Council chiefs will meet tomorrow with the developer behind plans to build a new Aberdeen market in the city’s former BHS building.
Surprise proposals emerged last week for the local authority to purchase the seven-years-empty building for redevelopment.
The “emerging opportunity” to buy the beleaguered department store for a new London Borough food market type of site was put to councillors this afternoon.
A business case put forward by council officials describes a market-style floorspace, set out to create a “destination venue” with permanent, temporary and pop-up stalls for local traders.
It is hoped it could serve as a business incubator, allowing fledgling firms space to grow.
Proposals also include the empty indoor market building in Market Street – previously marked for demolition to make way for offices.
It would, officers said, also “enliven” Hadden Street, Market Street and the Green, with the new development acting as a link between the city’s main thoroughfare and Union Square.
Councillors agreed to empower council officers to push on with the purchase, based on an outline business case put to them at a meeting of the city growth committee.
There, their chief corporate landlord officer, Stephen Booth, revealed talks would begin tomorrow with developer who had brought the plans forward to the local authority.
He admitted detail about required work to deliver the new market, also aimed at improving connections between the high street and bus and train stations, was “not quite with us at the moment”.
Union Street could remain car-free
The business case also points to the potential permanent pedestrianisation of the Granite Mile, at least in part, as well.
Last week, city growth convener Douglas Lumsden told us “there would not really be much point” in the redevelopment while leaving Union Street as it is.
It is likely the central stretch of the road between Market Street and Bridge Street, which is currently pedestrianised to allow physical distancing, would be closed to at least private vehicles – though there is a chance buses could maintain access.
The council’s chief corporate landlord officer, Stephen Booth, said the city was now at a “crucial” point, requiring “significant change” towards permanent solutions to traffic, favouring pedestrians and public transport.
“The central section of Union Street (between Bridge Street and Market Street) should be a proud destination in the city centre, with Union Terrace Gardens to the west and Aberdeen Market and former BHS to the east,” he added.
‘Complicated’ demolition work could cause disruption in busy city centre streets
SNP group leader Alex Nicoll raised concerns for traffic during the demolition and construction – which would still require to be signed off by the planning authority.
He worried for how buses might navigate the city centre, given physical distancing requirements had already forced the central stretch of Union Street closed.
Buses have been making even greater use of Market Street as a result of the disruption.
But Mr Booth said: “At the moment the plan is to maintain two-way traffic on Market Street, however there is likely to be partial closures at certain parts of the programme, particularly in Hadden Street.
“What we are trying to do is put some of the demolition risk on to the developer but that detail is still being worked through.
“We are aware it is a complicated site and it is not a straight forward process.
“Because of where we are in the process we don’t have that detail yet but we are certainly aware of the concerns and a plan needs to be put together to be put together.”
Concept images of the new market hall within the development in Union Street
Existing plans on the backburner
Patrizia, the developers who gained planning permission to convert both of the joined sites, are now understood to be willing to sell.
Their plans included a mix of offices, flats and retail space – as well as a trampoline park and axe-throwing bar.
And the cost of the purchase is yet to be agreed and is being kept secret until the deal is signed.
But the price would be covered by £150 million put aside to fund a refresh of the city centre masterplan as Aberdeen and the rest of the country recovers from the economic hit of Covid.
Project bosses could look to draw upon UK Government cash, as well as looking to Nestrans and Sustrans for financial assistance.
In passing the plans, councillors instructed officials to proceed with the purchase of the two properties and to enter a contract for their demolition.
Officers are to prepare a full business proposal for the plans, as well as exploring potential funding options too.