Union Street in the '50s
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of entertaining visitors from Aberdeen. They'd lived there all their lives and we enjoyed recalling the pre-oil days in the 1950s when a bustling Union Street was a definite competitor to Edinburgh's Princes Street for the accolade of the most attractive city street in Scotland.
As a wee girl I used to spend my school summer holidays near Aberdeen with my grandmother's sister. Every year, without fail, we would walk the mile to the A90 and pick up the bus to Aberdeen for a 'day out'. The planning involved ensuring my best frock was perfectly ironed, shoes shined, hair so clean it squeaked and a few prayers for dry weather. I don't recall it ever raining during our annual adventure but I suspect it did at times.
What I do recall is the majesty of Union Street and the way in which the whole city appeared to glisten in the sunlight. A far cry from the industrially blackened buildings of my home town of Dundee.
Over the years I've had close association with Aberdeen and in the 70s, along with the rest of the population, I rejoiced when oil was discovered in the North Sea. Since the 1950s one of Aberdeen's main industries, fishing, had been slowly in decline and people were assured by the city's then 'great and good' that the new oil industry would replenish the city's coffers and ensure that the city would be one of the most prosperous in Europe.
Today it is prosperous, but the tragedy is that to a first-time visitor, it's 1950s splendour has vanished. Shortly after oil was discovered, the city planners decided it would be a grand idea to build a shopping centre right across Union Street - thus cutting in half one of the most attractive streets in Scotland. Over the years the city centre has been reduced to a dull and shabby environment with Union Street currently showing more empty commercial premises than going concerns.
My friends were delighted that recently a referendum about the redesign of Union Terrace Gardens (viewable from Union Street) had resulted in a yes vote. They were hopeful such a project would kick start a city centre regeneration and just maybe shame the toon cooncillors into building the much needed city by-pass too. Over the years so much money has been frittered away by generations of councillors and their silly decisions and the Union Terrace project gave hope for the future.
But alas, it's not to be. My friend telephoned last night and was raging at the decision of the council to cancel the project. "We're back to square one," she wailed and I could do nothing but agree. The garden project would have cost £140 million, half of which would have been met by private enterprise.
Yesterday's decision by Aberdeen councillors shows a distinct disregard for the people of Aberdeen and democracy. No matter how narrow the referendum result was the people voted yes for the project and most accepted the outcome.
The leader of the Labour group of Aberdeen council said: "the council now faced a major job of rebuilding relationships." Rebuilding? Relationships have now been demolished and the foundations poisoned. It will take decades for any resident to have trust in their council.
The decision has wider implications though. If councillors can overturn the result of a well-run referendum, did democracy in Scotland die too?