Commercial property gurus have joined forces to plead with Aberdeen City Council to vote for the pedestrianisation of Union Street.
Surveyors from CBRE, Ryden, Shepherds, Savills, DM Hall, Graham and Sibbald, Knight Frank, Kenny Lyon Consulting and Gordon Pirie and Company all approached the Press and Journal to voice their concerns about the state the Granite Mile would be left in if we did not grab this “once in a lifetime opportunity”.
It is no secret Union Street has struggled to attract businesses to take up its empty retail units.
And with the close of many high street stores across the whole country, it is something every city is battling with.
However, Aberdeen’s property experts, and the men mostly responsible for filling our empty units, fully believe the best way for us to tackle this is to ensure the central section of Union Street remains permanently closed off to traffic.
Last year the move was approved by four councillors sitting on the council’s city growth and resources committee.
But, the contentious decision – which has split public opinion – is being brought back to the table after a move by the SNP and Liberal Democrats for it to be heard at full council.
Derren McRae, head of Aberdeen office at CBRE said it would be a devastating blow to reverse the decision made before Christmas and said the permanent pedestrianisation could be the start of enticing firms back into our high street.
“From my perspective, this feels like a once in a lifetime opportunity to make positive and progressive change to what is, unfortunately, a failing retail destination,” he said,
“Prior to the pandemic, with five lanes of traffic, Union Street central was just not appealing to quality operators.
“By pedestrianising the section from Market Street to Bridge Street and off the back of the significant investment in Union Terrace Gardens and Aberdeen Market I would like to think there will be an increased appetite for retailers and hospitality operators to open up in the many vacant units on this section.”
He said he had been “pleasantly surprised” by how much the people of Aberdeen had embraced cafe culture in recent years, despite the weather challenges.
He added: “Pedestrianisation gives the potential for units having outside seating in the heart of the city centre, something you see in other popular city centre destinations.”
Pedestrianisation key for confidence in filling empty units
Mr McRae said as we watch other major cities make significant changes to their high streets we should be considering similar options.
“On Scotland’s most sought after retail street, the pedestrianised Buchanan Street in Glasgow, the owners of the Buchanan Galleries are planning to demolish the shopping centre replacing it with an office led mixed-use development. Edinburgh city council also has plans to make George Street more pedestrian friendly.
“As a commercial property agent in Aberdeen I would have more confidence in securing good quality operators for vacant units on a pedestrianised Union Street central than I would if we were to return to five lanes of traffic.”
Dan Smith, head of office in Aberdeen for Savills, said the pedestrianisation of central Union Street is a “key next step” in the regeneration of Aberdeen city centre.
He said: “This proposal allows the projects at Marischal Square, Marischal College, the Art Gallery, Union Terrace Gardens and the redevelopment of the former Aberdeen market to be tied together, and will help to create a new heart to the city centre.
“The demise of high street retail is a UK wide/global issue, and many regional cities are having to learn to adapt and change their city centres in order to continue to be relevant. Aberdeen is no different.
“The pedestrianisation of this section of the street should enable us to attract a new type of occupier and will hopefully encourage a vibrancy which has been lacking for many years in this part of town.
“The decision which is made by Aberdeen City Council needs to be made for the benefit of the city, and I should not be politically motivated. We need to act in a decisive manner, and follow through on the proposals.”
Mark McQueen, partner at Shepherd, stressed other cities have progressed because they weren’t scared to make bold moves, while Aberdeen has continued to “stand still”.
‘Our high street requires a new normal coming out of Covid’
He said: “Partial or full pedestrianisation has been spoken about for some time and creating an attractive and safe heart of the city centre through pedestrianisation is required to create improve footfall.
“It is vitally important to see this section of Union Street pedestrianised in order that new businesses can be attracted to the area whether it be retail or leisure uses.
“This will assist to create a city centre that Aberdonians want to visit, live and spend money in. With the works undertaken at Union Terrace Gardens and the positive impact that it will bring it is important that the modernisation of the city centre continues and a pedestrianised prime retail section is a critical piece of this exercise.
“If this section is not pedestrianised it would feel like we are reverting to what was normal prior to the Covid outbreak and Union Street requires a new normal going forward otherwise we could face further empty units within this section of Union Street, the street needs to move forward and not look back from what has been done in the past.”