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Weed-killing drones could be deployed to spruce up grubby Union Street

The next stage of Our Union Street's crusade to rejuvenate the Granite Mile will focus on fixing the "unsightly" upper floors of the buildings - and they already have a few ideas on how to do that...

Union Street building with weeds, sticking out of its roof.
Overgrown weeds sticking out of Union Street buildings are in abundance these days. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Could an aerial attack finally rid Aberdeen’s Union Street of unsightly weeds sprouting from the roofs of buildings?

What might sound like the plot of a sci-fi movie is in fact being mooted as a quick and cost-effective way of sprucing up some run-down Granite Mile buildings.

Business mastermind Bob Keiller wants to unleash ready-to-kill drones across the city centre to make the street sparkle once again.

Union Street weeds
Overgrown rooftop weeds is not an uncommon sight in Aberdeen. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

It’s part of a crusade to bring Union Street back to its former splendour, with hopes that attracting thousands of people to live there will transform its fortunes.

Making central buildings, particularly some derelict upper storeys, look their best could be essential in achieving that.

Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Bringing Union Street’s upper floors back into use could lure people in

Our Union Street co-leader Derrick Thomson says luring more residents to live in the city centre will make it a “vibrant” area once again.

All of these vacant upper floors could potentially be repurposed – whether as homes, offices, shops or restaurants.

Our Union Street bosses Bob Keiller and Derrick Thomson are pondering a plan of action. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

There have been a few successful conversions already – with the units above Santander and Gidi Grill being turned into flats.

And the group’s ultimate goal is to do the same with all abandoned premises above eye-level.

Derrick adds: “If you look other places like Manchester that have already done it – having people right at the core of the city is key.”

There are dozens of empty units in the upper floors of Union Street. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

‘We need to understand the scale of the problem first’

The first and most important step is sizing up the task at hand, Bob says.

Earlier this year, city leaders plugged £15,000 into a building survey to work out what exactly it would take to bring Union Street’s upper floors back into use.

How many of the units are empty, what can they do with them, how would they do it – and where should they start?

These are just some of the questions that specialists will aim to answer.

Curating a list of other burning questions, Bob adds: “That [fixing the upper floors] is a completely new puzzle that needs to be examined and understood.”

Popular sights in Aberdeen city centre – such as St Nicholas Kirkyard – have also been overtaken by weeds. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson
The upper levels of the Bruce Millers music shop building have been left to rot. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

What are the main issues with Union Street’s upper floors?

While filling all unused sites might be a “huge challenge”, there are many simpler things that could be done to make the buildings look “nicer and more welcoming”.

“Visual impression is everything,” Bob says.

And the downtrodden exterior of the buildings, plagued with overgrown weeds and flaky paint, is a big issue.

Union Street weeds
Another empty building plagued by weeds and unsightly windows. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson
Union Street weeds
Many buildings in the city centre have been left unloved and run down. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

He explains: “If the windows have no light or colour behind them, and the paint around them is all flaky, it immediately makes you think that this place is empty and unloved.

“There is also something about weeds growing out of building – that’s another sign there is no one there caring for that building.

“And then the third part is the stonework.”

Union Street weeds
Weeds, weeds and more weeds… Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Have you looked up recently? What do you think of the Granite Mile buildings? Let us know in our comments section below.

So what can be done to spruce up the buildings?

But gladly, he reckons there are many relatively easy ways these could be fixed.

A shining example is Caledonian House, on the corner of Union Street and Union Row, as its granite exterior was given a deep clean last year by its new owners.

The former Wood Group premises has been earmarked for a £5 million makeover amid hopes to bring scores of workers onto Union Street.

Caledonian House office in Aberdeen city centre.
Caledonian House office revamp plans could bring new life to Aberdeen city centre. Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson

And Bob thinks more of that could be done.

The most important thing, he adds, is to come up with a “clever and cost-effective” way of bringing the buildings up to scratch.

This is where the weed-killing drones come in.

One way to deal with the scourge of overgrown plants could be using machines that could spray the buildings with herbicide from the air.

An example of a drone that could be used to clean Union Street's upper floors from weeds.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a weed-killing drone… Could these be the answer to fixing Union Street’s upper floors? Image: Geoff Robinson/Shutterstock

Drones are a ‘potential solution’ for Union Street weeds

He explained: “We need to find a clever way of doing that without having to put people in danger or costing us a huge amount of money.

“So we’ve looked at drones for instance as a potential solution. And it might not be drones to cut the weeds, it might be ones that can spray a bit of weed killer.

“There is lots of thinking to be done about the practicalities of taking a number of different techniques to do that, without thinking that you have to build a huge scaffolding or bring cherry pickers.”

Another option to do that could also be using window cleaning poles to reach high troublesome spots from ground level.

Some weeds could probably be reached from the upper windows as well, Bob reckons.

Or could we maybe steal a trick or two from window cleaning businesses? Image: Wullie Marr / DC Thomson.

The idea is not without some precedence.

Aberdeen mum Lynn Lamberty and son Greig recently launched a drone-operated window cleaning service – with devices reaching up to 100m.

‘We’ll do this – but we can only tackle one or two things at a time’

Our Union Street has marked several achievements during their one year in office, bringing the number of empty retail units from 53 to 25.

And with plans to reduce that even further, this remains their main priority for now – while quietly working in the background on the other problems at hand.

Popeyes is the latest business to open in a previously vacant unit on Union Street. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Bob adds: “We are aware that thinking about the upper levels of the buildings is a huge challenge, because there are loads of empty spaces there.

“But we only have capacity to tackle one or two things at a time.

“We are concentrating on the ground floor, and the empty retail units first.

“If we can get that substantially fixed, then that will free us up to begin to think more imaginatively about what we can do with the upper floors.”