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Facebook fury about closed Union Street – but does silent majority back traffic ban?

Scores of people have made their thoughts known on the debate.
Scores of people have made their thoughts known on the debate.

Facebook users haven’t held back when it comes to the future of Aberdeen’s Union Street.

Yesterday, we reported the city council’s Liberal Democrat and SNP groups are seeking a fresh vote on reopening the Granite Mile.

The central stretch, between Market Street and Bridge Street, has been shut since last spring – at that point, as part of Spaces for People social distancing measures.

In November, councillors voted to keep it closed to all traffic while major plans to permanently pedestrianise the route are formed.

Concept images of the new Aberdeen International Market, on the BHS site, were released by the council in May.
Concept images of the new Aberdeen International Market, on the BHS site, which form part of the major Union Street overhaul.

That came against the wishes of disability campaigners and several elected members who wanted access restored for buses and taxis.

The latest effort from the opposition to bring the matter back to the table prompted an outpouring of opinion from our readers.

But previous polls have indicated many Aberdonians support the local authority’s plans.

Are social media users a vocal minority when it comes to Aberdeen city centre?

What do Facebook followers say on Union Street?

We asked people the simple question “do you want to see Union Street reopened?”

Jody Reid replied: “Yes!!”

She added: “It needs some life in it again.

“People need transport to get into the city, i.e buses for the elderly.”

Ernie Walton said: “Yes, it looks an eyesore with the pots on it.

“Put it back to the way it was.”

One of the comments left on the Evening Express Facebook page.

Diane Forrest said the council should “think about the poor taxi drivers” and “open it up”.

‘Battle will be lost’ without equal access?

Carolyn Sinclair believes footfall won’t increase along the Granite Mile unless there is “access for ALL pedestrians, not just those who can walk a distance”.

She added: “We require both the shops and free-flowing traffic, along with a city centre that everyone can access.

“Open up the whole street, footfall will start returning.

“A successful city centre depends on a balance of shops and people and without it being readily accessible to all then I think the battle has been lost.”

Are pensioners missing their Big Macs because of the traffic restrictions?

Susan Glendinning ventured: “I think everyone in Aberdeen wants Union Street reopened.”

Others mentioned pollution problems being exacerbated by traffic building up on roads surrounding Union Street.

With the environment in mind, Alastair Sibbald suggested the road be opened only to hydrogen buses and electric taxis.

And Sarah Ann Deans proposed that taxis and buses should both be allowed… But only if they slow to a maximum of 5mph, similar to how buses operate on the partly-pedestrianised Broad Street.

A line of buses slowly making their way along Broad Street. Photo: Chris Sumner/DCT Media

‘Make Union Street great again’

And some said the council should reopen Union Street “to everyone” rather than just taxis and buses.

David Cruickshank channeled Donald Trump in his plea to restore access for all vehicles.

He said: “Open it up, convert the bus lanes into parking spaces, make Union Street great again.”

Some people prefer the street the way it is now. Picture by Paul Glendell

‘I like it’

A few people entered the fray to support the council administration’s aims.

Scott Silverdude said: “Personally, I like it as it is.

“For the people calling Union Street a ghost town with no shops left… Wouldn’t a new market, that is meant to be part of the pedestrianisation process, help to fix that as it’s adding new businesses?

“I don’t get the thinking here; it sounds like people want their cake and to eat it too.”

Nicola Mackenzie agreed: “I prefer it the way it is. No one getting under your feet or bumping into my grandbaby’s pram.”

Union Street could become ‘concrete desert’

But does the reaction on Facebook reflect the mood of the city?

There is some evidence to suggest that a silent majority may, in fact, back the full pedestrianisation of Union Street.

Prior to the fateful council meeting in November, when the plans were voted through, we polled readers on several important issues. 

Of 671 responses, 61% of people said they wanted Union Street to be pedestrianised.

And 77% said they liked the plans for the old BHS building – intrinsically linked to the traffic ban.

Russell Borthwick, the chief executive of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce understands the importance of the regeneration plans “working for the majority”.

Russell Borthwick says the council needs to see past Facebook complaints about the Union Street plans. Picture by Paul Glendell

But he says naysayers can not be “a barrier to progress”.

In a letter of support for the various masterplan proposals, Mr Borthwick stressed the need for the council to “reinvent” the city centre.

He said: “We acknowledge that there will be elements of the plan that do not meet with universal approval.

“But we accept that this is inevitable and that we should proceed in the pursuit of the greater civic good.

“Decisions taken now will determine whether our city centres, places that should be the beating heart of our communities, recover strongly or become concrete deserts, museums to a bygone age.

“Recent Chamber research of 500+ residents undertaken by Scotpulse shows conclusively that there is an appetite for change.”

With the possibility of another council vote on the issue now looming, we are again offering readers the chance to have their say in a new poll: