Temporary Spaces for People changes to be reviewed in February

The temporary Spaces for People physical distancing interventions in the city centre, Rosemount, George Street and Torry are to be monitored and a review brought before committee in February, an Aberdeen City Council committee has agreed.

The members on city growth and resources committee also agreed at a meeting yesterday to the removal of the temporary cycle lane at the Beach Esplanade, leaving the one-way system between the Beach Boulevard and Wellington Street.

Aberdeen City Council city growth and resources committee convener Councillor Douglas Lumsden said: “The health and wellbeing of citizens has been at the forefront of all our minds since COVID-19 started affecting people in the UK.

“We commend what officers have achieved in all services, whether planning, design or implementation, to install the Spaces for People measures in such a short space of time while they were all under lockdown restrictions – our staff have gone above and beyond.

“We hope the city and wider region will have low numbers of people affected by COVID-19 in the coming months and a future report to committee about the Spaces for People interventions will set out these figures.”

The report to committee said as a result of the existing and impending health risk from the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK Government announced on 23 March 2020 that people must stay at home and some businesses had to close. The announcement included a small limited number of reasons for people to leave their homes, such as necessary shopping, travel to work if they could not work from home.

The critical aspect of this initial strategy was to limit the opportunities and frequency when people were in direct contact with one another to try and control the risk of spreading the virus.

During this initial lockdown period in April 2020, Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, launched the Scottish Government’s Spaces for People (SfP) programme. The aim of the programme is to support local authorities in reallocating road space using temporary infrastructure to enable physical distancing amongst members of the public for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, to further encourage walking, cycling and wheeling; and to make it safer for people who choose to walk, cycle or wheeling for essential trips or for exercise.

The report said it was recognised that the levels of people using active forms of travel had greatly increased since the beginning of the nationwide lockdown and this was compounded by advice from the Scottish Government not to use public transport except where absolutely necessary and the recommendation to walk or cycle when possible.

There was therefore a need to both encourage more active travel movement within the existing network and to create additional temporary active travel network where possible – but critically in normal “crowded” areas of the city to do so with physical distancing of 2 metres.

Current Government guidance states that walking and cycling are the best forms of travel for ensuring physical distancing and reducing the risks of further transmission of COVID-19.

As Scotland began to move through these phases to re-start the economy it was critical that physical distancing measures were in place to allow people to safely move and access businesses. This was occurring during the UK national lockdown. At this juncture there was no understanding what “coming out of lockdown” would be like because the world had never experienced a global pandemic along with the measures that were in place.

The report to committee said Aberdeen City Council was awarded a £1.76million grant from Sustrans Scotland to be spent on interventions for physical distancing and to encourage people to continue to walk and cycle, and £0.865m has been spent so far.

The report said it is clear that almost any measures taken today will have to be constantly reviewed, assessed and consequently changed as we learn more about how the virus is spreading but more importantly in the context of how people behave.

The report said the assessment of where to undertake works was therefore, generally based on where officers had historic data that showed high footfall where people tended to congregate or move around. There was also the large queues that were witnessed in certain areas as physical restriction measures were introduced, for example, supermarkets.

From the outset both within the bid application and the committee report to urgent business committee in June 2020, it was noted that consultation, in the way it is traditionally undertaken by the council, would not be possible. This was due to the speed at which the Spaces for People measures had to delivered to help address the national public health emergency and to align with the Scottish Governments COVID Route Map. It should be again noted that at this point the country was in complete lockdown.

Recognising the tight timeline and that public health safety was paramount, advance consultation was difficult, and in some cases, impossible, the report said. This led to the position where post installation engagement was used to refine or alter the implemented Space for People measures. Indeed given the infection data available at the time normal consultation was simply inappropriate as it could have potentially risked the health of people and also breached Scottish Government guidance at the time. In all cases the interventions were shared with the Emergency Services, Transports Users and Operators Group and discussed separately with the Transport Operators.

Following implementation of the SfP measures, engagement has continued during the monitoring phase, through feedback from stakeholders along with arranged walkabouts at specific locations. The report said that following further consideration, this engagement has helped refine each of the interventions where they could benefit business without impacting on the primary goal of protecting public health and supporting the NHS in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.