With the Council calendar up and running for 2018, we have entered the New Year with ambition and determination to continue the great progress being made in Aberdeen.
January is always a time for reflection as well as for looking forward to the year ahead and it is a good opportunity to note the achievements of 2017.
In January the Council had the honour of opening the London Stock Exchange, putting the city on a global platform and celebrating the success of the £370million bond issue weeks earlier. A number of awards followed in the spring and summer in recognition of the innovation in public sector finance, something which will be vital as we attempt to meet the severe funding challenges we face.
Closer to home, a new education centre was opened at Duthie Park and The Hub, a multi-million pound development, opened its doors in Middlefield to get the year off to a positive start in our communities.
In February the £5m extension at Greenbrae School in Bridge of Don welcomed its first pupils. Soon after, the first turf was cut at the new £13m Stoneywood School, which will open in 2018, and so too will the £46m Lochside Academy on the south side of the city. Combined with the 2017 opening of the £18m Orchard Brae, the investment in the school estate underlines the commitment we have to Aberdeen’s next generation.
It is not solely about finance, with innovation also crucial. Orchard Brae is a tremendous example of that – the first of its kind in Scotland and a centre of excellence for best practice in supporting pupils with additional support needs from across Aberdeen.
The first quarter of 2017 also saw the roll-out of a radical change in the city’s waste and recycling collections, a cornerstone of major changes which included the completion of the £27m materials recycling facility at Altens in the past year. Plans for the £150m Energy From Waste plant moved forward with our partners and a new fleet of vehicles also took to the roads after a seven-figure investment.
In February, SPECTRA lit up Aberdeen as the festival of light once again captured the imagination and marked the start of a spectacular programme of events which brought new attractions such as Nuart Aberdeen, Tour Series cycling and the Great Aberdeen Run to the city – drawing local residents out and attracting visitors from far and near. The cultural benefits are huge and the economic advantages significant, giving great impetus to the continued development of Aberdeen’s place as a global destination.
The new £4.3million adult day care centre at Rosehill opened in March, fittingly named in honour of Len Ironside, and the £3.2m Broad Street project began. That work will conclude in 2018 and will be another very visible piece of the City Centre Masterplan slotting into place.
On a community level, and equally important, extensive upgrades to play parks throughout the city took place as a comprehensive programme was rolled out.
The local government elections in May were a busy time for councillors and the Council staff responsible for their smooth running, with staff swinging back into action in June to organise the General Election operation locally.
Of course Council business continued throughout and in June the first residents of a major new development of council housing moved in, the initial phase of a 99 property development at Smithfield which will be completed in 2018 and a further 80 homes at nearby Manor Walk also under construction. These sites are on top of an ambitious goal of delivering 1,000 affordable homes and 1,000 private development homes, with the potential for a further 1,000 homes, through Aberdeen City Council’s partnership with Places for People.
In July Aberdeen’s first Cruyff Court was opened by Denis Law – with the football legend and charity ambassador back in the city in November to be honoured with the Freedom of the City, so richly deserved and warmly received by the public of his home city who came out to share the occasion with Denis. The Cruyff Court Denis Law is a fantastic facility and just part of the legacy our most famous footballing son has provided for Aberdeen.
In September the Council pledged £1m of funding to the Aberdeen Science Centre, part of a £4.3 redevelopment, and the autumn also brought preparatory work for two important but very different projects – the Berryden Corridor and Union Terrace Gardens. Both will move forward in the year ahead, continuing to shape our city.
The first anniversary of the £826million City Region Deal was marked in the winter of 2017, with several positive developments through the course of the year – not least the launch of the innovative and ambitious Oil and Gas Technology Centre, a key CRD project.
In recent months the Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme for Union Street was also launched, providing up to £2million to help restore the street to its former glory. Following a deep clean in the summer, as part of Operation Union Street Rejuvenation, there’s a real desire amongst the Council and fellow stakeholders to drive forward.
In between there have been other occasions for the city to mark, including the 125th anniversary of the iconic Aberdeen Central Library. There was also recognition in 2017 for the safety of Aberdeen’s buoyant night-time scene with Purple Flag accreditation and the standard of beaches in the Scottish Beach Awards, not to mention parks and greenspaces through the Britain and Bloom and Beautiful Scotland awards. The reopening of Pets Corner at Hazlehead Park after a revamp brought record visitor numbers over the summer months.
On a very different note, Britain’s first hydrogen taxi was unveiled in Aberdeen as part of the Council’s pioneering approach to emerging technology.
In October, Andy Scott’s impressive sculpture Poised was unveiled as part of the phased opening of Marischal Square – with major new tenants signing up throughout 2017 and preparing to open in 2018, following the completion of the development on Broad Street in recent months.
In 2018 work will continue apace on the site of the new £333m Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre – where there were significant milestones over the past 12-months, including the installation of Europe’s largest fuel cell and the impressive sight of the structure taking place as well as the appointment of SMG as operators to herald a new international approach.
With the £30m redevelopment of the Aberdeen Art Gallery also ongoing, following the frustration of the extended construction programme, the face of the city is changing in a way that we have not experienced in our lifetime.
As an organisation we are changing too, with four new directors to take up their posts early this year to lead the transformation and realise the vision to create the Council of the future.
The opening of the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, progress with Aberdeen City Region Deal Projects and a whole host of exciting developments for 2018 are just some of the reasons we move into the New Year with such optimism.
Of course there are huge challenges ahead, with our funding contracting and enormous financial pressures which will force very difficult choices. As a Council and a city we’ll face those with the same resilience and ambition that led us through a very successful 2017.
Cllr Jenny Laing