have been raised and discussed during the course of the last 12 months.

"The polarisation on this very important issue has not been healthy for our city and, now that a positive decision has been taken, every effort must be made to take account of the various concerns expressed and ensure that the project proceeds in a way that will have the optimum impact and benefit for the citizens of Aberdeen.

"Today is not about winners or losers, certainly not in the context of the present parties involved.

"I believe if we make the right decisions over the next few months, all of the parties, including those who might feel they have lost today, will be winners and certainly the citizens of Aberdeen should be the long-term winners."

'Absolutely devastated'

Peacock Visual Arts, which had put forward an alternative proposal to create a £13m contemporary art centre on the site, which was previously approved, said it was bitterly disappointed by the decision.

Elly Rothnie, the group's campaign director, said: "We are absolutely devastated, not just for Peacock's amazing new centre but for the people of Aberdeen who the city council have ignored today.

"The people of Aberdeen spoke during the public consultation when they said clearly that people did not want the square and what they wanted was the gardens and Peacock's new art centre.

Annie Lennox
Singer Annie Lennox had urged councillors to reject the plans

"The future for Peacock is now very, very precarious."

Peacock's board will meet on Thursday to discuss its future.

Kevin Stewart, deputy leader of Aberdeen City Council, said: "I'm pleased that the council has taken the decision it has today.

"I hope that a compromise can be reached with Peacock so that we can have both the city square concept and a contemporary arts centre as part of the design competition, and I await with great interest what designers and architects can come up with."

During the meeting, Provost Peter Stephen read an extract from a letter submitted by Malcolm Webb, the chief executive of industry body Oil and Gas UK.

Mr Webb said that if the council voted against the civic square proposal "it risks sending out the message that Aberdeen is not open to improvement and change and lacks vision for the future."

Planning officials recommended that councillors back the City Square civic area plans.

'Civic vandalism'

However, a public consultation on the issue found that most people were against the proposal.

A 10,000-strong petition opposing the civic square option was also handed over to the city council last week.

The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) said it backed the alternative plans by the Peacock Visual Arts Group.

The organisation, which represents Scotland's architects, called the art centre plans "visionary" and said the civic square option could "destroy an important amenity and breathing space".

Singer Annie Lennox, who is from the city, had written to every Aberdeen councillor ahead of the vote urging them to reject Sir Ian's plans.

She said that to carry on with the project would be "an act of civic vandalism and abandonment of democracy".

Former council worker Renee Margaret Slater pledged £10,000 to the Peacock arts centre plan and a pensioner pledged another £10,000.

Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future (Acsef), which wants to develop the square, said Aberdeen needed a city centre to be proud of.

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