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Your guide to what council election manifestos say about the north-east’s biggest issues

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The big day is approaching, with north-east council manifestos being pored over and weeks of anticipation about to come to a head.

On Thursday, the UK will go to the polls to pick the people they want to represent them at a council level, and things have certainly been heating up in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

Last week, the P&J hosted a very interesting hustings between the Aberdeen leaders of the Conservatives, Greens, Labour, Lib Dems and SNP where they were able to pit their visions for the city against each other.

But we thought it would be useful to take a deeper dive into each of the north-east manifestos to see where they differ – and where they might agree – to help you make your mind up.

  • What do they want to see done with the A90?
  • Who wants to do what with Union Street?
  • How many of the parties mention electric vehicle charging points?
  • Which is the only party to mention seagulls?

Let’s begin the issue of getting from A to B across the AB postcode…

What’s this about free buses?

One of the most eye-catching pledges is Labour’s plan to let everyone ride the bus for free in Aberdeen.

That would make it the first city in the UK to provide free bus travel for everyone – but there is a split on how much it would cost.

The party is also refloating the idea of setting up a council-owned bus corporation, something they previously proposed in 2017.

People getting on the bus at Union Street. Picture by Kath Flannery

The Greens have pledged support for that plan in their own manifesto, while also saying they want to “properly look” at the return of trams to the city’s streets.

The Conservatives have a less dramatic free-bus proposal along similar lines: they want to do a test run of fare-free travel on weeknights, an idea first suggested by Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce.

And what about railways?

The Tories are also joining several other parties in calling for more rail links in the north-east. In their case, it’s to provide a direct line to the airport and the P&J Live.

Aberdeen’s SNP has called for a new station at Cove, while the Liberal Democrats want to see new stops in Cove, Altens and Kittybrewster.

In Aberdeenshire, the Lib Dems believe there should be new rail routes in Dyce, Ellon, Fraserburgh and Peterhead and a new station in Newtonhill. The SNP, meanwhile, want the railway to extend from Dyce to Ellon and into Buchan.

Will my local roads be sorted?

The A90 looms large in the Shire party manifestos. The Tories say they will campaign for it to be dualled north of Ellon, and the Lib Dems and SNP have both singled out the notorious Toll of Birness junction as a spot to be improved.

Labour in Aberdeen want to spend £10 million over five years on road repairs, while the city’s Lib Dems have pledged £40m over the same period for both roads and pavements.

The Toll of Birness is a well-known collision blindspot on the A90 north of Ellon.

One final Aberdeen Lib Dem pledge that might pique some interest: the party wants to build a new crossing over the River Dee to replace or supplement the existing 16th Century Bridge of Dee.

On to education: Do schools get a mention?

Both Labour and the Lib Dems have said they would like to refurbish Aberdeen’s older school buildings to make sure they stay fit for purpose.

The SNP is the only party calling for new building work to start: in the Shire, they say they will begin work constructing new school facilities when funding is available, while in the city they want to completely replace Hazlehead Academy with a new energy efficient school.

What else might be in store for north-east kids?

Labour and the SNP both mention mental health for young people in their manifestos.

In Aberdeen, Labour are keen to set up a children’s mental health taskforce to deal with the impact of the pandemic, while in Aberdeenshire, the SNP have said they will provide support.

The Conservatives are proposing incentives to keep teachers in Aberdeen, including grants to help with the cost of obtaining teaching qualifications.

Meanwhile, the city’s SNP manifesto mentions investment in swimming lessons for children and free school meals for all pupils.

What are the party positions on Union Street?

The future of Aberdeen’s main shopping street is one of the main issues concerning voters in the city ahead of the May 5 election, with 72% telling the P&J that candidates’ stances on pedestrianisation would influence their vote.

Although 58% in that same survey said they wanted traffic to return to the street for good, no parties have explicitly committed to ensure that in their manifestos.

Aberdeen Labour, who have led the charge to ban vehicles from a section of Union Street alongside their Conservative coalition partners, have again made a commitment to pedestrianise the stretch from Market Street to Bridge Street.

That was unsurprisingly echoed by the Tories, who reaffirmed their commitment to the £150 million masterplan that includes pedestrianisation.

The Market Street to Bridge Street stretch of Aberdeen's Union Street would remain open to buses and taxis until a "viable alternative" can be found, according to the Liberal Democrat manifesto. Picture by Kath Flannery/DCT Media.
The Market Street to Bridge Street stretch of Aberdeen’s Union Street is currently only open to pedestrians. Picture by Kath Flannery

The Lib Dems want buses and taxis to continue driving on that central section of Union Street “until such time as viable alternative arrangements” are put in place to allow people with disabilities and limited mobility to access it.

They have ruled out a permanent arrangement with pedestrians and vehicles sharing the same surface, and said that system must come to an end on Broad Street too.

Without mentioning Union Street directly, the Greens say they want to provide “accessible and inclusive pedestrianisation” in the city.

And the SNP only mention the street in their manifesto as part of a plan to turn upper floors into council housing. 

Group leader Alex Nicoll told us he is “not ruling out any options at this point in time” regarding pedestrianisation.

Who’s most ambitious on electric vehicle chargers?

The climate crisis is top of many voters’ priority list, and a number of pledges have been mooted by the parties to help tackle it.

Among them are promises to increase electric vehicle charging points.

It’s an issue that will become a lot more pertinent over the next administration’s term, as we get closer to the UK’s complete ban on new petrol and diesel cars in 2030.

The SNP are pledging a £25 million investment in EV chargers, while the Lib Dems are offering £2m a year.

The Tories say they will double the number of charging points in Aberdeen in their first 18 months and double it again by 27, while Labour mention them among the projects that would benefit from £180m in net-zero funding.

Many parties have pledges about electric vehicle charging stations in their manifestos

The Greens say they will support the roll-out of the chargers, alongside promises to retrofit Aberdeen’s listed high-rises to make them more energy efficient and to halt the Energy Transition Zone development at St Fittick’s Park in Torry.

How many trees do the Lib Dems want to plant?

Among various environmental pledges, Labour has promised £5m to improve the footway network in Aberdeen and make the city walkable, while building connectivity to create “20-minute neighbourhoods” – a phrase that also pops up in the Green manifesto.

The Lib Dems want to plant a million trees in Aberdeen over the next decade, while the SNP plan to introduce a new net-zero committee and the Conservatives want to look into establishing ‘pocket parks’ around the city.

What about seagulls?

There are a few manifesto pledges that wouldn’t quite fit into other categories.

The SNP say they want to officially establish Aberdeen’s first makar – a city poet – and are proposing a new park for Queen Street instead of the planned redevelopment. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has also said the party’s councillors will be pushing for independence.

The refurbishment project at Bon Accord Baths would receive funding from the Tories, who would also provide £3m per council ward in the city for pavement repair.

Gull control is named among the priorities for the Aberdeenshire Lib Dems.

Labour would spend £1.25m on council workers to clean up Aberdeen’s streets, and also create the role of ‘older people’s champion’.

The Greens plan to divest council pension funds away from fossil fuels, nuclear power and the arms trade, and install bird and insect nesting sites on the local authority’s buildings.