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Last-ditch effort to reopen Union Street stretch silenced as debate is denied

Union Street in Aberdeen will remain closed until permanent pedestrianisation plans are drawn up by the council. Photo by Paul Glendell/DCT Media
Union Street in Aberdeen. Photo by Paul Glendell/DCT Media

A last-gasp attempt to reopen Union Street to buses and taxis has been thwarted.

Opposition councillors tried to have the prolonged closure of the central strip of the Granite Mile overturned, on the basis it had initially been introduced as a temporary Covid measure.

But the SNP – and then the Liberal Democrats – failed to get the matter onto Monday’s council agenda.

Being denied the chance for a fresh debate on the future of the city’s former main shopping destination drew fury.

The SNP’s Michael Hutchison had been trying for a fortnight to have the reopening of the stretch between Market Street and Bridge Street discussed.

He was blocked by Lord Provost Barney Crockett – who claimed the move did not fall within council guidelines.

Claims Union Street revamp could ‘engineer’ those with mobility issues out of Aberdeen city centre

Last month, members had voted to keep Union Street Central closed until fully-fledged plans for pedestrianisation are drawn up as part of a £150 million city centre overhaul.

Union Street will remain pedestrianised at the corner of Market Street up to Bridge Street. Plans for a new Aberdeen market are part of the pedestrianisation proposals. Pic by Aberdeen City Council
Union Street will remain pedestrianised at the corner of Market Street up to Bridge Street. Plans for a new Aberdeen market are part of the pedestrianisation proposals. Pic by Aberdeen City Council

This came despite warnings from disability campaigners that it might effectively force them from the city centre.

The masterplan will also include a revamp of the beachfront, potentially including a replacement stadium for Aberdeen FC’s Pittodrie, and a new food and drink market on the former BHS department store site.

As a minority administration, the Labour-led coalition might well have dreaded a vote at full council.

Marie Boulton, who leads the Independent Alliance propping them up, quit her city centre masterplan lead job as she could not support November’s Union Street decision.

With unaligned independent Alan Donnelly very publicly opposed to pedestrianisation, and something of a wild card in exile after his sexual assault conviction, a loss was not unimaginable.

‘A democratic outrage’: Councillor incensed by Union Street debate snub

Prior to the meeting, officials had warned Mr Hutchison that the reopening might cost the local authority money to repaint the roads, only for the work to be undone very quickly as more permanent plans are drawn up.

Therefore, council chiefs did not believe the move would provide best value for taxpayers’ money – and this appears to have been enough for the idea to be thrown out.

Councillor Michael Hutchison failed to get his calls for Aberdeen's Union Street reopened to buses and taxis. Photo by Kenny Elrick/DCT Media.
Councillor Michael Hutchison failed to get his calls for Aberdeen’s Union Street reopened to buses and taxis. Photo by Kenny Elrick/DCT Media.

However, George Street and Harbour councillor Mr Hutchison claims legal chiefs informed him that his motion was competent and could be debated – despite the warning about the cost.

He told us he is “still to hear” why it was knocked back.

“It’s a democratic outrage that this debate has been shut down for political expedience and councillors blocked from making decisions on how our city is run.

“More importantly, we are being told people feel excluded from the heart of our city under the current arrangements.

“I think it’s appalling that this been able to continue with the support of just four councillors.

“Our city and its citizens deserve better than this.”

Claims people of Aberdeen will find it hard to understand why Union Street debate denied

Lib Dem group leader Ian Yuill also attempted to have the reopening considered during the meeting.

But he was told it was not competent to latch such a big, operational decision onto a debate about the procedural workings of the council.

He said: “It will be disappointing that the failure to reopen to Union Street to at least buses and taxis wasn’t even discussed.

Councillor Ian Yuill had pushed for Union Street in Aberdeen to be reopened to buses and taxis - and pressed for the balance of power to shift at the Town House. Photo by Paul Glendell/DCT Media
Councillor Ian Yuill had pushed for Union Street in Aberdeen to be reopened to buses and taxis – and pressed for the balance of power to shift at the Town House. Photo by Paul Glendell/DCT Media

“People will find that hard to understand.

“It is clear there is a great deal of public concern and the decision was made by only four councillors.

“If the council had discussed it, whatever the outcome, at least that would have been a decision made by all 45 councillors.”

Burned by that experience at November meeting, when only four administration councillors voted through Union Street decision, the opposition groups also pressed for reform in the future.

The SNP had some success, as their move to have all future city centre masterplan votes heard at full council was agreed across the chamber.

Conservative group leader and finance convener Ryan Houghton said it “was clear” that reversing spending decisions “made only weeks ago” could raise concerns about the council wasting money.

Council finance convener Ryan Houghton said he was "looking forward" to reviewing how the council is run with members of all parties in the new year.
Council finance convener Ryan Houghton said he was “looking forward” to reviewing how the council is run with members of all parties in the new year. Photo by Kami Thomson/DCT Media.

Mr Houghton added: “The SNP opposed the £150m investment in the city centre months ago proposing to do nothing instead, so I hope they will now engage with us to promote the city.”

Lib Dem move to redress balance of power deferred until the new year

But Liberal Democrats moves to tip the balance of power away from the minority coalition in charge stalled.

The group had suggested stripping administration-appointed committee conveners of veto powers over what decisions should be passed on to full council.

“Disappointed” leader Mr Yuill’s other move, to address the fact that the minority ruling Labour/Tory/independents still control all council committees as they did when they were a majority, was, along with the veto issue, deferred until February.

He told us: “Aberdeen has a minority council administration clinging to power, with the support of independent councillor Alan Donnelly, blocking discussions over change to council rules which would have brought fairness in the allocation of committee places by removing the coalition’s majority.”

The meeting can be viewed here.

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