City Centre Masterplan and UTG

March 13th, 2015

Union Terrace Gardens form the core of the Denburn/Golden Square portion of the Aberdeen City Centre Masterplan and Delivery Framework.   

The Council is consulting on this from 14th to 27th March 2015.

From information available so far, there appear to be proposals that we very much welcome, for example, the proposed bridge over the railway from Belmont street into the Gardens, and the creative use of the arches.   

However the drawings also seem to indicate a plan to remove some much loved elements such as the Bon Accord crest, formal bedding and the original Victorian Steps that form the centre of the classic Education, Salvation & Damnation view of Aberdeen across the Gardens.   

We have been notified of the various sessions for consulting on the delivery and strategy of the new City Centre Master Plan which is being developed. We would urge as many of you as possible to attend at least one of the consultation sessions, to see and comment in writing on the proposed plan – particularly for the HMT end of the Gardens.  It is very important that those who are passionate about UTG make their feelings regards any proposed changes to the park known.

If you would like to see the full council press release please click here

Aberdeen City of Culture bid.

June 19th, 2013

The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens are disappointed that Aberdeen did not make the City of Culture 2017 bid. We support Aberdeen Council’s efforts to promote a city of culture event in spite of not being chosen for the official title.
Notwithstanding, we fully anticipate that the businessmen behind the abortive City Garden Project will use the City of Culture bid as an excuse to criticise last year’s vote to reject the business case for council borrowing to fund their scheme. This would be an absurd argument. The City Garden Project polarised opinion in the city to a massive extent, a situation that would have been very unhealthy in trying to achieve inclusive support for a future city of culture celebration. The City Garden Project offered little in the way of cultural facilities that didn’t already exist in the city; indeed it would probably have displaced much of these and caused the HM Theatre to shut down. We would also bring attention to the manner in which the Peacock Visual Arts project was killed by Sir Ian Wood’s project.

The City Garden Project was rejected because the business case for the City Garden Project was unsound. Sir Ian Wood had offered £50 million, yet the overall cost of the scheme was nominally £140 million and perhaps a lot more. The true estimated final costs of the project were never made public. Aberdeen Council was expected to borrow at least £70 million and take a big risk on the loan being paid back, something they were quite rightly not prepared to do.
There is a need to move forward with promoting culture in Aberdeen. It is an effort that should be driven by those who value cultural activities in the city, that is the artists and performers who bring pleasure to our lives. It is not an initiative that should be soured by those businessmen still trying to push the use of public borrowing to help pay for their divisive schemes.

Mike Shepherd, Publicity Officer, Friends of Union Terrace Gardens



"The report highlights initial concerns with the City Garden Project. All risks featured in the business case are of high or medium risk. Most concerning is the risk of running out of private sector donations, which is the most severe risk in the report, at 75%. Aberdeen City Council are expected to gamble over half of the funding through the risky TIF scheme. There's no substantial back-up plan for failure to capture private investment."

"Even if capital costs increase by just 10%, the loan won't be repayable in 25 years and the council will have to increase its borrowing to over £100m. A leading economist said last year that capital projects such as these could easily cost double(1). This project could really drive the city in to more debt which is not what my generation needs."

"I'm worried about the long-term impact the project could have on the city. There has been no investigation in to the effect of building another theatre on our existing arts venues. I fail to see real evidence on how over 8000 jobs are going to be created by replacing a park with a park, adding an extra floor to the Art Gallery and improving pedestrian routes in the city centre."

"The risk is just too high and I remain unconvinced by the business case. People in Aberdeen value public services and are already feeling the effect of £618m of debt. They don't need more worry caused by short-sighted economic plans centred around a park pushed only by the city's out-of-touch wealthy elite."



The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens will be organising a campaign party in Union Terrace Gardens tomorrow (Thursday 16th) at 12.50 pm. It will last about twenty minutes.

This will be an excellent photo opportunity and it will allow  the press to meet both the committee and the greater campaign group.  

