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Haigs couple say fear of traffic fines has ‘killed’ the centre of Aberdeen

The shock closure of the city centre food hall has come after months of frustration around recent traffic changes.

Image of Haigs and bus gate sign.
Haigs bosses blame bus gates for accelerating the decline of the city centre. Image: Ben Hendry and Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

A popular business couple have claimed city centre traffic changes are “killing Aberdeen” after being forced to close their food hall.

Haigs this week became the latest high-profile city centre casualty when owners James and Julie Haig announced its closure on Tuesday night.

Lamenting soaring energy bills, the pair claimed that even attracting 500 to 600 shoppers a day wasn’t enough to help them turn a profit.

But they added that, in their pre-Covid prime, they had about 1,000 people visit every day.

James and Julie Haig spent £200,000 on improvements in 2022. Image: Wullie Marr/DC Thomson

And James and Julie told us that recent traffic restrictions in Aberdeen city centre had sounded the death knell for the area.

The duo believe that motorists are now so scared of receiving a fine that they are bypassing the shopping district altogether.

What has changed in Aberdeen city centre?

In November, Aberdeen City Council started dishing out £60 fines for those caught driving on restricted streets.

That includes a section of Rosemount Viaduct, where left turns from Union Terrace down towards Haigs’ Schoolhill base are now banned.

Bus gate warning signs on Union Terrace
People driving from Union Street along Union Terrace can now only turn right, towards Rosemount. Image: Lauren Taylor/ DC Thomson

Other bus gates, allowing access only to buses and taxis, have been installed elsewhere in the centre – despite mounting public outcry.

Haigs say bus gates have caused footfall to plummet

The Haigs say having fewer drivers coming into the city centre is having a huge effect on businesses.

However, the couple are keen to stress that they are not opposed to the bus gates themselves.

The bus gate on Guild Street. Image: Joshua Pizzuto-Pomaco

Their gripe is more to do with the lack of information that accompanied their arrival, giving way for confusion and “scaremongering” to flourish.

“They should have educated people on the bus gates rather than scarily imposing the legislation,” James said.

‘Bus gates have killed the city’

Co-owner Julie agrees that the restrictions themselves aren’t to blame.

She added: “Bus gates have killed the city.

“But it might not be the actual bus gates themselves, more the scaremongering and lack of teaching”.

The bus gates have caused uproar. Image: Joshua Pizzuto-Pomaco

The Haigs once saw a blossoming business at their shop. Latterly, their customer numbers had been cut in half.

James added: “Footfall in the area has been really poor due to bus gates and the road closure.

“At the peak, we were serving up to 1,000 customers a day.”

Bus gates not the only issue for Haigs

But that hasn’t been the only challenge.

The couple have found it difficult to operate due to restrictions imposed on the way they operate deliveries.

James said: “The council took away our loading bay for the shop, making it impossible to get produce in and out without breaking the law.”

He added this made them feel “unwanted” in the city, even though they have been serving the public out of their shop for more than a decade.

James Haig in his former shop. Image: Wullie Marr/DC Thomson

‘Aberdonians are now choosing to avoid the city centre’

Local councillor Michael Kusznir said the Haigs’ situation illustrated the stark challenges local businesses are facing.

He said: “The council needs to encourage business, and encourage people into the city centre rather than discouraging them both.

“Bus gates have been ruinous for local business, with many Aberdonians now choosing to avoid the city centre.”

The Tory representative called for the restrictions to be “removed as soon as possible”.

Michael Kusznir. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson

Haigs food hall demise ‘proves bus gates are driving customers away’

David Laing, a campaigner fighting the bus gates, said the Haigs’ experience gave weight to the results of a recent survey indicating the changes are damaging trade in the city centre.

He said: “Businesses already suffer from excruciatingly high business rates, the last thing they need is the council implementing policies driving customers out of town.”

Campaigners say businesses “are suffering”. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Mr Laing, who staged the survey to uncover public opinion on the matter, went on to pin the fault on the council.

“The blame for the negative impact of the bus gates and other restrictive measures solely lies on the footsteps of Aberdeen City Council.

“From the moment they decided to implement this policy, they have given inconsistent vague messaging, and dismissed the legitimate concerns from the public and businesses.”

A map showing the bus gate changes in Aberdeen. Image: DC Thomson

‘We can make amendments to the scheme if required’

The council stressed that the bus gates “have not prevented anyone” from accessing the city centre.

But a spokesman added that the scheme could be “amended” in the future.

The signage on Union Terrace. Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson

He said: “The bus gates have not prevented anyone from using any form of transport accessing the city centre, albeit some routes used by private motorists may have to change depending on people’s origins and destinations.

“We have looked to educate and inform people and businesses via a number of press releases and social media posts, including maps and videos showing people the areas they can and cannot pass through.”

The markings being applied on Market Street. Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson

‘We can make amendments to the scheme’

And they stressed the benefits of the new regulations.

The spokesman continued: “The bus gates are already having positive impacts in terms of bus punctuality with cost savings re-invested by the bus operators.

“Given the nature of the order, we can make amendments to the scheme if required in response to any feedback received as part of the process.”

Read more about the Haigs closure here, and on the tributes left by its crestfallen fans here.