Controversial social distancing measures at Aberdeen beach are set for the chop after councillors voted to remove them.
At a meeting of Aberdeen City Council’s city growth and resources committee yesterday, members were provided with a review into the measures which were introduced at various locations to encourage social distancing.
They included temporary bike lanes, the widening of pavements and the pedestrianisation of some areas and were paid for through a £1.76 million grant from the Scottish Government’s Spaces for People fund.
The measures put in place proved particularly controversial, with members of the public raising fears over safety due to the removal of some parking and the fact people exiting cars would have to step into a cycle lane.
Now councillors on the committee have voted to remove the interventions at the beach following a motion put forward by the opposition SNP group.
The party’s city growth and resource spokesman Ciaran McRae said: “These measures are necessary to facilitate physical distancing and that requirement still exists but we felt the measures at the beach were excessive and the cycle lanes will be removed.
“Ultimately, if the administration has engaged with councillors and the public before implementing these schemes then things could have been done differently.”
No timescale has been set for the removal of the measures.
Supporting the decision, Liberal Democrat group leader Ian Yuill said: “The decision to remove most of the changes at the beach is not a criticism of the council staff.
“They made a decision at the time and given the circumstances I have no doubt that decision was the right one.”
Committee convener Douglas Lumsden added whatever decision was made “was no reflection of the council staff”.
Meanwhile, council chiefs believe lessons have been learned following criticism over a lack of consultation on the initiative.
The council was criticised by some business owners for not consulting properly on their introduction.
‘There is no manual about how to come out of a global pandemic’
The local authority’s director of resources Steve Whyte said lessons would be learned from the project.
He said: “Clearly the message is around physical distancing, trying to avoid people coming together in close proximity, and that’s really what the interventions we put in place were trying to achieve – so areas we knew historically people generally tended to be quite close to one another.
“As we were going through this process in fairness to officers there is no manual about how to come out of a global pandemic, there’s no manual to tell us how to go into lockdown after a global pandemic. We were trying to work through quite a unique situation.
“Obviously the normal course of doing these types of interventions would have resulted in us firstly starting with some consultation around what we might do, that just wasn’t physically possible.
“Everyone was told to go home, we couldn’t knock on businesses doors because at that point apart from supermarkets, everything else was closed. We didn’t have council meetings.
“We obviously then started to engage with emergency services and Public Health Scotland.
“We were trying to do that on the basis we had no empirical evidence we had no idea how people would behave, because obviously prior to Covid we know people go into town on a Saturday afternoon and mill about, we obviously didn’t know what that would be like. We were having to second guess how people were going to be.
“We will do a lessons learned [debrief], obviously we hope we will never be able to use these lessons learned because hopefully, we won’t be in a pandemic or a national lockdown again but we will do that and certainly the two aspects we’re aware of is the lack of consultation; although we’ve tried to do as much engagement as we can with businesses in the city centre.
“We’ve been trying to listen to what they say so we can adjust the interventions as much as we can and we are trying to reflect on what businesses on the ground are trying to say to us.
“The other bit was probably the communication – again it was quite a complex project for us and trying to implement it in a very very short period of time.
“Certainly one of our lessons learned would be we should probably have tried to think about how we could have communicated better.
“I think with the move now too much more technological-type environments, going forward we now have those tools available that would allow us to do a bit more communication.”
There is no timescale for removal of Spaces for People measures, however, council officers are in discussions about what they might be looking for before measures are lifted – such as the prevalence of cases.
Gale Beattie planning and building standards chief officer, said: “It is difficult to look back because the circumstances we found ourseles in are very different from where we are now. I think we tried to be really, really clear about why we were doing these measures, always going back to that overriding message that it was about public health.
“The issue we have in the city centre with the measures is we couldn’t just take them out and put them back in the next week. We have to see that sustained pattern, we’re not there yet.
“Cases are lower in Grampian but we are having discussions around when we will call it a success. A success is when people stop falling ill from Covid-19.”