E&M closure is sad news for Aberdeen

The news that Esslemont & Macintosh is to close with the loss of more than 100 jobs is sad news for Aberdeen. E&Ms has been a local institution for more than a century and was Aberdeen's last remaining department store with real local roots - albeit that it had been bought out of local ownership by Owen & Owen, only for that company to crash into administration.

As well as losing an institution, Aberdeen is in danger of losing some of its city centre retail character. With E&Ms gone there are only a handful of truly unique Aberdeen stores left in a sea of national chains.

It also perhaps shows the folly of the council's attitude to the city centre. For many years Union Street stores were technically "overtrading" (that is, they were enjoying sales per spare foot of retail space higher than should be expected). Some would argue that allowed complacency to slip in.

Anti-car policies saw car parking squeezed. Bus lanes used as road restrictions. And traffic lights phased to discourage car drivers.

Shoppers, deprived of convenient access to the city centre by their chosen means of transport, voted with their steering wheels or brakes. They diverted to other, more car-friendly centres like Dundee. Or simply put on the brakes and stayed at home shopping on the internet.

The result is Aberdeen's traditional shopping centre seriously needs some TLC.

It may, unfortunately, be too late for E&M. But we need to encourage people back into the city centre by:
1. Getting traffic moving again (reassessing our bus lanes, adjusting traffic light phasing and removing the horrendous bottlenecks at Haudagain, Bridge of Don and Bridge of Dee).
2. Provide ample fairly-priced parking.
3. Invest in improvements to the city centre environment.
4. Provide incentives for local retailers literally to set up shop in the city centre.
5. Looking at shopping not just as a necessity but a recreational activity and provide street entertainment, street cafes, bars and restaurants to bring life back to our city centre streets.

Sure it needs investment. But, if our city fathers 200 years ago had not made bold and imaginative decisions, like investing in a grand plan to bridge the Denburn Valley with a viaduct called Union Street, Aberdeen might not have existed.

Where is that sort of bold vision now, 200 years on?

Planning these days seems to be about stopping people using a certain material for a new window, or whether such and such a store should be built on a particular gap site.

You don't even have to look back 200 years to see the sort of vision and forward thinking that would make you just about weep at the state of our city in 2007.

Go to Aberdeen Library and ask to see the book "Granite City - a plan for Aberdeen".
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