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Fears new Aberdeen McDonald’s construction could cut power to ARI by ‘harming fragile cables’

The two high voltage cables run under the proposed Ashgrove Road West site, and councillors were left pondering what could be more important: "Burgers or life support machines?"

A McDonald's restaurant and Aberdeen Royal Infirmary
There are fears the McDonald's restaurant plans could impact Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. Image: Michael McCosh/DC Thomson

SSEN has warned that plans for a new McDonald’s restaurant in Aberdeen could damage two “fragile” high voltage cables which power ARI.

The global fast food chain is looking to build the new eatery on Ashgrove Road West.

If approved, the former Rosehill Day Centre would be demolished to make way for the Golden Arches.

A public meeting was held earlier today to allow those with an interest in the development to voice their thoughts on it, due to the huge number of complaints.

It came as 295 objections were received against the plan, while just 33 letters of support were submitted.

Scottish Ambulance Service concerns addressed

Kevin Stewart MSP opposed the plans, as did historians from the Aberdeen Civic Society.

The Scottish Ambulance Service had previously raised their concerns about the proposal.

The Ashgrove Road West ambulance station. Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson

Chiefs were worried that traffic visiting the restaurant would delay ambulances from responding to life-threatening callouts from their base across the road.

However, following the removal of the drive-thru lane and addition of extra safety features, they withdrew their objection.

Lights similar to those at the North Anderson Drive fire station would be added to Ashgrove Road West. Image: Google Street View

The new “wig wag” traffic signs would be similar to those outside the fire station of North Anderson Drive, and would flash to ensure priority is given to ambulances.

But despite appeasing the 999 crews, McDonald’s are now facing fresh hurdles from new opponents…

Underground cables ‘integral’ to Aberdeen network

Jamie Leadbeater of Country Planner at SSEN Transmission told of the firm’s concern for two high voltage cables that run through the site.

He explained that the underground cables are “absolutely integral” to Aberdeen’s inner city transmission network, which feeds into the distribution network.

The red outline shows where the proposed new Aberdeen McDonald’s would be located. Image: McDonald’s

The company is concerned that the application would see a new road access to the restaurant site placed over them.

“These cables are of significant age, they are oilfield cables which are no longer in production,” Mr Leadbeater explained.

“They are essentially much more fragile than most modern transmission cables.”

Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (ARI).
The underground cables serve Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

He revealed that the two cables serve Aberdeen Royal Infirmary along with half of the houses and other buildings in the city.

“Ensuring that any development over these cables doesn’t affect their integrity and operation is absolutely paramount to us as a business to maintain a reliable supply of electricity to all bill payers,” Mr Leadbeater added.

“But fundamentally, it’s in the public interest for people’s homes, businesses and public buildings like this to ensure the cables are operational 24/7.”

Warning of ‘serious supply issues’ to ARI

The SSEN boss showed the committee a photo of damage caused to a similar cable 18 months ago.

He warned that a repeat of this at Ashgrove Road West could be catastrophic to the hospital.

Mr Leadbeater said: “Because of the age of the cables, we don’t have any ready-made replacements.”

SSEN had to contact a firm in Germany to get a bespoke repair – which came with a “significant” cost.

The underground cables run through the former Rosehill Day Centre site. Image: Kirstie Topp/DC Thomson

But more importantly, he said the time delay placed extra strain on the Aberdeen network.

“If the other cable had been snapped at some point whilst this remained out of use, there would have been major, serious supply issues to ARI, homes and businesses.”

Mr Leadbeater said SSEN wasn’t against the restaurant plan, but asked that the site layout be altered to leave the existing site access in place.

He explained that if McDonald’s could find a way to safeguard the cables, SSEN would be willing to remove its objection.

Choice between ‘burger or a life support machine’

Councillor Graeme Lawrence noted SSEN had “painted a very black picture” of its Aberdeen cable network and asked if this could be a good chance to upgrade them.

Mr Leadbeater explained that SSEN were looking to replace a number of cables across the city between 2026 to 2031.

But, this would be subject to Ofgem approval.

Councillor Marie Boulton. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Meanwhile, councillor Marie Boulton asked if the existing rear access to the site would be suitable for SSEN instead.

She said: “I just want to understand how we protect those cables because clearly a burger or a life support machine for me is not a difficult choice.”

Mr Leadbeater replied: “In an ideal world, if the development could work without the formation of a new access that would be preferable for us.”

ARI parking problems raised

Ward councillor Neil Copland noted the area was “notorious” for parking issues at ARI and asked if any time limits would be placed on the car park to prevent people using it instead of the ARI multi-storey.

He said: “I could see this quickly filling up causing traffic problems.”

The Lady Helen multi-storey car park at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary
The Lady Helen multi-storey car park at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

But Mr Copland was told the franchisee, Adam Buchanan-Smith, would monitor the parking area.

If any vehicles are seen taking advantage of the free spot, he would step in and manage the situation.

What does NHS Grampian have to say about the situation?

Following the meeting, an NHS Grampian spokeswoman said the health board was seeking clarification from SSEN regarding their concerns.

She said: “We’d like to reassure the public that our energy centre at Foresterhill generates a significant amount of the power we require on a daily basis.

“In addition, we have a network of back-up generators, which are regularly tested, to ensure we can continue to operate as normal in the event of any power outage.”

Aberdeen site would be Scotland’s first net zero restaurant

Abby Mcgrath spoke at the meeting on behalf of McDonald’s, taking members on a trip down memory lane to the opening of the city’s first branch – on Union Street – in 1991.

She later told the committee that the new restaurant would create more than 120 full and part-time new jobs.

A restaurant similar to this could be heading to Aberdeen’s Ashgrove Road West. Image: McDonald’s

It is also thought it would generate around £74,000 in business rates annually for Aberdeen City Council to help fund key local services.

The eatery would also be Scotland’s first McDonald’s restaurant to be built to net zero standards.

She explained that the site would “set the baseline for future low carbon design” across the firm’s building portfolio.