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Agenda item



The Committee had before it a deputation from (1) Mr Hussein Patwa, on behalf of the Chair and Vice Chair of the Aberdeen City Disability Equity Partnership; and (2) Mr Frank Whitaker, Chair of Aberdeen City and Shire Hotel Association in relation to item 7.1 (Combined City and Beach Covering Report).


Deputation by Mr Patwa


The Committee firstly heard Mr Patwa advise that the Chair and Vice Chair had grave concerns over one (amongst many) of the key principles within the proposed Aberdeen City Centre Masterplan namely, the recommended pedestrianisation of Union Street.


He intimated that parties were broadly in favour of the Masterplan and indeed supported many of its intended outcomes, for example improved footpaths, the wider pavements, the Market, Union Terrace Gardens (the improvements will enable people with mobility difficulties to enjoy the space and participate in events taking place there), improved surfaces and connectivity from Union Street to the Beach via the Castlegate.


He intimated that they also had serious concerns, shared by many sectors of our society, which had not been addressed through the preparatory scoping and initial designs, justifications and recommendations laid before members for today’s critical considerations, namely the pedestrianisation of Union Street.


He explained that the proposal as stated would have a devastating effect on people with disabilities, the elderly, young families, those who rely on public transport and people experiencing mobility difficulties because of life limiting conditions, menopause, illness, accident, or injury by effectively engineering them out of the heart of the city.


Mr Patwa referred to section 2.1.4 of the report dealing with accessible parking and advised that it failed to provide any detail on the location, number, or scope of these spaces. In addition, it failed to recognise the qualifying principle of Blue Badge spaces or the impact of extended walking distances on people experiencing mobility challenges, or hurdles posed by rolling surfaces, gradients, kerb heights, prevailing winds, or weather.


He explained that at present, Union Street facilitated near door-to-door connectivity with all premises on or near it, offering a lifeline to many who wish to use these resources and it should be understood that for many people, both with visible and hidden disabilities, who are unable to use public transport, to cycle, walk or drive conventional vehicles, their only option to access these venues was a direct drop off or to use adapted vehicles with appropriate parking provision. For some, any walking distance at all was an impossibility and direct access to a location was a requirement, not a consideration.     


He referred to the proposed taxi and drop-off facilities on Union Terrace, but intimated that it failed to provide detail to allow scrutiny and for interested parties and stakeholders to offer meaningful comment or counterproposals to ensure they were fit for purpose. Further, should pedestrianisation occur, he indicated that the report failed to identify any other locations for similar facilities within practical distance of other points of Union Street and the surrounding area.


Mr Patwa referred to the  proposed relocation of bus stops presently on the section of Union Street recommended for pedestrianisation. He indicated that the number and proximity of bus stops to each other and the number of unique bus routes calling at each stop already presented a daunting environment for many passengers, heightened by mismatches between stop labels and associated codes used on different journey planning systems. He advised that the report regrettably failed to identify how these challenges would be mitigated given the spatial constraints of the proposed relocation zones, how pedestrian and cyclist safety would be assured given the prioritisation of bus and other vehicular traffic within the same, and by extension, how marginalised sectors of society would be incentivised to continue using public transport, supporting the green economy and the heart of our city.


He referred to section 5.3 of the report which related to engagement activities undertaken and advised that the stated number of responses equated to less than 4% of the city’s population, and 1.63% of potential respondents if Aberdeenshire was included, as in the online simulator invitation. He indicated that it was unsurprising therefore that the needs of those most at risk of exclusion had not been noted in the papers before Committee.


He intimated that the parties accepted that the report explained that there would be further engagement activity prior to implementation however, respectfully given the absence of cogent detail within the reports seen to date and the fact that the Committee were being asked to recommend this decision today, without prior benefit of further engagement, and review, assimilation and modelling of the mitigations within the pedestrianised zone that would undoubtedly result, the proposal as stated would, by default, exclude many individuals and exacerbate marginalisation’s within our society.


Mr Patwa intimated that the parties have had woefully insufficient time to constructively challenge these proposals with the benefit of and based on granular detail and made reference to the circulation timings of the agendas.


He advised that the parties requested that the Committee pause contemplation of any decision relating to these proposals to allow for the engagement activities stipulated in Appendix F of the report to be undertaken first, for meaningful consultation and dialogue with the parties and other interested representatives of society who would be most impacted by these changes, including those such as the disabled, elderly or digitally insecure who had hitherto been unable to interact with these proposals, and for mitigations proposed by the public (experts through their own lived experience of using, and barriers to using the city) to be rationally considered, modelled and deliberated.  


He explained that even at this stage, there would still be a narrowing window of opportunity to ensure these proposals result in a city that was materially inclusive, fit for all and which all who used it can truly be proud.


Mr Patwa responded to questions from members of the Committee.


Deputation by Mr Whitaker


The Committee then heard from Mr Whitaker who advised that he had interactions with the Planning, Resources and City Growth teams to discuss how the hotel community could support projects such as the wonderful Art Gallery, Provost Skene House and Cycling events, to name a few key projects that influence tourism. He indicated that these conversations had referred to how the city could evolve to support a thriving and sustainable hotel.


He intimated that the Committee’s decision should not be about politics, but about the future of the city centre in the decades to come and questioned whether returning Union Street to what it was created a different environment to the one that saw empty retail units and also whether a busy, noisy and heavily polluted route through the city would inspire a change to deliver a vibrant heartbeat of thriving retail and hospitality that helped attract visitors.


He indicated that the hotel sector needed reasons for people to visit, offices to be full to generate corporate travel, healthy retail outlets to attract consumers into town for some retail therapy and overnight stays and meals and an attractive environment to increase the desire to linger longer.


Mr Whitaker explained that during the months of August to October, STR Global data showed that weekend Revenue per Available Room (RevPAR) in city centre hotels grew by approximately 19% compared to the same point in 2019 and that this single statistic was heavily influenced by transient leisure demand as pandemic restrictions eased, but traveling abroad remained a challenge.


He intimated that this demonstrated, with the right conditions, the potential of Aberdeen as a strong destination and hopefully we would not see the conditions that drove this particular demand again, therefore a repeat of these exceptional numbers was unlikely without the right interventions to create the right environment.


He referred to his sons having lived for some time in London, and that he enjoyed the public realm space of the Gas Works at Kings Cross. vibrant, strong footfall, boutique hospitality and retail, leading to an overall great experience, even in the midst of December when indoor hospitality was not allowed.


He concluded by advising that the hotel sector was desperate to see political parties work together on delivering that right environment, as our City Parents have done for decades before us. He urged the Committee to support the proposals.


Mr Whitaker responded to questions from members of the Committee.


The Committee resolved:-

to note the deputations received from Mr Hussein Patwa and Mr Frank Whitaker and to thank them for their contribution.

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