This is the third edition of a bi-weekly blog by Director Stuart McPhee.
So this week I have the letter C in my run-through of the alphabet for my blog posts. I contemplated many c-themed subjects but due to the announcement from John Lewis this week and the detrimental effects this can have on Aberdeen I had to dedicate this week to “city centre”.
What is clear? Once we emerge from the other side of pandemic and lockdown life (whenever that may be) all city and town centres will look radically different. Retail is moving away from the high streets up and down the country, as we have seen from recent events. And it is not just the small independent businesses, it’s larger corporations too – whether that’s Thornton’s, paper chase, John Lewis, or the infamous Arcadia Group.
It is said there is still a need for bricks and mortar retail with the experience of it being a key driver, which will bouy those that remain. But what of all the empty units?
“There are a total of 188 lettable units on Union Street and since February 2020 voids have increased from 33 to 41. Whilst we are all hoping for a very positive bounce post lockdown the longer-term challenges facing the retail sector may see this trend continue.”(1)
Do we face a unique problem? No other city centres face the same issue with retail. But what makes us different? Can we draw down on the experience of other locales?
Aberdeen suffers from an image problem, a huge crisis in its own understanding of itself.
We are at a crossroads that could redefine and reimagine the city for decades to come.
The key drivers of the industry will no longer be oil and gas and services but renewables, world-class food and drink, tourism of all kinds, and scientific innovation. Building use in the city centre will/has to move to residential use to bring people into the city centre. I was encouraged this week to learn some of this work has already begun.
In doing this and reinvigorating upper floor use, ground floor units must be incentivised to give access to startups and growing businesses. Businesses that will add value to the properties above that they can service such as delis, butchers, bakers, Barbers, candlestick makers (pardon the pun)
This won’t happen alone without those in the general population buying into the idea and seeing it as the future vision for the city. A great example of this initiative on a small scale is the Midsteeple Quarter. Which is a community benefit society breathing new life into Dumfries town centre by redeveloping empty High Street properties to create a new neighbourhood with a mix of uses built on principles of local prosperity and well being.
I hear often that Aberdeen has a lot of untapped potential. It is my view that for too long there have been too many forces pulling in too many different directions, now is the time to come together to create a legacy and city to be proud of.
A reinvented city centre to call home.
A redefined city for your career.
A reimagined city to enjoy.
Aberdeen matters more.
Aberdeen means more