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Buses back on Castlegate? Roads planners urged to be ‘realistic’ in Union Street redesign

Aberdeen's Castlegate in December 1965 was one of the busiest spots in the city as it was the main bus terminus.
Aberdeen's Castlegate in December 1965 was one of the busiest spots in the city as it was the main bus terminus.

Buses could make a return to Aberdeen’s Castlegate – as council chiefs ponder future public transport access to the Granite Mile.

City planners have been sent back to the drawing board to work out how to improve the city centre, as all acknowledge drastic action is needed to bring people in.

Potential pedestrianisation of the Bridge Street to Market Street stretch of Union Street is on the table as part of the £150 million refresh of the city centre masterplan.

But the suggestion that buses would have to bypass Aberdeen’s seven busiest bus stops in the long term has caused outrage.

Now, the administration’s lead spokeswoman on the city centre masterplan, Councillor Marie Boulton, has revealed roads chiefs could well roll back the years and reclaim the Castlegate for public transport use – while being “realistic” about what can be achieved.

Pedestrianised in the early 1990s, the historic market area is currently under used – and the local authority wants to make more of it as a link to between the city centre and beach.

Mrs Boulton said: “We have discussed a Castlegate bus terminus and suggested we might look at the merit at making it a turning circle again for the buses, or a stopping point if drivers need to catch up on timetables.

“That certainly will feature as a possible solution.

“Connectivity is the biggest challenge we have and connections between the city centre and the beach are going to be paramount.

“How we go through the Castlegate and connect to the beach is going to be really important, so I am excited to see what innovations the council can come up with.”

Bus firms complain of continued Union Street absence

Reintroduction of buses to the cobbled square surrounding the 17th Century Mercat Cross could go some way to appeasing the city’s major transport firms.

The Goddess of Plenty surveys the Castlegate from the top of the Clydesdale Bank (now Archibald Simpson's) at the corner of King Street, Aberdeen, in November 1968. The area was pedestrianised in 1990.
The Goddess of Plenty surveys buses on the Castlegate from the top of the Clydesdale Bank (now Archibald Simpson’s) at the corner of King Street, Aberdeen, in November 1968. The area was pedestrianised in 1990.

Only last month, bosses at Stagecoach and First Aberdeen united in their calls for an urgent end to the ban on buses in Union Street.

A central stretch of the city’s main thoroughfare has been closed since early in the pandemic, as part of a £1.76 million physical distancing project.

Planners are looking at permanent pedestrianisation however, blocking a clear run up the Granite Mile for all but walkers, cyclists and, potentially, some bus services.

Peter Knight, Stagecoach managing director, and David Phillips, operations director at First Aberdeen, revealed “frustrations” at the prolonged closure.

They claimed buses had been stuck in traffic four times as long since the workaround diversion through the bus gate at Market Street was put in place.

‘Creative timetabling’ the key to having buses on pedestrianised Union Street stretch?

And while their exile from Union Street remains, Aberdeen Journals has been told the council is exploring ways of accommodating buses again – even if full scale, long term pedestrianisation is voted through.

Buses on Aberdeen's Castlegate in 1982
Buses on Aberdeen’s Castlegate in 1982

However, while buses could be allowed to share the space with walkers and cyclists like in Broad Street, the council could encourage “creative timetabling” to keep Union Street open.

“There would be nothing worse than pedestrianising between Bridge Street and Market Street and then having it constantly blocked with buses,” Mrs Boulton told us.

“Frequency of buses is quite important and that is a conversation we would need to have with the operators.

“We have to be realistic about the way our city is laid out as we don’t have the same parallel streets as Edinburgh and Glasgow to be able to do what they have.

“Buses play a vital role for many people, particularly those on lower incomes to access the city centre or for those without a car, and the older population who like to come in to the city centre during the day – getting off in Union Street is probably quite important to them.

“I know at the moment we can have lots of pretty pictures but we have to make sure we marry that with reality.

“I am a bit of a realist and I recognise that if you make a city hard to access, we just won’t have people coming here.”

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