Research article

Breathing new life into the high street

Aberdeen City Living

Ties between private and public sector stakeholders need to strengthen to increase understanding of each party’s role, needs and goals

Savills was commissioned by Aberdeen City Council to provide a strategy to support the effort to revitalise Union Street and Aberdeen’s city centre. This was in the context of the council’s City Centre Masterplan aspiration to attract 3,000 more residents into the city centre over the next 20 or so years.

Savills identified that demand for city centre housing in the UK is on the increase as part of a global trend, with urban living and lifestyles increasingly popular among young professional workers, families and downsizers. This trend is creating new opportunities for property investors and developers, so long as the appropriate product can be delivered at the right price. This is particularly pertinent in Aberdeen.

The future of Aberdeen’s city centre needs to be based on boosting the number of mixed tenure residential units, allowing for a full suite of spending power and age groups that would in turn create a greater vibrancy and stronger night-time economy with more sustainable support of retail, leisure and cultural facilities.

If more people live in the centre and more work in the centre then the combination of the two is going to introduce new spending power that will support, feed and grow the retail and leisure offerings.

We proposed that developers should be offered support to encourage residential conversions of old buildings in the city centre, because of their challenging nature and higher costs. We are encouraged that the council has voted in favour of our key proposal, for a time-limited freeze on affordable housing contribution obligations, with immediate effect. This bold initiative will help to bridge the viability gap that currently exists in the market. It will act as a stimulus, driving private sector investment and bringing forward development. The time-limited horizon is likely to create a sense of urgency to encourage delivery: indeed there are already some signs that the market is starting to react positively.

Creating a regeneration team within other local authorities, focusing on city centre development, has been effective in towns and cities around the UK to identify potential opportunities and provide direct contacts for the development industry. With the establishment of its new City Living Team, Aberdeen is set to do the same.

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