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Funding body to have say in plans to spend £100,000 of social distancing cash on artwork in Aberdeen

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The charity overseeing a £30 million project to make room for physical distancing in Scottish towns and cities is to take a hands-on role in Aberdeen to ensure the council’s spending plans are within the rules.

Concerns had been raised after the council announced as much as £100,000 of its Spaces For People money was to be spent on temporary art installations.

Nearly £1.8m was awarded to the local authority to fund infrastructure changes making it easier and safer for people to walk, cycle and queue in streets as lockdown is eased and businesses open.

Last week the council announced three art commissions were being offered to proven artists capable of producing large-scale projects – with as much as £50,000 up for grabs for work in Union Street, and another £25,000 in both the Schoolhill and Upperkirkgate area and the West End.

Now Sustrans Scotland has negotiated a place on the commissioning panel for the arts project to “ensure successful proposals meet Spaces For People guidelines”.

It is understood the transport charity, which is managing the Scottish Government funded scheme, initially questioned the proposed Aberdeen artwork – but bosses have now been convinced it could fit in with its funding guidelines.

A Sustrans spokeswoman said: “Applications are assessed against a number of criteria, including their ability to enable safe physical distancing, be delivered quickly and provide a visible improvement that has an immediate benefit.

“Sustrans Scotland welcomes the council’s desire to create public spaces which not only support the safe movement of people by foot and bike during coronavirus, but are visually attractive and welcoming to visitors to the city centre.

“To ensure the successful artwork proposals meet the Spaces for People application guidelines, Sustrans will be part of the assessment panel.

“Once installed, we hope the successful artworks will help people feel more confident as they return to the city centre as lockdown restrictions ease.”

A brief for those applying for the council commissions sets out the main aim as being to “transform road surfaces into inviting pedestrianised areas”, with designs expected to serve as a practical tool to mark out walkways, cycle lanes and crossings within the affected roads.

The document also reveals artwork could also encourage safe behaviour – for example with sculptures guiding pedestrians through the space, paint or decals on the road to encourage safe distancing or markers to indicate entrances and exits of areas where the council has intervened.

Last night council transport spokeswoman Sandra Macdonald said: “We are working with Sustrans to come up with innovative ways of creating attractive pedestrianised spaces to encourage people to come into the city centre to use them and to enable people to physically distance at the same time.

“We look forward to seeing the different and hopefully inspiring art installation ideas generated by our vibrant arts community and then reviewing them within the remit of the Spaces for People scheme and seeing them in place as soon as practicable.”

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