Improving fortunes for Aberdeen's Union Street

By Ken Banks
BBC Scotland North East reporter

image captionCouncil and business leaders hope brighter times can return to Union Street

Empty prime retail space in Aberdeen's once flagship shopping street has fallen by about a third in the past year.

Union Street - which runs through the heart of the Granite City - has about 190 street-level business spaces.

A BBC Scotland study in 2017 found 24 were not in use or were closing down, and council and business leaders vowed to turn its fortunes around.

One year later, that figure has now fallen to 17.

One business organisation said Aberdeen needs to "continue building on the positive steps".

Also known as the Granite Mile, Union Street was once the city's main retail hub. However, it became increasingly rundown as retailers moved away to shopping centres.

Union Street has faced particularly stiff competition from nearby Union Square - described as Aberdeen's "premier shopping and leisure destination" - which opened in 2009.

Faces challenges

The complex is home to shops and restaurants, and a cinema.

After last year's findings, Aberdeen City Council said it recognised the challenges facing Union Street - which were described as "not uncommon to high streets throughout the country".

The five-year Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (Cars) aims to rejuvenate the city's main thoroughfare by providing grants to property owners, allowing them to carry out improvement works.

One year on, Union Street businesses now include dozens of restaurants, coffee shops and bars, and a total of 17 bookmakers and charity shops.

image captionUnion Street had more than 20 empty business space a year ago, but the figures have improved

Aberdeen councillor Marie Boulton is the local authority's lead on the City Centre Masterplan, which aims to find ways of transforming the heart of Aberdeen.

'Viable option'

She said after the new Union Street figures were revealed: "Our ambition for a thriving Union Street and a buzzing city centre remains unwavering.

"In addition to the £2.4m Cars scheme, we have introduced the Alive After Five scheme (free parking after 17:00 in council multi-storey car parks) to boost the night time economy in central Aberdeen.

"Our cultural events calendar with hugely popular and - innovative - successes such as Nuart, Spectra and the Great Aberdeen Run have demonstrably increased footfall in city centre businesses during the events.

"With the completion of the Broad Street regeneration we are looking to attract more people to visit the eastern end of the city centre and one of the key ambitions of our masterplan has always been to help make city centre living an attractive and viable option".

image source, Aberdeen City Council
image captionThe regeneration area runs through the heart of Aberdeen

Adrian Watson, chief executive of business-led initiative Aberdeen Inspired, said: "Our efforts to continue revitalising Union Street are ongoing, and it is good to see that enhancements are starting to become a reality.

"Our diverse cultural offering of bold and ambitious events has played an important role in this, with the recent Aberdeen Comedy Festival and the upcoming Aberdeen Christmas Village all making an impact."

He added: "Union Street as a high street is constantly changing and needs to, in a challenge that is not unique to Aberdeen but felt across the country.

"We need to think differently about the experience we offer and of course there are still challenges here as we make this transition.

"We all have a stake in our city centre and need to continue building on the positive steps that have already been made in looking to the future."

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