A lot has been written recently in both the local newspapers and various commissioned Council documents about the benefits of living in Aberdeen City Centre.
A report entitled " Aberdeen City Centre Living Strategy, Report and Recommendations" was published by Savills in December 2017.
This reports highlights that the Aberdeen City Council Masterplan aims to add 3000 residents to Aberdeen City Centre by 2040.
The Council is constantly drumming up support for this strategy on the basis that it will boost the city centre economy, bring a community feel to the city centre, encourage residents to take pride in their environment, enable abandoned office buildings to be brought back into use as residential property following on from the oil slump, and provide residents with the convenience of entertainment and shops on their doorstep.
The Council also likes to bang the drum about it's Purple Flag awards which it has gained every year for the past six years, in recognition of a its endeavours to create a safe night-time economy.
All in all, according to the Council, city centre living is fantastic, without any problems. The fact that, traditionally, home owners have chosen to live outwith the city centre in more peaceful surroundings, is now an unnecessary choice. Living in the city centre has never been more pleasant and convenient. The Council has it all under control. If you like watching "Friends" on television, and hanker after that lifestyle, then "come live in the city centre", seems to be the Council message.
Aberdonian.com spoke to several residents of Aberdeen City Centre, and they gave us a quite different perspective, less positive perspective on city centre living. Here's what they had to say:
Problem 1 - The drunks
Many young people get drunk in the city centre, roaming the streets, particularly Union Street, Market Street, the Castlegate, Bridge Street and Crown Street, to name but a view. From 10pm to 5am, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights, these young people treat these streets as if they are their personal playground. Screaming out at the top of their voices at any time of the night or morning. For any resident sleeping in their beds, it only takes one scream to wake them up. The people we spoke to complained bitterly about the fact that whilst the Council may wish to make the city centre more residential, the Council and the Police were doing nothing to prevent such behaviour. Anywhere out of town, and someone screaming out at the top of their voice would be a criminal offence (breach of the peace), but in the city centre, the law does not apply or get enforced. Residents said they wanted 2 things:
1. The Council needs to make revellers more aware that city centre streets have residents in them. Currently, revellers are oblivious to this fact. They see the pubs and the shops. They never look up at the residents living above them. The Council should be doing more to make revellers aware of the residential aspect of the city centre. Increased signage and dissemination of information to this effect was recommended.
2. There needs to be more enforcement of the law as regards noise prevention. Breaches of the peace need to be enforced when revellers "make a racket". The people we spoke to couldn't believe that the police were enforcing the law in the city centre. Most said they never saw police walking the city centre streets at night. Most were incredulous at the Council claims of an increased police presence on city centre streets at night-time.
Problem 2 - taxi ranks
Here again, we have the Council patting itself on the back for improving night-time safety (allegedly), yet acting in complete defiance of one of its own policies, as well as delegating responsibility for safety to uniformed individuals without any legal authority.
I am talking here about the night-time ranks that have been placed on Union Street. These operate from 12am - 5am every Friday and Saturday, and are marshalled by uniformed individuals.
One west-end Union Street resident we spoke to said that there is a taxi rank immediately below his bedroom window, and that trying to get a night's sleep on a Friday or Saturday night was a "complete nightmare". He highlighted to us the Council's "Supplementary Guidance: Harmony of Uses" document, which states:
"Proposals for new residential development or conversion of existing premises to residential use will only be allowed in parts of the city centre where a suitable residential amenity will be secured. Applications for such residential developments or conversions will generally be refused where one or more of the following criteria apply: The proposal is located beside a taxi rank."
He indicated that the refurbished development he lived in was now fully residential and cannot understand why the development went ahead in 2016 given there was a taxi rank outside it. He also indicated he cannot understand why the situation persists, and why the rank cannot be move slightly further down Union Street where there are no residential apartments.
He also highlighted that drunken revellers queueing for taxis frequently shout at the top of their voices, and the uniformed marshalls do nothing to stop or prevent it.
Problem 3 - the beggars
Union Street is a mecca for beggars. Many residents complained about having to run the gauntlet of requests for money every day, when all they are trying to do is get back and fore to their home. "How many people that live outwith the city would tolerate this daily harassment on the way to catching a bus to their work?", one person asked. "Why doesn't the Council get the beggars off the street?", another asked. And I agree. This is harassment of law-abiding citizens. What sort of image does all this begging give to the tourists that come to visit Aberdeen. It's funny how the Council can spend million of pounds on an arts gallery and Union Terrace gardens and yet does diddly-squat when it comes to removing the blight of beggars off our streets.
Many of these beggars deliberately take up position on the city centre streets at weekend nights, chasing the "rich-pickings" of drunken revellers, full of drink-fuelled sympathy for their alleged plight. How many people would put up with beggars sitting on their doorstep, day and night?
Yet the sound of silence from the Council on this topic is deafening. No brownie points for Laing or Boulton on this topic, so let's not mention it, seems to be their attitude.
Problem 4 - the buskers
The problem here is very similar to that described in problems 1, 2 and 3. Someone taking advantage of the drunken audience to make money, whilst at the same time creating a lot of noise into the early hours of the morning, that keeps residents awake.
We spoke to residents living above St. Nicholas Square as well as one living just up from Soul on Union Street, that complained bitterly about buskers playing outside their homes into the early hours of the morning.
Again the solution is rather obvious. The Council needs to create and enforce bye-laws that do not allow this practice after say, 9pm at night. And as already mention, buskers need to be informed of this requirement via both signage and written information. And the police need to enforce the law!
Problem 5 - the traffic noise
Most traffic in the city centre does not cause a noise problem.
However, residents of Union Street told us that there is the occasional motorbike or modified car that treats Union Street like a race-track, and it only takes one very loud exhaust at 3am in the morning to waken them up. "Where are the police when you need them?", exclaimed one resident. "They are never there when they should be."
Others also complained about police and fire sirens going off through the night, and whilst everyone welcomed the presence of the emergency services to keep law and order, some residents queried whether it was always necessary for sirens to be switched on for attending such a central incident.
Even more complained about the Council street cleaning operations. "Every weekend morning about 7am, I am woken by the bleep-bleeping and whooshy noise from the Council street cleaning operation" said one resident. "Why do they need to come out so early?"
Problem 6 - the light
"The lights on Union Street are so bright", complained one resident. "They never go off during darkness or even dim", said another, "it's hard to get your bedroom sufficiently dark to sleep in".
On questioning by the author if the problem couldn't simply be fixed with a thick pair of curtains, I was informed that the bright light meant making a hard choice between hot summer nights with opened windows letting in bright light and loud noise, or closing the windows and curtains and suffocating in the night-time heat.
I'd imagine this isn't a problem that the Council have even thought about. Yet I suppose it's a fair complaint. The lights on Union Street are VERY bright and maybe it's only fair that they dim after a certain time.
Problem 7 - bikes on pavements
Many residents spoke about the number of cyclists that now cycle on the pavement in the city centre, presumably because they are too afraid to cycle on the main road. Many residents spoke of near-misses when they were nearly struck by a cyclist on the pavement. It doesn't need to be said. Anyone hit by a cyclist on the pavement is going to be hurt, perhaps badly, and it is illegal. Pedestrians shouldn't have to tolerate this. Again I ask, why do the police not stop this illegal behaviour?
Problem 8 - the doorbell ringers
Residents spoke about drunken revellers ringing the buzzer or bell on the entrances to their block of flats. Many disconnected their internal phones at weekends. Whilst this may seem a minor inconvenience to some, it is clearly just another interruption to a sound night's sleep.
So what do I conclude after listening to all these complaints about Aberdeen city centre living?
Well it seems to me that the Council needs to think a bit harder about the reality of mixing residents and drunken revellers together. Oil and water don't mix easily and neither do these two groups of people with very different requirements. Perhaps the Council thinks that modern dwellings simply need to be well insulated and secure against the outside world for successful city centre living. I would hope that the above article makes the Council realise that more needs to be done to promote successful city centre living than simply providing homes that are noise-insulated and secure.
The greatest challenge to the Council in promoting city centre living is enforcing law-abiding behaviour amongst those that use the centre's facilities, and so many of the problems highlighted above could be minimised if the police took law enforcement onto the street and actually arrested those breaking the law. But from what I was hearing, the police are neither present, nor interested in prosecuting what they deem to be low-level crime. All I can say is that it may be low-level but it is highly irritating and frequent for a great many city centre residents. That in itself means that the police should be enforcing the law on these types of crime.
A little less back-slapping amongst the Council staff dealing with city-centre residential living, and a little more facing up to the real issues that persist and never get tackled, as well as a police presence in the city centre that is actually prepared to "write up" low-level crime rather than simply issue warnings, would be much appreciated by those residents that simply hanker after a safe environment and "a good night's sleep".