Union Street Update – August 2021

September 9, 2021

Our 6 monthly Union Street occupancy level survey took place on 11th August – a survey that records the level of actual occupied and trading units every 6 months – this latest review showed that a total of 47 units are vacant, that is up 6 on February 2021. The increase can be broken down to an increase of 2 on the North side (up to 14) and an increase of 4 on the South side (up to 33). The number of vacant units represents 25% the highest percentage since we started the survey a couple of years back.

This does exclude at least 3 imminent openings and also excludes at least 2 units that FG Burnett have concluded deals on but are not yet trading. So the position is not quite so bad as recorded on the date of the survey. However, it is inevitable that fresh voids will arise from the survey total of 188 units.

In summary there is no sign of any marked recovery in how Union Street is faring against the covered schemes (which are having their own challenges) and the bigger problem of online shopping. It remains to be seen whether the pandemic in itself will have any lasting effect on occupancy levels, the fundamental long standing challenges are the problem.

We can take heart from the Union Terrace Gardens regeneration Project which includes the development of 3 stunning Pavilions, currently being marketed by FG Burnett.  This development will significantly enhance the heart of the City. It won’t happen overnight but that scheme will have a positive influence in seeing City Living returning to Union Terrace. The social distancing measures put in place on Union Street have, to an extent, shown what can happen if people are given more space than traffic. Whilst cars and buses must have a place in the central area, we should move from where we are to a complete reinvention of our Union Street public realm and the development of our Café Culture within Belmont Street, Back Wynd, Schoolhill and Upperkirkgate. There may be merit in considering how a public transport system could be developed, delivering people to key locations on the edge of the central area.  Public transport and car parking are key factors. Consultation with occupiers over fears they may have re access and servicing can overcome long standing fears about the traffic calming in our city centre.

The City Council have shown ambition in purchasing the former BHS and Market buildings, a key site that needs to be brought into use again as soon as possible, improving linkages into the historic Green area. Whilst in an ambitious mood we could dust down the plans for escalators to replace the current Back Wynd Steps? When the Green is busy with for example Aberdeen Inspired Friday Nights the buzz is terrific and reverberates throughout the whole central area.

The recent announcement regarding the relocation of Shell to The Silver Fin Building is terrific news for the City Centre but particularly for the West End of Union Street where voids have remained stubbornly high for some years.

A key ingredient for any city looking to attract visitors, from near and far, is a regular well promoted events schedule, work that is just as important as the physical bricks, mortar and landscaping schemes that are onsite and in the planning pipeline.

Richard Noble – Email: richard.noble@fgburnett.co.uk

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