Blueprint outlines a vision for the future in the wake of damning report

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Detailed action plans have been unveiled to encourage investment in four key areas of the Capital.

Proposals include a renewed drive to improve the quality of shops across the city centre and to make the Ross Bandstand a major new outdoor venue.

Business rates relief for hard-up shops and a new drive to attract home-grown retailers selling local produce on the Royal Mile and in the Old Town are also among the measures that would be introduced.

New attempts to restart the development of the Waterfront include turning the Victoria Dock area into a new world-class whitewater rafting centre and reviving plans for a giant Ferris wheel and cross-Forth hovercraft service.

The plans have been drawn up by a team of four “zone managers” brought in by the city council at a combined cost of £200,000 a year to help regenerate the city centre, west Edinburgh, the Waterfront and the south-east.

The zone manager responsible for the city centre compiled a damning report of the performance of Princes Street and the surrounding area. The report said: “City centre retail has been in steady decline.

“It has been identified that additional new floorspace is needed, as well as improved quality offer and size of space to attract and retain quality retailers.

“Despite Princes Street being one of the finest streets in Europe due to its outstanding views of Edinburgh Castle, the overall quality of the retail offers does not currently match that of a typical capital city, nor does it meet the demands or exceed the expectations of a growing population of tourists and local shoppers.

“Edinburgh needs to improve its retail offer so that visitors are attracted to the city for its retailing alone.”

The report also said that the quality of the retail offer of the Royal Mile, Victoria Street and Grassmarket had deteriorated in recent years and been replaced by tartan tat shops and cafes.

It said that Essential Edinburgh, which is funded by businesses in the main city centre blocks, had focused too much on cleanliness and safety and not enough on promotion of the area to attract new retailers.

Measures proposed to overcome the city centre’s troubles included a “clear vision” for the Royal Mile under the banner of “Best of Scottish”, with the council, which owns 45 units on the Royal Mile, looking to lease its units to traders that will bring up the quality of the area.

It also proposes helping retailers steer away from the recession by offering rates relief for a period of time “to help existing retailers weather the storm until the retail market improves”.

Other measures within the city centre action plan include looking at funding mechanisms for a project to upgrade the Ross Bandstand and implementing the findings of the work by Gehl Architects, which proposed a radical revamp of Princes Street to make it more pedestrian friendly.

Councillor Tom Buchanan, the city’s economic development leader, agreed with the criticism in the report about the current quality of the city centre. He said: “You can only say what you see; that is the zone manager’s assessment and I would tend to agree with that.

“We want to promote the trade of Scottish goods in one of the premium streets in Europe and I would like to see more of the top end of Scottish produce on Princes Street and George Street, such as cashmere and other high-end, high-value goods that give a certain feeling of getting something different.”

He said that he would discuss the issue of business rates relief for struggling retailers with the Scottish Government, especially medium-sized traders that do not already benefit from the government’s small business relief.”

Cllr Buchanan said: “I am very keen to focus on areas of the city where there is potential economic development. When you get to [retail conferences such as] MAPIC or MIPIM there is no point in a scatter-gun approach. You are far more likely to get a hearing.”