The party has been launched to get our message over to Aberdeen residents on the day polling cards are expected to arrive through the letter box.

The message is that retaining Union Terrace Gardens is the yes vote for the city. We are fed up with the negativity of the opposition, who are telling the world that our city centre is a disgrace and that it isn’t good enough to attract tourists. We are a group that are immensely proud of our city with its beautiful granite buildings and leafy green parks. Aberdeen is a very special place and it is a privilege to live here. Union Terrace Gardens is part of our wonderful heritage   and we want to save it for the generations to come. 

Now with the help of Jimmy Milne’s proposed business fund to help restore the Gardens, we can embark on programme to tidy and clean up the park together with improvements such as new toilets and easier access. 

Retaining Union Terrace Gardens is the best for all in the city. We keep our heritage intact and we kick start the much-needed effort to tidy up our city centre. This is the sensible and affordable option


17th January 2012

Aberdeen City Youth Council, the official voice of young people in the city, has spoken out against the proposed development of Union Terrace Gardens, describing the plans as “unwanted” and “potentially devastating to young people”.

As a result, the group has registered to submit 300 words in the voter registration pack.

17 year-old office-bearer, Kenneth Watt, comments on the decision: “It’s not normal for the Youth Council to speak out against the Council like we are doing. However, the decisions made have the potential to be devastating to our generation, and generations to come and we are genuinely worried about the prospect of the City Gardens Project going ahead.”

The group also criticised the City Council in its involvement of young people in the decision-making process, after they discovered that only 113 young people from just two schools were consulted with. In the Youth Council’s own consultation 98% of 14-25 year-olds were in favour of retaining the Gardens.

The financial security of the City Gardens Project (CGP) concerns the Youth Council. The Aberdeen City Youth Council (ACYC) are worried by the lack of a plan to cover the possible failure of the risky Tax Increment Funding scheme. After multiple requests for detailed financial information from councillors on the monitoring board were ignored, the group became very apprehensive over the CGP’s feasibility. 

Kenneth Watt, an office-bearer in the ACYC says that “Young People have been hit hard by spending cuts to key services already; the prospect of facing more in the future is a risk the Council can’t afford to take.”

“Young people need to be listened to and have their questions answered. We’re the ones that will have to foot the bill when the £96million loan can’t be repaid.”

One of the main sufferers of cuts to public services has Aberdeen’s youth. Northfield has the highest rate of child poverty in the north-east of Scotland and the Council cannot commit to such a financially unstable project when they are closing key services to the youth in many areas.

“It is ridiculous for the Council to commit to a £96million loan when vital community services – such as the Mastrick Young People’s Project – are being cut left, right and centre.”

It was claimed that the CGP would reduce crime rates in the city, which young people are frequently blamed for. Both final designs for the CGP have direct access from Belmont Street and Union Street, home to many pubs and clubs. A £170million project of this nature will not cure the violence and crime that Aberdeen faces.

“Voters need to think seriously about the long-term aspect of the City Gardens Project and the financial burden it could easily leave for generations of Aberdonians to come.”

“Union Terrace Gardens is a space that is unique to our city. Our parents have loved the Gardens, we love the Gardens, and – if retained – our children will love the Gardens too.”



A referendum is being held for the people of Aberdeen to decide the fate of Union Terrace Gardens. The postal ballot is to be held in the last two weeks of February and the choice will be between retaining the Gardens and building the proposed City Garden Project.

The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens aim is to save Aberdeen’s city centre park from development and to help restore the park to its former glory. We are launching our referendum campaign today. It will focus on three main areas:

COST TO THE CITY:  The businessmen running the City Garden Project want Aberdeen Council to underwrite a £70 Million loan to fund the project through a tax scheme. The Council is £562 Million in debt (2010 figures) at a time when jobs and services are being cut. They should not be borrowing money for a project that is not going to create significant employment in the city or provide any amenities that we don’t already have. There is no clear business case for the City Garden Project and the expenditure cannot be justified

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT:  Both City Garden designs will involve felling most if not all of the 77 mature trees in the Garden. It would take decades to replace them as many of the big trees are up to 200 years old. They absorb the city centre traffic fumes and help to reduce the dangerously high levels of pollution in the nearby streets.

