Decision day for Union Street and other city centre streets has been postponed – due to the mountains of work faced by council planning staff tasked with redesigning the Granite City.
Councillors will meet next month to make choices on the short-term future of Aberdeen’s main thoroughfare, as well as roads around Belmont Street, which remain closed as part of the £1.76 million physical distancing Spaces For People works.
And while considering just when cars and buses might be able to return to the Granite Mile, they will also hear updates on work that will shape it for decades to come.
The meeting of the city growth committee was scheduled for the morning of November 3 but has now been pushed back until after lunch on November 10.
Planners were tasked, in August, to prepare dozens of reports for members, to brief them on options that could bring about seismic change across the city centre.
The long-term future of Union Street – pedestrianised or not – forms part of that work, but councillors are also expecting updates on proposals for a new market development on the former British Homes Stores site and plans for Aberdeen beach.
More could be added to concept plans agreed for Union Street, the West End, Castlegate, Schoolhill and Upperkirkgate too.
Spaces For People: Meeting could put end date on controversial Union Street closure
More immediately, a decision on when the coronavirus-inspired physical distancing measures in the city centre can be removed – as they have been everywhere else in Aberdeen – was delayed until the November meeting, when the permanent plans are decided upon.
However, leeway for hospitality firms to take their trade onto the streets in pop-up marquees has already been extended until the end of January and with it, the closure of Bon Accord Street.
This will include a crunch decision on whether buses can return to the Granite Mile, as they current bypass the city’s seven busiest stops due to the Spaces For People closures.
City centre and beach masterplan: Design update for ‘refreshed’ Aberdeen
Officers are also expected to report back having surveyed the state of buildings the length of Union Street and on work to develop a permanent cafe culture of outdoor hospitality in Belmont Street and Back Wynd.
Officials will also report back on progress towards holding a public consultation on a George Street ‘mini-masterplan’, after the exit of John Lewis.
As well as linking the seafront to the city centre through the Castlegate, the council’s refreshed Aberdeen masterplan – backed with £150m of public money – could result in the Dons moving mere metres from Pittodrie to a new stadium at the beach.
The latest work on a potential major refurbishment for the Beach Ballroom, new and improved sports facilities to replace the Beach Leisure Centre and options for Broadhill is also expected to be presented.
Further business cases for an overhaul of the promenade, perhaps including a new pier and a facelift of Queens Links, should also be put to councillors, as well as an update on the improved connections between the city centre and beach areas and energy centre at the beachfront.
Briefing on near £75m new Aberdeen market plans
With the former BHS and indoor market sites bought by the council, along with other surrounding properties, work is now underway on a full business case for the multi-million-pound regeneration new market proposal.
Planning applications are expected to be submitted for the development “as soon as possible”, which may give the public an indication of the scale of the work – which is estimated to cost as much as £75m – while a search for a company to run the facility on behalf of the local authority ongoing.
Last week, council leader Jenny Laing told us how she made the case for £20m directly to, former Aberdeen schoolboy and, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove on a trip to London – and how she felt the city was in a good place to expect the cash.
Council officers were also asked to consider buying up other empty buildings on the Market Street to Bridge Street stretch of Union Street, to encourage businesses to return to what was once the city’s main shopping street.
Hefty workload: Council staff to compile dozens of reports for masterplan refresh
It is understood officials have to prepare as many as 40 reports for the meeting and requested more time to finish their assignments.
A fiery affair in August, the last city growth meeting rolled on for more than five hours, well beyond 7pm, as political scraps broke out on many of the big-ticket items.
The request to postpone, which will spell an extra week of uncertainty for city centre traders still battling for vehicular access to their shop fronts, was granted by convener Ryan Houghton.
The Conservative group leader told us: “I’ve decided to move the date of the meeting by one week after reviewing the substantial volume of reports due at my committee, including reports concerning the £150 million city centre and beach developments.
“This decision was taken in consultation with council officers and, if required, the meeting can suspend and continue the following day.”
Due to take place at 10.30am on the earlier date, the meeting will now start at 2pm – risking a late night for the many council staff involved, both at the Town House and dialled in on video conferencing.
SNP group leader, Alex Nicoll, said: “I’m surprised, given officer welfare was the reason for the original meeting starting earlier, that it’s not a factor at all now.
“Perhaps the convener could at least give some indication as to what time officers will be allowed home to see their families, should the meeting take some time.
“Some local businesses will also need to know what the council is doing with Christmas markets and the like to inform their own plans. Pushing decisions on this back by at least a week, and maybe longer, will be far from ideal in their eyes.”