City councillors pave way for Gardens revamp – if citizens vote ‘yes’ in referendum

Aberdeen city councillors have agreed to progress the City Garden Project for Union Terrace Gardens – subject to a “yes” vote in the public referendum to be held in March.

Elected members agreed a range of recommendations designed to prepare the way for progress to be made if the citizens of Aberdeen vote in favour of the “Granite Web” scheme to transform the Victorian gardens.

But city council leader Councillor Callum McCaig made clear that the project will not proceed if the public vote against the project when the referendum result is announced on 02 March.

Councillor McCaig said: “It is absolutely clear that our decision today to put in place the arrangements to progress the scheme depends entirely on the outcome of the referendum on the City Garden Project. If there is a ‘no’ vote, it will not happen.”

A Special Meeting of the Full Council saw a majority vote in favour of measures designed to ensure the gardens scheme can go ahead without delay if the public endorses the scheme.

The Council agreed:

  • to engage in activities to progress the project, subject to it obtaining public endorsement in the referendum;
  • to instruct council officials to negotiate a development agreement with the Aberdeen City Garden Trust (ACGT), setting out the terms upon which the City Council is prepared to make council-owned land available for the scheme;
  • that the land will remain council-owned in perpetuity;
  • that assets on the land will become council property;
  • that the ACGT business plan for construction and operation of the new gardens provides for future management and maintenance to a high standard and with no need for direct revenue support from the City Council;
  • that the minimum space possible is used for commercial or semi-commercial purposes;
  • that ACGT must include in its business plan a full description of the commercial and semi-commercial aspects of the project;
  • that the Finance and Resources Committee will scrutinise the proposed development agreement with the City Council before it is signed off by all relevant parties;
  • that council officers will submit a detailed business case as the basis for negotiating a finalised Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) scheme with the Scottish Futures Trust, to allow the council to use the extra business rates income generated by the CGP to fund the wider City Centre Regeneration Programme;
  • to secure a maximum contribution of £70million through TIF for the CGP, in recognition of its importance to city centre regeneration;
  • to secure a further £22million through TIF for the other parts of the regeneration programme – redevelopment of the Woolmanhill area, investment in the Art Gallery, and creating fully connected pedestrian routes around the city centre;
  • to ensure council officers mitigate financial risks to the council in the agreements to be signed;
  • that the Finance and Resources Committee scrutinises the final TIF agreement before it is signed off by all parties;
  • to provide £300,000 from contingency funds for legal costs associated with the development agreement, the TIF agreement, the future operating agreement, and lease agreements;
  • to provide no direct funding towards design, planning or construction costs for the CGP, other than that generated through TIF, already committed to the referendum, and to cover external fees;
  • to encourage talks between council services and ACGT on how best to use space in the new-look gardens for arts, cultural, heritage and leisure purposes;
  • to request that ACGT appoint the design team for the preferred design and move forward with the detailed design process as soon as possible after the referendum result – if it is in favour of the project;
  • to require ACGT to confirm, in legally binding form, that it has access to £70 million in private sector funds to invest in the CGP before the signing of the development agreement and the TIF agreement;
  • that in approving the above recommendations, the City Council is nonetheless taking no view of any proposed development in its capacity as the planning authority.