Has Aberdeen found a way to revitalise Scotland's high streets?

Plans have been drawn up to transform Union Street, where a quarter of shops lie empty.

What would it take to revitalise our high streets? It’s a question being asked up and down Scotland, as businesses move away from city centres.

Retail experts say a change in shopping habits, a rise in energy costs and Covid are to blame.

Aberdeen’s Union Street, running for a mile in the heart of the city, has a just over a quarter of its units lying empty.

But now a group of business leaders are hoping to change this, by putting Aberdonians at the heart of plans to transform the Granite Mile.

Business leader Bob Keiller is the chair of the group Our Union Street and wants locals to get stuck in with the project.

He said: “There’s a huge frustration that Union Street is not what it could be.

“There’s lots of people expressing their thoughts and ideas and I think the key is to be harnessing that and get people involved to create that change.”

Union Street is known as the Granite Mile.

The organisation plans to work alongside the council to enact any plans for the Granite Mile whilst raising most of the capital needed themselves.

‘Our Union Street’ said it wants to fill the 47 units that currently lie empty as well as cleaning up the appearance of Union Street.

It comes after the city’s business community came out strongly in support of proposals that would pedestrianise the street.

More than three-quarters (78.2%) of members from Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce voted in favour of the plans, while 21.8% said they were against.

The proposals would see a 300-metre stretch of the street between Bridge and Market Streets, shut to traffic during the pandemic, transformed into a permanent vehicle-free zone.

STV News asked those on the high street what they’d like to see.

Amongst the suggestions were “more variety in the shops”, “more of a café culture” and “turning the spaces above shops into homes”, the idea being if more people live in the city centre more businesses would then follow.

Our Union Street group chair Bob Keiller.

Bob Smith runs a second-hand vinyl store on Union Street and believes the road is still important for Aberdeen.

He said: “You could say that we don’t need city centres, but I think you do it’s always going to be central, for people to congregate for buses and trains to come into.

“City centres won’t vanish, so you must make sure that they’re attractive and that they’re filled with things that people need.”

It won’t be an easy task but, businesses leaders say they’ll look at all the ideas presented to them hoping to transform Aberdeen’s Granite Mile sooner rather than later.

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