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Uber, events calendar and ‘hundreds of flower boxes’ feature in 17 ‘key themes’ to save Union Street

Improvement group Our Union Street has unveiled a whittled-down list of aims for Aberdeen's Granite Mile.

Our Union Street has unveiled the 17 key themes they will explore as they seek to save the Granite Mile.
Our Union Street has unveiled the 17 key themes they will explore as they seek to save the Granite Mile. Image: Wullie Marr/Roddie Reid

Campaigners have unveiled the 17 key themes they will explore as they launch efforts to save Aberdeen city centre.

Our Union Street was formed in March, in the aftermath of crisis talks on the alarming decline of the Granite Mile.

Helmed by business stalwart Bob Keiller, the taskforce is determined to breathe new life into the thoroughfare before it’s too late.

Leaders were quickly inundated with thousands of ideas from Aberdonians keen to help.

Bob Keiller is leading the charge to save Aberdeen city centre. Image: Our Union Street

They’ve now whittled a staggering list down to 17 “key themes”, announced during a public event at Aberdeen Music Hall today.

What are the 17 themes to explore in quest to save Union Street?

The 17 areas Our Union Street will focus on have been broken down into five areas.

The first is footfall, with the empty state of the Granite Mile a matter of huge concern.

1. Atmosphere

When we spoke to people walking the mat last year, many of them told us Union Street had become a place they no longer looked forward to visiting.

Whether it’s drunken rowdiness at night, or the spectre of a ghost town during the day, many agree the atmosphere isn’t what it used to be.

How we reported the call to action from Our Union Street in March. Image: DC Thomson

So what possibilities will Our Union Street explore to fix that?

The freshly released whitepaper hails the popularity of the Spectra lights festival in February as “a clear demonstration that people will come into the city centre if there is
something to see or do”.

They say a “calendar of events – large or small, frequent or infrequent” could replicate this.

Huge queues to enter Union Terrace Gardens stretched all the way to the Gallowgate during Spectra. Image: Ben Hendry/ DC Thomson
The patient visitors were rewarded with some dazzling sights in the sunken gardens. Image: Paul Glendell / DC Thomson

Our Union Street is keen to see what events could appeal to “younger people, history buffs, gaming enthusiasts and cruise ship passengers”.

The paper states: “How do we ensure that Union Terrace Gardens are a venue for events, particularly over summer?

“Who would design and run events, and how would they be organised?”

The Our Union Street taskforce will move into offices in the largest Union Terrace Gardens pavilion earl next week. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson
The Our Union Street taskforce will move into offices in the largest Union Terrace Gardens pavilion early next week. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

2. Ensuring that all events are easy to find and to book.

Our Union Street could look into a dedicated “what’s on” website to “make it easy” for people to learn about events taking place.

The next key theme is accessibility

3. Review parking concerns.

Asked what would encourage them to visit Union Street more often, many people flagged their concerns about parking.

They say the availability, accessibility and costs involved are off-putting. But what can be done about it?

Better parking options could bring more people flocking onto the Granite Mile. Image: Wullie Marr / DC Thomson

The whitepaper asks: “If lower cost parking was provided, would the increase in
usage offset the potential drop in revenues for car park operators?

“Are restrictions to parking durations (e.g the one-hour limit at Golden Square) putting people off?”

Cars parked on Crown Street in Aberdeen, just off Union Street. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

A previous “Alive after Five” initiative was lauded years ago as a way of reviving Union Street, with charges dropped at council car parks from 5pm to 8pm.

It cost the authority £80,000 – and made “no difference” to footfall.

4. Investigate bus and taxi problems and options.

Aberdeen’s taxi issues go back many months, with a shortage of drivers a persistent problem following the pandemic.

People had to wait for especially long spells over the festive period. Image: Cameron Roy/DC Thomson

The paper adds: “Several people (who live in Aberdeenshire) said that they would not come into Aberdeen in the evening for meals or drinks etc because they have no faith in the availability of taxis.”

One question Our Union Street will ask is: “Would Uber make a difference?”

The firm as awarded a licence to operate in Aberdeen in 2017.

But the plans were axed two years later.

Uber is part of life in scores of cities.

5. Questions around pedestrianisation and café culture.

After years of debate, plans to pedestrianise a stretch of Union Street were booted into the long grass by the council’s SNP and Lib Dem leaders last summer.

But the idea has never gone away, with a section of Aberdonians still annoyed about the proposal being parked.

An image from the unanimously-backed 2015 city centre masterplan, which highlighted Union Street pedestrianisation as a council goal. Picture by Aberdeen City Council. CITY MASTER PLAN ARTIST IMPRESSION
An image showing how a pedestrianised Union Street might have looked. Image: Aberdeen City Council

Our Union Street wants to see if there really is a valid case for it.

Pledge to go ‘beyond opinion’

The manifesto says: “How do we get beyond opinion and look at the case for
and against it?

“How do we ensure that people with mobility restrictions would not be unfairly excluded?

“Are there certain times of the week, month or year where pedestrianisation makes more sense?”

