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Dundee Eden Project will ‘anchor’ the waterfront, says V&A project manager

As V&A Dundee marks its 5th birthday, John Tavendale predicts the multi-million pound Eden centre proposed for 2026 will attract more people and investment to the city, building on the work of the V&A

John Tavendale was the  project manager of the V&A Dundee
John Tavendale was the project manager of the V&A Dundee

The man who oversaw the construction of V&A Dundee has revealed he is “more worried” about the prevalence of vacant properties in Dundee city centre than he is about vacant units on Dundee’s flagship £1.6 billion waterfront site.

In an interview with The Courier to mark the 5th anniversary of the opening of V&A Dundee, V&A project manager John Tavendale said that in development terms, Dundee waterfront had “not had an easy time” in recent years.

The economic impacts of Covid-19, the Ukraine war and the cost-of-living crisis meant that “very few people develop anything in those circumstances” and “an awful lot of people are sitting back”.

Dundee’s Waterfront

“There’s been a definite slowing down with commercial property investment,” he said, “and it will need to take a bit of effort to get momentum going again.”

However, Mr Tavendale is confident that the Dundee Eden Project, due to open in 2026 less than a mile from V&A Dundee on the site of the old East Dock Street gasworks, will contribute significantly to the regeneration of the city’s waterfront and attract further investment.

Hoping to replicate V&A Dundee benefits

V&A Dundee has generated £304 million for the Scottish economy in the five years since it opened, according to a new independent impact report published this week.

Hopes have been expressed previously that the Eden development could boost the local economy by more than £20m a year, as well as creating hundreds of jobs.

Mr Tavendale hopes the flagship Eden centre will contribute to waterfront regeneration in the “same way the V&A did”.

V&A Dundee

Mr Tavendale added: “The more anchors there are like that in the city, the better.

“The V&A did a job and it’s good.

“But I think there needs to be more to attract people (to Dundee).

“When you attract people you will attract investment.”

Dundee Waterfront a long-term project

Mr Tavendale, who was V&A Dundee project manager from 2011-2018, said that in economic development terms, Dundee “couldn’t have had a harder four years”.

The Ukraine war “doesn’t help” either because that affects materials and supply.

He knows of lots of projects in cities across the UK that have been “put on the backburner” awaiting more certainty and better times for people to start investing money.

However, he thinks that overall, people need to remember that Dundee Waterfront, launched in 2001, was for development over 30 years.

l to r – Chief Executive of Social Security Scotland, David Wallace, Cabinet Secretary for Social Security, Shirley Anne Somerville and Leader of Dundee Council, John Alexander at site 6, Dundee Waterfront, in September 2020. Image: Kim Cessford/ DCT Media

“It would have been nice and had times been good it would certainly be happening a lot quicker than it is,” he said.

“But it’s there and the sites are there. I think marketing Dundee is important and attracting people is important.

“I had a little bit of involvement with the waterfront after V&A, and it was interesting meeting up and trying to get people to develop things.

“They are looking for more than just a site.

“They are looking for incentivisation, they need more than the V&A being there.

Map of the Dundee waterfront development. Image: John Alexander

“They need to be incentivised to come, and that is very difficult to do in the current circumstances.

“However, I firmly believe things will get better and it’ll get going again.

“I do think something like the Eden Centre will add hugely to that.”

‘Wonderful space’ at Slessor Gardens

Mr Tavendale said he thought Slessor Gardens was a “wonderful space to have” and he thinks the city makes good use of it.

The waterfront gardens and urban beach are “lovely”.

Dundee Summer Sessions at Slessor Gardens in summer 2022. Image: Kim Cessford/DCT Media

With developments already completed or being developed including V&A Dundee, the railway station, Black Watch Parade and Riverside Apartments, few can argue against the eradication of the unsightly Tayside House, old Olympia leisure centre and hideous Stakis Earl Grey hotel from the waterfront landscape being a great thing.

While he’s confident Dundee Waterfront will “recover”, however, he added: “I think I’m actually more worried about the rest of the city centre, because I think new sites tend to be easier to attract people.

Demolition of the old Olympia swimming pool on the Dundee waterfront. Image: Bob Douglas

“Dundee is no different to Aberdeen or any other city.

“The amount of closures and running down of properties is a concern.

“It’s a difficult challenge for all cities to deal with at the moment.”

· For more from John Tavendale and the 5th anniversary of V&A Dundee, see The Courier’s Weekend magazine on Saturday September 16.