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Welcome to Aberdeen

Updated: Mar 16

It's the summer of 2023, and the tourists arriving in their cruise ship at the new harbour at Nigg are in for a real treat. The sun is shining, the air warm, and the a wonderful day roaming the beautiful granite city awaits. They have heard so much about it (in their 1950s brochures), they can hardly wait to get off the ship and head into Union Street.

They follow their guide to the gondola start point, a mere 200 yards from the cruise ship disembarking point, and take off in their gondola across the Balnagask golf course, the bridge of Dee (past Torry and Fittie on their right), and disembark at the Castlegate. Union Street lies before them. If it anything as good as the goldola ride, they won't be forgetting Aberdeen in a while.

They catch the new tram system that runs the length of Union Street both sides, which is entirely free.

First stop off are the renowned Union Terrace Gardens, a wonderful oasis, a lung in the heart of the city, stretching the full width from Union Terrace on the west to Belmont Street on the east.

After two hours relaxing in the glorious sunshine, they jump back on the tram and explore the shopping delights of Union Street. Wonderful shops never seen before elsewhere, and every store occupied. And don't the buildings look spectacular as the granite glistens in the midday sun.

That is how it could have been, but now won't be.

The gondola suggestion was a superb one, but of course it is much too imaginative for Aberdeen City councillors. No, people disembarking from the cruise ship might simply take one look at the journey into town through Balnagask and decide to stay onboard.

Union Terrace Gardens never did stretch across to Belmont Street. Instead it is the same width as before, a narrow strip of nothingness, where visitors wonder what purpose it is supposed to serve. Perhaps they are supposed to admire the new steps, or paths, or just gaze at the railway line and dual carriageway that ought to have been built over to create a green oasis. But that, of course, also never happened, as it was simply too imaginative.

The tram system. Another pipe-dream. Perhaps no one wanted to suggest that one as it was simply too embarrassing to recall that the last tram disappeared from Union Street back in the 50s and every one danced round the bonfire that engulfed the last one. Our councillors would do a lot worse to look at the tram system in Canada. Try Calgary or Banff for comparison. Union Street was made for the tram system. But no. Our tourists will have to navigate their way through a complicated bus transport system that caters for the whole city and can't find a way to focus on the needs of the tourists on one street. And good luck dodging the bicycles and electric scooters scooting about the pavements.

And Union Street. An embarrassment. Don't dare look up. Its not shiny new granite they'll see. No, it will be weedy bushes and shrubs growing out from roofs, chimneys, drainpipes, and anywhere else you care to name. And windows almost falling out their frames because the only feasible financial help available for replacement or repair in this Conservation area is for developers turning empty stores into flats. The existing local resident can forget it. What is is that the Council are hoping to conserve - rotten window frames?

And the shops. Well, there's only one department store left in Aberdeen now (M&S), and there are rumours even that might close. Half the shop fronts are empty and have been that way for years. And please don't blame the internet. That is far too easy a cop-out. No, the shops are empty because Union Street is simply not a safe or attractive place to visit. Unless you enjoy raking through mobile phone, charity and bookmaker shops, conversing with homeless beggars whilst trying to avoid tripping over their coffee cup in the middle of the pavement, doing your best to avoid being run down by cyclists and e-scooter riders on the pavements, listening to ear-bashing tirades about "Jesus Christ" outside M&S, or being harassed by drunks on a weekend evening, then there's not an awful lot to make you want to visit. On the contrary, it's simpler to stay away.

Such a shame. The new harbour should have been the spearhead to an imaginative new future for the city centre. But it fell by the wayside due to lack of imagination and investment.

It's the tourists I feel sorry for. I doubt they'll be back.




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