What does the Marischal Square development mean for Aberdeen?
The Marischal Square development has been in the news again recently, during a debate in the Scottish Parliament, with an MSP calling the plans “about as popular as a visit by King Herod to the Bethlehem nursery” – but what actually are the pros and cons of the redevelopment?
Called by SNP Aberdeen Central MSP Kevin Stewart, the member’s debate came after fears that the aspect of historic Marischal College will be ruined by the development, which will stand on the site of the recently demolished and little loved St Nicholas House. There has been considerable disquiet expressed by the citizens of Aberdeen that one hideous carbuncle is to be replaced by an array of even more grotesque buildings – an affront to the elegance and dignity of Marischal College. Some of us, doubtless bitter and twisted by continuous exposure to the malevolent decisions of our elected civic representatives over the years, have come to the conclusion that what is about to befall the city will be little short of an environmental eyesore. The justification is, as always, pecuniary – we are going to be quids in! Aye, well, we shall see.
The plans include two office buildings, a hotel, seven restaurants and bars. There will also be a modern civic space around a refreshed Provost Skene’s House and a new area of public space between Marischal College and the new development.
So far, two of the restaurant spaces have been filled by All Bar One and Burger & Lobster, while Marriott has committed to operate a 126-bedroom, 4-star Residence Inn.
The £107m regeneration plans by Muse, funded by Aviva Investors, are currently underway, with the 116-week construction programme running on-time and the development set to open in summer 2017.
According to a Muse spokesperson, it will be early into 2016 before the public in Aberdeen will be able to see the granite, concrete and steelwork rising out of the ground as part of the ‘world class project’.
Aberdeen City Council says that the plans for the building – formerly occupied by the council – will act as a catalyst for regeneration within Aberdeen and is part of its city centre masterplan.
However, these plans have come under scrutiny for several reasons – as well as the blocked view of the college, it was recently revealed that despite Aberdeen being known as the Granite City, the granite for the project will be imported from China.
Opponents also fear council taxpayers could foot a bill for millions of pounds in the event of the complex being under occupied – with an agreement in place that £175m would be guaranteed to Aviva shareholders over 35 years – but the council has warned that the cost would be higher if the project is cancelled, going so far as saying that it would ‘bankrupt the city’.
So, what do the plans mean overall for Aberdeen?
If all goes to plan and the development is fully filled, the project could be, as Aberdeen City Council’s finance convener, Councillor Willie Young said, a good way to protect frontline services in Aberdeen for years to come.
However, there are, as with all big developments, several areas of risk that will need to be overcome for the development to be a success.
What’s your view on the Marischal Square development?