When it comes to the state of Aberdeen city centre, I blame the council, and I blame government in general.
I don’t blame them for 20 years of online shopping, or for an oil downturn, or for dwindling footfall on the high street. I don’t even blame them for big retailers leaving the city centre.
None of these things are their fault. However, although I can’t directly blame local council or central government for these events, I do blame them for not taking action when needed.
Twenty years of online shopping, and not one policy or initiative put in place? The data speaks for itself: online shopping has killed the high street. But I don’t blame online stores – that’s just moving with the times and progress.
I blame the inaction of people who are meant to be looking after things for not stepping in and cancelling business rates, taking care of waste and water bills – or how about just zero tax?
Time for radical thinking and organic progress
The people and businesses of Aberdeen are amazing, and that’s who I feel for the most. We Aberdonians will be left with nothing but a zombie-filled city centre, bike lanes and a brand new amphitheatre.
If we want to turn things around, we need radical thinking, not another digitised picture of what the beach could look like if we spend £400 million on changes nobody asked for.
If you really want big brands and big department stores back, you need a very busy high street.
Aberdeen needs to forcefully buy up the city centre and rent out commercial property as cheaply as it can, to allow an influx of new businesses to take the gamble on the city. These cheap rents need to be fixed for 10 years, as that’s the time frame required to bring life back to the city centre and incentivise business owners to invest.
We need our own Camden Town. Take a look at the coolest place to be in Aberdeen, and there has been zero involvement from the council – it’s the Fittie end of the beach. There are exciting food trucks, surf schools and saunas, all located in the same place without the constraints of rent, rates, water and waste bills. A completely organic business community.
When Aberdeen City Council tells you that Belmont Street is our cafe culture zone, they turn it into something that’s built instead of something that’s grown. We need less planning and more listening so that businesses can flourish.
What makes Aberdeen stand out for visitors?
If we want to capitalise on tourists coming from all over the world, we need to give them a reason to stay in the city. What can we offer that no other city can?
What separates the heart of Aberdeen from every other city centre? Why would people come to Aberdeen when they can go to Edinburgh or Glasgow?
How about we take the remaining trams from the Alford Transport Museum and use them as a template to build new ones? How about turning Rubislaw quarry into a wakeboarding park?
Or, how about making Wellington Road into the world’s largest man-made indoor ski centre? Aberdeen is built on hills – you could turn the whole city into a ski park.
Let’s extend the beach walking and cycling route along the whole coast, by building a new bridge to allow locals and tourists to walk or cycle from Fittie to Peterhead.
All these ideas are different and unique – and these are the things that attract tourists to visit.
Aberdeen is my birthplace and home. I believe in my city, its history and its people. I believe we can turn the tide on what’s happening, but I feel that without radical change, we will always be at the mercy of the few.
Nick Duthie is the owner of Red Robin Records vinyl cafe in Aberdeen