A top north-east oil boss says he is so embarrassed by the state of Aberdeen’s Union Street that he refuses to take visiting executives into the city centre.
Leo Koot, managing director of TAQA Bratani – the UK division of the Abu Dhabi national energy company – has criticised the Granite City for falling short of other leading European destinations.
He warned that without a change in culture, the city could become a “ghost town” within 20 years.
The Dutchman, who has transformed TAQA into a major North Sea player in just two years, is backing Sir Ian Wood’s £140million vision of building a street-level square over the Union Terrace gardens and the Denburn dual carriageway.
“I think Union Street is not at all representative of what Aberdeen City and Shire has to offer,” he said.
“Any other mature city in Europe the size or importance of Aberdeen has a beautiful pedestrianised inner city with no buses going through the centre, proper parking spaces and good-quality shops, not mobile phone outlets. It is embarrassing.
“I don’t take important people from Abu Dhabi into Aberdeen city. I take them out into the countryside.
“The new Union Square is a step in the right direction but Union Street needs to be opened up.
“Sir Ian Wood’s attempt to kick-start the process is admirable and I would recommend the city quickly gets a move on. TAQA has a ‘can-do’ attitude and that is what is needed here.
“They must get away from the culture of debate to a culture of ‘let’s go and fix it’. “Aberdeen needs to take action now. You don’t want to see Aberdeen in 20 years as a ghost town.
“Scotland is rich in good entrepreneurs and we really need to create an environment in which they are stimulated and motivated to continue to develop new technology for the energy sector and make sure these people stay in Aberdeen.”
Aberdeen Central MSP Lewis Macdonald said the comments were “harsh”, but agreed the city centre needed new life injected into it.
Chairman of the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens campaign group, Mike Shepherd, said it was a “bit of an exaggeration” to say the city centre was embarrassing and that the City Gardens project would be the “kiss of death”.
However, Tom Smith, chairman of development body Acsef, which is behind Sir Ian’s City Gardens plan, said Mr Koot’s comments underlined why the project must go ahead.
“Leo’s comments will resonate with every business in Aberdeen City and Shire which struggles to attract and retain people or put forward a compelling case for remaining in this region,” he said. “Aberdeen City and Shire is recognised for its pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit.
“However, in recent times with opposition to the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, Donald Trump and now the City Gardens project we are in danger of losing that reputation.
“We must regain our can-do, enterprising attitude which has seen us become Europe’s oil capital and strive to become a world energy city to secure our long-term future.”