Marischal Square Planning Representation - Full Text

Below is the full text of our submission on the Muse Planning Application for Marischal Square should you be interested to see what arguements we made:



 Aberdeen Civic Society 

Comments on Marischal Square Development, Broad Street, Aberdeen 


The committee of Aberdeen Civic Society has studied the proposals for the re-development of St Nicholas House by MUSE under planning application number 140698.

Below is the full text of our submission on the Muse Planning Application for Marischal Square should you be interested to see what arguements we made:



 Aberdeen Civic Society 

Comments on Marischal Square Development, Broad Street, Aberdeen 


The committee of Aberdeen Civic Society has studied the proposals for the re-development of St Nicholas House by MUSE under planning application number 140698. 


The Civic Society is disappointed with the proposals for the site, which sits in one of the most important and prominent parts of the city. Other cities in the UK seem to have an ability to add value and to build on existing heritage, but in Aberdeen we seem to struggle despite having inherited from previous generations some of the most beautiful buildings in the world that are built with the most wonderful materials in the world. 


Aberdeen City Council made a great job of bringing back into use Marischal College; and this is an example of what can be achieved should there be a desire. However, the proposals for the re-development of the St Nicholas House site are, sadly, a different story. The council retains an involvement with the MUSE proposals for the re-development of St Nicholas House as owner of the site. It is therefore a key player in determining what happens to it. Unfortunately it appears to us that someone in a decision making capacity has been influenced by the financial projections of what could be achieved by increasing development density rather than making decisions based on what is good for such an important site in the centre of Aberdeen. 


The proposals that are being brought forward should respect the existing buildings of Marischal College, Provost Skene’s House and the street elevation of Upperkirkgate – but they do not. Crucially the proposals do not even respect adopted council policies for the development of the site, policies that have been through thorough and extensive public scrutiny at a time before detailed proposals were on the table for consideration. 

Despite all of the prior public engagement and consultation over a great many years we feel let down at this late stage in the process for the re-development of the site. We are therefore disappointed that in making our objections known we have to point out to the council that so much of it fails to comply with their own existing and adopted policies. 


We have the following detailed comments: 


Scale of Development 

Despite adjustments having been made as the application went through its pre-application public consultation phase, we feel that the overall density, massing and scale of the development is over-powering bearing in mind the site’s important location and compared with its surroundings. Our comments relate specifically to the box-like appearance that is probably 3 storeys too high and lacking the variation and interest that is so characteristic of Aberdeen’s existing skyline. The whole development needs to be more human in scale and properly take its place and setting from the buildings that are around it; the elevations, form, density, scale and massing of Marischal College and Upperkirkgate – buildings that tend to punctuate the skyline of Aberdeen rather than flatten it with large horizontal roof structures. 


The following Policies and Supplementary Planning Guidance should be referred to in this context: 


• Aberdeen Local Development Plan adopted in 2012 

• Aberdeen City Centre Development Framework 

• The Bon Accord Quarter Aberdeen Masterplan 


Details of specific policies and paragraphs are in Appendix 1 to this submission.


In the light of these policies and supplementary guidance, which have been through extensive and wide reaching prior public engagement, it is hard to believe that the heights of buildings proposed in the application comply with existing policy. It is even harder to understand how professional people can describe in words such as “slightly” when comparing the heights of the new buildings to those of the Broad Street elevation of Marischal College and the listed buildings of Provost Skene’s House and Upperkirkgate. How can it be that the applicants architect (Halliday Fraser Munro) and heritage advisers (Hurd Rolland) say in application reports that the building heights are only “slightly” higher than adjacent buildings, when in fact they are probably closer to double the height. 


Flourmill Lane 

The Civic Society has concerns about the height of buildings and uninteresting street level approach taken to the design of new buildings on Flourmill Lane. The opportunity of this development to improve the pedestrian experience in Flourmill Lane has not been taken, it being relegated to a delivery or service area flanked by extremely tall buildings. More could be made of access to Provost Skene’s House from Flourmill Lane. 


Pedestrianisation of Broad Street 

We remain to be convinced that the pedestrianisation of Broad Street is beneficial to the traffic flows in Aberdeen. Increased usage of Union Terrace, Schoolhill and Upperkirkgate for bus traffic will only diminish the pedestrian experience on these streets, which at the moment is relatively pleasant. 



Much glass has been used as a building material in the proposals. If this is retained, having it mirrored will at least provide a reflection of some of Aberdeen’s historic architecture from adjacent buildings. 



We do not have a problem with the principle of development on this site but feel that the existing proposals do little to enhance and celebrate its historic surroundings. We have grave concerns about the scale and bulk of the proposed design. We feel that more could be done to improve Flourmill Lane and access to Provost Skene’s House. We remain to be convinced about the pedestrianisation of Broad Street. 


