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Aberdeen city centre: Is the vacancy situation improving?

We've compared the state of Aberdeen's high streets in November to June to see if vacancy rates are improving.
Emma Morrice
A floorplan beside photographs of Aberdeen's shopping centres


The picture today

Our tracker continues to map out units on Union Street, Belmont Street, Schoolhill and its surrounding streets, George Street, Thistle Street and Chapel Street.

We have also mapped out the floor plans for the four shopping centres in Aberdeen –  both sides of the Bon Accord centre, the Trinity Centre and Union Square.

We update units as and when we notice them opening and closing, but each quarter of a year we carry out a full on-foot census of all streets and shopping centres to ensure the data is as up to date and accurate as possible.

Across all tracked streets, the average rate of vacancy is 27.3%. This is impacted by Gaelic Lane, which at the time of writing, has two units, both of which are currently closed.

Union Street has a vacancy rate of 21%, and has 41 vacant units out of a total of 195.

The street has continued to be at the forefront of plans to improve Aberdeen city centre throughout the past few months.

Our Union Street, a taskforce which was set up in March, has seen more than 10,000 ideas to improve the Granite Mile submitted, and a paper was  released with how the street could be invigorated.

Belmont Street has a vacancy rate of 29%, and has nine empty units out of 31, while Thistle Street has a 14.8% vacancy rate, with four units out of 27 not currently filled.

George Street to its junction with Hutcheon Street is 17.2% empty, – 16 out of 93 units.

Little Belmont Street is fully occupied. Picture by Kami Thomson

Little Belmont Street, off Belmont Street, is the street with the lowest vacancy rate out of the main shopping streets – although there are only eight units on the street, all are currently filled.

Meanwhile Schoolhill has the highest vacancy rates. Of 22 sites, nine of them are empty, which is a 40.9% vacancy rate.

Retail makes up the bulk of the businesses on Aberdeen’s shopping streets, there’s currently 108 retail businesses out of a total of 335 units.

Food and drink is the second highest category at 107 units.

Meanwhile services and hair and beauty both fill 37 units each.

In the shopping centres, the average vacancy rate is 21.9%.

The Trinity Centre has the highest vacancy rate at 33.3%, and has nine vacant units out of 27, although newly opened food and drink unit Shot ’n’ Roll only occupies part of the former Debenhams unit.

Union Square, the newest centre in Aberdeen, has the highest occupancy out of all centres, with only 8.1% of units vacant – only seven out of 86.

The larger side of the Bon Accord centre has a vacancy rate of 25%, with 14 vacant units out of 56, and the smaller side, formerly known as the St Nicholas Centre, has a vacancy rate of 21.1%, and has four out of 19 units vacant.


How have the vacancy rates changed in the city centre?

This includes several independent businesses which have popped up across the centre, including café Milkjug on Upperkirkgate, Cleavin Barber Club on Union Street, Dough and Co on Belmont Street and Shot ‘n’ Roll in the Trinity Centre.

But they’re not the only new additions, Sea Salt Cornwall moved into Union Square, while food units Heavenly Desserts and Oodles have taken up two previously empty units on Union Street. German Doner Kebab also opened at the end of October in the former Molton Brown unit on Union Street, which had been empty since the brand shut the branch in June 2020.

However, despite the number of units opening on the street, some businesses have complained of a lack of footfall.

As previously reported by the Press and Journal – concerns over footfall has led the owner of fashion retailer Dizzy’s, which moved into its current premises this year, to question whether the store should remain on Union Street.

Units aren’t closing – they’re moving

A number of the changes made to Aberdeen’s high streets and shopping centres have been in stores moving locations.

Some units have opted to move or are moving locations, rather than closing completely.

This includes James Dun’s House, which moved from its former location on Schoolhill to the old Jack Wills unit in the Academy, only a door down from its old salon.

Menkind in Union Square left its unit between O2 and Dune in May, and was closed for a few months before reopening in the former Fossil unit a few spaces down.

Lush moved from its unit on Union Street into Union Square

Lush also left its Union Street store and switched to a space within Union Square, previously where Menkind was.

Other stores are also lined up for a change – LoLo + Co, which is based on Netherkirkgate, is planning a move to Union Street.

Second Home Studio and Cafe is also planning to open shortly in the former Coffee House space on Gaelic Lane, and is a collaboration between Second Home and Breathing Space Yoga Studio, which were both previously based in The Gym on Huntly Street.

Are shops still closed long-term?

Although there has been new units opening across the city centre since we first launched our tracker, there’s still a number of long-standing empty units still vacant.

Since June, none of the top 10 units that have been vacant the longest have yet been leased.

Budz Bar remains the longest closed unit, at over 6,100 days, almost 17 years.

However, plans have been announced to give the site a lease of life.

Covering three-and-a-half storeys, it could include a high end cocktail bar, restaurants and a “high-tech golfing entertainment experience” if approved.

In the shopping centers, the situation also remains the same as on the high streets.

The longest empty unit is the former Coast in the Bon Accord Centre, followed by the former Yo! Sushi, also in Bon Accord, and the site that was previously Miss Selfridge in Bon Accord, in the side formerly known as the St Nicholas Centre.

The longest empty unit in Union Square is where Giraffe was, although Wagamama is currently in works to expand its restaurant into this space.

The unit in the Trinity Centre that has been vacant the longest is Superdrug.


What’s being done to help Aberdeen city centre?

Work on improving the situation on Union Street has continued over the past few months.

Most recently, First Minister Humza Yousaf announced he would spend £400,000 to help spruce up Aberdeen’s main shopping street. 

The significant sum was said to be a “down-payment in Aberdeen’s bright future”, with the announcement made ahead of the SNP conference, which was held in the city earlier this month.

Meanwhile, plans for a new Aberdeen market have been approved in a £50 million project.

Located from Union Street level down to The Green, it will be operated by McGinty’s, the long-awaited upgrade is planned to house 10 food vendors, as well as a bar run by local company Fierce Beer.

The Union Street entrance to the new Aberdeen Market. Image: Halliday Fraser Munro/Aberdeen City Council

Meanwhile, a bid by Our Union Street plans to attract more businesses to the area, has also seen a rent-free deal proposed by the group as an option for Union Street, hoped to entice owners in, with more than 20 firms said to be interested.

Aberdeen City Council also used new powers to change relief owners would receive for their property being empty, dropping from 100% down to 50% for three months, then just 10% after this.

Where can I see more?

We will continue to track places opening and closing on the above mentioned streets and shopping centres as often as possible.

You can view our Aberdeen high street trackers which include the shopping streets.

And you can also view our Aberdeen shopping centres tracker.