Aberdeen traders have joked they are planning socially-distanced street parties to celebrate the long-awaited removal of controversial Spaces for People measures.
It has emerged the series of road markings and bollards, designed to create more room for residents to move around the city, could be lifted from Rosemount, George Street and Torry when Level 0 restrictions come into force.
That means they could be gone by the end of summer, with the Scottish Government to announce the next review of Covid lockdown rules on July 19.
A “more cautious approach” is being taken with the city centre, due to it being a busier area.
The measures have proven unpopular with many business owners, who say they were “over the top” when conceived and have had a disastrous impact on profits.
Successful fightback against virus
NHS bosses have weighed in on the issue in a report that will go before councillors next Thursday.
The dossier states: “Significant gains have now been made in both fighting the virus, and in the roll-out of vaccinations.
“In that context, the director of public health has confirmed that they would support the lifting of measures in the neighbourhood centres once the city moves to Level 0.
“A more cautious approach is recommended for the city centre due to the high levels of pedestrian traffic.”
It does note that the plans could be subject to change, depending on the “public health situation” at the time.
It is estimated it should take three weeks to remove the measures from George Street and Rosemount, and one week for the changes to be undone in Torry.
Bakery boss’s delight
Sarah Brown took over as manager of Thains Bakery on George Street five weeks ago, but has heard plenty about how harmful the measures have been since they were installed last year from her new co-workers.
She said: “We typically would have a lot of taxi drivers coming by, or people parking outside to quickly pop in.
“Nobody has been able to get parked outside because of this, and some people have stopped coming.
“I know people have been put off by that.
“The staff will all be relieved to see the measures gone.”
Sarah added that business has picked up in recent months.
The bakery is planning to stay open until midnight on Friday and Saturday for the first time in many months this weekend, to cater for people who fancy a snack on the way home from the pub.
Convener of the City Growth and Resources committee, Ryan Houghton, said: “I’m pleased officers are now in a position to recommend removal of interventions in Torry, Rosemount and George Street which we asked for at the last meeting of the committee in May.
“We have consistently followed national government and public health advice however it’s no secret that the interventions have caused difficulty for some businesses especially in Rosemount and George Street.
“The removal of the interventions will take some time, however officers will be tasked to begin removal as soon as Scotland is moved to level 0 restrictions which is expected to be next month.”
Owner of the Belvidere Gallery in Rosemount, Alan Watt, felt cutting off sections of the road outside his shop was a draconian measure to begin with.
Now, more than a year later, he is “hugely relieved” to hear the measures could be gone before long.
Alan said: “A move to take away the cones and restore two-way traffic will be very welcome.
“The one-way system has made things quite chaotic, and has restricted access to shops for elderly or disabled people.
“This will enable them to come back to Rosemount.
“This is a huge relief to us, maybe when the things go down we will all go out to celebrate.”
Complacency a concern?
The report also sounds a note of caution, however.
It states: “Given the complexity of the current situation and the balance that needs to be struck between protecting the hard-won gains of the last 18 months and trying to return to a level of normality, there are a number of factors that must be
“The director of public health has been clear that the need for physical
distancing has been important as we have moved out of lockdown.
“It is also inevitable that as we do some people will drop their guard and that complacency may become a factor.
“For other people who have become accustomed to quieter streets and having more space there will no doubt be a period of acclimatisation to a busier city.
“Experience from Glasgow and the north of England has shown how quickly infection rates can change.
“Indeed, Aberdeen’s own experience of the localised lockdown last year is an example of that.”
Once they’re gone, they’re gone for good
The measures came at a cost of £1.76 million, which was funded by Sustrans.
Once they have been removed the council will struggle to afford to reinstate them.
The report, which will go before the City Growth and Rescources committee, adds: “If this was required, it would mean the council funding this work which, given the financial pressure on the council, would be extremely challenging.”
Earlier this week, Nicola Sturgeon postponed any further loosening of restrictions as Covid cases continue to rise.
She claimed that more time for additional vaccinations needs to be given before changes to the levels can be made.