Why did the Granite Web win the design competition?

Because it is an exceptional, world class design. The jury of the International Design Competition chose the winner from the two most popular designs from the shortlist on display at the public exhibition after additional design work and further technical review.

The winning design celebrates and reinterprets the topography of the city and the dramatic cascade of the Denburn Valley and existing gardens while creating graceful new spaces and structures with an iconic cultural arts space. The design provides double the park space and promotes the historic bridged streets, revealing the arches, vaults and bridge on Union Street and retaining the balustrades and statues, which are part of Aberdeen’s historic legacy. The new park offers far greater connectivity providing links between Union Terrace, Belmont Street, Union Street and Schoolhill with the potential to connect through to the Railway Station and the Green under Union Bridge.

After the first round of the competition, the design team reworked their scheme to make it even more compelling. Now, the design covers the railway and Denburn dual carriageway, the height of the left wing of the Butterfly was reduced to allow a clear vista across the park to His Majesty’s theatre and there was a general softening of the whole design. The pathways were simplified and widened to include casual seating areas and a connection under Union Bridge onwards to the railway station.

The winning design scored higher in all key areas of the brief including creation of more new space, cost and viability in construction and on-going maintenance, environmental sustainability and energy efficiency.


Who will own Aberdeen City Garden once it is complete?

The people of Aberdeen City will own this major civic amenity. The land will remain in the ownership of the City and Common Good Land will continue to be Common Good Land. Aberdeen City Council will determine the agreement for the terms of use of the land. Aberdeen City Garden Trust has been set up and is currently taking the project forward through the design and development phase and will discuss the terms of the use of the land at the appropriate stage once the outcome of the referendum is known.


What is Aberdeen City Gardens Trust?

Aberdeen City Gardens Trust has been set up as a special purpose vehicle to channel funding for the City Garden project and deliver key project activities. The Trust has received £400,000 from the Wood Family Trust and £375,000 from Scottish Enterprise from its available funds for major infrastructure projects and has been responsible for the contracting of the international design competition, the development of the business case and content development. The current directors of the Aberdeen City Garden Trust are Tom Smith, Colin Crosby and Lavina Massie this will be supplemented by further Directors and advisors from Aberdeen City Council as the project develops


How can you be confident that the project will cost £140m?

The budget of £140 million is based on a considerable amount of research. The Design Team have taken a number of steps to demonstrate greater cost certainty that the design proposals can be delivered within the £140m project budget. Firstly the Cost Management team has worked closely with the Design Team during the development of the design to ensure the estimate reflects the design intent for the project. Secondly, each component within the design, including the Arts Facility and Public Realm works have been benchmarked against other and similar projects to validate the pricing levels. Thirdly, as part of the Design Competition the cost estimate for the construction costs has been independently verified. Finally the construction cost estimate contains industry standard allowances for contingency, design risk and inflation. Despite the design being uniquely creative, the components of construction are based on tried and tested methods. The team is internationally recognised for work that utilises similar construction techniques and has deep experience of building in city centres and in heritage settings. The programme for design allows proper consideration of the risks at each stage and the team will be joined by experienced project and construction professionals, prior to building work.


How long will it take to build?

The construction phase will be studied in depth during the next stage. It may be possible to start certain works early or it may be decided after consultation to phase the project to reduce disruption. These decisions will be made properly after consideration of all of the construction risks and matters such as pre-fabrication and enabling works have been considered. We anticipate that the construction period will be 29 months. The Design Team have considerable knowledge of the local area and years of experience working within large city centre sites both in the UK and abroad. They have worked closely with Local Authorities, Council Departments, and local residents and stakeholders to address any areas of concern and to minimise potential impact during construction of the works to the surrounding area: Communication being key to their success.


What will the disruption be to the city centre during the construction programme?

