A call has been made to make a public square accessible to all after it was branded “hazardous” for those with disabilities.
Campaigners say Aberdeen’s Castlegate can be “impossible” to access for those with a range of disabilities including visually impaired people, those with mobility issues and wheelchair users.
The public area was included in the hit list of the most important places to be rejuvenated as part of the second phase of the £3 million City Centre Masterplan.
SNP councillor Dell Henrickson has called for action to be taken “sooner rather than later” after meeting campaigners in the area to hear about some of their concerns yesterday.
He said: “It needs to be brought up to a standard that is accessible to everybody.
“I would like to see something done about it.
“I know it’s in the City Centre Masterplan but when I ask the council when it’s going to be done I don’t get a specific timescale or anything like that.
“They’re doing work on Union Terrace Gardens which is fine but to me this area is as important as that.
“I want to get some sort of answer as to where this sits in the longer and more immediate Masterplan.
“I would like to know how this area is being developed.
“This is about trying to get the council to acknowledge there are issues here and bring it forward sooner rather than later.”
The Masterplan identified a new paving surface as one of a number of measures which could bring the area “back to life”.
Complaints have been made about the unevenness and how wet weather can make it hazardous with calls made to speed up the regeneration process.
Councillors agreed last week that new safety measures would be introduced on Broad Street to help people affected by sight loss and mobility issues, with traffic lights planned at Upperkirkgate.
Mary Rasmussen, committee member of Guide Dogs Aberdeen, who is blind herself, said it would be “impossible” to use her long cane in the Castlegate.
She said: “The surface could be vastly improved and not just for old folks, though I know they have fallen, but for mums with buggies too.”
Ells McHaffie, a volunteer with Guide Dogs Scotland who suffers from mobility issues, said the surface should be regrouted to ensure there aren’t gaps in between paving stones and setts.
She added: “There’s quite a lot of crevices. If they could regrout it then they could keep the integrity of the look. I tend to not go this way. There are some areas that are hazardous.”
Pamela Munro, engagement officer at Guide Dogs Scotland, said they are looking at the surfaces to see what could be put in place to make it an “accessible area for all”.
She added: “If you’re visually impaired then you want to stick to the building lines but there’s nothing in the area centrally to locate where you are.
“I think there’s sometimes a lack of understanding on the needs of those with visual impairments.”
Labour Councillor M Tauqeer Malik said the City Centre Masterplan acknowledged work is required at Castlegate.
He added: “However, it is hypocritical of Councillor Henrickson to blame the council for not implementing change at Castlegate when the SNP budgets for those five years have not identified any money for these works.
“Aberdeen City Council is one of the lowest-funded councils in Scotland and has just contributed £75m to the new AWPR project. Therefore, the council is operating under severe financial restraints.”
Capital convenor councillor Marie Boulton added: “Earlier this year Cllr Hendrickson said he would be happy to see the Castlegate covered over with tarmac, which showing no understanding of historical value of the area.
“We would love to be able to address many things in the city but our current funding levels from the Scottish Government restricts our opportunity to do many things we would like to.”
An Aberdeen City Council spokeswoman said the authority’s financial contraints were severe.
She added: “Our 2019/20 budget focuses on ensuring the best outcomes for individuals and communities while protecting the most vulnerable in our city.
“In setting those important priorities, savings in other parts of our operation have had to be found. In light of funding constraints, spending in some discretionary areas has been reduced in line with decisions taken by council to set a balanced budget.
“In the case of the Castlegate, inspections continue to be carried out and repairs undertaken as appropriate.”