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					                   ABERDEEN CIVIC SOCIETY

                              Newsletter No. 55: Sept 2006

                                          Coming Events
Wednesday 4 October 2006: the Civic Society's Annual Awards Ceremony, reviewing the
major developments in Aberdeen and making Awards and Commendations as appropriate.
Town & County Hall, the Town House, Union St, 7.30 for 8 pm. All members and their guests
welcome! Cars can normally be parked in Marischal College.
Wednesday 1st November 2006: a Public Meeting on the topic of Union Street. Speakers:
Councillor John Stewart, Mr George Mair and Mr Alan Silver. St Margaret's School Hall, Albyn
Place, 7.30 pm.
Wednesday 22nd November 2006: The Bon Accord Masterplan – an illustrated presentation by
Mr Frank Sutherland, Manager of the Bon Accord and St Nicholas Shopping Centres. Atholl
Hotel, King's Gate,     7.30 for 8 pm.
Wednesday 24th January 2007: Railways of North-East Scotland – an illustrated talk by Mr
Gordon Casely, the well-known historian of Aberdeen and the North-East. Atholl Hotel, King's
Gate, 7.30 for 8 pm.

                                        Planning Matters
Castlegate: proposal by Grampian Housing Association and NHS Grampian to build a drug
abusers' clinic/treatment centre, with 53 low-rent flats to be built on top, on the Justice St or
Timmer Market Car Park at the expense of about 70 car parking spaces. The Justice St Car Park
is fully used at present and brings much-needed visitors, customers etc into the Castlegate, even if
many will be en route to somewhere else. Local enterprises, St Peter's Church, Peacock etc ,
need vehicular access. This proposal directly contradicts ACC's long-standing policy of
regeneration of the historic Castlegate. There seems to be an inability at official levels to grasp
the essential fragility, the very marginal nature, of the Castlegate (and some other parts of central
Aberdeen) as functioning micro-economies and communities; specifically, the issue of just how
much more negativity and excess baggage they can cope with. The Castlegate needs an
altogether more positive image if it is to pull in customers, new residents, business and
investment. There are other, less damaging possible locations for a drugs treatment centre;
Aberdeen Royal Infirmary at Foresterhill leaps to mind, given that drug abusers will usually
suffer an array of health problems, physical and mental. As regards the 53 low-rent flats, we
might wonder who, apart from drug dealers, will want to rent flats built above a drug abusers'
centre. There is no shortage of low-rent flats in the nearby Castlehill blocks. What the
Castlegate needs is more high-rent accommodation, such as would be indicative of its desirability
as a neighbourhood in which to live; not more of the same.
Aberdeen's Continental Market on the weekend of 12/13th August was a great success, despite
the dull, overcast weather, as was that of 6/7th June, when it was bright and sunny. But the

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associated closure to traffic of the mid-section of Union St resulted in gridlock and chaos in
Bridge St, Market St, Guild St and the whole surrounding area. No such problem accompanied
last November's Continental Market, which was held in the Castlegate, Aberdeen's historic
marketplace. Why not hold it there in future? Similar issues arose on Tartan Day, Sat. 5th
August, when the mid-section of Union St was again closed to traffic. It took a full hour, from 3-
4 pm, to travel by bus from the Castlegate to the Bridge of Dee. Market St, Guild St and Bridge
St were completely seized up. And food for thought as regards the implications of the projected
permanent closure to vehicular traffic of the mid-section of Union St from 2010.
Nos. 60-62 Marischal St: application for a dormer extension, window renewal and pointing.
This is the fine Listed house at the foot of the west side of Marischal St, having a fine doorway
with pilasters and an elegant curved end on to the quayside. There are already large Victorian
dormer windows on the south side, with a clumsy later link between them. The proposal
involves the addition of a flat-roofed dormer of lesser height going around the corner of the
building. This must be resisted at all costs. Our submission to ACC: “The proposed dormer
would be detrimental to this important Listed building and to the amenity of Marischal St and the
surrounding Conservation Area”. There is, as it happens, no Community Council for this part of
town, so it is important that voluntary groups such as the Civic Society take up these issues.
No. 33 King St: Aberdeen Arts Centre has applied to Historic Scotland for assistance with the
long-overdue restoration of their premises, being the splendid and prominently-situated former
North Church of 1830, in Neo-Classical style by John Smith. We support their application.
No. 41 Nelson St: proposal for demolition of building and erection of 21 flats at the conjunction
of Nelson St and the railway line. Four storeys, of good proportions, with slate roofs, walls of
granite and mostly white render; but some sections are to be of 'rust', i.e., orange-brown render.
This colour is alien to the Aberdeen area and should be reconsidered.
No. 52 Regent Quay: application to replace timber windows at rear with UPVC. This is not a
Listed building, but various authorities would advise against.
Nos. 13-14 Adelphi: proposal for alterations to create nine flats. This adds a full storey and
another with dormers to the existing two-storey building, but would not be out-of-character.
Nos. 73-103 Union St/Nos. 2-6 Market St, the Aberdeen Market: proposal for alterations to
buildings, amounting to a complete rehash of the Aberdeen Market and BHS buildings and
facades. Some parts are acceptable, e.g., the reinstatement of the arches between Burton's and
the Market facades on Market St. The elevations to Hadden St and the Green are to be
'enlivened' with new windows; but we must not lose sight of the 'granite cliff' aspect, a reference
back to Archibald Simpson's splendid New Market of 1840-2, which was regrettably demolished
and replaced in 1971 by what amounted to an extension of British Home Stores, with the Market
confined to the lower two floors. The BHS facade to Union St was and remains inappropriate.
Unfortunately the current proposal is similarly alien to the character of Union St, and should be
No. 17 Market St: proposal for change-of-use to create 20 flats. The application includes the
former Bon Accord Hotel and involves sub-division of the huge front room on the first floor, i.e.,
cutting it into slices. We are of the opinion that this amounts to an unsympathetic conversion of
an important Listed building, designed by Archibald Simpson in 1845 for the Mechanics'
Union Square, Guild St: the London-based property developer Hammerson plc has increased its
stakeholding in the 'Union Square' project from 50% to 100%, having bought out its former
partner Multiplex. Hammerson are thus now the sole owners of the development, and will have
full control from now on.