The Aberdeen City Garden site is bounded at its upper level by Union Street, Union Terrace and Rosemount Viaduct and at lower level by Blackfriars Street. It would seem logical due to the topography of the existing site that vehicles will enter from the north of the site via Lower Denburn. This will dramatically limit any impact to traffic movement around the immediate city centre and surrounding area. As with the majority of large complex inner city developments, a recognised ‘just-in-time’ approach to the construction and delivery schedule will be used to reduce impact on the city centre surroundings.


How will it be paid for – can we afford it?

The £140m project cost will be paid for by private and corporate donations, of which 40% (£55 million) has already been committed with £15m to raise. The remainder of the funding will be sourced through a TIF (Tax Incremental Financing). Aberdeen City Council has agreed to submit a TIF business case to the Scottish Government for the City Centre Regeneration Scheme, which includes the City Garden Project, an extension to Aberdeen Art Gallery, redevelopment of St Nicholas House site and the North Denburn and the development of new public realm. TIF funding for these projects is dependent on the City Garden Project going ahead.

TIF brings new funds to the city. The City Council will take out a loan that will be repaid over 25 years through the business rates paid by new businesses in Aberdeen. Business rates normally go straight to the Scottish Government not the local Council, only a percentage is returned to the Council.

TIF will allow the Council to use all of the new business rates in a designated area ‘the red line area’ to pay off the loan rather than the money going directly to the Scottish Government as it currently does. This is the only opportunity to use the funds from new business rates directly on significant city centre regeneration projects. There will be no increase in taxes for residents or existing businesses in Aberdeen to fund the project. There are already TIF projects approved in Edinburgh and Glasgow.


Why do we not spend money on doing up Union Street?

TIF funding is only available for significant infrastructure and regeneration projects; it is not available for ongoing maintenance or repair. It cannot be used to fund core services such as schools, libraries, social and day care.


Would it not be cheaper just to clean up the Gardens?

Making an improvement to the current gardens would not have the same impact as the City Garden, which will bring new life to the city centre, attracting people and businesses back into Union Street and the surrounding area. It will also make the gardens accessible to the mobility impaired for the first time and generally increase accessibility, usability and security throughout the area.


Should the Council be spending money in these difficult times?

The City Garden Project will be funded entirely from donations and business rates collected from new businesses in Aberdeen. Neither the Council nor the council taxpayer will have to pay for it from existing funding sources.


What happens if TIF does not raise enough money, who pays then?

A prudent approach has been taken to the forecasts for the new business rates that will be generated to pay for the TIF scheme. The rate at which the City Council will draw down the borrowing should allow sufficient time for the new business rates to be accumulated, the early funding of the City Garden Project will be from the donations with the drawdown of public funding starting midway through the build programme.


Why not use the money to improve the Art Gallery or demolish St Nicholas House?

The redevelopment of St Nicholas House and the improvement of the Art Gallery is part of the overall TIF City Centre Regeneration Scheme. If the City Garden project does not go ahead then the TIF business case does not stack up and there will be no money available for the other city centre regeneration projects.


Who will pay for the upkeep?

The gardens will be run on a not for profit basis. All income will be put back into the running costs for ongoing upkeep and improvement of the gardens. The City Gardens will be able to generate income through activities held within the park; exhibitions, conferences and returns from coffee shops and restaurants. This income will be used to maintain the park ensuring that it is kept at a high quality standard. The City Gardens will remain in the ownership of the people of Aberdeen and will be managed by a trust who will carry out planned maintenance, manage events and reinvest income on a not for profit basis back into the Park.


Will there be green space and gardens?

There be will double the amount of green space in the City Garden compared to the current garden. . The gardens will be useable, accessible, diverse and taken out of the shadows.


What features of the existing gardens will be retained?

Retaining the heritage is a key element of the design. Many of the original features will be retained; Union Bridge will remain open to view, the vaulted arches under Union Terrace, Kelly’s cats, the balustrades and all of the statues will remain.


Will there be spaces where children can play?

There will be children’s facilities in the garden and within the culture and arts centre. An area of the garden has been identified as the Learning Garden, set up for educational activities and the lawn will provide open space for picnics and playing freely.


