It has been claimed that “intimidating” problem drinkers are putting people off Aberdeen city centre – and could cause cruise visitors to give it a wide berth.
Councillors fear crowds of troubled individuals often seen “drinking and shouting” at St Nicholas Square during broad daylight are becoming a major concern.
They argue that people congregating at the spot just off Union Street have recently become so troublesome that residents are too frightened to pass through.
There are mounting concerns the situation could hamper efforts to make the city centre an “attractive destination” for tourists.
The issue came to a head at a major council meeting this week, as police chiefs faced up to the cocnerns.
Antisocial behaviour could deter much-needed visitors to city centre
Senior officers faced a grilling on antisocial behaviour in the area, with particular regard to the “very visible and vocal” groups at the spot outside Marks and Spencer.
In an update to city officials, Chief Inspector Darren Bruce insisted that ongoing efforts to reduce anti-social behavior are paying off.
Unconvinced councillors started listing incidents of louts ruining the city centre experience for other residents.
Councillor Jennifer Stewart, who represents Hazlehead, Queen’s Cross and Countesswells, was the first to speak out.
Stressing such incidents are not a “one-off”, she said many feel “intimidated” by large groups “shouting” outside the cash lines at the Clydesdale bank in St Nicholas Square.
‘I’m concerned about the cruise ships…’
On one occasion, Mrs Stewart even had to use her “school mistress voice” to get away from three men preventing her from passing through.
And she said more needs to be done to remedy that – especially at a time when they are doing everything they can to promote the city.
She said: “I’ve seen them on more than one occasions and I’m concerned about the cruise ships coming into the city.
“I imagine that must be quite intimidating – I wouldn’t use a cash line there, I would go somewhere else to keep myself safe.”
‘Intimidating’ problem drinkers are a ‘real scourge’ in Aberdeen city centre
The councillor went on to describe one alarming matter brought to her attention where a man seen “interfering” with himself outside Annie Mo’s nearby on Union Street.
But that example was immediately shot down by Ch Insp Bruce, who said this particular case was actually a “success story” – as the man was caught and brought to justice.
Other measures – such as “physically altering the area to make it less attractive” for these gatherings or opening hubs to help with addiction problems – are also being considered.
This is hoped to be rectified by getting charities and other organisations involved to offer additional support.
However, Labour’s Sandra MacDonald fears that even if those are successful – the problem will just move to the shopping centre’s rooftop garden.
She added: “The street drinking and the intimidation that goes hand in hand is a real scourge at St Nicholas Square and that part of Union Street.
“And it does seem to me that people and tourists are the ones penalised.
“There is real concern – not just about the drinking, but the shouting and intimidation.
“It’s not a nice place to be in at the moment.”
Problem drinkers concern comes as youths wreak havoc in Aberdeen
The concerns about problem drinkers come at a time when worries about anti-social youths causing mayhem in the city centre are at an all-time high.
In response to concerns about raucous behaviour in Union Square, Ch Insp Bruce said work is ongoing but the number of incidents is already reducing.
He added: “It’s something we are keeping an eye on and have to work on – but we are seeing progress in many of these areas.”
‘We are taking action’
Ch Insp Bruce stressed that the issues of problematic youths and troublemaking teenagers would be tackled in tandem.
“What we want to do is reinforce the point that Aberdeen is a safe city,” he said.
“It’s one of the safest places in Scotland, and it’s absolutely vital that public feel that way too.
“We are taking action against those who are street drinking and are also leading people to the support available to help them with their complex needs.
“We also have teams of youth workers and police officers joined up together to try understand what the young people in the city centre want right now.”
Read more about the teenagers causing havoc in Union Square here.