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All still to play for? Your guide to major council meeting on Aberdeen FC beach stadium, ideas for old John Lewis and Union Street road changes

Our guide to the impending Aberdeen City Council meeting where a new Aberdeen FC stadium, George Street plans and Union Street changes are all on the agenda.
A major Aberdeen City Council meeting could plot the city's economic recovery. Image: Roddie Reid/DCT Media

In the coming days, the path could be cleared for major projects designed to bring Aberdeen out of the doldrums.

On Wednesday, December 14, councillors will gather for a milestone meeting that’s been years in the making.

They will discuss the radical plans to revamp the beach, and could formalise the controversial decision to deny Aberdeen FC any money towards a new stadium.

The regeneration of George Street, with various ideas for the old John Lewis building, will be on the table too.

And elected members could endorse a £500,000 funding package aimed at saving Union Street, while carrying out extensive road changes voted through after pedestrianisation plans were scrapped.

With so much going on, it can be hard for even the most expert armchair analyst to keep track.

Our guide tells you all you need to know ahead of what could be a very big day for the city…

First things first, what’s going on with the new Aberdeen stadium?

The council and the Dons have been in talks for almost two years about the club building its replacement for Pittodrie at the seafront.

The £80 million ground has been seen as the crown jewel in the wider beach masterplan.

This concept image shows how a new stadium could form a huge centrepiece beside the revamped beach. Image: Morrison Communications

Supporters are all for it, and Aberdeen FC higher-ups have grown increasingly fond of the idea – which would mean binning off the previously approved Kingsford ground.

Chairman Dave Cormack recently told us he could still press ahead with the stadium on the outskirts of the city for less money, but would prefer to build at the beach.

Aberdeen FC chairman Dave Cormack told P&J reporter Alastair Gossip he "cries" at the state of Union Street. Image: Wullie Marr/DC Thomson.
Aberdeen FC chairman Dave Cormack told P&J reporter Alastair Gossip he “cries” at the state of Union Street while hailing the boost a seaside stadium could bring the struggling city centre. Image: Wullie Marr/DC Thomson.

What has been clear though is that he expects some council cash to help pay for it, as it would provide new leisure facilities and bring about a “billion-pound economic boost”.

He’s never gone so far as to name a sum.

But that appears irrelevant to council co-leaders Ian Yuill and Alex Nicoll – who have refused to pledge any public cash towards the scheme.

It’s a stance backed up by council officers in a report to be debated on Wednesday, who say the project is “dependent” on the Dons paying for it.

Could this mean the end for stadium dream?

Labour and Tory opposition councillors are likely to make the case for public investment in the ground.

After all, it was their idea in the first place back when they ran the city.

But the current SNP and Liberal Democrat ruling group command a majority in the chamber.

Unless Nationalist councillors rebel against their leader, the coalition’s vote would be enough to formalise the council’s position.

What are the chances of a revolt?

Speculation has been mounting over unrest in the SNP group in recent months, with suggestions that “at least five” members disagree with Mr Nicoll’s position.

Several ignored his plea to “think carefully” about attending talks with Dons bosses on the plan, which the leader himself opted out of.

Aberdeen City Council co-leader Alex Nicoll urged his SNP councillors to "carefully consider" whether to attend the Aberdeen FC stadium briefing. He was "happy" for them to go, despite announcing he would not attend due to potential planning issues further down the line. Image: Chris Donnan/DC Thomson.
Aberdeen City Council co-leader Alex Nicoll urged his SNP councillors to “carefully consider” whether to attend an Aberdeen FC stadium briefing at Pittodrie… But some still went anyway. Image: Chris Donnan/DC Thomson.

But SNP politicians rarely publicly speak out against one another, and voting against their boss in the chamber is an unlikely prospect.

Stranger things have happened, of course.

Where would this leave the Dons?

Aberdeen FC have refused to be drawn on whether this would spell the end for the stadium plans.

Mr Cormack continues to highlight the “massive prize” on offer if the council lends a financial hand, stressing that recent economic studies should allay any concerns that the council won’t see a return on its investment.

Mr Cormack may have made a similar expression while reading the council co-leaders’ recent remarks… Image: Wullie Marr/DCT Media

And he expressed some disappointment about leaders “missing the point” about community benefits…

What about the rest of the beach masterplan?

Councillors will also pore over the results of a recent public consultation on plans to revamp the seafront.

Hearing from the public can sometimes be an ordeal for them, but in this case more than half of the 713 respondents backed the idea.

But what about the traffic ban?

