The idea of demolishing Aberdeen’s former John Lewis building has been blasted by city planners – despite the council co-leader claiming it is the only option for the landmark.
A newly released, draft mini-masterplan for George Street confronts the question of what to do with Norco House.
On Monday, Ian Yuill declared it would make “absolutely no sense” to accept the building as a gift from the shopping giant.
He said: “The only thing that could be done would be to knock it down, and that would cost millions.”
Although it was written before the Lib Dem council co-leader’s remarks, the timing might leave him red-faced.
Designs for ex-store ‘explore the art of the possible’
However, the mini masterplan features a number of ambitious ideas for what could be done with the 52-year-old building.
In one drawing, the former store has been hollowed out to create an atrium.
That would “provide natural light into the middle of the building” and make it suitable for residential living.
The artist’s impression shows it linked to a trapezium-shaped apartment block by a red ‘lift core’.
A second proposal shows the eastern wall almost entirely replaced with glass, to allow more light into the concrete-heavy structure.
This concept would have retail on the bottom floor, with flats above.
Both ideas would involve the creation of a new park – dubbed ‘Greyfriars Square’ – to boost green space on George Street.
The mini masterplan says: “Norco House in particular is a building with high embedded carbon due to its concrete construction.
“Demolition of this building, the removal and processing of the waste and the redevelopment of the site would all produce more carbon emissions.”
It continues: “Demolition isn’t just an environmental problem.
“It is frequently undesirable on social and economic grounds.
“Research by the London School of Economics identified that demolition is both costly and unpopular in many instances.”
‘It has a negative value’
Mr Yuill agreed that knocking the building down was not desirable and would have an impact on the environment.
However, he added: “The council doesn’t own the building, the partnership has no wish to acquire the building.
“We cannot see any use to which it would be put without very substantial investment in it or demolishing it, and that remains our position.
“It has a negative value just now, effectively, would be my understanding.”
The idea for Greyfriars Square is part of a larger effort to get more plants, trees and green space along the full length of George Street.
Feedback from a consultation said, “the only decent green space” is the ‘pocket park’ at the junction with Hutcheon Street.
In response, the mini masterplan sets out proposals for ‘green vehicular streets’ featuring pollinator-friendly plants, trees on either side and grass verges.
George Street traffic changes?
If the mini masterplan goes ahead as drafted, there could also be dramatic changes to the way people drive down George Street – or don’t.
Similarly to the wider city centre masterplan, there is an increased focus on encouraging pedestrians and cyclists by reducing the number of cars.
Between its junctions with Maberly Street and John Street, George Street would be made one-way, with the southern end made local access only along with several other roads in the area.
On Wednesday, Aberdeen City Council agreed to move to the next stage in the mini masterplan process, which will involve another public consultation early next year.
The results of that will be presented to the council the following December, along with recommended revisions to the plan.