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Union Street pedestrianisation can’t come soon enough, says Aberdeen hospitality boss

Siberia boss Stuart McPhee. Picture by Kami Thomson
Siberia boss Stuart McPhee. Picture by Kami Thomson

One of Aberdeen’s best known hospitality figures has lent his support to the effort to shut off a section of Union Street to vehicles.

Stuart McPhee, the owner of Siberia on Belmont Street and chairman of Aberdeen Hospitality Together, said pedestrianisation would bring the city to the “forefront of consciousness” as a place to visit.

The future of the 300-metre stretch of road between Market Street and Bridge Street remains in flux following the local elections earlier this month, as council coalition deals continue to be negotiated.

Neither the SNP nor the Lib Dems committed to full pedestrianisation in their manifestos, after opposing the efforts of Aberdeen Labour and the Conservatives to push ahead with it over the last administration.

However, neither of the parties explicitly ruled it out.

Knowing Me, Knowing Union Street: The pedestrianisation saga so far

Unsurprisingly, both Aberdeen Labour and the Tories pledged to remain fully committed to banning vehicles from the central section of Union Street in their own manifestos.

A dramatic vote at the end of February meant work to allow buses and taxis to access the full length of the road began.

But whether that arrangement is made permanent depends on another vote, set to take place next month.

Pedestrianisation ‘vital’

Supporting Aberdeen Inspired‘s pro-pedestrianisation campaign, Mr McPhee said the city’s streetscapes need to “run like the veins that pump blood around the body”.

He said: “We need them full of footfall and easy to traverse and understand.

“It’s incumbent upon business and citizens to promote positive change and reasoned debate around the issue as this placemaking will define the city centre for a generation.”

Aberdeen Inspired said a poll of its levy payers, run earlier this year, showed a majority believed the move would bring investment and businesses back into the city centre after a brutal few years.

People on the pedestrianised section of Union Street.

Mr McPhee added: “There will be tough decisions but I do not think that anything is insurmountable given correct consultation.

“Pedestrianisation, an increase in green space and cafe culture within the city centre are vital improvements that will push the city forwards and into the forefront of the consciousness as a destination.

“For me, these changes cannot come soon enough.”

‘Divine right’ to drive on Union Street

The issue was also raised at a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s economy committee earlier this week.

Aberdeen Inspired chief executive Adrian Watson was among a four-man panel of business leaders giving evidence on the uncertain future of the high street.

Asked about the problem of “over-pedestrianisation” leading to difficulties with accessibility, Mr Watson said disability groups needed to be included in talks over such plans.

He added: “In Aberdeen, we’re talking about a 300-metre skelp of road.

“It happens to be our main thoroughfare, and people still feel they have the divine right to drive their horse and cart up that road as they have done for centuries before.

“We need to change that mindset.”

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