A RECOMMENDATION a major new department store is vetoed could signal a major sea change in council planning policy.
The new Debenhams – mooted for the out-of-town Fort Kinnaird shopping complex – would provide vital jobs and thousands of square feet of shopping space.
However, officers have recommended knocking back the store giant’s plans – to better protect city centre businesses.
The step signals a pro-tram move away from satellite out-of-town opportunism and has delighted representatives of smaller city centre businesses who claim it would “suck the life” out of their livelihoods while angering Debenhams’ top brass.
Debenhams – which already has stores in Princes Street and Ocean Terminal – signed a lease on the 5612 square metre outlet ahead of city planners recommending the bid be rejected.
One leading city planning expert said: “This signals a clear about-turn on the part of the council. They developed these sites and now they’re sending out a totally new message. Whether this is about shoring up the city, following years of tram-related roadworks, remains to be seen.”
Robin Holder, planning agent for Ocean Terminal owner Resolution, said the large park already has a “significant impact” on “shopping patterns in the city and beyond”.
He added: “To allow a another large retail unit there will, in our view, further damage other shopping centres, including the city centre and Ocean Terminal.
“In effect, Fort Kinnaird is becoming a ‘one-stop shop’ because of its size and range of retail and leisure activities. This is sucking the life out of other parts of the city.”
Josh Miller, chairman of the George Street Association, hailed the council’s “cautious” approach.
He said: “I think there’s enough out-of-town shopping for Edinburgh. The Gyle was given permission to expand a year ago, so I’d rather make sure we protected the city centre and give people a reason to come here.”
It is estimated the new store would also draw trade from Ocean Terminal – and shopping centres at Straiton and Cameron Toll.
Craigmillar Community Council secretary Terry Tweed said the tram works-battered city is not in a position to turn down major investment. He said: “It’s competition for Marks & Spencer and competition can only be good. It’s more jobs for the area. We have thousands of houses still to be built here, so there’s plenty of people that will be shopping there.”
A Debenhams spokeswoman said: “We remain committed to opening a store in Fort Kinnaird as it will complement our existing stores in the city centre and at Ocean Terminal. Our director of property will be attending the committee meeting on Wednesday.”
The planned outlet for Fort Kinnaird would be smaller than both the other Edinburgh outlets. The council’s development management sub-committee will rule on the plans at a meeting on Wednesday.