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Nos. 45-47 Holland St: proposal for demolition of the existing buildings and erection of 25 flats.
Nos. 230-240 George St: proposal for alterations to the rather grandiose former bank premises at
the corner with John St to form a dental centre; no change to the exterior.
Broadford Works: the former Richards textiles factory; a revival of the 2004 proposal
(amended) to create an urban village, to comprise 398 flats, shops, office accommodation,
restaurants, a pub and 501 parking spaces. The site, of 8.5 acres, is bounded by Maberly St, Ann
St, Hutcheon St and George St, and is A-Listed on account of its two main buildings, the Grey
Mill dating from 1750 and the Red Mill.
No. 122 Union St: the former Motherwear store, now empty and vandalised. An application to
convert to an amusement arcade and tanning salon was refused by ACC in Sept. 2005 as
inappropriate to Union St, but permission has since been granted following an Appeal to the
Scottish Executive. ACC are considering a legal challenge.
No. 140 Union St/No. 3 Belmont St: an application by Jamieson & Carry to renew roof
coverings, reinstate missing chimney pots and undertake stone cleaning and pointing as advised
by Robert Gordon University; to be commended.
No. 1 Belmont St: proposal by Cafe Drummond for a new terrace on the side looking over to
Union Terrace Gardens, above Denburn Rd; a good idea in principle, but what is proposed is not
really attractive. A more elegant design, taking cognisance of the particular quality of these late-
18th century buildings, might be acceptable. There is, in fact, a strong case for preserving
essentially unchanged the entire rear aspect of Belmont St, as viewed from Union Bridge, Union
St and the Gardens.
No. 5 Belmont St: (revival of) a proposal for demolition of vacant warehouse and erection of a
public house and/or restaurant/diner. As before, the proposal includes an aluminium-clad wall
facing Patagonian Court, which is no more acceptable this time around than last.
Nos. 143-153 Union St: formerly Littlewood's; proposal for a new shop front, no great change,
also sign and banner.
Nos. 160-2 Union St: proposal for alterations and change-of-use to the ground floor of the former
Palace Restaurant to form a coffee house; OK.
No. 3 Golden Square: application for change-of-use from the existing bar/restaurant to four flats;
well thought-out.
No. 84 Crown St: application for change-of-use from present bedsits to four new flats; no
external alterations.
No. 13 Dee Place: proposal for change-of-use to an office, with 16 parking places. This building
is the former Seventh Day Adventist manse; care should be taken to preserve important interior
No. 21 Bon Accord St: the Paramount Bar; proposal for a new shop frontage within the existing
stone framework; OK.
Justice Mill Lane/Hardgate: proposal by AWG (Property) Ltd for a 148-bedroomed hotel of
nine storeys on the former Satrosphere site at the corner of JML and the Hardgate; also a seven-
storey block of 125 flats and some shops and offices, with an underground car park of 210 spaces.
This is a large development for the site, but it would probably improve the ambience of Justice
Mill Lane.
Union St/Union Row: formerly Waterstone's and Norema; these very large premises have been
empty for years. All the windows to Union St are in a filthy state, also the doorway, plus the
doorway to the adjacent Clydesdale Bank. We are bound to wonder just who would want to start

