Options are being considered by Aberdeenshire Council as it reviews the temporary Spaces for People town centre measures placed as part of the ongoing response to the COVID19 pandemic.
The Spaces for People scheme was launched by the Scottish Government in April 2020, when local authorities began to develop plans to support and enable the safe reopening of non-essential retail premises in town centres.
Towns across Aberdeenshire were assessed and locations identified where it was considered physical distancing would be difficult to maintain.
June 2020 saw a range of measures introduced in Banchory, Ellon, Fraserburgh, Inverurie, Peterhead, Stonehaven and Turriff, as a range of business premises began to reopen their doors to the public.
These measures included vehicular diversions, one-way traffic systems, on-street parking restrictions and providing some of the existing road space for pedestrian use – to allow them to maintain physical distancing.
Since then, a team of council officers have met weekly to review both the local and national position and, where appropriate, to consider if the local Spaces for People approach continues to meet local needs. In some locations, adjustments have been made to local measures following engagement with the local business community.
Plans have now been developed which could lead to the measures being changed – including their partial or complete removal. These plans are wholly dependent upon the future behaviour of the virus and how it affects Aberdeenshire in the future.
The key elements and considerations which will permit changes to the Spaces for People measures include:
Moving from full measures to reduced measures
If the number of new cases of Covid-19 in Grampian (expressed as a rate per 100,000 people over the previous 7 days) is less than 3.6 cases for at least 7 consecutive following days, Spaces for People measures will be reduced. In a small number of locations where it continues to be challenging to maintain physical distancing, measures may continue, for example, outside busy retail premises where queues regularly occur and it is challenging for passing pedestrians to maintain a safe distance.
Removal of full measures
This will be considered upon entering Phase 4 of the Scottish Government Coronavirus (COVID-19) route map through and out of the public health emergency.
Reinstatement of full measures
In the event of a local lockdown being imposed in substantial parts of the NHS Grampian area, it is likely that full Spaces for People measures will return. Council officers are closely monitoring NHS data and will react accordingly to support any wider public health approach.
Councillor Peter Argyle, Chair of the council’s Infrastructure Services Committee, said
The Spaces for People measures have been an essential element of the local response to the ongoing public health emergency. I acknowledge that for some people, particularly within the business community, they have not been entirely popular, however, our fundamental responsibility has been to ensure public safety throughout this very challenging period.
While concerns have been expressed in some locations, council officers have, where possible, shown flexibility and made adjustments which support the operation of local businesses. Flexibility will continue to be a crucial element of the council’s overall approach.
We recognise the importance of having vibrant town centres which people want to use and visit, and our plans allow us to strike a balance between continuing to ensure public safety while, at the same time, allowing businesses to operate and provide their important services to local communities.
Stephen Archer, Director of Infrastructure Services at Aberdeenshire Council, added
Throughout the COVID-19 period, council officers from a range of services have been working on tasks to ensure public safety throughout Aberdeenshire. Liaising with local communities and partner organisations has been a key element of our overall approach.
The unpredictability of the pandemic means that planning for a number of future scenarios is essential and I’m confident that our identified options will deliver an effective response to whatever situation arises. The Spaces for People approach remains temporary and we look forward to being able to fully remove the measures when safe to do so.