Data from other towns and cities will be analysed to reach a conclusion.

Can Our Union Street make the Granite Mile sparkle again?

The next area which needs addressed is “the state of the street“, and several ideas will be explored to restore some of Union Street’s gleam.

6. Cleaning the streets, pavements and street furniture.

The paper states: “This is an area that was mentioned many times – the perception is that the street is untidy and dirty. How do we change that?”

There are plenty of buildings in need of a clean on the long central stretch. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

When he unveiled the crusade, Mr Keiller mentioned helping to brush our granite buildings until they gleamed again.

Our Union Street will investigate how this could be done, who by, and what equipment they would need.

7. Maintaining upper-levels on buildings.

“Weeds and plants growing from balconies and ledges are very obvious and very damaging to the appearance of the city centre,” the blueprint for change says.

There’s no shortage of greenery among the granite… Image: Wullie Marr / DC Thomson

Our Union Street will see how they can be removed and how this would be paid for.

8. Making empty units more attractive.

Could letting agent signs be replaced with something “less obvious” as a way of sprucing up the Granite Mile?

Alongside that, Our Union Street would look at keeping empty units clean and tidy, perhaps even installing temporary signage to cover up “bare and unsightly” hoardings.

9. Improving the look of existing shops.

But even some occupied units are “very poorly maintained”, or have “very unattractive
window displays”.

The council has had to jostle the owners of 25 Union Street into doing up its frontage. Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson

It comes as the owners of one Union Street shop have been ordered to do it up by the city council.

The group would look into what help it can offer in persuading these units to enhance their appearance.

10. Organising exhibitions for empty retail unit windows.

Another important suggestion is using some of the Granite Mile’s many empty shops for art exhibitions.

Empty units like this one proliferate the street. Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson

11. Aesthetics: Colour, plants, flowers, trees, seating,
lighting and public spaces.

And the group of concerned citizens will explore “practical options” to “bring colour” onto Union Street.

The paper says: “There are a few hanging baskets on the street – how could
we do lots and lots?

“Similarly with window boxes – what if we had hundreds of them – bursting with flowers and colour?

“Could we make the ones on higher levels artificial flowers to reduce maintenance

12. Organising Volunteers.


Bob Christie standing holding a purple hi-vis vest with the Our Union Street logo.
Bob Christie of Concept Promotional Merchandise with some of the PPE he has donated to the Our Union Street volunteer group. Image: Michal Wachucik / Abermedia.

Our Union Street knows it can’t act alone, and is summoning an “army of volunteers” to make its vision a reality.

Read more about that here.

Now for a big one: Empty shops

The number of empty units in Aberdeen has been an issue for many years, but the pandemic made a bad situation much worse.

13. Attracting new tenants for empty units.

The collective will examine ways to “provide a clear and compelling offer” luring businesses onto the street.

That could include marketing its benefits, targeting individual firms or looking at ways to help make costs competitive.

Units like this one could be marketed far and wide. Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson

14. Empty unit options (beyond retail, food & drink).

Another area will be looking at using empty units as places for arts and crafts, or social activities.

Our Union Street will look at the options and “see how they would work commercially”.

What do you think would help revive Union Street? Let us know in our comments section below

What are the last of the 17 key themes being explored by Our Union Street?

The final area which Our Union Street will focus on is “narrative“. In other words, how do they tell the story of the street to prospective businesses and visitors?

15. Marketing the street.

The paper states: “We need to attract local people and tourists to come to Union Street.”

To do that effectively, campaigners need to “shape the reputation of the street”.

Tourists aboard the Aida Aura cruise ship, which arrived in Aberdeen on May 2, wave to their welcome party. It was the first cruise ship to arrive at the new south harbour. Could passengers be subject to a tourist tax in the future?
Tourists aboard the Aida Aura cruise ship, which arrived in Aberdeen on May 2, wave to their welcome party. It was the first cruise ship to arrive at the new south harbour. Image: Wullie Marr/DC Thomson

This could involve “harvesting positive stories, fantastic pictures and great videos” capturing it at its best.

They would also look at which other areas have already achieved this.

16. Uncovering our history and culture.

How could Aberdeen’s “deep and interesting history” be harnessed to boost its future?

The group would look at ways to showcase old stories in a modern manner.

17. Learning from other places.

Last but not least, Our Union Street would need to look elsewhere to see what has worked in other places.

Could other cities hold the key to reviving Union Street? Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson

They will look into specific ideas which have benefited other communities, and which could be adopted or adapted to improve Aberdeen.

‘Now we need to act’

Bob Keiller said the group is still in its “listening phase”…

But he added: “It is important that we now start to move forward and act upon what has been an enormous public response.

“As we progress, we want to build a community that is passionate about Union Street, and to mobilise a volunteer force that will really make a difference.”

Bob Keiller hopes an army of volunteers will make a difference. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson

The 17 key themes comes more than six months after the summit to save Union Street.

Read our guide to some of the wackier ideas proposed during those talks here.

Learn more about Bob Keiller here, or Our Union Street here.

You can read the full whitepaper here.