The Regeneration of Aberdeen Market Is Just Thinly Veiled Gentrification - An Opinion Piece.
I’ll admit it: Aberdeen Market is not a beautiful building. It’s rotund brutalist structure divides opinion and inside, it doesn’t get much better. From memory, I recall cheap foam ceiling tiles and florescent lighting, vinyl floors slicked with black skid marks from shuffling trainers, and a fresh lick of paint attempting to conceal a yellowing interior.
Lest we judge a book by its’ unsightly cover, something beautiful inside awaits.
To make up for the etiolated surroundings, cheap rent and rates accompany sought after low-risk, flexible lease terms. A vital incubator for start-ups to test their businesses in a city where rent and rates are often impossible for local businesses to meet. As a result, local people from all over the world made Aberdeen Market their home and in doing so have created a culturally diverse centre for everyone to enjoy. Especially evident when the ever popular Madame Mews made it to the top of the Tripadvisor recommendations for places to eat in Aberdeen. Quite an achievement if we consider the location and size of the venue, and the fact it is competing with huge chain companies such as Chaophraya and Thaikhun.
The Sushi Box has become one of the most popular sushi restaurants in Aberdeen, again despite heavyweight competition. In relative terms, businesses in Scotland run by black and minority ethnic groups (BMEs) are woefully under-represented, but this doesn’t seem to be the case within Aberdeen Market. Just 1.8% of small/medium enterprises in Scotland are led by people from an ethnic minority* and Aberdeen Market seems to host nearly all of Aberdeens’ BME led businesses. The fact it is about to be demolished is a nothing short of a tragedy.
Here’s the real kicker. Shaun Hose, director of PATRIZIA (the company in charge of the re-development) stated**:
“They will reinvigorate this part of Union Street, Hadden Street and the Green, injecting much-needed diversity and vibrancy that will enhance the quality of life for those living in and visiting the city centre and deliver a long-term sustainable solution for the site.”
The way I see it, this renovation is doing the exact opposite. Instead of injecting the area with “much-needed diversity”, they are demolishing the one area in Aberdeen that houses our culturally diverse businesses. The businesses that can afford “above Grade A offices” are huge multi-million dollar industries operated by - by and large - white middle aged men. By demolishing our cultural hot spot, you are enforcing the status quo of the aforementioned middle aged white man as our “ideal” of what business, power, and wealth should look like. Once this area is gone, where will these existing businesses go? I get the distinct feeling that you (Shaun Hose, Aberdeen Inspired, Aberdeen City Council), don’t care.
A more recent article in the Press and Journal*** reports that Marie Boulton, Aberdeen City Councils planning convener stated “I would hope, if we worked smartly, we would be able to put together the right financial environment to see traders come back to Union Street”. Call me cynical, but this to me sounds like nothing more than lip service. Let’s look at a very quick example:
Unit 25, Aberdeen Market (323 sq ft) is currently available for £650 including rent and rates. This amounts to just £7,800 p/a.
37 The Green (654 sq ft - the closest in location I could find for comparison) The rent is £12,500 p/a, modest for Aberdeen’s commercial property market. The rateable value of this property is £7,100 (which, in the interest of fairness I should point out qualifies for small business relief, which means a business might pay no rates). That’s at best £12,500 p/a and at worst £19,600 p/a.
The council say they want these businesses to occupy Union Street so let’s take a little look at that. 27 Union Street (considerably bigger at 1,430 sq ft, was previously pawn shop Ramdens). The rent for this property is £20,000. The rateable value is £24,500 (of which, certain business might only need to pay £12,006). So at best, a property on Union Street is £32,006, and at worst a staggering £42,500. Again, you can call me cynical, but I can’t see the council reducing their business rates to accommodate.
It seems a shame to put these successful local businesses, their staff, and their families in jeopardy just to put up another new build filled with nothing but TO LET signs.
We’re still recovering from our last downturn in oil prices and with another downturn looming, it seems even more pertinent to find a way to fill our existing commercial buildings instead of building new ones. The 2014 downturn in oil left thousands unemployed. Businesses went under, housing prices fell, and many people skipped town. When the dust settled, the people that were left were fully invested in making Aberdeen an interesting place to live.
In 2017, the first NuArt festival took place and Herakut’s piece “Do Not Hide, Because You Are That Light’, adorned Aberdeen Markets tired facade. Arguably the most well known artwork of the NuArt programme, it has become synonymous with Aberdeens cultural regeneration, initiated by people who genuinely wanted to make a difference. The Painted Doors Project has had a massive cultural impact on The Green and beyond but we mustn’t forget that the demolition of the Market will see 5 of these artworks by local artists, gone. It seems a travesty that there are no plans to preserve these important pieces of artwork.
No, Aberdeen Market is not a beautiful building but it doesn’t deserve this. The business owners who have worked tirelessly, don’t deserve this. The artists and organisers of NuArt and Painted Doors, don’t deserve this. The people of Aberdeen, deserve better. And so, rant over, I’m left with just one thing left to say:
The re-generation of the city centre doesn’t start with gentrified, shiny new 11-storey buildings, it starts with people.