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a business, or open a shop, in such surroundings. This large, ugly and now substantially
redundant building replaced Tommy Scott Sutherland's art deco Majestic cinema back in the
1970s, rightly remembered as The Decade Taste Forgot.
Union Row: a revised proposal by Stewart Milne for a major office development; somewhat
better than the original proposal, now reduced to 5-6 storeys, shouldn't affect the residential
properties in Summer St so much.
Huntly St: Princewall House, the former Blind Asylum, proposes internal alterations. The
drawings do not show adequately which aspects of the John Smith interior would be
affected/destroyed by the creation of an open-plan office. Care should be taken to preserve
original features such as cornices and friezes.
Kepplestone House: similar issues to Princewall House, above, arising from its impending
conversion into flats. The building is not Listed, but the interior contains much fine woodwork,
which should be preserved intact wherever possible.
No. 2 Albyn Place: application for replacement windows, timber sash and case, good! But less
satisfactory is their proposal to fill the rear garden area with a single-storey office extension. The
proposed new building has a sheet metal roof and would link the garage and the Listed former
house, both of which have traditional slate roofs and are, of course, in a Conservation Area. This
part of the proposal is completely unacceptable.
No. 22 Waverley Place: the former Prince Regent Hotel; an amendment to the original proposal
so as to provide dormers to allow additional floor space. We objected to the original proposal as
an over-development of a distinguished Listed property in a Conservation Area. The proposed
amendment constitutes an undesirable increase in that respect.
No. 11 Queen's Gardens: proposal for change-of-use of flats to offices, no external change.
Rubislaw Sports Pavilion: proposal for refurbishment. Demolition of the existing extension at
the west end of the (sort of) classical original will involve removal of existing dormers and a long
new extension to the west.
No. 4 King's Gate: Ashley House; application for a house extension, matching the granite gable
– good!
No. 33 Seafield Crescent: application for a house extension. In this case, the proposed
extension, though quite large, does not spoil the ambience of the entire scheme.
No. 42 Rose House, Hazlehead: application for replacement windows. The drawings give no
indication of the elevational treatment. The new windows must have divisions similar to the
existing fenestration in order to maintain the unity of appearance of this monolithic block.
Garthdee, the RGU Campus: Robert Gordon University propose a new administrative building
south of Garthdee House, the character of which was ruined anyway back in the 1960s.
Woodside: proposal by FirstGroup for an HQ office and depot for 230 buses. This development
has generated widespread concern, but the drawings show a building of some distinction,
resembling that of RGU at Garthdee.
South View, Persley: application for change-of-use from haulage yard to a housing development
in the small cul-de-sac opposite the granite tenements on Grandholme Rd. OK by us if
consistent with the Development Plan; if not, we object.
North Sea Oil & Gas: the Sunday Herald of 13th August reports that investment in exploration
and appraisal during 2006-7 is expected to reach its highest level since the 1980s, with companies
planning to drill 112 new wells. There are now more than 140 companies operating in the North
Sea, compared with just 80 in 2003. This rush is propelled by expectations of continued high

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world oil prices, impending shortages of gas and the Government's push to bring new operators
into the North Sea.
Given the great number of 'planning matters' reviewed in this Newsletter, it is appropriate to
acknowledge the work put in by Norman Marr over the years, researching and commenting on
the individual planning applications and proposals. The responsibility for final judgement, of
course, resides with the Executive Committee.

                                     Pedestrianisation (One)
We have often asked just how the 'Masterplan' for the proposed Bon Accord Quarter, which
incorporates pedestrianisation of Broad St, Upperkirkgate and Schoolhill, eastwards of Back
Wynd, can possibly be compatible with ACC's vote in 2004 to ban all vehicular traffic from the
mid-section of Union St from 2010. Mr Frank Sutherland, the Manager of both the St Nicholas
and Bon Accord shopping centres, was quoted in the Evening Express of 29th April as follows:
“We have objected to the pedestrianisation of Union St ... we believe the pavements should be
widened, but buses should still be given access. To take all the traffic off (Union St) and re-route
it will put pressure on other areas like Schoolhill and Upperkirkgate ... (it) would see 58 buses per
hour on Schoolhill/Upperkirkgate”.
It's make-your-mind-up time! We have to decide what is best for Aberdeen – pedestrianisation
of the mid-section of Union St or a revitalised 'retail heart', being the Bon Accord Quarter as per
the Masterplan. We can't do both!
Further to the above: at our Meeting of 26th April, our guest speaker, an ACC spokesperson, was
asked just where on Schoolhill/Upperkirkgate one would get off the bus in order to go to, for
example, Marks & Spencer's. The answer, reasonably enough, was to the rear of St Nicholas
Kirkyard. The distance from there to M&S is about the same as the distance from the present
bus stops in Union St to M&S. But how many people will then walk from M&S into the
pedestrianised mid-section of Union St, and what will they find when they get there? Anything?
Nothing? Will all the shops have been seduced away to the Bon Accord Quarter to the north, or
to the 'Union Square' development to the south, leaving Union St literally as a vacuum, bereft, an
empty space?
The question was then asked as to where buses would go from the top of Upperkirkgate. Broad
St is to be pedestrianised. So buses would have to turn left, and then travel up the Gallowgate to
Mounthooly. We were told that buses already turn down Littlejohn St (short, narrow and steep);
but it is not feasible for the envisaged number of buses to make a right turn from the Gallowgate
down Littlejohn St and then another right turn across the dual carriageway of West North St, from
there presumably travelling into town via King St. Yet the only alternative is for buses to turn
left at West North St and travel out to the barren wastes of Mounthooly, and then where?
Contributed by Alex Mitchell.

                                      Pedestrianisation (Two)
For some time now, we have been bored to tears by certain parties arguing, with apparently great
conviction and authority, for the pedestrianisation of Union St from Market St to Bridge St.
First, who are these people? We hear a great deal from politicians. It is strange that, when in
power, local politicians will argue for something which they were against when in opposition.
This brings us to the old theory that it is the civil servants and not the politicians who run the
country, but that is a subject for another day!

