A pub giant has revealed plans to take over a fire-ravaged former church in the heart of the Old Town – just a week after it lodged a controversial proposal for a super-pub in the Capital.
JD Wetherspoon is keen to turn the former Khushi’s indian restaurant in Victoria Street into a large pub.
The World Heritage Site property has lain empty since it was devastated in a blaze in December 2008, which also caused extensive damage to neighbouring properties Liquid Room and Finnegans Wake.
The vast two-floor building and former St John’s church had been used as a bookmaker and housed the popular Byzantium market before being reincarnated as Khushi’s.
Just last week, Wetherspoon came under fire for its planning application to convert the Empire bingo hall in Nicolson Street into a super-pub.
And the firm is also in the process of renovating the former Picture House venue in Lothian Road into another large watering hole.
Local business owners said the latest plans fuelled long-running concerns about over-provision of licenced premises in city centre areas, including the Grassmarket.
Keith Clarkson, who runs Clarkson’s jewellery on West Bow, said: “My feeling is that the council are getting the balance so wrong. Retail is being squeezed out and being replaced by booze and food. It’s not good for the area, it’s not good for the shopping, it’s not good for the mix.
“We all know what Wetherspoons is going to do. It’s going to attract more stag and hen dos into the town. When there are sporting events, the Grassmarket is the point of congregation.
“I just wonder how much booze the council wants our city to sell.”
And Charles Gibbons, who owns the Bow Bar on West Bow, said: “Of course something of that size would have a huge adverse affect on the trade in the area. The Grassmarket is known for its traditional pubs. I’m hopeful the council will see some sense.
“I think Wetherspoons are working on the basis that if they put in a few applications they’ll get one through.”
Fawns Reid, chairwoman of the Greater Grassmarket BID group and owner of Cowgatehead shop Fabhatrix, said: “I imagine there will be a great deal of opposition from residents and other businesses. It’s much more of a retail and restaurant environment.”
A Wetherspoon spokesman said: “Wetherspoon has exchanged on a site in Victoria Street, conditional on planning and licensing.”