Support from businesses as parts of the city centre become pedestrianised so people can physically distance
Businesses in Aberdeen city centre today showed their support for temporary work being carried out to create space for pedestrians to allow them to better physically distance while walking or standing in queues.
Areas around the city, including part of the Union Street and nearby streets, are seeing temporary works installed to allow people to walk, cycle, and queue for buses, to visit shops, bars, and restaurants while adhering to physical distancing guidance and to support the NHS.
The works will help protect public health by reducing COVID-19 transmission in the city which will in turn reduce the number of cases NHS Grampian’s contact tracing team have to cope with, making their intervention easier and more effective. The temporary measures will further help the economic recovery of the city and allow people to continue to use active travel such as walking and cycling.
The businesses showing their support follows on from advice given by Aberdeen City Council on how to make best use of temporary available spaces. The guidance offered to businesses includes how they can fast-track through the usual processes to apply for an outdoor seating area for their café, restaurant or bar how businesses can protect customers and their own staff; what their responsibilities are; information about parking and queuing; and what the City Council is doing to help.
Business leaders showing their support for the temporary pedestrianisation measures includes Allan Henderson, Director of The McGinty’s Group, who said: “We fully appreciate that these are significant changes being made to the city centre and the project has progressed very quickly in exceptional circumstances. It is imperative that hospitality businesses can reopen soon to take advantage of the better weather in the summer months and I feel that the red tape surrounding permissions need to be as simple as possible to allow this.
“With physical distancing measures likely to be in place for a while, licensed premises should be allowed to use outdoor areas to help them recover from the pandemic and bring footfall back in the area.
“Aberdeen City Council should be applauded for their attempts to help city centre businesses and though everything will not be perfect immediately, it is crucial that businesses work together and give constructive feedback as the situation evolves.”
Stuart McPhee, Director at Siberia Bar & Hotel, said: “I take the view that the pedestrianisation of Union Street has transformative long-term benefits for the city centre. Short term benefits of social distancing during the current pandemic and long-term benefits ranging from air quality improvements to beginning to have a more vibrant city centre.
“For as long as I can remember people have talked Union Street down constantly and here is action that could make it something different, something bold and something new for the city.
“Change is always daunting for people, but during lockdown for example we have all had to change and adapt to things like home working or zoom calls with family. Some of these changes will have transformative benefits after lockdown such as improving work life balance and keeping in touch with people better in far flung parts of the world or family you don't see very often.
“Pedestrianising Union Street may be something that we think of in the first instance as an inconvenience because it changes our journey or we don't understand it, these issues can be ironed out through consultation and cooperation but in the long run we see the improvement it brings.”
Michal Dobrzansk, General Manager of Hop and Anchor, said: 'In my opinion, Aberdeen city centre would benefit from pedestrianisation. In these difficult times, it would allow social distancing to be easier to achieve as well as residents and tourists alike might be more likely to explore the city centre including districts like the sometimes-forgotten Merchant Quarter. Being able to offer outside space for businesses that weren't able to do so thus far might be a game changer as well.'
Craig Stevenson, Manager, Bon Accord Centre, added: “Making sure our city centre is both safe and welcoming is key to bringing people back into the heart of the city. Creating more space for pedestrians is not only critical from social distancing perspective – it will also help improve the overall experience.”
Businesses in affected areas are being contacted and a guide for businesses on physical distancing is available to download at https://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/services/coronavirus-covid-19/city-centre. It can usually take several months for a café, restaurant or bar business to apply for an outdoor area as they would need road/pavement permits, an appropriate licence, and planning permission. The City Council’s intention is to prioritise and process any applications as quickly as possible to help the city centre recovery.
The works are being carried out by Aberdeen City Council after a ringfenced £1.76million grant from the Scottish Government’s Spaces for People fund which is being administered by Sustrans, and measures taking place in several locations around the city include temporary pedestrianisation, pavement widening, bike lanes, and one-way walking.
The city centre, and Union Street in particular, faces challenges because pavements are not wide enough to accommodate the current 2-metre level of physical distancing.
City centre traffic must re-route to free up carriageway space for businesses, pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users. Motorists are advised to plan their journey in advance talking appropriate routes which avoid Union Street to access city centre car parks.
The works particularly on Union Street and nearby streets are being put in place before the next lockdown phases are relaxed so when people start returning to Union Street in larger numbers, the space to allow for physical distancing has already been created.
Aberdeen City Council transport spokesperson Councillor Sandra Macdonald said: “We’re carrying out these works now so when the lockdown eases in the next phases, people going to the city centre shops, restaurants and bars and local residents will be able to physically distance straight away.
“The measures we’ve put in including pedestrianisation of some streets are being carried out to help protect the health and wellbeing of residents and help the NHS as the country moves out of lockdown.
“Similar measures are being carried out in other cities and towns as part of a concerted effort across Scotland to reduce transmission of COVID-19.
“People will be able to walk around and queue for shops and eateries safely around Aberdeen city centre away from traffic which in turn will help the social and economic recovery of the city.”
The program or works has been developed with NHS Grampian, transport organisation NESTRANS, and Business Improvement District operator Aberdeen Inspired, and organisations which have been consulted include city centre businesses, bus companies, taxi firms, Police Scotland, the Disability Equity Partnership, and other local groups.
Aberdeen Inspired chief executive Adrian Watson said: “Borne out of necessity, we appreciate that Aberdeen City Council has had to restrict vehicles on city centre streets to create sufficient space that will allow the public to return in a safe fashion, in keeping with many other large towns and cities across the country and beyond. They have had to do this in quick-time and we will continue to work with them on the detail of the plan and based on feedback from our levy paying businesses. Getting timely information out to the businesses and public is key.
“The closures will rightly provoke much discussion, but there is a realisation by the many that council has had to take these measures. We are encouraged to see that they are also looking at ways of streamlining permissions to allow us to pragmatically make best use of some of this new-found space in introducing elements of the café culture. This is an important aspect in itself and ought to be actioned in early course in readiness to support our hard-pressed hospitality businesses.”
As part of consultation with the public, an online questionnaire is available at https://consultation.aberdeencity.gov.uk/planning/physical-distancing-measures and people are invited to take part. Consultation with the public will be carried out throughout the temporary measures, along with monitoring of user/traffic numbers and consultation with local businesses.
Aberdeen City Council will continue to review, monitor, and evaluate the interventions while discussions are held with stakeholders, and when the measures are in place. The continual reviewing may mean changes to the interventions, and it is also a requirement of the fund, which is being administered by sustainable transport body Sustrans Scotland.
The length of time the temporary measures will be in place will be determined by NHS and Government guidance for physical distancing.