On the cusp of great change

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic – approaching a stage where it can be managed in the context of daily life – Aberdeen is on the cusp of once-in-a-generation change.

Restrictions have eased and activity is returning to our city. Workers carrying cups of coffee on the way to the office have become a familiar sight again, as have groups of family and friends enjoying our green spaces, catching what’s left of the summer sun.

That has an immediate restorative effect.

However, as a council we’ve always planned for the far future. After all, that’s what gives you the resilience to deal with an event like a pandemic – and allows you to thrive in better times.

This week, the City Growth and Resources Committee agreed a number of actions that will accelerate Aberdeen’s transformation.

Plans are to be brought forward for the city centre and Beach area, as promised back in March’s budget.

We are taking our cues from a public consultation that put the rejuvenation of Union Street top of the wish-list, along with permanent café culture in the Belmont Street area, making more of the historic Castlegate, and better linkages with the Beach area – where a new stadium might be located.

The feedback supports ideas contained within the City Centre Masterplan, itself the subject of significant consultation, such as the pedestrianisation of the central section of Union Street and better integration with the station area.

Thanks to the council taking charge of the former BHS site, we are in a prime position to make that happen, and are seeking an operator to bring forward proposals for a new offering there, with a hope we can showcase the kind of local produce and products that sets a city apart.

These interventions will complement existing CCMP projects, notably the regeneration on Union Terrace Gardens, so that people might easily walk from the station to restaurants to shops to gardens to our magnificent Art Gallery – currently hosting the British Art Show after its own £38m redevelopment.

The committee agreed that George Street would have its own public engagement exercise to determine the priorities of residents, traders and visitors.

We are fortunate in having fantastic materials to start with, from our unique granite architecture to a beach that is among the best in the country. The transformation will pull these strands together – our heritage and modernity, our streetscape and natural environment.

As well as sport and leisure facilities, which could support joint funding and economies of scale, projects within the Beach Masterplan include the renovation at the Beach Ballroom – the ‘People’s Ballroom’ as it used to be known – and enhanced public realm and landscaping across the Queens Links area.

And, crucially, improved connectivity with the city centre, including green travel routes.

Updates on all of these the projects will be taken back to the committee in November.

As council leader, I appreciate the magnitude of what I’ve just described, but rarely have I had so much anticipation. These plans, as I indicated, will be developed with stakeholders and the community, and I am sure they too will seize the many opportunities before us.