While people are broadly in favour of a new boardwalk, enhanced public parks and the sprucing up of the Beach Ballroom, there remains one contentious aspect of the scheme.

The council is determined to accelerate plans to ban traffic along the Esplanade.

Officers insist that it’s needed to complete the ambitious overhaul, making the seaside once again a place people love to be beside.

And they claim that other city roads are more than capable of handing the “displaced” vehicles.

Should any councillors voice the concerns shared by many residents, who “love driving along the Esplanade”, this could be some bumps in the road on Wednesday.

And what about Union Street?

The crunch meeting could prove pivotal when it comes to the Granite Mile.

The fading fortunes of Union Street have come into sharp focus lately, with a make-or-break summit at the Douglas Hotel aimed at finding ways to save it.

These changes to Aberdeen city centre could be rolled out in a few months.

And on Wednesday, councillors could set in stone £20m plans to revive it.

The revised road changes would mean the central stretch is reduced to two lanes, with extra space for people and lots more greenery.

It comes after the newly elected administration scrapped much-debated plans to pedestrianise that section of Union Street.

Buses will still be allowed on the central stretch, after months of arguing over the merits of a complete traffic ban. Image: Aberdeen City Council

And a new £500,000 scheme could be launched to bring some of the area’s many vacant shops back into use.

Money will be shared with businesses looking to reconfigure empty units.

There are various unsightly abandoned shops along the Granite Mile.

The investment could pay off… By remaining empty, the 111 unoccupied premises are costing the council £1.1 m in lost business rates.

The road changes could begin next summer, if the plans are voted through. 

What’s going on with the old John Lewis?

Last weekend, the P&J revealed that the department store was contemplating the idea of gifting the huge Norco House to the city.

With the enthusiasm of a spouse asking “I hope you kept the receipt?” on Christmas morning, Mr Yuill told us it’s not the sort of present he would be hoping for.

John Lewis is "considering" gifting Aberdeen its empty premises at Norco House. But there are claims it would not make "financial sense" for the council to accept the offer. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.
John Lewis is “considering” gifting Aberdeen its empty premises at Norco House. But they don’t seem to want it. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

He told us the only option for the building would be to flatten it at a cost of millions, which would have to come from the public purse.

But since then, council planning gurus have revealed a range of ideas on how the building COULD be repurposed.

Options include having shops on the ground floor, flats above and a park on the roof – if the council took it on.

Could you imagine a city centre park on the expansive roof of the John Lewis building? Council planners say it could be a possibility.

The matter will be discussed alongside the council’s “mini-masterplan” aimed at breathing new life into George Street.

You can read more about the proposed road changes involved here.

I pay for a parking permit, should I be worried?


Councillors are being recommended to increase charges across the board, with permits jumping from £60 per year to £200.

This table shows the proposed changes to Aberdeen City Council parking permit prices from April 2023. Image: DC Thomson.

It’s a way to generate extra cash for the council at a time of financial distress and, they say, to bring Aberdeen in line with what other authorities are charging.

The report also mentions the environmental benefits of people getting rid of their cars rather than paying the increased rate.

Should the council increase parking charges? Let us know in our comments section below

What could happen to Queen Street?

Plans to turn Aberdeen’s Queen Street into an “urban quarter” have been in the works since 2016.

In February, the council bought the old police HQ there as the scheme ramped up.

The towering home of the north-east police force from the 1970s up until 2020. Image: Kath Flannery/DCT Media

But just months later, the SNP threw a spanner into the works, with an election pledge to turn it into a new park instead if they were triumphant at the polls.

They were.

And now, six months on from the vote, councillors will sit down to decide what should happen.

Aberdeen SNP capital programme spokesman Michael Hutchison in the Town House garden, backing on to Queen Street. Picture by Scott Baxter/DCT Media.
SNP councillor Michael Hutchison unveiled the different proposals this spring. Image: Scott Baxter/DCT Media.

They are being presented with five choices – ranging from the park proposal to, er, doing nothing at all.

You can read all about each option here – and vote on your favourite one!

And will we ever learn when Union Terrace Gardens might open?

In October, the council assured residents that the grand reopening of Union Terrace Gardens would come “in a few weeks”.

With that definition stretched more than two months on, estimations have shifted to a slightly less vague “before Christmas”.

Union Terrace Gardens on a snowy December morning. Image: Alastair Gossip/DC Thomson.
Union Terrace Gardens on a snowy December morning. Image: Alastair Gossip/DC Thomson.

With the meeting taking place just 10 days before Santa starts delivering his presents, it’s possible there could be some confirmation.

Follow our UTG advent calendar for more.

You can see the meeting papers here.