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The 'experts' employed by the Council – and whose word they seem to accept as Gospel – have
qualifications in several fields of planning, engineering and commerce. Who am I, then, to query
their judgement? My own experience is that of many years of employment in senior positions in
local planning authorities, but, probably more important than that, a whole lifetime of living in
Aberdeen and observing the planning scene here and how things work in our city.
We are told that pedestrianisation has worked in many other cities – Edinburgh, Glasgow, and
many cities south of the Border. Most of these places are what Aberdeen is not – planned cities.
Aberdeen has not been developed as a planned city with a gridiron of parallel and intersecting
roads. Aberdeen is a one-street village on a large scale. It has no alternative roadway to Union
St for through traffic and, with the exception of the comparatively short stretches covered by
Windmill Brae, Langstane Place, Union Row and the Green, there aren't even proper service
lanes for Union St; certainly none in the mid-section due to be pedestrianised.
How bad is the traffic problem in Union St? Not as bad as many would have it. Sometimes I
have to get back home to Queen's Cross from Ellon or Fraserburgh, and I have generally found
that the quickest way, with the least traffic hold-ups, is to come in via King St, Union St and
Albyn Place. There are frequent queues and log-jams of traffic along Anderson Drive, but
seldom, if ever, on Union St.
Spokesmen for commercial interests argue that pedestrianisation will improve the quantity and
quality of shops in the area. Why then, are there as many, if not more, vacant commercial
premises westwards of Bridge St, where there are no problems of traffic/pedestrian conflict, and
where the shops in many cases have back lane service? The answer may lie in the excessive
number of permissions granted for shopping malls; think of the consequences if the 'Union
Square' proposal at Guild St comes to pass. Proper planning would have designated that site as
a railway/bus and sea transport interchange – a concept still possible at this moment.
One way to improve the lot of the pedestrian on Union St would be to do something about the
badly designed, badly sited and much-misused bus shelters, which obstruct the pavements at the
busiest places!
So what will the wider effects of pedestrianisation be? It will become difficult for people, in
buses or cars, to gain access to the central part of the city. They will be dumped around the
edges of the pedestrianised area, but will not have immediate access to points in the centre of this
area. With the limited options there will be for traffic around the area, access to points in the city
centre outwith the pedestrianised street will also be limited.
In order to allow traffic through the city, we are already getting awful warnings and premonitions
of what might happen. Northwards of Union St, the pleasant area around the former Rosemount
Church, consisting of Westburn Rd/Hutcheon St/Caroline Place/Rosemount Terrace, is facing an
array of traffic 'improvement' schemes, any/all of which will destroy the ambience of this
delightful area of townscape. And what will happen to Union Terrace, a magnificent backcloth
to the Gardens, but a street which only just copes with its present volume of traffic? If it
becomes the connection to a Denburn Viaduct/Schoolhill/Upperkirkgate alternative through-
route, then Heaven help the hotel, banks and other commercial concerns which currently thrive on
these streets! Similarly, to the south of Union St, such streets as Wellington Place and
Springbank Terrace will have to cope with a volume of traffic far beyond what should be
tolerated in a residential area.
Over the years we have seen many traffic proposals which have not come to fruition. Think only
of Great Southern Road, which from its conception with the new Bridge of Dee in the 1930s as
the principal entry to Aberdeen, had to wait fifty years before it had a satisfactory junction with
Holburn St! Think too of the grandiose scheme to link Mounthooly and Anderson Drive by a
dual carriageway, which foundered when somebody wondered how they would deal with the

Aberdeen Civic Society: Newsletter No. 55: Sept. 2006                                       Page 6
Listed buildings at Argyll Place and Crescent, but not before large sums had been spent on long
stretches of roadway. Then there is the traffic congestion at the so-called 'Haudagain'
roundabout – where did that stupid name come from? When the new Persley Bridge (single-
carriageway only!) was built, this was the time to develop Aberdeen's existing ring road with a
grade-separated junction at this point. The Civic Society resisted developments at the old Ice
Rink on South Anderson Drive and argued that a high-level roadway, from the Deeside railway
bridge to the west end of Leggart Terrace, would alleviate traffic problems for a long time to
come. But permission was given for a fairly dense residential and commercial development of
the site, which aggravates traffic problems at this junction. There was once a scheme to form
part of an inner ring road system via Wellington Place/Springbank Terrace/Willowbank Road,
across Holburn St through Archibald's, the Union Grove petrol station, removing a house on
Albyn Place and proceeding by Victoria St and Albert St and Craigie Loanings/Argyll Place to
Westburn Road. I wonder what happened to that one; and to another such scheme, to create a
tunnel from Albyn Grove through to the same point beside the Victoria Park?
Some inappropriate schemes have died on the drawing-board before they even came to public
knowledge. The current scheme for Union St, along with all the chaos it would cause city-wide,
should be shelved, at least until we see what result the development of the Western Peripheral
Road will have on city-centre traffic. Elsewhere in this Newsletter (under Coming Events) you
will see intimation of the Public Meeting we are having on the subject of Union St. If you have
any views on this crucially important topic, please come along and be heard!
Contributed by Norman Marr.

