Public votes 'yes' for £140m City Garden Project
Aberdeen residents vote in favour of transformation of Union Terrace Gardens by majority of just over 4000.
Aberdeen residents have voted in favour of the contentious plans to overhaul the heart of the city.
More than 85,000 people voted in the public referendum over the £140m City Garden Project.
The announcement in favour of transforming Union Terrace Gardens was made after the postal votes were counted at the city's Beach Ballroom on Friday.
Around 165,000 voting packs were sent out across the city in the middle of February ahead of the launch of the public referendum.
More than half of eligible residents voted, with nearly 50,000 postal votes being returned to Aberdeen City Council.
A further 28,000 voted online, with 16,000 of those opting for the City Garden Project.
The 9000-strong phone vote came in closer, with 5000 people voting "yes", while 4000 said they wanted to retain the gardens as they are.
Dozens of people used more than one method to vote, organisers said.
Crawford Langley, independent counting officer, said he was confident "in the vast majority of cases the intention was innocent".
Sir Ian Wood, who kickstarted the City Garden Project, pledged £200,000 towards the cost of the referendum.
Mike Shepherd, chairman of opposition group Friends of Union Terrace Gardens, said: "It is not a clear result. We will hold an emergency general meeting to discuss the next step."
Aberdeen city councillor Jennifer Stewart said: "I have a heavy heart.
"I don't think it's an overwhelming majority to make the decision which is now being proposed."
Fellow councillor Willie Young said: "It is very close and it will be up to the Scottish Government if they accept that as a clear majority. Still a long way to go."
Aberdeen Central MSP Kevin Stewart said: "The referendum was the best way to settle this hotly contested debate when both sides had such strong views.
"Although, the referendum is not legally binding it is certainly morally binding. Elected members need to accept that Aberdeen has made its decision and all efforts should now be made to progress what Aberdonians have asked for."
Ian Armstrong, regional director of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, said: "The courage and vision of the people of Aberdeen marks a significant and important step towards the regeneration and revitalisation of Aberdeen city centre.
"SCDI members consistently tell us that a strong and vibrant heart to the city is an essential catalyst for retaining and attracting new investment into the region and the voters should be commended for recognising this and embracing the need for radical change."
Now the proposal has been backed by residents, officials will start work on making the plan a reality.
Funding is expected to come from both the private sector and a new scheme being trialed by the government.
Nearly two-thirds of the funding will be in the form of a £92m loan from the Scottish Government, which will be repaid through business rates retained by the local authority.
Sir Ian Wood has pledged £50m towards the cost and another £20m is expected from the private sector.
The tax incremental finance (TIF) scheme will pay for five projects, including the City Gardens Project. The money will also be used to redevelop St Nicholas House, create business space in the Denburn Valley, add an extension to Aberdeen Art Gallery and create a city centre walking route.
The TIF scheme allows Aberdeen City Council to retain business rates, rather than give them to central government, and then use that money to pay off the up-front loan.
Alex Neil, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, said: "It was right in the circumstances for the Scottish Government to ask for a demonstration of public support for this project before considering the case for using Tax Incremental Finance for funding.
"That support has now been demonstrated and it is up to Aberdeen City Council to work with Scottish Futures Trust to finalise the business case in accordance with the process we have outlined, before coming to ministers to seek final approval to use TIF."