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‘It’s ruined Christmas’: Repairs on city centre stairs cost ‘strangled’ traders on The Green thousands every week

The work has "cut off" passing trade between Union Street and Union Square at the busiest time of year.

Steve Bothwell and John Elphinstone at the Green stairs, which have been closed for refurbishment.
The Back Wynd stairs leading to the Green from Union Street have been closed since September 25. Image: Denny Andonova and Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

Exasperated traders on Aberdeen’s Green claim prolonged repairs at the Back Wynd Stairs have “ruined Christmas trade” for them.

Business owners say the closure of the steps, which form the main thoroughfare between Union Street and The Green, has “strangled” footfall into their venues.

This, they argue, has cost them thousands of pounds during what normally is their busiest – and most profitable – time of year.

Aberdeen City Council boarded up the stairway for refurbishment in September.

Aberdeen’s Back Wynd Stairs link Union Street to The Green. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

The works were supposed to take about 10 weeks, with a reopening date set for the beginning of December.

However, this was later pushed until the end of the month due to “unexpected additional repairs” – robbing businesses of any hope for festive trade.

And all of their calls for any sort of reimbursement have fallen on deaf ears.

The Green stairs
The entrance from Union Street has been boarded up. Image: Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Council picked ‘worst time possible’ to ‘cut off’ music shop

For years, staff at Kenny’s Music have enjoyed a steady flow of new customers in the run-up to Christmas.

The store is located right across from the Back Wynd Stairs, and shoppers would regularly stop to check it out while passing through to get to Union Square or the train station.

However, this hasn’t been the case this year.

Workers at the city centre site. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

While bass specialist John Elphinstone says they still have their regulars and online orders to keep them going, the number of new faces has plummeted.

And he blamed the council for picking “the worst time possible” to carry out the repairs.

“They’ve ruined Christmas trade for us,” he adds.

John Elphinstone at The Green, Aberdeen. Image: Denny Andonova/DC Thomson

“It was never going to be a great time to do it, but this is the worst they could have picked – it’s our busiest time of year.

“Normally, we’ll get loads of new customers in November and December who just happened to be passing through The Green and would come in to check it out.

“But now, the area has been basically cut off.”

The Green stairs closure another blow after demolition woes

John adds this was the final straw after they had to suffer through “unbearable noise” and dust during demolition works at the former Aberdeen Market.

The demolition of the market last June. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson

This, along with the closure of the Back Wynd Stairs and the recently installed bus gates, has created the perfect storm.

And while he and his colleague Ramsay Clark are supportive of the “long overdue” revamp of the Back Wynd stairs, they strongly disagree with the council’s timing.

The music shop has lost out this Christmas. Image: Denny Andonova/DC Thomson

The duo – as well as other businesses on The Green – have also been pushing the council to reimburse the money they’ve lost over the last few months.

Their plea, however, has so far been refused as the repairs were considered “essential due to health and safety concern”.

The business has missed out on passing trade. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

‘They tried to make us the bad guys’

Ramsay added: “We know that the stairs need to be fixed, but this has been the case for years now. It’s not like it just happened.

“The most frustrating thing was that they closed them, and then there was about a month of no construction work at all.”

Aberdeen market plans have been backed by city council planners. Image: Halliday Fraser Munro/Aberdeen City Council
The new Aberdeen Market as it will look from The Green. Image: Halliday Fraser Munro/Aberdeen City Council

He continued: “And when we asked for some sort of compensation for all the money we’ve been losing, they tried to make us the bad guys.

“They keep giving us comfort with the new market, saying that so many great things are happening to The Green now. But for all we know, that market could take five years.”

‘We are losing thousands of pounds a week now’

Andrew Goodenough, who runs the Contour Cafe nearby, is similarly frazzled.

Andrew Goodenough outside his cafe. Image: Paul Glendell/DC Thomson

He sighs: “The thing is, we keep getting the letters about new business rates and what not, but nothing is coming in about compensation for the trade we’ve lost.

“We are losing couple of thousand pounds a week now, and this is not how you run a business. I still have staff to pay after all.

“If it weren’t for our catering service, we would have just had to close.

“That’s the main thing keeping us going right now, because barely anyone is coming in during the week – and we can’t rely just on weekend trade.”

Will council look after stairway after repairs?

Steve Bothwell has run Cafe 52 on The Green for many years, building up an army of loyal fans.

His primary concern is that the local authority look after the area around the Back Wynd Stairs after the improvements.

Mr Bothwell outside Cafe 52. Image: Denny Andonova/DC Thomson

He added: “My main issue is not with the job itself or the delays.

“My issue – and it’s a really important one – is with ensuring that the area next to the stairs is maintained, cleaned and lit up daily.

“If you’re going to be spending all of this money, and all of this time, refurbishing the stairway – which had been left to rot for decades – don’t let it go to ratchet again.”

The Green stairs
The improvements carried out next to the stairway on the Green. Image: Steve Bothwell

Mr Bothwell started looking after it himself a few years ago, planting a tree and splashing on some street art.

He added: “What certain people in the council are missing is that I’m not interfering.

“I’m being proactive and passionate about the area in which I chose to trade in 28 years ago.

“They are ultimately preventing me from the good work I started in 2020.

“So they either need to get it done, or let’s have a gentlemen’s agreement I’m going to be looking after the place and let me get on with it.”

The popular Cafe 52 Shepherd’s Hut on The Green. Image: Steve Bothwell

Do you think traders should be reimbursed for the income they say they have lost? Let us know in our comments section below

Back Wynd Stairs closure ‘strangled’ trade – and pub bosses are on the move

Meanwhile, the closure of the Back Wynd Stairs has proven the final straw for the family running the Old Kings Highway.

The Clarks are not renewing their lease at Aberdeen’s oldest hostelry with landlord Star Pubs.

They fear The Green is being “forgotten” until the new market is built.

The family also run the nearby Scottish Embassy, the Atrium (formerly Howie’s in Chapel Street) and the Wig.

Ryan Clark, right, with brother Darren and father Brian at The Atrium in Chapel Street. The family run a number of north-east venues. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson
Ryan Clark, right, with brother Darren and father Brian at The Atrium in Chapel Street. The family run a number of north-east venues. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Ryan Clark, who separately is involved in work to turn around Resident X, tells us: “The pub was a building site when we took over.

“We invested a wee bit despite it being a brewery pub. It was thriving when we opened.

“But the Green has had a lot of things going on.

“Footfall died when the market was demolished. There was dust everywhere.

“And the Back Wynd Stairs have been closed twice now.

“Closing in December has basically strangled all footfall to The Green.”

The Old Kings Highway on The Green. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

What does the council say about the Green stairs repairs?

Missing our deadline for comment, an Aberdeen City Council spokesman eventually told us any business seeking reimbursement “should speak to their insurer”.

Tardily, he added: “The steps were closed for essential maintenance in order to protect the safety of the general public. It would not have been appropriate to delay.

“Works were extended due to weather disruptions and a need to carry out more extensive repairs than initially anticipated.

“Once reopened to the public, ongoing maintenance of the steps will include sweeping and washing as and when required.”

The contractor was appointed in August, with the 10-week work planned to begin on September 25.

In the weeks after the closure, the local authority posted on social media about “unexpected additional concrete repairs” being needed to the stair treads.

‘There are still plenty of ways to get there’

There have been efforts to promote The Green during the closure.

The council published an alternate route using the Correction Wynd stairs showing people how to access their favourite spots in the meantime.

And Aberdeen Inspired posted: “The Green and its great shops, restaurants and pubs are still very much open for business.

“There are still plenty of ways to get down to enjoy all the attractions.”