The technical feasibility study for the project gives an estimate that it will take almost two and a half years to build the proposed scheme. This will involve the movement of dump trucks, bulldozers and cranes causing traffic gridlock and increased pollution levels in the city.  Large volumes of rock will be removed from the site causing further problems. The technical study recognizes that - “this would have large environmental and social impacts on the local area and community surrounding the gardens.”

HERITAGE: Aberdeen is the Granite City, and our heritage gives Aberdonians a great sense of place and belonging. The look and feel of Aberdeen is under threat from the plans to replace Union Terrace Gardens with a “21st century contemporary garden”.  We believe that this would destroy the character of our city for ever, a scheme described by Annie Lennox as an act of civic vandalism.

If Union Terrace Gardens looks and feels as if it belongs in the city centre, it is because the architects that planned the park also designed many of the nearby buildings; the Art Gallery, the Cowdray Hall and the frontage of Marischal College.  Union Terrace Gardens is a key part of what makes Aberdeen the great city we live in.

Mike Shepherd, chairman of the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens said:

“Aberdeen should look like Aberdeen, and we urge the city to vote to save our heritage for our children and their grandchildren. We must allow future generations to share our pride in living in a unique city that looks like nowhere else. Union Terrace Gardens is the green heart of the Granite City. Without the gardens, Aberdeen would never be the same place again.”


The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens have today launched their campaign to win the referendum over the fate of the Aberdeen city-centre park.
Aberdeen city councillors are expected to approve the referendum at a council sub-committee meeting on the 15th November. The Scottish Government have recently stated that they will not lend money for the City Garden Project unless public support for it can be demonstrated. This would not be possible without a referendum.
The Friends campaign group provides the alternative to the £140M City Garden Project that would replace the Gardens. We propose to act with Aberdeen City Council to help restore the park back to its full glory, much as is intended for the city’s Duthie Park. We would raise funds to make simple but effective improvements such as toilets, access and a play park. We would also continue organising social events in the park as we have done since our group formed two years ago. In this way Union Terrace Gardens can become a fully functioning park again. We see this as a much more credible option to a City Garden Project that would require Aberdeen Council to borrow £70M.
We are presenting keeping and enhancing the Gardens as the yes vote.
- Yes to saving our trees, our green lung, our heritage.
- Yes to the calm oasis in the city centre.
- Yes to the sympathetic restoration of our much-loved park.
We will campaign to get three key messages across to the people of Aberdeen.
The Gardens are our heritage, built on Common Good land and built using Common Good money; a beautiful Victorian park surrounded by beautiful granite buildings.
They enhance the environment of our city centre with 78 mature trees in a dramatic setting that shows the surrounding cityscape to best advantage.
We can have a sympathetically restored Gardens that everybody can be proud of at a fraction of the cost of the £140M City Garden Project.
Our campaign slogan gives this message to the people of Aberdeen:
Yes we can save and enhance the Gardens.
Mike Shepherd, Chairman of the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens said “We will win this referendum. Aberdonians said yes to keeping the gardens in the consultation two years ago and they will say yes again. Keeping and restoring the Gardens is the sensible and popular option that doesn’t saddle Aberdeen Council with a £70M loan.”


