There are hopes yet for Aberdeen’s troubled George Street after the departure of the John Lewis department store.
Council planners are preparing to devise a so-called ‘mini-masterplan’ to turn around its fortunes – after working out the intentions of major property owners in the area.
Doubts over the future of neighbouring shops came at the wrong time for the local authority – as the high street giant announced confirmed the closure of the Granite City branch after more than 30 years of trading.
Criticism was levelled at the council in June, as a public consultation on a £150 million overhaul of the city centre and beach failed to mention the problems faced in the area.
Along with the John Lewis closure at Christmas, several other big names such as Dorothy Perkins and Disney have shut up shop in the Bon Accord Centre, which leads footfall from the city centre to George Street.
As multi-million-pound plans for Union Street, the city centre and the beach began to emerge last week, there were no sketches of shaping out life after John Lewis.
But, the council’s city centre masterplan spokeswoman, Councillor Marie Boulton, told Aberdeen Journals that since efforts to persuade John Lewis to remain had failed, now was the time for action.
She said: “Given the uncertain nature of the John Lewis store and the 240 jobs that it supported, it would have been insensitive and unfair to ask people to decide the future of an area where there were ongoing redundancy consultations.
“Now that process has concluded an engagement exercise will be conducted to see ideas people have for the future of this centre area.”
Vaccination effort to use former John Lewis store as city centre base
In the short term, NHS Grampian is to take over the ground floor of the former department store, otherwise known as Norco House, for use as a new vaccination centre.
Today, health chiefs will hear of the plans to use the building for between one and three years, before a more permanent base for Covid boosters, flu jabs and a host of other inoculations can be found.
And so, council chiefs have held off on drawing up a vision for George Street – instead opting to ask the public what they want to see introduced.
The area was omitted from a recent consultation which drew more than 7,000 answers from citizens on potential pedestrianisation of Union Street, a new layout and football stadium at Aberdeen beach and an overhaul of the roads across the city.
And resources director, Steve Whyte, told councillors: “George Street was not included in the current visioning exercises due to the uncertainty during the period from May to August over the future of the John Lewis building.
“More certainty and discussion is required with the Bon Accord Centre on their plans.
“It is therefore recommended that a mini masterplan or appraisal of the area is carried out in light of the John Lewis Bon Accord
Centre ongoing appraisal.
“This would be subject to its own localised public engagement exercise.”
Council seeks clarity from John Lewis and Bon Accord Centre on intentions for George Street
Planners are to sound out John Lewis and the Bon Accord Centre on how they plan to proceed, and to the future of their buildings.
Together, they will talk about the options for redeveloping the area, still home to a number of traders up and down its length.
Bosses recently gained permission to build a four-screen cinema in the now-empty Laura Ashley shop in the Bon Accord, aiming to draw more people to the mall.
But expansion plans first approved in 2017, which include a hotel, flats and an extension with more shops, offices and roof out over George Street remain in the balance.
It is understood council officials are trying to understand if those will come to fruition before taking the question of the area’s future to the public.
SNP councillor for George Street, Michael Hutchison, said: “I’m pleased that, after being excluded from the original city centre masterplan consultation, people will now likely have their say on George Street’s future.
“This area has some great potential and I look forward to hearing people’s ideas on how to realise that.
“In the meantime, there are already some fantastic local businesses in George Street and I’d encourage folk to give them a look.”
If councillors on the city growth committee back the public consultation on the future of George Street, they will next hear progress on the mini-masterplan in November.