RADICAL proposals to turn Aberdeen’s Union Street into a covered shopping mall, beneath a translucent colour-changing canopy, were today unveiled by leading city architect John Halliday in a bid to kick start a fresh debate over the regeneration of the city centre.
Last year Mr Halliday produced fresh designs for the transformation of Aberdeen’s sunken Union Terrace Gardens as a possible solution to the controversy which ended in the £140 million “Granite Web” plan for the sunken Victorian gardens being abandoned by the city council.
And he has now revealed new proposals for the complete transformation of Union Street - the city’s main thoroughfare - which include plans to link the city’s four existing city centre shopping malls by turning Union Street into a fifth indoor shopping centre with a high level umbrella canopy stretching from Market Street to Bridge Street.
His plans, which have still to be costed, also include proposals for a new entrance for Aberdeen railway station and the the Union Square shopping mall with escalators and lifts providing a covered link between the Union Square and Trinity shopping centres and Union Street.
Mr Halliday explained: “Our recognised inner city centre is actually quite small in area, but the perception is quite different, mainly due to the lack of real connectivity between the various parts of it. Pedestrians are not well catered for, resulting in unnecessary car journeys being made from one shopping centre car park to another, especially in inclement weather. We need to address this by making it easier for people to move about the inner city centre area in greater comfort and increased enjoyment.
“The large indoor centres: Bon Accord, St Nicholas, Trinity and Union Square are hugely popular and successful, with footfalls way in excess of those in other larger cities. However, they cannot continue to operate as four physically separate ‘islands’ within the inner area. They must be connected together in a user friendly way, by working on the outdoor parts that connect them together; encouraging pedestrian connectivity within the inner city centre area, and making the experience of moving around the city centre a much more pleasant experience, especially in inclement weather.”
He continued: “It is universally accepted that the existing pedestrian experience of moving between Union Square and Union Street is extremely poor and unpleasant. Various solutions have been proposed, but most of them are pretty unambitious and all unimaginative - tinkering around the edges.
“It would appear that the council is taking seriously my previous idea of relocating the entrance of the rail station onto a new civic square on Union Street, and relocating the existing station taxi rank. This would free up land within the existing station concourse.”
Mr Halliday explained: “As part of this development, lifts and escalators would lead shoppers from Union Square, up and over Guild Street, and through a re-modelled Trinity Centre by way of a bright, wide, public pedestrian street that would be open and supervised 24 hours a day. It would provide a very modern, citizen friendly, indoor pedestrian connection between the 2 centres, leading directly onto Union Street and the new civic square, with its marvellous views over and beyond Union Terrace Gardens.
“It is also essential that we dramatically increase the shopping experience in Union Street to equal that of the four major indoor centres, especially during winter, and periods of inclement and severe winter weather.
So, a high level translucent canopy should be built over the section of Union Street between Bridge Street and Market Street. This section would have high pedestrian priority, with restricted access only for buses and cyclists.
“The canopy would light up and could change ‘mood’ colour, providing a vibrant and exciting, ever changing experience for those using the space during periods of darkness. By linking together the four indoor shopping centres in this way, it would greatly increase pedestrian connectivity within the area of the inner city centre, which would inevitably spill over into upper Union Street, Union Terrace Gardens, Belmont Street, The Green, Broad Street, Marischal Square, and the Castlegate.
“This would all lead to the creation of a fifth busy indoor shopping centre – Union Street.”
He claimed: “This is not a pipe dream – it is all very practical and possible. These are changes that can be made because they make commercial sense for everyone involved and the civic benefits are apparent for all to see. What we need now is real leadership and a determined ‘can do’ attitude, not just from our elected councillors and affected landowners, but more importantly from all the citizens of the North east.”
He said: “I believe the scheme is do-able. I am doing this privately and just trying to give something back to the city of Aberdeen and its citizens, using what expertise I have. We all want a vibrant city centre and we should stop bad mouthing each other and help coach other instead. I am just trying to show a wee bit of leadership. I just hope it inspires people and helps councillors and officials to raise their game to get a bit of flair and imagination into the regeneration of the city centre.”