                               Union Street – What Happened?
There is widespread concern about the dingy and run-down state of our principal thoroughfare of
Union St, all the way from Holburn Junction to the Castlegate and the town end of King St. This
is manifest in the number of empty shops and in the distinctly low-rent character of many of such
shops as there are. And this has happened during the past thirty years of oil-boom prosperity,
low unemployment and substantial increase in population.
Most of the Union St buildings are old, as much as 200 years old, and many are neglected and in
disrepair. The more recent, post-war buildings were often extraordinarily badly conceived and
designed, and are again invariably badly maintained. We may think of the awful 'What
Everyone Wants' building which blights Castlegate/Shiprow, and the elongated egg-box between
Huntly St and the Music Hall.
If one thinks back to the Union St of the 1950s and '60s, the following comes to mind: Union St
was jam-packed with shoppers along its entire length every Saturday, as was also St Nicholas
St/George St. People dressed up to go 'doon the toon', and you met everyone you knew in Union
St. In that sense, Aberdeen really was a village. The street markets in the Green and Castlegate
were very much going concerns. Buses (and trams, until the late 1950s) went down through the
Castlegate to the Sea Beach. The No. 4 bus service went all the way from Hazlehead to the
Beach and back again, via Queen's Cross, Union St and the Castlegate. Other bus services
turned around at the Castlegate, which was thus the city's main bus interchange, where you
nipped off one bus and on to another. As a result, far more people had reason to go to the
Castlegate, or spend time in the Castlegate, than nowadays.
That said, the Castlegate always had a fairly rough image, given its proximity to the Harbour and
the military Barracks of 1794 on Castlehill and associated problems of drunkenness and
prostitution. The Salvation Army Citadel was built on the east side of the Castlegate in 1893-6
specifically in order to address these problems. The Barracks latterly became a form of slum
housing and were demolished in the mid-1960s and replaced by the present tower blocks of

Aberdeen Civic Society: Newsletter No. 55: Sept. 2006                                   Page 7
council flats, Virginia Court and Marischal Court, which overshadow and dominate the eastern
aspect of the Castlegate. Contemporary photographs reveal the Barracks as a handsome and
impressive collection of late 18th century or 'Georgian' buildings, which could surely have been
converted into something more concomitant than the present Castlehill tower blocks.
Union St and St Nicholas St/George St used to be full of interesting and up-market shops;
Andrew Collie & Co. Ltd, the grocer's, at the corner of Union St/Bon Accord St; Watt & Grant's;
McMillan's, under the Trinity Hall; Woolworth's, backing on to the Green; Falconer's, Isaac
Benzie's; the Equitable; the handsome and elegant old Northern Co-op building; the Rubber
Shop. There were a great many cinemas; the Odeon/Regent, Capitol, Gaumont, Majestic,
Belmont, Queen's, Playhouse, Curzon/Cosmo, the ABC and the Grand Central. There were
several motor showrooms on or near Union St: Rossleigh's for Jaguar & Rover; Aberdeen Motors
for Rolls-Royce & Bentley; SMT on Bon Accord St for Vauxhall & Bedford; the Town &
County Garage on Justice Mill Lane for Austin, Morris, Wolseley, Riley & MG, and Harper's on
the corner of JML/Holburn St for Ford. There were gents' tailors like Burton's, Hepworth's, John
Collier's, Dunn's and Austin Reed. There were very few pubs & bars on the west end of Union
St; only Bell's Hotel and the Grill. Applications for new alcohol licences were routinely turned
down. Such pubs & bars as existed were thus under no pressure to compete drinks prices
downwards, so 'toon' prices were notoriously high. Those who wanted cheap drinks had to take
their custom elsewhere, whereas unfortunately the opposite is true now.
So what happened? Much of the population moved out of down-town tenements and into the
peripheral housing estates and new residential developments, ever-further from the city. Car
ownership became the norm rather than the exception; and car-borne customers prefer shops they
can park next to and for free. Supermarkets became superstores and greatly extended their range
of merchandise, destroying one specialist or niche retailer after another; butchers, bakers,
fishmongers, hardware & electrical stores, shoe-shops and now, pharmacists, bookshops and
music shops. Superstores and their car-parks require huge expanses of land and prefer edge-of-
town locations where large, uncluttered greenfield sites are available and easy of access for both
customers and delivery lorries. DIY sheds like B&Q, furniture & carpet stores and 'big box'
retailers like Curry's similarly prefer edge-of-town complexes. Our Lord Provost has been
lobbying the Swedish furniture retailer IKEA to bring one of their huge stores to Aberdeen, but a
moment's reflection suggests that it, too, would be built on the edge-of-town or along the
projected Western Peripheral Road, quite possibly at Westhill.
Until recently, people living in Westhill had to come into Aberdeen to visit a decent supermarket.
Now Tesco has built what is only its second superstore in the Aberdeen area at Westhill. We
may take it that people living on the western side of Aberdeen will soon be motoring to Westhill
for much of their everyday shopping, rather than vice-versa.
Edge-of-town or out-of-town retail complexes, such as that at Garthdee, may be banal,
unhistorical and characterless, but they are also convenient as to access, offer easy and free
parking, and are generally clean, safe and relatively easy to make secure against break-ins and
vandalism. The obvious way for the city-centres to fight back was to build down-town malls like
the St Nicholas and Bon Accord shopping centres. These offer the kind of accommodation
retailers want, and are relatively secure, e.g., overnight, but they may tend to abstract business
and custom from the High St. The case is unproven. Without the down-town malls, the major
retailers might have moved out of the city centre altogether. Or they might not, and Union St
and St Nicholas St/George St might still be lined with interesting and up-market shops. Who can
What we can say with some certainty is that if the supply of retail accommodation outruns the
demand, it follows as surely as night follows day that the less attractive premises and locations
will become hard-to-let, the rental obtainable falls, lower-status tenants have to be accepted;

