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‘We just invested all our money opening dream Aberdeen cafe – now LEZ could ruin it’

We spoke with small businesses, including Cafe Oregano owners who told us they feel "stuck" after investing all their money on a "dream" property without realising all their cars would soon be banned from the area.

Mahmud Sirazudullah. Image: Scott Baxter/ DC Thomson
Mahmud Sirazudullah. Image: Scott Baxter/ DC Thomson

With just a week until the LEZ is enforced in Aberdeen, small business owners have shared their concerns about the new restrictions.

On June 1 the automatic cameras will be turned on, meaning anyone who drives a vehicle that does not meet strict emissions criteria in the LEZ will be slapped with a fine.

Although it was technically introduced in May 2022, the LEZ has not been actually enforced with fines for the past two years of the so-called “grace period”.

And while the zone is relatively small and only 14% of cars in the Granite City are estimated to be non-compliant, many are already really worried about the impact the new road rules could have on their businesses.

The majority of cars are thought to meet the strict requirements. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Last week, we revealed that at least half a million fewer people visited the city centre since the new bus gates were installed.

Aberdeen Inspired and Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce leaders have since accused the local authority of failing to properly communicate changes happening in the city centre. 

They claim this has resulted in businesses “suffering” at the hands of the recent interventions – including the closure of Union Street, bus gates…and perhaps soon the LEZ.

Ahead of the LEZ coming into effect on June 1, we spoke with small businesses within the boundary to find out how they are feeling about the upcoming restrictions…

New cafe owners ‘stuck’ with three non-compliant cars

Just over three months ago, we reported about an Aberdeen family finally achieving their “life-long dream” of opening Cafe Oregano.

They were drawn in by the central location of Holburn Street and spent a long time securing planning permission and polishing their plans.

Mahmud standing at the LEZ boundary near his cafe, Oregano.

But now, Mahmud Sirazudullah says he feels “stuck” after investing all his money into the Instagrammable eatery before realising it would be in the LEZ.

In fact, he only found out about the LEZ when he noticed an ANPR camera had been put up on Ashvale Place.

He says if he realised sooner, he wouldn’t have opened his business on Holburn Street.

Mahmud explained that his family owns three cars, none of which meet the strict LEZ rules. But, they rely on the cars to get to work and to pick up stock for their vibrant coffee shop.

Mahmud with one of his non-compliant cars. Image: Scott Baxter/ DC Thomson

When the LEZ comes into force, the businessman isn’t sure how he will be able to carry on running their dream cafe.

“I don’t have the money to buy another new car… I can’t afford it,” he said gravely.

“And I’m trying to work here day and night to make it a success.

“I don’t pay road tax for one of my cars because the emissions are so low, so how come it’s road tax free but it’s not allowed in the LEZ?”

He added: “How can businesses survive here? Every two days I need to bring the car to drop off the stock, heavy heavy things, how will I manage? Should I get the bus?”

‘I’m the loser because I already invested money’ says cafe owner

Mahmud has been looking for a new car ever since, but can’t find one that meets the requirements for less than £3,500. He’s also struggling to sell his cars too.

And he has spoken with other business owners in the area, who he says all share the same concerns.

The family has invested everything to make their dreams come true. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

He finished: “We invested all our money here, I bought a property here, set up a business here, and we all work day and night to make it a booming success.

“But I’m really struggling, and I’m really fed up. And I’m the loser here because I already invested my money in the new cafe.”

LEZ ‘yet another challenge’ for Aberdeen boutique

Andrew Hughes, owner of Sirene on Union Street, says he is “deeply concerned” about the upcoming restrictions.

He says he sees “no justification” in introducing the scheme to a “relatively small city” like Aberdeen.

Andrew Hughes has owned Sirene for 11 years and is concerned about the impacts the LEZ will have on his microbusiness. Image: Lauren Taylor / DC Thomson

The boutique owner there is “not a great deal of footfall in the city centre” already, and is worried the zone will only hamper it further.

He explained business owners in the city centre are already paying “exorbitant rates and rents” while facing increasing costs of fuel, electricity and products.

“It’s yet another challenge that is going to be pushed in our direction,” he sighed.

“Covid certainly affected us all, and the bus gates…

“We’re fortunate to be at the end of town that isn’t restricted, but come June 1 we will be. And I do see that being an issue.

“So really, what it’s going to result in is potentially significant punitive effects on small retailers.”

As we were talking in his shop, a customer had come in to try on a green dress she spotted in the window.

She overheard us discussing the LEZ, and told us she only saw the dress because she was driving along Union Street in her non-compliant car.

The customer added: “I won’t be able to do that soon, though.”

Are you concerned about the impact Aberdeen’s low emission zone will have on your business? Let us know in our comments section below

Nail bar manager hopes nearby car parks will help people access city centre

Meanwhile, Sarah Canterbury manager at Moossh Nails and Beauty said she can see why the zone is being enforced, but hopes it won’t impact the business too much.

She lives out in the country and had to buy a new car that meets the strict requirements so she could travel to work every day.

Claire Tester and Lucy Slattery opened Moossh in 2022. Image: Paul Glendell / DC Thomson

The manager said some of the other staff members have also changed their cars to be able to enter the LEZ, with one still struggling to sell her non-compliant car.

“I feel like fewer people come into the centre anyway,” Sarah said. “And even though there are car parks close by, I think it will still be a hassle for some people to get in.

“If I didn’t have an LEZ-compliant car I’d struggle to get into work because I live out in the country. I just bought a car and I had to check it met all the restrictions.

“I don’t know if we will struggle, I would like to think we won’t. But the LEZ could definitely push people away.”

‘It’s a worrying situation’ for Aberdeen’s independent traders

Mike Duncan, local development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in the north-east, told the Press & Journal that members have raised concerns about the LEZ.

According to Mike, they are “really worried” about the enforcement’s impact on their small businesses.

An updated map of the LEZ boundary. Image: Let’s Clear the Air

He said: “One business operates two delivery vehicles from a premises inside the LEZ. One vehicle is compliant, the other isn’t, and the business owner can’t afford to upgrade the non-compliant vehicle.

“That’s 50% of their delivery service wiped out on the day that LEZ fines start to be issued.

“Another affected business is a property management firm. They rely on contractors and tradespeople being able to collect keys from their main office, which is inside the LEZ.

“From June, they’ll either have to make sure their contractors have compliant vehicles or pay their contractors more to cover the cost of the fines.”

The LEZ signs on Holburn Street. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Earlier this year, Mike took the concerns of Aberdeen’s FSB members to the council co-leaders, who he says listened to the issues.

However, the co-leaders maintain that the expected impact of the enforcement will have a “minimal effect” on people gaining access to the city centre.

‘Regulation after regulation’ leaves businesses concerned

But, Mike argues that businesses in Aberdeen are “not just concerned about the looming LEZ enforcement”.

For many, it’s the “cumulative effect of regulation after regulation”, from partial pedestrianisation to the highly controversial bus gates.

Bus gates, like this one on Union Street, have been blamed for a drop in footfall. Image: Scott Baxter/ DC Thomson

He finished: “Aberdeen city centre is very much open for business, and everyone wants to breathe clean air, but changes in consumer behaviour take time.

“If local and national governments want people to take public transport more often and use more e-bikes in city centres, then they need to sort out the infrastructure first.

“I understand that these things take time and that they are working towards a masterplan, but my concern is for the FSB members running fantastic city centre businesses right now.

“It seems easier and cheaper to put vehicle restrictions in place when we should be investing to improve access for everyone, regardless of how they choose to travel.”

Read more about Aberdeen’s LEZ: