10 June 2020

Aberdeenshire Council engages community and business groups over safe physical distancing in towns

Aberdeenshire Council is continuing to engage with community and business groups together with the emergency services with regards to a new project aimed at safe physical distancing in our town centres.

The local authority recently submitted a £310,000 application to the Scottish Government’s ‘Spaces for People’ fund to ensure people are able to safely access services in town centres while maintaining physical distancing.

In April, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, announced a new £10 million ‘Spaces for People’ fund for local authorities and regional transport partnerships, which has recently be increased to £30 million.

Administered by Sustrans, this funding will cover 100% of the cost of temporary infrastructure projects to provide safe walking, wheeling and cycling during the current emergency. Immediate priority is to be given to the town centres in Banchory, Ellon, Fraserburgh, Inverurie, Peterhead and Stonehaven.

Once the schemes have been agreed, Aberdeenshire Council will begin implementing the proposals which will create additional spaces for pedestrians to observe physical distancing for the foreseeable future in town centres as they begin to reopen.

In Peterhead, for example, roads engineers are engaging with the town’s community council and business improvement group to discuss the suggested safety measures.

The fishing port’s town centre presents particular challenges for the introduction of physical distancing and will require the introduction of temporary road closures.

A similar approach is being followed across all the locations to ensure that any local challenges are considered as part of the project.

Aberdeenshire Council’s Head of Transportation, Ewan Wallace, said: “These physical distancing measures are being introduced to enable visitors to our town centres move around freely and safely, which will in turn assist in the economic recovery of the area.

“A key priority will be to allow people to queue safely for shops and other businesses away from traffic which, in Peterhead town centre for example, does present a challenge.

“By introducing a range of suggested measures such as temporary road orders including closures in certain areas, parking restrictions and slight changes to public transport routes, we will ensure the health and wellbeing of all our residents remains our key focus as the Covid-19 lockdown is eased over the coming months.

Roads teams will continue to monitor the agreed measures put in place and will adjust them accordingly as the lockdown restrictions are relaxed further.

The proposals for the town centres are just the first phase of the introduction of measures to adapt the transport network to the “new normal” as lockdown restrictions are eased.

Further proposals will be developed in consultation with the region’s communities as the council looks at the impact which ongoing restrictions will have on the way we travel and the opportunities to build in improvements.

Mr Wallace continues: “During the Covid-19 lockdown there has been a noticeable increase in walking and cycling both in urban and rural areas of Aberdeenshire as people take advantage of the quieter transport network to undertake daily exercise.

“Transport demand has fallen dramatically due to government guidance to stay at home to suppress the spread of coronavirus which has resulted in far less motorised traffic using the road network. This has in turn resulted in an increase in walking and cycling on the network as people have sought opportunities to undertake their daily exercise.

“It is reasonable to predict that as the road network becomes busier when lockdown restrictions are eased, the levels of active travel may revert to previous levels. Officers are exploring a range of innovative options on how to retain the levels of active travel currently and also support a longer-term mode shift from car use to active travel for shorter journeys.”