Offering lower rent for Royal Mile shops which resist the temptation to sell “tartan tat” is to be investigated by the council, as part of a range of measures to improve the area.
Some shop owners claim the council has put up their rent by more than 88 per cent, and the past fortnight has seen the closure of at least two independent retailers, prompting fears the street could become over-populated with tartan tat shops.
The issue was discussed by interested parties including shop owners and residents – dubbed “Team Royal Mile” – at a council-run event held at The Hub yesterday.
Around 40 of the shop premises on the Royal Mile are in council ownership.
Councillor Tom Buchanan, convener of the economic development committee, said he was willing to look at the option of lowering rent for shops which did not sell tartan tat, to see if the “social” benefit could be used to offset any financial loss.
“There is a policy that local government must secure as close to market rents as it can,” he said.
“But if I’m losing a certain style of retailer, which happens to fit in with what we want on the High Street, simply because they can’t pay the rent, have I got an opportunity to look at rental policy and say actually, we can give a rental discount to that company?
“There is a place for shops which sell tigers wearing kilts and Jimmy wigs. But equally there is place for a person who wants to sell upmarket Scottish jewellery or high-quality whisky. It’s about getting the balance right.”
He added that he would be asking council officers to investigate the legal implications of rent reductions further.
Four objectives were agreed at the event, which will be taken forward over the next month – the creation of a Royal Mile charter, the introduction of a town centre manager, the creation of a partnership for traders and a spring clean of the area.
The event, led by “urbanist” Diarmaid Lawlor, also saw traders asked to prioritise the issues concerning them.
These included the improvement of closes, changing the balance of traffic and pedestrians and introducing stricter licensing.
Concerns were also raised over cleanliness, a lack of security and policing and antisocial behaviour.
James Rebanks, an expert on World Heritage sites who spoke at the event, said: “I think the key is striking the balance between being a tourist destination and being a good place to live.
“The risk is focusing too much on tourism and not enough on ensuring it is a liveable place.”