Will there be shops in the City Garden?

This is not a shopping mall; there will be limited space for retail within the culture and arts centre, similar to what you find in most museums or art galleries.


Will there be parking in the City Garden?

There will be no public parking in the City Garden. There will be 30 spaces for people working in the city garden and culture centre and there will also be a loading bay.


What will be in the culture and arts centre, who will run it, how will it be funded?

The culture and arts centre will have a modern theatre, which can seat up to 500 people, 4 exhibition galleries and a 5000-seated open-air auditorium, the Forum. It will be open to the public for exhibitions, demonstrations and performances. Local, national and international artists and groups will use it. It is anticipated that it will be run by a not for profit trust and funded from self-generated income, support from available cultural bodies and private contributions.


Does Aberdeen really need another art gallery or theatre?

Aberdeen is very fortunate to already have an excellent art gallery and a number of performing arts venues, all are traditional venues. “Vibrant Aberdeen” the strategy developed by the Cultural Forum for Aberdeen identifies a requirement to create new venues, and supports the creation of a contemporary arts centre which will complement and expand the capabilities of Aberdeen's existing culture organisations.


We have lots of arts centres already within Aberdeen will this pull away audiences from them?

The culture and arts centre will not compete with existing facilities, the programme of events and exhibitions will be different and complementary to that already found within Aberdeen’s arts centres.


How is the performance space in The Forum going to work in bad weather?

The overhead structure of The Furrow provides a permanent cover for The Forum’s stage area. ‘Tensile’ fabric canopies are proposed for the audience seating area, which would be deployed in advance of an event. These can be either stretched between fixed mounting points on the ground and overhead structures or take the form of a power operated fabric structure concealed within the overhead Furrow, like a car convertible roof. These canopies will protect the audience from rain and wind. The type of fabric and operating system will be determined at the detailed design stage.


What about the impact to the environment?

The new garden will be built to the highest environmental standards and aims to achieve the highest possible BREEAM rating. Covering the road and railway will reduce noise and pollution in the city centre, and the new garden will have more than twice the number of trees and green space.


What will happen to the wildlife?

A full environmental impact assessment will be completed as part of the planning process. The landscape architects will work with an ecologist to enhance the local ecology by using predominantly native species and designing the landscape to mimic the habitats of native fauna and support healthy habitats.


What will happen to the trees?

There are currently 86 trees in the garden; the new design contains at least double the number of trees. A full tree survey will be carried out to assess the health of the trees and identify those that will be able to remain in place. Species will then be selected suitable and appropriate to their location within the park. It is the intent of the design to keep as many of the trees as is practicable. Those that are removed will be repurposed on site.


Is it possible to plant large trees?

There is considerable experience of planting large trees in urban environments in Europe and the United States and much research has been conducted in recent times to understand how trees grow and thrive. There are a number of factors, aside from the choice of species, which contribute to success. Amongst these is employing good nursery practices in growing, preparing and transporting the trees. For Aberdeen’s City Garden every tree will be individually inspected in the nursery by the landscape architect to ensure that it is healthy and has good form. A second factor for success is the formation of optimum conditions for sustained healthy growth. A common misconception is that all trees require a depth of soil similar to its height. The vast majority of trees have roots within the uppermost metre of soil. For each tree planted in Aberdeen's City Garden a suitable volume, composition and structure of soil will be provided, together with long-term state-of-the-art maintenance practices, to ensure it will thrive.

These considerations have guided the work of the project’s landscape architects in their over thirty years experience of making landscapes over buildings. One example is the Canary Wharf project in London where more than 500 trees were planted, many over 12 metres high and some up to 14 metres in height which, when mature, will reach heights of 20 metres or more. Over twenty years later they continue to thrive and provide an oasis of green in an intensively urban environment. It is the anticipated that large trees of similar scale to Canary Wharf will be used in the Garden.


Is this a business led scheme for business people to make money from?