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ultimately, premises may become unlettable on any terms. This is what seems to have happened
in the west end of Union St, and not only there. We are assured that Aberdeen is not
oversupplied with shops, but there have been significant increases in the down-town stock of
retail premises in recent years, e.g., the Academy in Belmont St, the Galleria in Bon Accord St,
neither of which have been quick to fill up with tenants. The proposed Bon Accord Quarter will
substantially increase the capacity of the present St Nicholas and Bon Accord malls. And the
projected 'Union Square' development at Guild St is to include no fewer than sixty new retail
To take the case of King St: there is a long row of ground-floor premises in the tenement blocks
more-or-less opposite Morrison's superstore and extending to the junction with East/West North
St. A great many of these premises are empty. Others are occupied by strange, old-fashioned
businesses that are barely ticking over. The fact is that the construction of the superstore
(originally Safeway's) rendered a great many of these wee shoppies obsolete and redundant,
virtually overnight. Some of these premises may never find retail or business tenants again, and
should perhaps be converted into flats. The shops and businesses that have survived are those
supplying goods and services not, as yet, offered by the superstore, e.g., hairdressing & beauty
salons, of which there seem to be a great many, computer repair shops, antique shops, second-
hand bookshops, ethnic restaurants and takeaways, wholefood stores, Asian grocers, etc. The
huge increase in the student population, specifically in the Old Fire Station and Mealmarket St
student flats, has created the spending power and demand to sustain these speciality and niche
businesses, and has turned what used to be a fairly bleak part of Aberdeen into an interesting and
characterful, somewhat bohemian, place to live, with consequent benefit to the local market for
residential property.
The lesson would seem to be that a somewhat depressed local economy can be revived, but
perhaps only on the basis of a recovery in the resident population, preferably of people in a
position – employment status, income, spending power, age, state of health etc – to go out and
patronise local enterprises and suppliers, and perhaps themselves to start up new businesses, new
service-providers. The best thing to happen to the Castlegate for a very long time was the
creation in the 1990s of the Barratt apartment complex on the south (harbour) side, adjacent to
Castle Terrace; that and the conversion of the upper floors of some of the older Castlegate
buildings into modern flats. These developments served to attract an influx of the mortgageable
classes, people who can both earn and spend. There is, among young professionals, a trend back
to living in the city-centre, at the expense of the drearier suburbs and commuter towns, even
whilst families move out to the rural hinterland. If suitable accommodation is provided in
interesting and congenial neighbourhoods, people will move into it. But there needs to be an
appropriate social mix; the better-off as well as the less well-off, owner-occupiers as well as
tenants. There is no point in creating (yet more) poverty ghettoes, where nobody can afford to
buy anything and there is thus no basis for legitimate business enterprise and employment.
What else happened? Down-town, the churches and the banks moved out. The churches had a
surplus of premises and accommodation ensuing from the spate of new-build by the Free Church
following the Great Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843. The general decline in church
attendance after the First World War, combined with the exodus of population from the city
centre, rendered many down-town churches redundant. These buildings may be difficult to adapt
for other purposes and can present a formidable repair and maintenance problem, e.g., Archibald
Simpson's 'Triple Kirks' at the corner of Schoolhill/Belmont St, itself very much a product of the
Great Disruption.
Amongst the banks, mergers and amalgamations left many branch premises surplus to
requirements. Whatever else we may say about banks, they did put up some very handsome and
impressive buildings. But, by the 1990s, the Bank of Scotland had abandoned its splendid and
purpose-built 1801 premises at the corner of Castle St/Marischal St, as did the Clydesdale Bank

