Multi-million-pound plans which could shape the centre of Aberdeen for decades to come are to be drawn up in the next two months.
Council planners have been tasked with coming up with detailed plans to bring the masses back to the city, backed by a £150 million budget – but community efforts to bring an art deco gem back into public use will not benefit directly.
In-depth proposals for the pedestrianisation of Union Street, from Market Street to Bridge Street, are to be prioritised in the refresh of the city centre masterplan.
Parts of the new blueprint for Aberdeen will emerge at the end of October, ahead of a decision being taken by councillors in early November.
But calls for some of the cash pot to be put towards the restoration of the Bon Accord Baths in Justice Mill Lane were denied at a fiery council yesterday.
While members of all parties on the city growth committee agreed with the need for rapid change, calls for specific causes to be included in council plans were voted down by the Labour-led administration.
SNP and Liberal Democrat councillors had pushed for the 1940s pool, which is currently being restored by community volunteers after the local authority closed its doors, to benefit from the city regeneration funding.
They had also wanted the possibility of investment in Aberdeen Arts Centre to be explored.
Conservative city growth convener Ryan Houghton said: “We all care very much for this city and for its future.
“Every morning I walk down Union Street and see the shops and to let signs and how it has changed over the last few years.
“I have seen the numbers of people change firstly through the oil and gas downturn and then Covid as well.
“There is a real sense of urgency people have for changing the future of the city.
“And that is something we all agree on fundamentally.”
The Conservative group leader added that projects needed to be achievable within the council’s limited resources, form a “seamless fabric” of attractions across the city and bring about meaningful change.
“We have fantastic assets in the city, though it is very Aberdonian thing to talk ourselves down,” he said.
“But the economic recovery of the city demands we invest positively, ambitiously and boldly to create the city that we know Aberdeen will be in the future.”
Mr Houghton revealed council officers had already committed to helping the Save Bon Accord Baths campaigners with grant funding applications, having delayed the work by a year at the request of the volunteers.
Decisions on what projects to take forward to be made in November
Council officials will now face a busy two months of planning – given the huge scope of the city centre masterplan refresh.
Plans for Union Street include the currently close central section, between Bridge Street and Market Street, permanently pedestrianised – though public transport could be allowed a return to the busiest seven bus stops in the city which are currently off limits.
The work would result in wider pavements, space for outdoor dining to cultivate cafe culture and trees lining the streets.
A new market on the site of the former British Homes Store could also be built, a project we revealed yesterday could cost as much as £74.7m.
Council chiefs are also to look at how best to encourage property owners in Union Street to improve the condition of their buildings, as they survey the length of the Granite Mile due to the sorry state of some of the rooftops.
Improvements too could be made to the Castlegate, while there are plans for an overhaul of roads in Schoolhill, Upperkirkgate, Belmont Street, Back Wynd and the West End – all aimed at bringing the street activities and cafe culture to Aberdeen.
Officials have been tasked with exploring possibilities of using public land to promote the outdoor hospitality trade, including in a planned seating area outside of the recently refurbished art gallery.
In the longer term, a ‘mini masterplan’ is to be drawn up for George Street, after the area was shaken by the departure of John Lewis.
The work will also be tied in with a significant shake up of the beach area.
Leader of the largest opposition group, the SNP’s Alex Nicoll, said: “We are asking for good old Bon Accord Baths to be looked at and a report to be brought back to us.
“It is something that was referred to in the consultation and officers have told us it was an extremely high response and so it merited being mentioned in the report.
“I do not know if it is something that would happen or not – but it is something we should look at. Likewise Castlegate Arts have their building (Aberdeen Art Centre) and in recent times it has become rather tired and perhaps in need of some help.
“We all agree we need to look at measures to bring people back to living in our city centre and we need to explore a multitude of ideas to bring people back.
“The difficult decisions we are coming to today are ones that will be welcomed by the city of Aberdeen.”
Bid boss welcomes progress but urges council to delivery on big plans
The progress on the refreshed blueprint for the city centre was hailed by Aberdeen Inspired chief executive, Adrian Watson, who said: “We are committed to the delivery of the city centre masterplan and the decisions taken are welcomed by so many of our businesses at such a critical time for the city centre.”
“These ambitious plans are the principles of what many of our businesses have been calling out for.
“They will add further value to our city’s transformation, ensuring it remains relevant and a place that people will enjoy in the years to come.
“Nobody is blinded by the challenges facing towns and city centres across the country and beyond and we need to embrace this much needed strategic change to our own streetscape that can act as a catalyst for further investment from across the sectors and partnerships, in helping create a more vibrant, attractive city centre that we can all be proud of.
“We now need to push on with delivery.”