We would appreciate it if these points are taken into consideration in the council and Scottish Government’s decision making on this proposal. 


Appendix 1 

Relevant Policies and Supplementary Planning Guidance 


Aberdeen Local Development Plan adopted in 2012 


i) Section 3.21 says that 

“The skyline contributes significantly to the character of the City. Tall or large scale buildings can add to and positively enhance the identity of the City if well designed. However, they can have a detrimental effect if due consideration is not given to their context, form and massing.” 


ii) Policy D1 - Architecture and Placemaking says 

“To ensure high standards of design, new development must be designed with due consideration for its context and make a positive contribution to its setting. Factors such as siting, scale, massing, colour, materials, orientation, details, the proportions of building elements, together with the spaces around buildings, including streets, squares, open space, landscaping and boundary treatments, will be considered in assessing that contribution. To ensure that there is a consistent approach to high quality development throughout the City with an emphasis on creating quality places, the Aberdeen Masterplanning Process Supplementary Guidance will be applied. The level of detail required will be appropriate to the scale and sensitivity of the site. The full scope will be agreed with us prior to commencement. Landmark or high buildings should respect the height and scale of their surroundings, the urban topography, the City’s skyline and aim to preserve or enhance important views.” 


iii) Policy D6 – Landscape says 

“Development will not be acceptable unless it avoids: 1) significantly adversely affecting landscape character and elements which contribute to, or provide, a distinct ‘sense of place’ which point to being either in or around Aberdeen or a particular part of it; 2) obstructing important views of the City’s townscape, landmarks and features when seen from busy and important publicly accessible vantage points such as roads, railways, recreation areas and pathways and particularly from the main city approaches;…” 


Adopted Supplementary Guidance is also relevant and needs to be taken into account when considering the bulkiness, massing, scale and shape of the new development when compared to some of the adjacent historic and landmark buildings. 


Aberdeen City Centre Development Framework 


i) On page 9 section 1.4 Where do we want to go? says 

“The City Centre has a strong character with uniformity of materials and styles, reflected in its granite buildings, the grand nature of Union Street and smaller intimate streets and public spaces just off the main thoroughfare. Much of the City Centre falls within designated Conservation Areas and it has a large concentration of listed buildings. Understanding what is of value, protecting and improving the built fabric is vital within the City Centre. The City needs quality design solutions. All development must make a contribution to the wider context of the City.” 


ii) On p17 section 2.4.4 Buildings says 

“A variety of building periods and styles contribute to the character of the City Centre, ranging from St Nicholas Kirk, 16th century Provost Ross and Skene’s houses to 20th century shopping centres and civic buildings. The 19th century planned streets are lined in the main by fine granite buildings of 4 or 5 storeys. A variety of public buildings, from St Nicholas Kirk through to St Nicholas House punctuate the skyline. The dominant architectural style can be described broadly as classical or neo-classical. Notable landmark buildings include the Town House, the Salvation Army Citadel and the spires of Marischal College, St Nicholas Kirk, and Triple Kirks, as well as the Schoolhill domes of the Art Gallery, His Majesty’s Theatre, City Library and St Marks. These landmarks contribute to the legibility to the City Centre and aid navigation. They are often seen as a visual symbol of Aberdeen.” 


iii) On p24 section 3.5 Tall or Large Buildings and the City’s Skyline says 

“Tall or large scale buildings can add to, and positively enhance, the identity of the City and its skyline if well designed. However, they can have a detrimental effect if due consideration is not given to their context. The definition of a “tall building” is one that exceeds the general height of its surrounding context. A “large building” may not breach the skyline, but may be viewed as bulky and at odds with its surroundings from strategic locations. In certain circumstances as little as an additional storey height may set a development proposal out of context. It is not expected that there will be a presumption against tall buildings, indeed the City Centre is the right place for such buildings, but they should respect the height and scale of their surroundings, the urban topography and the City’s skyline and aim to preserve or enhance important vistas. Further Supplementary Guidance will be prepared as part of the Aberdeen Local Development Plan to support a Tall or Large Buildings Policy.” 


iv) On p32 section 3.6.12 Broad Street says 

“Broad Street is flanked by the contrasting forms of Marischal College to the east, and the tower block of St Nicholas House to its west. The Bon Accord Masterplan considered this area to be the civic heart of the City with the redevelopment of St Nicholas House site, the formation of a civic square in front of Marischal College, a new courtyard to the north of Provost Skene’s house and new pedestrian linkages between Marischal College and St Nicholas Kirk being key to improving the potential of this area. Further information on this can be found in section 4.2 the Civic Quarter. The formation of a civic square is crucial in providing an appropriate setting for the new City Council Headquarters at Marischal College. Uses around the square would include retail, restaurants, offices, residential, hotel, cultural and civic, creating a genuine, economically sustainable mixed use neighbourhood within the City Centre. These uses around the square must create live frontages and activities at all times of the day and evening, resulting in a successful, positive and usable public space.” 


