Private Eye Articles

Private Eye magazine have published a number of sympathetic articles about Union Terrace Gardens and the controversy surrounding it. They are an independent publication and do not indulge in misplaced loyalty to local businessmen in return for advertising profits. Friends of UTG thank them for this and have provided some of the articles below.

Piloti, the Architectural Correspondent of Private Eye, believed to be Prof. Gavin Stamp, describes the ACSEF proposal for Union Terrace Gardens as follows (Eye 19th March 2010):

"Sometimes projects to improve our cities are so insanely destructive that it is hard to take them seriously.   But one must in Aberdeen.   That great and beautiful grey granite city so far to the north has many assets, one of which it shares with Edinburgh: a green valley right in the heart of the city.   The Denburn Valley was first landscaped and given to the people of Aberdeen in 1877 and is now known as Union Terrace Gardens.   As with Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, this sunken park is enhanced, not marred, by the railway at the bottom.   Union Terrace Gardens remains a great civic amenity, overlooked by the Art Gallery and Archibald Simpson's Triple Kirks and other impressive buildings.

 A year or so back I discussed the proposal by Peacock Visual Arts to create a Centre in the Gardens, designed by Brisac Gonzales, which would slice its accommodation into the west side of the Valley.   Although this would retain most of the Gardens, it didn't seem a good idea.   But my advice was ignored and the Peacock proposal has received planning permission and secured 75% of its funding, partly from the Scottish Arts Council.

 The Peacock proposal has now been superseded, however, by a much grander scheme for Union Terrace Gardens - to get rid of them altogether.   The Aberdeen-born oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood, has offered Aberdeen £50 million to create a City Square on the site.   This involves filling in the Denburn Valley.   Instead of a public park in a valley, there will be a flat urban space larger than Red Square in Moscow, but rather more twee: an arbitrarily landscaped plaza at the level of the surrounding streets, with clumps of trees and glazed skylights illuminating the several floors of leisure and commercial space which will be crammed in underneath.

 Sir Ian Wood says that what he proposes will be "a cross between a grand Italian piazza and a mini Central Park", i.e., something completely alien to the special character of Aberdeen.   He also thinks the centre of Aberdeen is shabby and needs regeneration, that is, yet another new shopping centre.   In fact, what Union Street, that early 19th Century straight mile of elegant granite buildings, really needs is tidying up, and the more horrible recent commercial interventions need replacing altogether.

 Sir Ian Wood is posing as a public benefactor, but he requires his £50 million donation to be matched by the city and a further £40 million has to be found to meet the total estimated cost of £140 million.   Why Aberdeen City Council is even considering this scheme is hard to understand as the city is near-bankrupt, laying off staff and cancelling socially valuable projects.   A "public consultation" has just ended, but this was scarcely real as the Peacock proposal was excluded from consideration on the grounds that it already has planning permission.

 Union Terrace Gardens will not be raised up to create the City Square but instead destroyed.   Among much else, some 78 mature trees will be removed and properties on Belmont Street will be compulsorily purchased and demolished.   For the City Council to support this is not so much civic insanity as civic suicide.

 The Battle of Union Terrace Gardens is being presented as a choice between ACSEF's City Square and the Peacock proposal.   But why?   There is a more sensible alternative: leave Union Terrace Gardens alone.   It is a civic asset most other cities would be delighted to possess."