Aberdeen Civic Society: Newsletter No. 55: Sept. 2006                                    Page 9
its 1842 Archibald Simpson premises at the corner of Castle St/King St. What was once the
centre of business activity in Aberdeen was so no longer. Banks, as a High Street business, have
been hit by the fact that we use cash much less nowadays; we no longer make weekly trips to the
bank for spending money, and we can get cash at the superstore, like everything else. A great
deal of retail banking activity is now undertaken via the Internet, so again, fewer branches and
fewer staff per branch. Insurance offices and travel agencies have similarly been decimated by
the Internet.
From Union St, the car showrooms moved to the outskirts of town. Aberdeen Journals moved
from Broad St to Lang Stracht. Aberdeen University withdrew from Marischal College and the
Student Union (and Bisset's Academic Bookshop) closed down. Broad St and vicinity used to
throng with young faces, undergraduates, academics and university staff; not any more. And
Robert Gordon University moved from Schoolhill to Garthdee.
There never was a time when things stood still. Old trades and occupations become obsolete,
redundant or move elsewhere, often when displaced by newer, more profitable activities in the
Darwinian contest for the use of economic resources, land, labour, capital etc. Planning
applications for 'change-of-use' are the normal and desirable state of affairs. There are no fishing
boats in Aberdeen harbour nowadays because they have been displaced by oil-industry vessels.
But communities go into a decline, economically and socially, when old industries and
occupations cease to be replaced by new activities, or are replaced by activities which are in some
way damaging or undesirable, such as the drugs trade and the gambling racket.
To state the obvious, the increased number of vacant retail premises in Union St results from the
fact that fewer tenants are moving in than are moving out; there is a net exodus of retailers. We
are told it is now almost impossible to find tenants for retail premises westwards of the Music
Hall. Such new tenants as there are seem to be of a decidedly low-rent character; charity shops,
99p shops, etc. The truth is that Union St, like High Streets in general, is not nowadays that good
an environment in which to try to run a shop. Old buildings and ground-floor premises are
difficult to make secure against break-ins and vandalism. Delivery access for lorries is difficult,
if not impossible. Shop staff and customers are harassed by drunks, beggars and drug abusers.
Shop doorways, windows and their surroundings are often in a filthy state by the start of each
day's business. It is difficult to find and retain staff who will put up with this for £7.50 per hour.
It is not surprising if retailers follow their customers and withdraw to the relatively clean, safe
and secure environment of the down-town malls and edge-of-town retail parks.
Aberdeen is a better-run city than most, and always has been. But the situation described arises
from the non-delivery, or inadequate performance, of very specific council and governmental
responsibilities, e.g., to maintain law and order, to enforce the law, to deal with anti-social and
criminal behaviour, to collect the rubbish and to keep the streets and pavements clean. Putting
down the odd tub of begonias is not enough.
As the banks, churches, motor showrooms and retailers have withdrawn from Union St, so mega-
pubs & bars, nightclubs and fast-food providers have moved in. To an extent, the new arrivals
have been welcome, occupying large old buildings which would otherwise have remained empty
and neglected, e.g., the former Congregational Church in Belmont St. And much of this may be
regarded as legitimate 'change-of-use', in response to changing lifestyles and tastes. In a more
affluent society, we consume more services than goods. Most people in Aberdeen used hardly
ever to go out for a meal. Now we often eat out, and buy ready-made meals from take-aways
other than fish & chip shops. So it is entirely appropriate that former shops, banks, kirks,
insurance offices, car showrooms, etc., now operate as restaurants, cafes, coffee houses, health &
fitness clubs and so on. Similarly, there is a place for pubs, bars and nightclubs; but perhaps for
fewer of them, and of a different character. The bars, nightclubs, etc, are a youth-orientated
business, and the relevant age-group is shrinking fast as families move out of the city.

Aberdeen Civic Society: Newsletter No. 55: Sept. 2006                                      Page 10
Supply follows demand; if there was not the demand for all these alcohol-outlets, the less
successful operators would lose money and shut down, and there is no sign of this happening yet.
The drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc. sectors will be cut down to size only as and when people get
bored with and/or turn against this kind of activity, much as they mostly have in relation to
In the meantime, the issue is one of whether the alcohol industry can peacefully co-exist with
other economic sectors, retailers etc., and with the resident population of the city centre. The
evidence suggests not. There is a pervasive sense of squalor and decay on Justice Mill Lane and
down Bon Accord St and Crown St. Local shops have been forced to close by hold-ups and
break-ins. Muggings are commonplace in broad daylight. Families move out; houses are turned
over to short-term and multiple and student tenancies, commonly eight people occupying a three-
bedroomed house. Bon Accord Terrace Gardens, like Union Terrace Gardens, is well-
maintained by ACC (praise where it is due!), but is not really safe at any time of day.
All the evidence is that a place or neighbourhood which loses its settled resident population is
doomed, finished. The corollary of this is that a community and micro-economy which has long
been in decline, such as the Castlegate, can be revived only by rebuilding its resident population
and base of custom from, as it were, the ground up. The process is analogous to re-introducing
aquatic life to a hitherto polluted, ecologically-dead river or lake. You have to start at the bottom
of the economic food-chain, building up the numbers of local residents, then improving the
species-mix of potential customers, employees and entrepreneurs.
So if the interests of the local resident population and the alcohol industry are in conflict, then the
former must take precedence. The buildings at the west end of Union St (originally Union
Place), as elsewhere, used to be private houses; people did their shopping in the street markets or
in Archibald Simpson's New Market of 1842, Aberdeen's first enclosed shopping mall. One of
the more positive developments in recent years is the conversion by various housing associations
and trusts of the upper floors of these old buildings, often long out-of-use, into modern residential
accommodation, and there is no lack of would-be tenants and buyers. If suitable residential
accommodation is provided in congenial neighbourhoods, people will quick enough to move in.
As regards our principal ongoing retail development, the proposed Bon Accord Quarter: this
writer is broadly in support of the outline scheme, as per the 'Masterplan', because it would
secure the desirable objectives of removing St Nicholas House and bringing Marischal College
back into an appropriate usage; also because it confirms and consolidates the traditional 'retail
heart' of Aberdeen as the premier shopping destination in the North-East, the natural and obvious
location for retailers like Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, Debenham's, Next etc. It is this
geographical concentration of up-market and quality stores which serves to justify the time,
trouble and expense of going down-town, and which pulls shoppers and visitors into the city
centre to the benefit of all the other retailers and service-providers therein.
Contributed by Alex Mitchell.

