Troubled Union Terrace Gardens facelift had been due to be complete by Balfour Beatty in 2021

LDA Design’s troubled £28m refurbishment of Aberdeen’s historic Union Terrace Gardens has finally opened - without grass.

Work on the sunken city centre park was due to complete in 2021 but has been beset by a number of delays caused partly by the pandemic and supply chain issues. 

Fences surrounding the 2.5 acre site have now been removed allowing visitors inside for the first time since the scheme started in 2019.

But the central lawn remains unfinished due to anticipated cold weather and rain. It will be turfed over after the city’s Festival of Light in February, parts of which will take place in the park.

A previous ‘soft opening’ of a section of the park had been pencilled in for April last year but was cancelled on the morning of the same day on advice from main contractor Balfour Beatty.

The project team also includes Ashlea Landscapes, Arup, Stallan Brand, Ryden, and McLeod and Aitken.

The facelift includes three new pavilions designed to house cafes, restaurants or arts spaces, new wheelchair-friendly routes and a restored “grand staircase”.

There is also a new play area for children, a new water feature, and some Victorian arches and toilets in the park have been given a sprucing up.

The park was opened in 1878 when the council earmarked space occupying a small river valley next to a railway viaduct as a pleasure ground.

It is surrounded by some of the city’s finest buildings, including the 1,400-seat His Majesty’s Theatre, opened in 1906, and the remaining spire of the Triple Kirks church complex.

Redevelopment plans date back to 2007, when they were first backed by the council, with a £13m visual arts building designed by Brisac Gonzales given the go ahead the following year.

This was canned in 2009 after local oil magnate Ian Wood stepped forward with more ambitious proposals.

After an international design contest featuring Foster & Partners, Gareth Hoskins, Niall McLaughlin and Mecanoo, Diller Scofidio & Renfro was appointed to create a £140m “granite web” that would have raised the gardens to street level.

The proposal sparked a huge storm among residents of the granite city, with Aberdeen-born singer Annie Lennox dubbing it “another dog’s dinner of crap concrete development, ravaging the only authentic, historical green space in the city centre”.

It was narrowly backed by the public in a referendum but eventually dropped after a knife-edge vote by the planning committee in 2012.

LDA Design’s more modest plans secured approval in 2018, with work starting two years later.

But the current scheme has seen its fair share of controversy, with the council launching an investigation in 2021 after it emerged that granite slab steps from the gardens had been found piled up in a residential back garden.

Planning permission for the work included a condition that all original granite from the site had to be reused there.