(Above) Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen
One of North-East Scotland’s most important contemporary arts centre is facing an uncertain future after failing to convince councillors to back a £13 million building scheme.
Aberdeen City Council voted against Peacock Visual Arts’ blueprint for the city’s Union Terrace Gardens, which had already won full planning permission and 75% of the funding for a proposed new home also accommodating Citymoves Dance Space and the council’s arts development and education.
The Peacock's design had secured more than £9 million in funding. Image © brisacgonzalez.com
Project director Elly Rothnie, who had persuaded the Scottish Arts Council to pledge £4 million towards the designs by architects Brisac Gonzalez, was made redundant following the decision to favour businessman Sir Ian Wood’s £140 million City Square proposal.
“We are clearly devastated that after working for nearly five years to provide a major new cultural facility for the city, the plans for the stunning Brisac Gonzalez scheme for the Gardens must now be abandoned,” she said, acknowledging “severe implications” for the organisation.
“I was taken on to deliver the new arts centre for Union Terrace Gardens, and following Aberdeen City Council's decision my position can no longer be retained.
"I want to thank my colleagues at Peacock for being so supportive throughout my time here on what has been an incredible journey.”
The plan was first outlined ten years ago. Image © brisacgonzalez.com
Rothnie said the board would “do its utmost” to secure the future of the 36-year-old centre, operating from 18th century buildings overlooking the Gardens.
Financial planning body the Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future backed the City Square project, but the council vote – reached during a seven-hour debate – stipulated that the “green oasis” of gardens should provide at least £15 million for a new “cultural centre” run by Peacock.
“We appreciate that those in opposition to the scheme will be dismayed by the outcome but we hope that we can still all work together to secure a prosperous future for the next generation and gardens which everyone can be proud of,” ACSEF Chairman Tom Smith told Aberdeen’s Press and Journal, calling for an end to a dispute which has divided the region.
City Square was backed by the City Council. Image © thecitysquareproject.com
“Peacock is in a vulnerable position and ACSEF and its partners aim to sit down with them as soon as possible to discuss how we can help them ensure the viability of their organisation and protect their funding.
“We remain convinced that an iconic contemporary arts centre should be an integral part of the bigger scheme and we hope they can now become involved in this going forward.”
A public consultation carried out by Peacock as part of the scheme found 55% of residents opposed the City Square plan, with 44% supporting the visual arts centre proposal.
The organisation also claimed Sir Ian had threatened to withdraw his personal investment of £50 million in the City Square designs if Peacock’s scheme was not rejected.
Businessman Sir Ian Wood will provide £50 million in personal funding for the scheme. Image © thecitysquare project.com
A protest group, I Heart Union Terrace Gardens, has held a number of public picnics and demonstrations, accusing the Council of putting the Gardens “at great risk of being destroyed and replaced with a multilayer construction of concrete topped up with toupee of grass”.
They said the Council had overlooked the wishes of 10,000 people who signed a petition supporting the arts centre plan, preferring a “crass, vague and arrogant plan backed by rich and patronising businessmen”.
Council Chief Executive Sue Bruce argued that the scheme would “give the people of Aberdeen the civic space they want”.
“The City Council has made the significant decision to approve Sir Ian's very generous offer and move on to an international design competition for Union Terrace Gardens,” she announced.
“Today's decision is a major step forward and a clear signal of our commitment to enhance the wider city centre while respecting its unique heritage and character.”
Watch Elly Rothnie talk about the scheme and the future for Peacock Visual Arts:
Hear Sir Ian Wood’s outline of the City Square plan: