Oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood has expressed regret that Aberdeen didn’t benefit more from the North Sea oil boom.
The billionaire former chairman of Wood Group also said that the city council’s decision to reject his controversial £50 million plan for the refurbishment of Aberdeen’s Union Terrace Gardens five years ago was a “tragedy”.
Singer Annie Lennox was a vocal opponent of Wood’s plans to transform the gardens in 2009. The scheme was backed by then first minister Alex Salmond but finally abandoned in 2014.
Sir Ian said “Even with a degree of foresight, it’s very difficult to handle rapid growth and keep control of a boom economy.
“With hindsight we might have tried to do more, but we had full employment and good prosperity.
“The problem is that oil and gas did not produce a lot of revenue for our local authorities and therefore there hasn’t been as much favourable infrastructure and new projects in the city as might have been expected.
“Frankly that simply accentuates the tragedy of failing to do the major Union Terrace Gardens City Centre refurbishment 5 years ago, which would have cost our local authorities very little and completely rejuvenated our city centre. “It would have been another transformational project.”
Sir Ian initially offered to invest £50 million to transform Union Terrace Gardens 2009. He also sought matching funding from the private and public sectors.
His original blueprint planned to raise the sunken gardens level with the city’s main thoroughfare Union Street, to create a large pedestrianised square.
London-based former Eurythmics star Annie Lennox, who was born in Aberdeen, described the plan as architectural “vandalism”.
It was initially rejected in a public consultation in 2010 but two years later the plans were backed in a city referendum, before being thrown out by councillors in 2012.
Sir Ian offered to fund the refurbishment again in 2013, but the scheme was again rejected by the city council.
The former chairman of oil services firm Wood Group has pumped more than £60 million of his family’s fortune into Opportunity North East, the economic development body he founded to generate business in and around Aberdeen.
His charitable foundation also gifted £10.7 million to build a car park at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, which is free to patients and visitors.
He said projects currently underway, including the construction of a new £330 million Exhibition and Conference Centre and the £350 million expansion of the city’s harbour were evidence of a resurgence in investment in Aberdeen.
Sir Ian, who was speaking to the Sunday Times Scotland, first warned of the dangers of failing to capitalise on the oil boom to expand the north east economy as far back as the early eighties.
He said: “We were all aware that as the oil and gas grew, our traditional industries, fishing, agriculture and tourism, suffered.
“But virtually everyone in the city got some benefit from North Sea oil. Indeed, the whole of the UK got significant benefit from North Sea oil and the changes of the Thatcher era were achieved by North Sea oil revenues.”
Income from North Sea oil accounted for around 10% of Treasury revenues during the mid 1980s.
Sir Ian added: “Aberdeen has now definitely woken up to the challenge of North Sea depletion in the medium term.
“We’ve established a major new international Oil and Gas Technology Centre and there’s a huge focus on the traditional industries to support their recovery and growth.”