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No plans to change Aberdeen physical distancing road changes in spite of city lockdown linked to hospitality trade

Social distancing markings on the pavement.
Social distancing markings on the pavement.

There will be no “large-scale changes” to controversial physical distancing measures in Aberdeen – despite the local lockdown.

The council’s transport spokeswoman Sandra Macdonald has confirmed there are no plans to overhaul the temporary Spaces For People work.

Part of the reasoning behind city-wide £1.76million scheme was to encourage pubs, cafes and restaurants onto the streets, taking their trade outside to allow better distancing of customers.

It has also been designed to allow safe queuing for entry to premises and for buses, as well as to give people room to walk and cycle at a safe distance from each other.

The Aberdeen cluster of coronavirus cases has been traced through around 30 hospitality businesses in the north-east.

In response, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last week ordered all pubs, cafes and restaurants closed, and put in place travelling and visiting restrictions for those in the city.

Pushed to reveal whether she regretted the emphasis placed on the licensed trade as the temporary roads overhaul was drawn up, Mrs Macdonald told The P&J: “I haven’t picked up anything along those lines, if I’m honest.

Councillor Sandra Macdonald pictured with one of the social distancing benches in Aberdeen.

“What I’m hearing is that some establishments put in place some measures, some put in place others; there was a mixture.

“There is sometimes unhelpful guidelines changing quite quickly and it is quite difficult with guidelines coming through from the Scottish Government to know what is place when and where – that could easily be sorted.

“There is a wider picture about public health and testing, rather than just the interventions put in place.

“That appears to me as a layperson where the issue was – asymptomatic people didn’t know they had Covid-19  and were going out for a pint.”

“There is a bigger picture more about public health and about testing asymptomatic people, rather than just the interventions put in place.”

A government spokesman said “there was no reason” for hospitality businesses to be confused by its guidelines – writing off the suggestions of Mrs Macdonald and several other prominent administration councillors.

“We have worked with industry, unions and regulatory bodies to produce clear guidance to allow pubs and others in the sector to reopen,” he said.

The Spaces For People – overseen by transport charity Sustrans – is funded by a Scottish Government grant.

Measures, including the partial pedestrianisation of Union Street, one-way systems in Rosemount and George Street and continuing work across the city, were planned with input from public health officials and business organisations.

With work carried out at pace, at first public anger grew over the lack of consultation at the plans.

But after pubs and restaurants began trading again last month, soon temporary beer tents in closed sections of the street were the subject of the fury.

But Mrs Macdonald defended the work, adding: “The measures were agreed by Scottish Government in conjunction with ourselves and partners.

“That was the model we were following and we did all we were asked – and in my view pulled out all the stops – to make sure we would have those interventions in place so businesses could open safely and people could walk safely both in terms of the virus and the increased traffic we have seen.

“We constantly review the interventions and have tweaked them considerably to balance the needs of residents and businesses.

“At the moment, there are no plans to make any large-scale changes to Spaces For People measures.

“They are there, they are working, and I fully accept we are in a situation where the virus has surfaced in the community again.

“But retail is still working; the city centre is still open for business.”

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