An alliance of rebel Aberdeen councillors have sparked a mutiny and accused city officials of wielding “far too much power” over Covid-19 physical distancing works.
Independent councillors Jennifer Stewart and John Reynolds hit out at the decision-making powers of unelected Aberdeen City Council officers, granted during the first outbreak of Covid-19 in March.
Their comments came only hours before the council’s city growth and resources committee voted to scrap one of the more controversial elements of the Spaces For People work – the Aberdeen beach bike lanes.
Completed in August, the cycle lanes from Bridge Of Don to the Beach Ballroom are to removed.
But the one-way system along the rest of the seafront to Footdee, taking in the shops, cafes and restaurants, is to remain in place.
Officers will report back to the committee in February on possible changes to other parts of the £1.76 million project, including the possibility of reopening Union Street’s seven busiest bus stops – currently off limits in the pedestrianised zone between Bridge Street and Market Street.
Last night Mr Reynolds, a veteran Bridge of Don councillor, said he was “disappointed” his administration colleagues had not taken more control of the Spaces For People project back from officials but welcomed news the beach would be “sorted out”.
The pair are the first administration councillors to openly criticise the extensive delegation of powers, voted through by the urgent business committee in June.
Depute provost and Aberdeen city councillor Mrs Stewart said Aberdeen was locked in a situation where “officials are running the city, rather than councillors”, adding that she felt “powerless” to challenge decisions.
Mr Reynolds added: “Officers have certainly been given far too much power.
“The urgent business committee made the decision on Spaces For People and I think if it had gone to all councillors, things may have been slightly different.
“I have been concerned for a long time about the power officers now have – now the time is coming where we need to get a grip of this.”
Councillor Stewart agreed, adding that she felt a number of Covid-19 measures introduced by Aberdeen City Council officials had decimated trade in the Granite City.
She said: “What I’m saying is a lot of what people have said to me. But I feel at the moment a bit powerless.
“But the way I see it, in the simplest form, is that I am elected to serve and I think it’s time that we are actually allowed to do that – because I don’t feel that that is actually what is happening.”
But not one councillor – including their Independent Alliance leader Marie Boulton – put forward calls pushing for a reduction in delegated powers last night.
Welcoming consensus on the need to scrap the beach bike lanes, committee convener, Tory council co-leader Douglas Lumsden, said: “Despite constant bleating in the press from the opposition, we are delighted there was unanimous approval for removing the cycle lane at the beach , as well as bringing back a public health focused and fully-costed proposal for the removal of the other measures if appropriate, at the next meeting of the committee.”
SNP city growth and resources spokesman Ciaran McRae added: “These measures are necessary to facilitate physical distancing and that requirement still exists – but we felt the measures at the beach were excessive and the cycle lanes will be removed.
“Ultimately, if the administration had engaged with councillors and the public before implementing these schemes then things could have been done differently.”