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‘We can’t remove the benches’: What CAN be done to resolve issues with problem drinkers outside Aberdeen’s M&S?

Several measures are being considered amid fears anti-social behaviour might force the closure of the flagship shop.

PC Jordan Rae and PC Christopher Cowley outside Aberdeen's Marks and Spencer.
Problem drinkers and drug addicts are causing safety issues in the centre of Aberdeen. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson.

Benches outside Aberdeen’s flagship Marks and Spencer could be removed to steer street drinkers away from causing trouble.

There are fears that anti-social gatherings are putting people off visiting the shop, hindering trade.

It comes amid speculation the city centre branch could be on the chain’s chopping block, with bosses feared to be shifting focus to the M&S in Union Square.

Complaints about loud groups of people causing mayhem in St Nicholas Street have been coming from left, right and centre in recent weeks and months.

Marks and Spencer Aberdeen drinking
The area just off Union Street has become a hotspot for troublemakers, who are often seen “drinking and shouting” during broad daylight. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Some residents have told The P&J they fear passing through the square alone.

And businesses have raised concerns that the street drinking and anti-social behaviour could impact their staff and clientele.

Police and council chiefs have been scratching their heads about what can be done to make the area less attractive for mobbing rabble-rousers…

Earlier this year, council chiefs decided to start closing St Nicholas Graveyard at 4pm in effort to steer problem drinkers away from the area. Image: DC Thomson

What has been suggested so far and why?

One leading city centre voice thinks the issue would be resolved by removing the benches outside of Marks and Spencer.

Head of the Our Union Street group, Bob Keiller, wants to see all of them gone as he fears this might be the final straw for M&S bosses considering closing their flagship.

Earlier this year, high-ups refused to end widespread speculation that St Nicholas Street branch could be one of the 68 facing closure.

Our Union Street chief Bob Keiller. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson
Our Union Street chief Bob Keiller is spearheading efforts to boost Aberdeen city centre. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

The business guru reckons that providing an alternative “safe space” for large gatherings could help hugely.

He added: “Anti-social behaviour is a real concern and enforcement is part of the solution – but it is a complex issue.

“The team at M&S have made their concerns clear. Given the choice of losing the seats, or losing Marks and Spencer, in my mind, there is no contest.”

Police putting a bottle of wine in the bin after catching a man drinking outside Bon Accord Centre. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson.

Kathryn Mullaney, store manager of the M&S branch in St Nicholas Square, said they are working closely with the police and Aberdeen Inspired to resolve the issue.

She added: “There has been more of a police presence recently which is very welcome.”

‘Removing the seats wouldn’t be in the best interest of the community’

But Inspector John Lumsden, who is in charge of policing the city centre and Rosemount, says removing the seating areas “wouldn’t be in the best interest of the community”.

Police have played a key role in coming up with a plan to deal with problem drinkers, with officers patrolling certain hotspots regularly.

Insp Lumsden says the biggest challenge they face is to figure out a way to foster a welcoming environment for some – but not for others.

Inspector John Lumsden has been leading a robust operation at Aberdeen city centre to reduce anti-social behaviour and incidents of street drinking. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson.

He adds: “The infrastructure in the city centre is not necessarily our responsibility and we wouldn’t have the power to remove the benches.

“And we have to understand that this is an area for all members of the public, where they can enjoy time with friends and family.

“There are vulnerable residents who use this area for legitimate purposes so it wouldn’t be in the best interest of the community to remove them.”

What do YOU think should be done to help tackle street drinkers? Let us know in our comments section below.

So what could be the better option?

St Nicholas Square is usually busy with shoppers – especially on a nice sunny day. Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson.

Instead, Insp Lumsden suggests putting some “additional accessories” to the area might be more efficient.

These could include installing arm rests on the benches to prevent people from lying across them.

Putting some sort of bars at the Clydesdale ATMs to stop loud gatherings of troublemakers there is also an option.

Former city centre regeneration tsar Marie Boulton believes things are moving in the right direction, and anti-social behaviour in the area has “improved significantly”.

Councillor Marie Boulton used to be the council’s lead on the city centre masterplan. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

She stressed, however, that it is impediment to deal with the issues that “jeopardise” city centre businesses, and try to retain flagship shops like Marks and Spencer.

“Many people are bored with online shopping,” Mrs Boulton added.

“There is a real opportunity for retailers who have the right quality of goods and experience to start to attract back shoppers to the high street.

“And to attract more businesses, it’s crucial to retain M&S as a flagship store on Union Street, along with long standing retailers such as Jamieson and Carry.”

90 non-stop minutes: We join police as they tackle daytime drinkers and troublemakers in Aberdeen city centre