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Ten days on, has Aberdeen's cafe culture bid been a success?

Ten days on, has Aberdeen's cafe culture bid been a success?

As coffee shops prepare to set out their outdoor seating for a tenth day, the success of a pilot scheme to bring cafe culture to Aberdeen remains up in the air.

Since launching over a week ago some coffee shops signed up to the scheme believe it has been popular, reporting a boost in sales thanks to the pedestrianised area and outdoor seating.

But for others, nuisance gulls, issues with deliveries and over-zealous traffic wardens have blighted the bid to make Belmont Street a more cosmopolitan place.

The cafe culture initiative was put to Aberdeen City Council by Aberdeen Inspired, the city's business in development (Bid) group, as a result of interest from local cafes.

As a result, from August 3, Belmont Street, Little Belmont Street and Gaelic Lane have been closed to traffic from 11am until 6pm daily and four blue badge spaces relocated to Schoolhill and Back Wynd.

Cocoa Ooze owner Jamie Hutcheon, one of the first to sign up to the scheme, said his chocolate coffee shop had enjoyed a boost with sales nearly doubling since the trial was introduced.

He said: "We haven’t done our final figures yet but sales have increased and people have become more aware of us within the area.

"We're getting a more diverse group of customers, more international visitors whereas we used to have more local people in.

"Sales for the first half of that week were very impressive compared to the same week last year. I think there’s a direct link between cafe culture and the increase in sales.

"People are more aware of what businesses offer because we’re out there with seating and advertising in the street."

  (Cocoa Ooze)
via STV via STV

Gulls

Reports of gulls causing nuisance have emerged following the pilot's introduction.

Aberdeen councillor Ross Thompson fell victim to the noisy birds after one landed on his back while he was tucking into lunch on Little Belmont Street.

He said: "I wanted to experience the cafe culture for myself and my experience at the weekend was that as soon as somebody next to me left their table, the seagulls descended very, very quickly, and not just one or two, I mean a whole group of them.

"There was a bit of a ruckus. One of them landed on my back, which is an experience I’m sure I will never forget. They started breaking the cutlery and I thought, 'wow, this is something that is maybe a bit of a problem'."

  (STV)
via STV via STV

However, Mr Hutcheon said he had no issues with birds in his cafe's outdoor seating area, adding: "Seagulls have been around a long time and this has nothing to do with that. We’ve put up parasols to prevent it but we haven’t seen any issues."

Meanwhile Books and Beans owner, Craig Willox, who also signed up to the cafe culture trial, said his outlet has enjoyed such an increase in sales he plans to employ more staff to cope with demand.

"We’ve increased hours for our current staff and we’ll be employing more part-time people to help them cope with the increase," he said.

"If this became permanent we might look at something to encourage people to sit out in December."

Concerns

Ian Cukrowski, owner of coffee company MacBeans, has raised concerns about the scheme.

He had to negotiate with the council days before the trial was launched to allow his van onto Little Belmont Street to deliver freshly roasted coffee to numerous businesses across the city at varying times.

He said: "I take coffee to businesses across the city and I also need to get to the depot in Altens for our home deliveries. It’s impossible to do all my deliveries before 11am."

  (STV)
via STV via STV

Mr Cukrowski also said he had heard of deliveries being dumped on the street for businesses that do not open before the 11am cut-off, as well as some instances of deliveries being refused because drivers believe they may be penalised by traffic wardens.

Disabled parking

Meanwhile Bill Hay, owner of Jenson and Ledingham opticians, is worried the relocation of disabled parking bays away from Belmont Street may affect his business, with a large portion of his customers elderly or disabled.

He said: "On the week prior to the scheme launching, we had seven people in who had to use the disabled parking facility. Now that's gone I'm worried people will take their eye care elsewhere.

"They can't just get a relative to drop them off outside either but you are allowed to have a courier come in to drop off a package. There's too many strands to the rules.

"I've contacted Disability Scotland and they have said they have written a formal letter to the leader of the council expressing their concern."

"Not as vibrant as they hoped"

Mr Cukrowski believes that the scheme has not been beneficial and although insisted he has nothing against the businesses taking part in the trial, he raised questions over how its success will be measured - whether it will be based on the cafes signed up to the scheme or all businesses affected by the street closures as a whole.

He said: "So far I haven’t really seen a great deal of difference. For us it isn’t any busier oR quieter. It seems as though it’s not as vibrant as they hoped it would be.

"If Aberdeen really wanted [cafe culture], it would have happened by now. I don’t think you can engineer it – the public either want it or not."

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