The Scottish Government have just issued the following statement:
“Aberdeen City Council's plan to use TIF for Union Terrace Gardens project will be progressed if public support for the project can be demonstrated.”
The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens, who are campaigning to save the park, do not want the Scottish Government to loan Aberdeen Council £70M for the City Garden Project. If the business case for the project was not worthy of recommendation for inclusion as one of the three remaining TIF projects, why should it be considered worthy of a special additional case? This looks dubious.
It would be a trivial use of public funds to replace a publicly owned park with a privately owned park and there are much better ways in which this public money could be spent.  We call on Aberdeen City Council to refocus their TIF bid to the future real economic future of the City and Shire, for example the proposed Renewable Energy Centre, rather than this unpopular and unnecessary project.
We would point out that a public consultation was held on the matter two years ago, and the project was rejected with a significant minority. The Scottish Government funded the consultation and should be well aware that there is no public support for the City Garden Project.
It would also be irresponsible to lend Aberdeen Council such a large sum of money for 

 PRESS RELEASE: Friends of Union Terrace Gardens, Aberdeen.   November 6th 2011

  The Scottish Government announced last week that they would consider funding the highly-controversial Aberdeen City Garden project through Tax Incremental Financing (TIF):
“Aberdeen City Council's plan to use TIF for Union Terrace Gardens project will be progressed if public support for the project can be demonstrated.”
 However, there is no Scottish Government legislation in place to allow this to happen.
The Scottish Government are investigating Tax Incremental Finance as a means of funding regeneration projects in Scotland. The mechanism allows councils to borrow money from central funds and then pay back the loan by capturing the business rates created by the project.
A pilot scheme of six projects was set up, all of which have now been awarded to Scottish councils. Aberdeen City Council applied for one of the six schemes but was unsuccessful. The intention to progress Aberdeen’s application would be in addition to the existing legislation that set up the scheme. 

The legislation which permits TIF schemes in Scotland can be found here ...
A TIF project is defined as follows:

"a “TIF project” is a project approved by the Scottish Ministers in terms of the Tax Incremental Financing Administration Pilot Scheme set out by the Scottish Ministers on 5th November 2010, that is, a project which enables an authority to meet the costs of borrowing for construction and development works from the non-domestic rate income expected to result from the project."

On the Scottish Government website the 5/11/10 announcement related to no more than 6 TIF projects: “Ministers have stated that they are supportive of a maximum of six pilot projects to test applicability of TIF to Scottish circumstances.”

Given that all 6 TIF awards have been given to other projects, then there would need to be a change in the legislation if the Aberdeen TIF submission were to be able to proceed; otherwise, there is no lawful basis for it to go any further.
It is likely that the procedure to amend the existing legislation will not be straightforward. It would not be possible to add an extra clause to say "oh, and in addition to the 6 schemes, there will another scheme in Aberdeen". This would be discriminatory against other potential schemes in other areas; the only fair way to do it would be to have another competition between the competing TIF entries, i.e. a new stage of the pilot scheme.
This may happen, but it could mean that there will be major delays before the funding for the City Garden Project is realised, perhaps well into 2012.
Mike Shepherd, Chairman of the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens, said: “The Scottish Government cannot just suddenly decide to lend Aberdeen Council £70M because it feels like it. There is due process to be followed through to ensure value for money. Once they do this, they will find yet again that replacing a Victorian park with a new park is too trivial an outcome to warrant the use of scarce public funds.” 

 Friends of UTG press release; October 16th 2011

"Land expert Andy Wightman finds that Aberdeen City Garden Project currently has no legal basis and would require approval by a court session to allow it to proceed. Union Terrace Gardens lies on Common Good Land and a legal contract drawn up in 1872 (and still valid) binds Aberdeen City Council to maintain the land as a recreational park dedicated to public use"

Suggestions that the gardens will remain the same use and therefore not require approval by a court have of course been made by some local councillors. There is of course no definite answer from the council or other involved parties about what will be housed where the gardens are now and under our wonderful new "plaza". However suggestions such as a carpark, retail centre and a new "transport hub" have all allegedly been put forward by Aberdeen City Council. Recent FOI requests by FoUTG show that discussions regarding moving Central Library to "another central location, possibly inside a retail centre" have taken place.

It doesn't matter how hard we try we haven't been able to use UTG like a shopping centre or a carpark or a library. This leads us to believe that this probably can't be done.