                       Aberdeen Civic Society Awards Scheme 1972-2006
On Wednesday 4 October, members of the Society will once again be the guests of Aberdeen
City Council for the presentation of the Awards and Commendations for the past year. This is
always an interesting and enjoyable occasion and it is hoped that as many members as possible
will be there. The form of the evening will be that of recent years. After a glass of wine,
photographic slides of the chosen projects will be shown, accompanied by a commentary from
the Convenor of the Awards Sub-Committee. The presentation of certificates will be followed
by refreshments.

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It may be that some of the Society's members know rather little about the Awards scheme – its
history, its aims and procedures. Notes in the Society's archives indicate that in 1970, Mr
Charles Skene, then Vice-Chairman, suggested that a Civic Society Award should be given to
“the property owner who had achieved the best improvement in amenity in the city”. The first
Awards were given in 1972. They were (1) to Aberdeen City Council for the Winter Gardens,
(2) to Aberdeen University for restoration work in Wrights and Coopers Place, Old Aberdeen,
and (3) to Mr Cuthbert Graham for his literary contribution to the appreciation of the social
history and architecture of Aberdeen.
Throughout the following years, the Society has tried to keep to the original aims of the scheme,
while at the same time developing it to reflect the changes which have taken place in the city. In
the early years the emphasis seems to have been on the restoration of older properties, but more
recently more attention has been paid to new developments and projects reflecting the vast
increase in new building in the city. In 1978 it was agreed that a category of Commendation
should be added to that of Award and, ten years later, a further category of Honourable Mention
was added. These three categories are intended to reflect the difference in scale between projects
as diverse as the redevelopment of Aberdeen Conference Centre on the one hand and the
comparatively modest but well-executed ramp for the disabled at the Art Gallery on the other.
Looking through the list of Awards over the last thirty-odd years, two aspects are noteworthy.
First, the sheer variety of projects which have been recognised by the Society, and second, the
way they reflect what has been going on in the city. They range from attractive new shop fronts
such as those of Jamieson & Carry or Jaeger to the former Chevron HQ at Altens; or from the
modest little Bank of Scotland in the High St, Old Aberdeen, to the Norman Foster building at
Robert Gordon's University, Garthdee. The Queen Elizabeth Bridge featured one year and
Codona's Amusement Park in another. During the 1980s there was clearly a spurt in the
rehabilitation of tenement properties throughout the city and this is reflected in Awards and
Commendations given to the City Council and also to private developers for the work done in
such areas as Constitution St, Rosemount Viaduct, Frederick St and Craigie St. At the same
time, a start was being made to bringing people back to live in the city centre, and new blocks of
flats such as Claremont Gardens aroused the Society's interest. This process is continuing, not
always successfully, it has to be said. As well as new blocks of flats and rehabilitated tenements,
there have been several conversions of older buildings such as churches into flats. Among these
were St Nicholas, Union Grove, and Melville Church, Skene St. Counter to the trend for
churches to become redundant, several new churches attracted recognition from the Society,
notably the International Baptist Church at Cults, St Francis of Assisi at Mannofield and St
Columba's at Bridge of Don.
The 1980s and '90s saw a proliferation of new office and industrial building in the city, much of it
admittedly of rather poor design. The Society tried to encourage developers to pay more
attention to the appearance of their buildings by giving awards to developments such as Alba
Gate at Dyce, Balgownie Lodge at the Science and Technology Park and Dolphin Supplies at
Craigshaw Road. Another feature of these years which became apparent was the increased
longevity of the population, which was reflected in the number of new care homes for the elderly
such as Taransay Court, Sheddocksley, Gray Court, Summerhill and Mark Bush Court, Kincorth,
all of which received awards from the Society.
In recent years, the number of major projects in the city has decreased and it has not always been
easy to find worthwhile ventures. At the same time, many individuals continue to give a great
deal of thought to the design and workmanship of even quite modest developments and the
Society welcomes suggestions from the membership for projects for consideration. The
procedures for making the decisions on the awards are in the hands of a small sub-committee
elected by the Executive Committee. As well as members of the Society, the Awards Sub-
Committee includes representatives of ACC's Planning Department and the Society of Architects.

Aberdeen Civic Society: Newsletter No. 55: Sept. 2006                                     Page 12
After several months of discussion and site visits, a final list is submitted to the Executive
Committee for approval, sometimes for disapproval! It is inevitable in a scheme of this kind that
the personal opinions of those involved will play a part, but objectivity is aimed at throughout.
Various aspects are considered before coming to a decision, such as suitability for the site and the
quality of design, workmanship and materials. Originality is welcomed, but respect for tradition
is also considered important. However, the over-riding judgement must be based on the extent to
which the project makes our city a better, more desirable place in which to live.
If you want to know more about this year's Awards and Commendations, do come to the
Presentation at the Town and County Hall, at 7.30 for 8 pm on Wednesday 4th October. As
always, we express our gratitude to Aberdeen City Council for their hospitality to the Society on
this occasion.
Contributed by Caroline Gimingham.

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Aberdeen Civic Society: Newsletter No. 55: Sept. 2006                                     Page 13

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