v) On p34 section 3.9 Corners talks about how to use corners in design and give a new development a sense of place which is another characteristic of Aberdeen, 

“Turning a corner on urban blocks in the City Centre has often been seen as a cause for architectural celebration. Whether flamboyant turrets or simple chamfers, corners have traditionally been a focus for finely detailed masonry work, interesting and unique 

features. Successful contemporary examples of this are few and far between, but should be encouraged to promote a sense of identity in any new development.” 


The Bon Accord Quarter Aberdeen Masterplan 


i) There is a key message contained in the note on p2 about the scale of any development proposed for the Bon Accord Quarter, a message obviously felt necessary to reinforce in view of the public engagement that took place at the time: 



Illustrations and artists impressions within this document are intended to be studies of spaces and building massing. They are not intended to represent specific architectural proposals. Following the principles established in this Masterplan, there will be further design studies of architecture and urban spaces within the context of individual planning applications.” 


ii) On p5 there is a question posed with an answer: 

“?: The Masterplan needs to ensure that shopping centres integrate fully with their surroundings, that there is permeability within the city and that development is of an appropriate scale” 


“In creating new public route connecting Marischal College with St Nicholas Kirk, the masterplan integrates the shopping centres more strongly with the public realm. In addition the new footbridge across Schoolhill enables easy accessibility between the upper levels of the city, from the new Civic Square to St Nicholas Centre and the Bon Accord Centre. 

The scale of proposals is commensurate with a thriving modern city centre. There is demand from retailers and their customers for larger modern shop and urban environments with good transport connections and car parking. In all, proposals will increase the amount of retail space within the masterplan area from 55,740 sqm to 74,300 sqm, an increase of some 33%. 


Building heights will respond to local context so that, for example on Upperkirkgate they do not exceed three stories. At other parts of the masterplan building heights will not exceed five or six storeys.” 


iii) On p12 under the heading of Public Realm: Analysis the SPG states that: 

“Aberdeen is a city of unique qualities and it is the intention of the masterplan to preserve and draw upon these qualities within an improved city centre environment that enhances the shopping and leisure experience. Central to this ambition is an understanding of how the unique sense of place of Aberdeen is created and how the masterplan can build upon that in the future. 


Aberdeen is a city of consistent high quality architecture with the use of granite creating a visually coherent and unified consistent townscape. The three-dimensional 

aspect of Aberdeen has developed through history, with changes in level evident in bridges and elevated streets. In addition, the distinctive typological patterns of the medieval Wynds and the Georgian and Victorian streets overlay each other, creating a unique contrast of grandeur and informality. A significant number of architectural landmarks contribute to the Aberdeen experience and help define the spaces and routes in the city centre. These include Marischal’s College, St Nicholas Kirk and The Town House. The masterplan lies largely outside the Union Street Conservation Area with the exclusion of Upperkirkgate and Schoolhill and Marischal College. There are two ‘A’ listed buildings within the masterplan area being Marischal College and Provost Skene’s House as well as several other ‘B’ and ‘C’ listed buildings on Schoolhill and Upper Upperkirkgate including the listed Robert Sivell murals in the former Student’s Union.” 


iv) On p22 the issue about building heights is again covered and it says that: 

“The masterplan will provide an improved setting for Provost Skene’s House. Historically the house was tightly enclosed within the dense medieval townscape. With the redevelopment of St Nicholas House in the late 1960’s this setting was lost. The objective of the masterplan is to create a smaller scale court to the main front, similar in plan to the existing garden. This court will be surrounded by 4-5 storey buildings, possibly including a hotel, with a smaller scale 2 storey building screening the loading bay and customer pick up to Marks & Spencer from the court. The rear of Provost Skenes House was, at one time a solid wall with other buildings built up against it. The workshop called for Provost Skene’s house to be linked with a possible Arts Venue or Visual Arts Centre. This could be achieved by creating a modern glazed structure or atrium to house this additional use or to provide a physical link to other spaces within the masterplan. 


Building heights should be no more than five storeys on to the square to match the overall height of Marischal’s College. There is the possibility that this might increase to six or seven storeys away from the square in the location of the proposed hotel which is the site of the existing 14 storey St Nicholas House. 



The south side of the square should be broken into three or four urban blocks with clear gaps between for sunlight to penetrate the space. Elsewhere, buildings to Upperkirkgate should respond to the lower scale and general informality of the medieval and Georgian townscape and not exceed 3 storeys.” 

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