Councillors facing an uphill battle to reopen Union Street to buses and taxis have made an eleventh hour plea to ensure their arguments are heard.
SNP and Liberal Democrat members want the blocked off Market Street to Bridge Street stretch back in use while permanent plans are drawn up for the Granite Mile.
They have pressed for a special meeting of all Aberdeen councillors tomorrow but could face swift defeat in their last-ditch effort to overturn the continued pedestrianisation.
Unlike normal council votes requiring only an absolute majority, the Town House rulebook – known as standing orders – dictates that to go another round on the future of the stretch now known as Union Street central, the campaign must win with a two-thirds majority.
That’s because the issue has already been decided upon within the last six months.
Now the SNP’s Alex Nicoll and Liberal Democrat Ian Yuill have written to members of the Labour/Conservative/independents coalition, urging them to allow the debate.
In a letter, seen by Aberdeen Journals, they said: “The closure of central Union Street will have an impact on our city for decades to come and we believe that it is important that all 45 members of the council have a say in this – which is why we have called the special council meeting.
“Agreeing to suspend standing orders at Wednesday‘s meeting would allow all councillors to make that decision.
“From conversations with colleagues across the political groups, we believe that if all councillors were allowed to take part in a vote on this topic the settled will of Aberdeen City Council might well be different from the position decided at the November meeting of the city growth (finance) committee.”
Temporary Union Street pedestrianisation has become much longer term
Union Street central was closed off temporarily as part of Aberdeen’s Covid response, to allow physical distancing more easily.
However, in November, the move was made permanent – with the stretch to remain closed while the full multi-million-pound city centre facelift is developed.
At a fiery city growth meeting, eventually the votes of only four councillors were enough to see that through.
That was despite powerful words from disability campaigners warning the prolonged closure might “engineer” groups out of the city centre for good.
All 45 councillors will be updated on £150m plans for the city centre and beach late next month.
Council chiefs accused of hiding behind the rulebook on Union Street vote
Mr Nicoll blasted the requirement for a two-thirds majority to overturn a decision taken by only a handful of members as “ridiculous” – and accused the council leadership of hiding behind the standing orders.
His Lib Dem colleague Mr Yuill revealed citizens from across Aberdeen had told them of their “anger” at the decision-making process around Union Street.
“If the Conservative and Labour councillors block a debate on reopening central Union Street, it will only confirm that they know closing it does not have the backing of a majority of councillors – never mind the people of Aberdeen,” he said.
The SNP and Lib Dems at least go into tomorrow’s meeting with assurance of an absolute majority of reopening the Union Street wound – as administration leader Marie Boulton has already confirmed she will vote with them.
Mrs Boulton, who quit her job as city centre masterplan lead after the plans for the Granite Mile were passed in November, told us she “is not against change”.
But she added: “I have made it clear that I favour reopening the middle section of Union Street to service buses, taxis, private hire cars, and push bikes.
“As it stands, I feel many citizens feel unable to access Union Street, particularly those who are older or have mobility issues.
“My core principle when developing the city centre masterplan, was that we design it for those who face challenges such as mobility and the rest of us will manage.
“Accessibility to shops, restaurants or any other business is very often the key to their survival.
“So it is essential that if we want the city centre to retain the current businesses and attract more creating a vibrant destination of choice, we must make it accessible by as many forms of transport for as many people.”
The Lower Deeside councillor leads the Independent Alliance but her two colleagues’ votes are not guaranteed as the group is not whipped.
But the maths doesn’t give much cause for optimism.
Even if all three aligned independents vote for the debate.
And even if unaligned, former Tory councillor Alan Donnelly does too.
For all 45 councillors to have their say, some of the 19 Conservative and Labour members will have to vote against their parties.
‘It’s time for the SNP to stop the grievance politics’
Labour council leader Jenny Laing fired back at the SNP and Lib Dem calls.
She said: “It is little wonder citizens and businesses are dismayed at the SNP position on Union Street central as they have seen it all before with UTG and Marischal Square.
“The fact remains that the meeting tomorrow is a waste of taxpayers’ money given at the last meeting of council it was agreed that all 45 councillors would determine the masterplan and beach proposals on February 28.
“It really is time for the SNP to stop the grievance politics and support the many citizens of Aberdeen who are fed up with the decline of our city, thanks to the SNP Scottish Government brutal business rates regime and lack of investment in the northeast all while pouring money into the central belt.”