The closure of Union Street in Aberdeen will last until at least November – after calls to get the city centre back to normal by the end of next month were defeated.
The decision to maintain the controversial Spaces For People road changes on the Market Street to Bridge Street stretch of the Granite Mile and around Belmont Street came as NHS Grampian bosses warned they had recorded the highest number of Covid cases in the north-east since the pandemic began.
But councillors did agree that Thistle Street, Chapel Street and Rose Street should be put back to normal in the coming weeks.
Change will come in the West End following the removal of the lane narrowing measures in Torry’s Victoria Road next month.
Work is already in Rosemount to restore two-way traffic there, after George Street was put back to normal earlier in the month.
Now, the future of the temporary city centre changes will be decided in November – as decisions on a permanent roads changes are made, including the long term pedestrianisation of Union Street.
Finance convener, Ryan Houghton, said: “I was one of those at start who was for getting rid of everything as quickly as possible.
“But we have to be sensible and do things pragmatically.
“As a board member of NHS Grampian, the first line of a brief they put out today was: ‘this is the highest number of daily cases recorded in Grampian since the start of the pandemic’ – so we have to be really careful.
“Christmas will be a time where there will be lots of people in the city centre and so it makes sense to have space for them.
“So, in November we will make long term future plans based on what we have decided today.”
There was also relief for the city’s licensed trade as they were given leave to keep up the many temporary beer tents and marquees until after the Christmas rush.
Hospitality premises have taken to the outdoors in large numbers throughout the pandemic due to restrictions on trading inside.
Despite acknowledging them as a “lifesaver” throughout the Covid emergency, Liberal Democrat group leader Ian Yuill had pressed for the flexibility offered by authorities to end in September.
“But that was at a time when there was very little indoor trading allowed,” he said.
“If there was no downside of them being on streets and pavements then I would probably agree they should remain.
“But the difficulty is that they cause problems because, for example on Union Street, they sit in bus lanes – which if reopened – would be blocked.
“When this council rightly introduced the Spaces For People changes in spring 2020, the point was made repeatedly that these were a response to a public health emergency.
He added: “This council has already recognised that circumstances have now changed with the earlier decision to remove the interventions outside the city centre and I believe we should remove those there too.
“That is not because I do not believe we should pedestrianise Union Street between Bridge Street and Market – that’s something we all agree about – but because we should stick to our word and remove interventions that were said to be temporary.”
Council officials have also been tasked with looking at ways of to accommodate the continuation of outdoor trading, including potentially leasing public land to make room for businesses who wish to carry on with their outside ventures.