This is entirely for the people of Aberdeen and visitors to the city. The gardens will continue to be owned by the people of Aberdeen and not by businesses. This is not a commercial development. It is not a shopping centre or car park. It is a garden and cultural and civic asset for all the people of Aberdeen to use and enjoy.


How will it benefit the people of Aberdeen?

It will give the people of Aberdeen an accessible and varied green space in the city centre, somewhere that they can sit, relax and enjoy the open space and the surrounding city buildings. It will double the amount of park space allowing more people than ever to enjoy it.

It will allow people to move through the city more easily than they can at the moment. It will give the city a vibrant heart.

It will give the people of Aberdeen a contemporary cultural and arts centre that will increase Aberdeen's ability to attract and produce world-class cultural events, something that they do not have at the moment. It will provide the culture centre without sacrificing public, accessible open space. It will provide new civic spaces and places of gathering. It will bring new world-class architecture unique to Aberdeen without compromising the heritage elements.

It will significantly increase the attractiveness of the city encouraging businesses and individuals to locate here. It will ensure that Aberdeen keeps up with the rest of the world and is not left behind.

The City Garden Project will secure £182m investment in the Aberdeen City Centre Regeneration scheme, which will attract 6,500 new jobs and contribute £122m into the economy.


Will it be accessible to all?

Accessible space is almost double with the new design; 95% of the gardens will have open access. The garden has been designed to specifically take into account the needs of all, the publicly accessible paths will be shallow to a gradient less than 1:20 and designed to conform to good practice recommendations. Long routes will be interspersed with informal seating and resting places, where people can sit and take in views across the garden.


Are there transport linkages?

The pathways across the gardens are arranged to connect with existing streets and a new access point into Belmont Street and on to Union Bridge, which will make it easier to move from one area of the city centre to another. It will be easy to enter the gardens from bus stops in Union Terrace and Union Street, walking straight into the gardens at street level. Within the design there is the potential to link directly with the Railway station and onto the bus station under Union Bridge.


Are the pathways safe?

The designers Diller, Scofidio + Renfro have previous experience of designing and building gardens with pathways and bridges. They use a variety of materials and surfaces, planting and seating to create a safe and secure environment to be used by many people. Balustrades and public safety features will be built in to the design and will meet all current Building Control Standards and HSE Regulations. A range of Balustrade designs will be considered at the detailed design stage. Where appropriate, guardrails will exceed required heights. The City Gardens will comply with all building standards including the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). Gradients for all publicly accessible paths will be compliant and resting places will mitigate long routes.


Will it be safe at night?

The park will be well lit, with clear open pathways and activities both inside and outdoors. It will attract more people into the space, making it safer with less opportunity for crime. The designers will also work with the police and other stakeholders to design and provide a safe and secure environment.


Do you have permission to build over the Denburn Valley Road and Railway?

The City Garden Project implementation team held early and very positive discussions with Network Rail and other key organisations integral to the development of the site. These discussions have all been very encouraging. There is no indication that anything would impede completion of construction by 2017. More in-depth negotiations with Network Rail and others will commence in earnest as the project proceeds to the detailed planning stage.


How many new buildings will be constructed in the Gardens?

The design brief was clear that there were to be no intrusive buildings in the design in order to retain the vista. The design team have responded well to this and provided one enclosed building in their design, which is the cultural centre, located within the garden under the Butterfly. This is the only enclosed building in the garden and exists almost entirely below the surface level to minimise the impact across the site.


How does this meet Planning objectives and what is the next step to obtaining planning permission?

The design and use meet the City’s Urban Realm Strategy and the City Centre’s Development Framework i.e. the blueprints for the City Centre. The City Garden project provides a unique opportunity to deliver many of these Planning aspirations. The next stage will be to carry out detailed designs and submit a Planning Application. This will be a significant application supported by various studies including an Environmental Impact Assessment. As with all large scale planning applications, under statute the public will be consulted during the planning process have the usual statutory rights to make representations and comment on the detailed design.